Calcutta, May 4: After 21 years in a dark and dingy cell, a ray of hope is in sight for Kajol Bhattacharya.
A division bench of Calcutta High Court today directed the state department of jails to take steps to immediately release Bhattacharya on bail after it was told that his appeal against a trial court verdict has been gathering dust for over a decade.
Sentenced to life imprisonment on the charge of murder, Bhattacharya has been languishing in jail for 21 years. A life term lasts 14 years.
The matter came to light when the state legal aid services authority, following a Supreme Court directive, was digging out cases lying unattended for years.
'When the issue came to the notice of the West Bengal Legal Aid Services Authority, it assigned me to make a bail plea on behalf of Bhattacharya,' advocate Asim Roy told the court.
Chief Justice V.S. Sirpurkar, the presiding judge of the bench, said: 'It is horrible. I cannot even imagine that a person is waiting for so many years for justice.'
He asked the state government for a report on Bhattacharya's behaviour from the committee that reviews the conduct of prisoners. The committee examines the conduct of jail inmates after they have served a sentence of 12 years.
On the night of December 23, 1983, Bhattacharya, a resident of Kali Charan Ghosh Street under Cossipore police station, had a heated exchange with his wife Champalata. Soon after, Champalata left for her parents' home, which is close by.
'Bhattacharya followed her there. Husband and wife started quarrelling when Champalata's father, Balai Sarkar, tried to intervene. According to an FIR lodged at Cossipore police station, Bhattacharya suddenly whipped out a pistol from inside his shirt and shot at Balai, who later succumbed to his injury,' Roy told the court.
The advocate added that police arrested Bhattacharya, on March 7, 1984 and his trial started at the Alipore sessions court. He was 29 years old then.
On January 18, 1992, the Alipore judge held Bhattacharya guilty of murdering his father-in-law. 'The trial judge, however, acquitted the accused of the charge of possessing arms,' Roy said.
The advocate told the high court that Bhattacharya could not afford a lawyer to argue his case in the trial court. 'The jail authorities, however, filed an appeal on his behalf before the high court towards the end of 1992,' he said.
'Since then, there has been no one to pursue his case. The appeal filed on behalf of Bhattacharya was kept pending with the high court for so many years. When the state legal aid services authority found out about the case, it took the initiative for speedy disposal of the matter,' the lawyer said.
The high court bench reacted sharply after hearing Roy's arguments.
The judges, who had initially sought only the review committee's report on Bhattacharya, changed their mind and asked the state authorities to grant him bail immediately.
Bhattacharya's appeal against the trial court's judgment will be heard later.