On March 21, when Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt is due to return to Yerawada Central Jail, he would have spent 118 of his 305 days of imprisonment — almost 40 per cent of the time he is supposed to serve — either on furlough for the treatment of his leg pain, or on parole sought citing his wife Manyata’s illness.
This apparent leniency of the state government came under the scanner of the Bombay High Court Tuesday which told authorities that the general outcry among people is that the diligence shown in granting Dutt’s requests is not seen in cases of other convicts.
To address this, the court said it was high time the rules for such relief were looked into, and that there was a need for making “radical changes” in the Prisons (Bombay Furlough and Parole) Rules, 1959.
The court directed the state government to constitute a committee comprising bureaucrats of the home department, representatives from jail administration, and other competent officials for suggesting amendments in the rules for granting parole and furlough to prisoners.
“The state government has been granted four weeks’ time to carry out the exercise. Considering the large number of absconding prisoners, proper care has to be taken in modifying the rules,” the court said as it heard a PIL on the matter.
Dutt’s conviction for possession of arms in connection with the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case was upheld by the Supreme Court in March last year and he was lodged in Yerawada in May to serve the rest of his five-year sentence as he had spent 18 months in custody earlier.
In the last week of September, he was granted a 14-day furlough which he had sought to treat his leg pain. This was extended for another 14 days.
In December, he was granted parole, which was extended once in January. Dutt again applied to the divisional commissioner asking for another one-month extension and this was granted a week back.
“On March 21, when Dutt comes back, he would have spent 118 days out of jail from the 305 days from May last year. He can again apply for furlough and parole from May this year, which we think he will. Of these 118 days, 14 days of the extended parole will not be counted in his sentence and he will have to serve it later,” said a senior prisons department officer.
“Several other inmates, including those serving for even very serious crimes, are granted paroles and subsequent extensions. It’s just that his case has attracted attention as he is a celebrity,” the officer said.
Rajendra Dhamane, DIG in the prisons department, too defended the decision. “The paroles are granted by the divisional commissioner. All procedures have been followed from our side in granting the furlough,” he said.
But a PIL has questioned the discretion used by authorities in granting parole and furlough to Dutt. The petition says Dutt is “influential” and that authorities have “abused their discretionary power”.
Appearing for Dutt, advocate Hitesh Jain, however, submitted RTI documents in court and said the divisional commissioner had not favoured the actor. “In 2011, the divisional commissioner granted 718 pleas and rejected 3. In 2012, 373 were granted and only one was rejected. In 2013, 359 were granted and 11 rejected,” Jain said.