Madurai Bench of the High Court of Madras has directed the Home Secretary to review all orders passed by the Government so far rejecting the plea for premature release of life convicts, who had completed 14 years of imprisonment, by erroneously relying upon Rule 341(3) even though such convicts were otherwise entitled to be released under Rule 341(2) of the Tamil Nadu Prison Rules, 1983. The exercise has been directed to be completed within a period of six months from the date of receipt of the order.
Rule 341(3) states that prisoners sentenced to more than three years could be considered for premature release if they had completed two-thirds of their sentence. However, a proviso to the rule lists down series of offences such as rape, forgery, dacoity, economic offences, immoral trafficking, food adulteration, terrorism and crimes against the State for which the rule would not apply.
However, Rule 341(2), states that the plea for premature release of life convicts could be considered on completion of 10 years of imprisonment. A proviso to this rule added that if the convict had been imposed with life sentence for an offence for which death was one of the punishments or if a convict’s sentence had been commuted from death to life imprisonment, then their plea could be considered only after 14 years of incarceration.
The Bench, comprising Justice S. Nagamuthu and Justice M.V. Muralidaran held that the officials had been erroneously rejecting pleas for premature release filed by several life convicts sentenced for murder and offences such as rape by applying Rule 341(3).
It further asserted that such convicts would be entitled for premature release even if clause (3) was applied because sentences for various offences generally run concurrently and the convicts would have undergone the entire sentence imposed for the lesser offences before the completion of 14 years.
The Court was hearing a petition filed by Mr. P. Veera Bhaarathi, who had been convicted of rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl in Virudhunagar district in 1999 and imposed with death penalty. His punishment was commuted to life imprisonment a year later. He had now petitioned the Court for premature release, arguing in person against the State Public Prosecutor.
Agreeing with the contentions put forth by the petitioner, the Court observed, “As we have already elaborately dealt with, since the petitioner has completed 14 years of actual imprisonment, he is eligible for being considered under Rule 341(2) of the Rules and he does not claim for premature release on his completing 2/3rd of imprisonment, as provided in Sub-Rule 3 of Rule 341 of the Rules. Therefore, the proviso to Sub-Rule 3 of Rule 341 of the Rules shall not be an impediment, in any manner, for the petitioner for being considered for premature release under Sub-Rule 2 of Rule 341 of the Rules.”
The Court relied on a communication issued by the Director General of Police on November 4, 1989, wherein the DGP had stated that if convicts had been sentenced for murder as well as other offences and their sentences had been ordered to run concurrently, then they would become eligible for premature release with respect to their life sentence after the completion of the sentence imposed for the lesser offences.
It therefore observed, “Many of the prisoners, due to ignorance of law or out of lack of wherewithal and help, without approaching this Court for relief, are languishing in various prisons in the State. Though they have not approached this Court, on that score alone, we cannot deny justice to them, as poverty and ignorance cannot stand in the way of a person securing his right, such as, liberty, which is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution. Therefore, we direct the first respondent to review all the cases of the life convicts, who have completed 14 years of imprisonment lodged in various prisons in the State, where their claims for premature release have been rejected placing reliance erroneously on the proviso to Sub-Rule 3 of Rule 341 of the Rules, thereby ignoring the clarification issued by the Director General of Prisons, by his proceedings No.14189up;l1/89, dated 04.11.1989. In short, the first respondent shall act on the said clarification and review the cases of such eligible convicts, who are lodged in various jails in the State.”
Read the order here.