The Maharashtra government on Friday said it can justify "every single minute" of parole or furlough granted to actor Sanjay Dutt, who was in jail in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case, prompting the Bombay high court to ask if same rules were applied to every inmate.
A public interest litigation has questioned the "frequent" parole or furlough Dutt, sentenced to five years in jail in the case, got, and his early release from prison in 2016.
Parole is granted for special reasons, while prisoners are entitled to furlough as a matter of right.
Maharashtra Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni said, "Not even for a single minute or second was Dutt out of jail in breach of law. We can account for every single minute that he was permitted to stay out of jail.
"We follow a strict, standard procedure for granting parole for every inmate. In times of RTI queries and public interest litigations, we take no chance," he said.
During a hearing last year, the state had told another bench of the high court that the actor earned early release by displaying exemplary conduct while in jail.
The court had, however, pointed out that Dutt got parole just two months into his sentence, and also a furlough at the same time, a concession other convicts rarely get.
Kumbhakoni said this concession was granted in July 2013 on account of medical emergencies in his family.
"This was on account of his daughter's illness and his wife needing a surgery," Kumbhakoni said.
"In cases of medical emergency, we take between 24 hours and eight days to decide on applications of parole. In Dutt's case, we sent a police officer to interview the doctor who was to perform the surgery to ensure that this was a genuine case," the advocate general said.
The division bench of Justices S C Dharmadhikari and Bharati Dangre directed the state to submit an affidavit detailing the steps followed while granting parole and furlough to an "average" inmate.
"You can show us that you follow the same procedure for all inmates....Else we'll have to issue directions," the judges said, adjourning the hearing to February 1.
According to the state government's submissions, in view of Dutt's good conduct, it decided to release him on February 25, 2016, eight months and 16 days before he completed his five-year sentence.
Dutt was convicted of charges of illegal possession and destruction of an AK-56 rifle that was part of the consignment of firearms and explosives to be used in the 1993 terror attack.
He spent over a year and four months in jail as an undertrial, and about two-and-a-half years as a convicted prisoner between June 2013 and February 2016.
During this period, he was out of jail for over five months on parole and furlough.