The Maharashtra government on Tuesday faced flak from the Bombay high court for showing "extra diligence" in approving an extension to the parole granted to actor Sanjay Dutt.
The court also directed the state's chief secretary to form a committee comprising senior home, law and judiciary department officials, representatives of jail administration and other competent officers to suggest amendments to the rules and procedure related to the screening of parole and furlough applications.
"This type of diligence is not shown for all convicts. Why does the state government adopt a casual approach when the convict is a common man? We have seen in many cases convicts approach us stating their parole and furlough applications have not been decided for months together and then we have to interfere and direct for their pleas to be processed," a division bench of justices N H Patil and V L Achliya said while hearing a PIL against the extension of parole to Dutt.
Dutt had been convicted under the Arms Act during the 1993 Bombay serial blasts trial.
Dutt's parole was recently extended till March 21 by the Pune Divisional Commissioner on ground of his wife Manyata's ill health.
"The medical report says she (Manyata) is suffering from TB and requires treatment at home and that she may require surgery in future. There are cases where convicts who are themselves suffering from cancer and other life threatening diseases are not granted parole," Justice Achliya said after perusing the report.
"We are not saying that his wife is not that ill as it is made out to be. Pain and suffering is equal to all. But the discrimination is done by the state government," observed Justice Patil.
The bench was also critical of the fact that while granting Dutt parole, the authorities had imposed a bond of only Rs 5,000 on him.
"In every other case we have seen that a bond of Rs 10,000, Rs 15,000 and Rs 20,000 is levied. Poor convicts approach high court seeking for the bond amount to be lowered. Suddenly in this case you have come down to Rs 5,000. The authorities should exercise their discretion properly," the court said.
While directing the chief secretary to constitute a committee to suggest amendments to rules governing parole and furlough, the bench asked the state government to intimate it within four weeks about the steps taken in this regard.
"The government, we have noticed, has issued circulars from time to time asking all divisional commissioners to consider and decide parole and furlough applications in a time bound manner. But these circulars are being violated by your own officers. No corrective steps are being taken," Justice Patil said.
Petitioner's lawyer Nikhil Chaudhari argued that while Dutt's application for parole and its extension were considered and decided within a week, similar applications of other convicts were kept pending for months together.
"Convicts in the same 1993 blasts case like Zaibunissa Kazi, who is suffering from kidney failure and Farooq Motorwala, whose wife is suffering from serious illness, had to come to high court as their applications, filed last year, were yet to be decided," Chaudhari said.
He said Dutt, who surrendered on May 16, 2013 was out on furlough within four months.
"In October he was granted furlough of 28 days and then in December he was granted parole and he has been out since then. Dutt has availed 118 days of furlough and leave in nine months," Chaudhari said.
Dutt's lawyer Hitesh Jain, however, submitted RTI documents showing the number of applications decided by the Pune divisional commissioner in the past three years.
"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.
The divisional commissioner is lenient in general and has not shown any bias towards Dutt," Jain said.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had last week defended the decision to extend parole to Dutt, saying the action was taken as per law and no rules were violated.
"Decisions are taken as per law, without violating any provisions. Decisions are taken at the appropriate level. There is nothing political in it, no rules were violated," he had said amid controversy over the frequent leave granted to the actor.
The actor was granted a month-long parole on December 6 last year, which was extended by another 30 days on account of his wife's illness. Before that, he was on a month-long leave of furlough on medical grounds.
Dutt's release on parole in December had sparked protests outside Yerawada jail, forcing the government to order an inquiry.
The actor has been convicted under the Arms Act for illegal possession of weapons, part of a cache to be used during the terror attack.
Of his five years sentence, Dutt has completed 18 months and is serving the remaining term.