Having spent 16 years in Byculla Jail, serving a life term for murder, Usha Munna Upadhyay could walk free after two judgments, including the latest from the Supreme Court, were in favour of her petition seeking an early release.
Upadhyay, 50, moved the courts in 2012 seeking an early release once she completed 14 years of her term, but her plea was turned down. She was sentenced on February 10, 1999 to life imprisonment for hatching a conspiracy and conducting a “supari” killing. She was arrested in 1997.
According to the state government’s 1992 guidelines for premature release, a woman committing a murder in certain categories is eligible for early release after completing 14 years of the term. These guidelines were in force at the time of Upadhyay’s conviction.
However, prison authorities considered her case under the revised guidelines of 2010, and said she would be eligible for early release only after serving 28 years.
On October 15, 2012, Upadhyay filed a petition challenging the government’s decision to put her in the Category 6 (a) of the 2010 guidelines arguing that she should have been placed in Category 1(b) instead.
Category 6 (a) relates to murders committed by gangsters, contract killers, racketeers and provides that an early release is possible after completion of 28 years in jail. Category 1 (b), on the other hand, is exclusively for women prisoners who have committed murders with premeditation or by being a gang member, and provided for early release after a jail term of 20 years.
When Upadhyay challenged the state’s decision on her premature release, the Bombay High Court on March 15, 2013 observed that Category 1 was a new category relating to “crime by women’ and covering all cases by women. It ruled that Upadhyay’s case be considered according to Category 1of the 2010 guidelines. The state challenged the High Court order in the Supreme Court, on the ground that Category 1 (b) relates to serious crimes by women, but does not include organised crime.
In January this year, however, the apex court dismissed the state’s plea and ordered that there was no ground for interference with the High Court’s order.
Upadhyay is now looking forward to a reunion with her two sons. Her lawyer Archana, who provides legal aid to convicts, says that the maths is in her favour. Upadhyay was made the warden of her barrack in March 2005.
“Going by that calculation and the fact that she was being given remission of nine days every month since she became a warden and seven days before that, she has completed her 20 years sentence,” said Archana.