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Reprieve for aged, ailing convicts
- 70 & above Prisoners to be freed in phases from jails

Ashalata Das, 80, lodged in Presidency jail, in Alipore, for murdering her daughter-in-law, wants to forget her 'sordid past'. She, instead, looks forward to a 'bright future'.

Last week, she was declared a 'fit case' for being released early from jail due to her advanced age and related health problems.

Ashalata is among seven prisoners, all above 70, who are set to be freed from prisons across the state.

In the first-ever move to help aged and ailing convicts join the mainstream, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government has decided to set them free from the 53 jails in the city and districts.

'Our jails are called correctional homes. The move tries to ensure that aged prisoners spend the rest of their lives peacefully, like other human beings. Though the seven have been convicted for life, the government considers their cases special in the light of their old age and related ailments,' P.D. Mondal, deputy inspector-general of prisons (headquarters), said on Wednesday.

He explained that prisoners declared 'pretty old' after an ossification test by a team of jail doctors would be freed in phases from the jails.

'Presidency jail is making a pioneering attempt to release prisoners aged above 70 by undertaking a survey,' he added.

Ashalata, a resident of Howrah, has been lodged in Presidency jail since April 30, 2002. 'I am too old to walk properly. It is a blessing that I have been chosen for early release,' she told a jail officer.

The officer said a letter containing the names of seven aged convicts was sent to inspector-general of prisons Joydeb Chakraborty recently, requesting him to consider their cases for early release. 'The proposal will now be placed before the judicial department. Its green light is necessary to expedite the release process,' the officer added.

Like Ashalata, Pannalal Jaiswara, 74, is eager to return home. Lodged in Presidency jail since 1993 in connection with the Bowbazar blasts case, Jaiswara was sentenced under TADA on August 31, 2001.

'I have been languishing in jail for 12 years. I am old, crippled and ailing. It's a great relief that I shall be released shortly,' a warder quoted Jaiswara as saying.

Lakshman Manna, 72, from Hooghly, was sentenced to rigorous imprisonment on April 19, 2001, for causing grievous hurt to his neighbour. He, too, looks set to taste freedom. 'Though Manna has so far served only three years of his sentence, we have decided to release him because of his old age,' said a Presidency jail officer.

Jail superintendent S.R. Hussain confirmed that he had written to the prison directorate regarding the matter.

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