Lucknow, June 6: For 97 convicts, death is better than a life term.
These prisoners, all sentenced to life imprisonment and lodged in Allahabads Naini Central Jail, have completed 14 years behind bars.
A lifer in India usually had to spend 14-20 years in jail. But the Supreme Court, in a 2005 ruling, laid down that a sentence of life imprisonment meant the convict would have to spend his entire life behind bars unless the government remitted his term.
These 97 prisoners have now written to the President saying they would prefer euthanasia to spending more time within the four walls of their prison cells.
Most of the prisoners were convicted in murder cases, a majority of them over land disputes.
In their six-page letter, which has the thumb impressions of the 97 convicts, the prisoners have asked the President why they were not being released though in 2000, the Uttar Pradesh government had released 12 lifers who had completed 14 years in jail.
If the intention of the government is to let us die here, let them expedite the death process. Our relatives wait to hear the news of our death every day. Had we faced the gallows, our families would not have gone through this, says the missive.
S.K. Sharma, senior superintendent of Naini Central Jail, confirmed that the convicts had sent their appeal to Rashtrapati Bhavan.
All I can say is that they have completed more than 14 years. We are the custodians of convicts. We have no power to pass judgment on the merit of the letter, he said.
But deputy jailer Badri Prasad appeared sympathetic. Of the 97 lifers, over 50 are 80 years old. They are suffering from various ailments.
The debate arose with the Supreme Court stating in 2005 that imprisonment for life should be treated as whole of the remaining period of the convicts natural life and not 14 or 20 years in jail.
But A.K. Goswami, a lawyer based in Allahabad, said that despite the apex court order, a grey area exists that raises a humanitarian question.
If it is not a death row convict, legally and morally, jails probably should not end up being a death house for life convicts, he said.
The 97 convicts could, however, pin their hopes on chief minister Mayavati, who has directed her prison department to prepare a list of 2,500 old, crippled and sick men and women who could be released before their jail term matured.