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Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Explained: Gujarat grants parole to prisoners as ‘Diwali gift’; what this means

An additional public prosecutor practising at the Gujarat High Court says that the state government often takes a compassionate view on applications for parole during festivals of Diwali, Rakshabandhan, etc. and the latest announcement is not out of the ordinary.

Written by Sohini Ghosh , Edited by Explained Desk | Ahmedabad |
Updated: November 5, 2021 10:10:53 am
The state government has decided to grant 15-day parole to prisoners above 60 years of age and women prisoners, except those booked in serious offences, as a ‘Diwali gift’. (AP)

The Gujarat government announced Tuesday that it has decided to grant 15-day parole to prisoners above 60 years of age and women prisoners, except those booked in serious offences, as a ‘Diwali gift’. As many as 181 prisoners from jails across the state are set to benefit from the decision.

What is parole?

Furlough and parole envisage a short-term release from custody, both aimed as reformative steps towards prisoners. While parole is granted to meet a “specific exigency” and cannot be claimed as a matter of right, furlough may be granted without any specific reason after a convict spends a stipulated number of years, and is a matter of right although cannot be claimed as an ‘absolute legal right’. Both provisions are subject to circumstances of the prisoner, such as jail behaviour, gravity of offences, sentence period and public interest.

In 1992, Gujarat had issued a circular notifying non-grant of parole to NDPS convicts. For Gujarat, both the provisions of furlough and parole are governed by the The Prisons (Bombay Furlough and Parole) Rules, 1959.

Is ‘parole as Diwali gift’ an extraordinary move?

An additional public prosecutor practising at the Gujarat High Court says that the state government often takes a compassionate view on applications for parole during festivals of Diwali, Rakshabandhan, etc. and the latest announcement is not out of the ordinary. Given that the legislature/politicians do not have direct powers to grant parole on suo motu cognizance, the additional public prosecutor says the announcement only indicates that prisoners will have to make applications to the authorities concerned, which in turn will be considered with leniency and expeditiously. The applications will, however, be subject to scrutiny and the prisoners’ conduct and gravity of their offence.

Who can opt for parole and how?

The provision of parole is available to convicts found guilty by a court (trial court at the least, even if the conviction may be under appeal at a higher court) and such a prisoner or the prisoner’s relative/legal aid may submit an application to the prison superintendent who in turn forwards the application to the ‘competent authority’, often under the jurisdiction of district magistrate concerned and comprising prison and police authorities, to sanction release. After due verification of reasons and prisoner’s conduct by the competent authority, an order for grant of release on parole will be issued. In case of rejection of the said application, a convict may approach the Gujarat High Court.

The Prison rules state that parole period may not be granted for more than 30 days and the competent authority may exercise its discretion in case of serious illnesses or death of “nearest relative such as mother, father, sister, brother, children, spouse of the prisoner, or in case of natural calamity.” Parole or extension of parole cannot be granted minus a report of the police authority. Apart from the remedy to approach a high court for parole in case of a rejected application, a prison can also approach the high court directly in case of an extraordinary emergency. However, the announcement made by Chief minister Bhupendra Patel excludes prisoners whose appeals are pending before the High Court, NRI prisoners, foreign prisoners, those associated with terrorist activities and anti social activities.

Of the 181 prisoners to be covered under this announcement, 60 are women.

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What has been the parole precedent in the recent past?

Specific to Gujarat, Covid-19 pandemic and Cyclone Tauktae were some recent circumstances under which the courts have exercised discretion in favour of prisoners for grant of parole. During the pandemic, in a bid to decongest prisons, the Supreme Court in March 2020 had directed states and union territories to constitute High-Powered Committees which in turn may “determine the category of prisoners who should be released depending upon the nature of offence, the number of years to which he/she has been sentenced, the severity of offences which he/she is charged with and the stage of trial or any other relevant factor which the Committee thinks appropriate.”

In an affidavit filed by Deputy Inspector General of Police (Prisons) Gujarat in 2020, it was submitted that as of March 28, 2020, against a total capacity of 13,724 jail inmates across all jails in the state, occupancy was at 14,991 inmates and following High-Powered Committee’s consideration of relief in light of pandemic and overcrowding in jails, it was decided to release 2,200 jail inmates, either on temporary bail or parole or furlough. By July 2020, a total of 2,813 inmates were released, including 1,107 who were granted parole by the High-Power Committee.

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