The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice on a contempt plea filed against Uttar Pradesh Director General of Prisons for non-compliance with court’s earlier orders directing the state government to consider premature release of convicts, who have undergone more than 16 years of actual imprisonment and 20 years with remission.
Advocate Rishi Malhotra, representing the prisoners, submitted before a bench headed by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud that due to inaction of the state, the petitioners continue to languish in jails despite categorial orders passed by the apex court. Malhotra stressed though most of the 48 petitioners have been granted permission for release, the remaining cases have not been considered.
In an order passed on March 14, 2022, the apex court directed the Uttar Pradesh government and the prison authorities to consider the case of the petitioners for premature release within 3 months from the date of the order as per the policy dated August 1, 2018.
After hearing arguments, the bench, also comprising Justice P.S. Narasimha, sought response from DG, Prisons. “Issue notice returnable on next Friday,” it said.
Malhotra stressed petitioners were continuing to languish in jail despite prison authorities recommending their premature release, which amounted to a violation of their fundamental right to life and liberty under Article 21.
“The petitioners continuous to languish in jail custody despite the order passed by this court which is nothing but clear infringement of their Fundamental Right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution as well as illegal detention as the petitioners have already undergone much more than the prescribed sentence in judicial custody,” said the petition.
On January 5, the Supreme Court had asked the DG, Prisons, Uttar Pradesh, to file an affidavit in his personal capacity in connection with steps taken to grant benefits of remission to convicts.
The apex court, in a judgment in September last year, had issued several directions impacting remission of nearly 500 convicts undergoing life imprisonment in Uttar Pradesh.
The UP government on August 1, 2018, issued a remission policy for prisoners undergoing life imprisonment. According to the government, for a lifer to be considered for premature release, the prisoner should undergo 16 years of actual sentence and 4 years of remission – 20 years of total sentence. The policy was amended subsequently in July 2021, 16 years actual sentence and 4 years remission was not changed, but a rider was added that to be eligible the convict must be above 60 years.
The top court had said that all cases for premature release of convicts undergoing imprisonment for life should be considered in terms of the policy dated August 1, 2018. It added that the restriction that a life convict is not eligible for premature release until attaining the age of 60 years, which was introduced by the policy of July 28 2021, stands deleted by the amendment dated May 27, 2022. Hence, no case for premature release shall be rejected on that ground, it said.
It had said that there was no requirement for the convict to submit an application for premature release, and jail authorities must consider their cases automatically.
The top court had also said that district legal services authorities in Uttar Pradesh shall take necessary steps in coordination with the jail authorities to ensure that all eligible cases of prisoners who would be entitled to premature release in terms of the applicable policies, as noticed above, would be duly considered and no prisoner, who is otherwise eligible for being considered, shall be excluded from consideration.