Parole And Prejudice

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A panel of police and government officials cleared Manu Sharma’s parole, claims Delhi CM Sheila Dixit. Untrue, finds Shobhita Naithani

In and out Manu Sharma got his parole in record time, while the pleas of other convicts are still on hold
In and out Manu Sharma got his parole in record time, while the pleas of other convicts are still on hold
Photo: AP

THE DAY Manu Sharma sauntered out of Delhi’s Tihar jail on parole, he left behind over a dozen irate, but helpless prisoners. They too had applied for parole – a system that allows a prisoner to be released temporarily before they have served their full sentence – much before him; their reasons were as varied as a marriage in the family, the settlement of a property dispute and the need to tend to sick family members. There’s been no word on their applications yet.

But Manu Sharma is different and so, too, were his reasons. The 32-year-old is the son of Haryana Congress bigwig Venod Sharma, someone who played a vital role in ensuring the formation of the new Congress government in Haryana. Manu Sharma asked for parole on three grounds: to attend religious rites for his late grandmother, to tend to his ageing mother and, as the largest shareholder of Piccadilly Industries, to take care of the family’s business interest.

Curiously, Manu’s parole application acquired an unusual, almost unrestrained momentum. Manu was convicted by the Delhi High Court in 2006 for the murder of model Jessica Lall. On September 22, he got a month’s reprieve from life imprisonment – within days of applying for it. “There is no arguing that the process was speeded up,” a Delhi police official who requested anonymity told TEHELKA.

Defending his parole, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit told the media, “The decision was taken by a committee that included the jail superintendent, the home secretary, the Delhi government, the Delhi Police and the Lt Governor.” But that’s incorrect, to put it mildly. No committee meeting took place. Both the Delhi Police and the Tihar Jail authorities deny any meeting. This indicates that the decision to parole Manu Sharma was taken between the Chief Minister, Lt Governor Tejendra Khanna and Home Ministry officials.

Manu Sharma got parole from a verdict of life imprisonment within weeks of his request

It all started in the first week of September when Manu Sharma applied to the Delhi government for parole. The request was forwarded to the Delhi police (which has jurisdiction over the site of the crime) and to the Chandigarh police (jurisdiction over the place of the convict’s residence), as specified by the Delhi Jail Manual, to seek their verification. The Delhi Police carried out an inquiry and learnt that his grandmother had passed away in April 2008 and that there was no pressing reason for him to attend any rituals in September 2009. They also discovered that his mother’s illness was not as grave as “warranting permanent escort” and that “looking after business interests” had no place in the guidelines for granting parole. According to the Delhi Jail Manual, a prisoner may be released on parole for up to four weeks in cases of serious illness or deaths among his nearest relatives.

Meanwhile, the Chandigarh Police conveyed strikingly sparse information to the Delhi government: the family was performing rites for his dead grandmother; a medical report from a government doctor stated Manu’s mother was unwell; Manu was a partner in a business and that they didn’t have any pending case against him. “We only give the facts. The approval is for the decision makers,” Chandigarh SSP SS Srivastava told TEHELKA. Simultaneously, Tihar Jail authorities were asked for Manu’s conduct report, which they said was “good”. As a matter of procedure, all responses were sent to the Home Ministry, which forwarded them to the CM’s office and finally to the LG’s office. However, the decision makers chose to ignore the Delhi Police’s recommendations. On September 18, Manu Sharma was paroled.

The blame game that is under way is further indication of wrongdoing

“A mother’s illness is valid grounds, but it appears that she wasn’t ill,” says High Court lawyer HS Phoolka. It is alleged that Manu’s mother, general secretary of the Chandigarh Women’s Cricket Association, held a press conference in the family-run Piccadilly Hotel in Chandigarh while he was out on parole.

As if this were not enough, the Delhi government extended Manu’s parole on October 21 for another month “to attend (to) business and related activities”. “Extensions happen in very rare, critical cases. Business activities don’t come under that,” says a Delhi Police official.

Unsurprisingly, the blame game has begun. And soon, unsurprisingly, it will die. Neither the home secretary nor the joint secretary (Home) — key decisionmakers on paroles — were available for comment despite repeated phone calls.

But what’s promising is that the Delhi High Court has directed the Delhi home secretary “to personally appear before it to explain the delay in dealing with applications on parole”. Last month, the High Court, responding to a plea by 28 prisoners who complained to the court about the delay in hearing their parole requests, had also asked the government to prepare new guidelines so that the parole of convicts can be made trouble-free. Perhaps senior advocate KTS Tulsi says it best: “Liberty is very precious, whether you are rich or poor. I wish every prisoner benefited from the the same speedy process as did Manu Sharma.”

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PAROLE: FIVE FACTS

There are no statutory provisions that deal with parole

Different states have different rules that regulate the grant of parole

It is an executive function and not granted by a court of law

It does not amount to a suspension of the sentence

The time spent on parole is not counted as part of the sentence

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