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Centre worry on state law

New Delhi, Nov. 26: The Centre has asked the Bengal government to amend a law under which even executed 26/11 gunman Ajmal Kasab could have been considered a “political prisoner”.

Section 24 of the West Bengal Correctional Services Act, 1992, enables even those charged with murder or waging war against the nation to enjoy the status of a political prisoner if they can prove the crime was an act “with an exclusive political objective free from personal greed”.

Political prisoners are entitled to better facilities such as chair, table, cot, writing material and newspapers.

In August, a single-judge bench of Calcutta High Court had granted political prisoner status to seven alleged Maoist undertrials based on the act.

Fearing that Maoists and terrorists could take advantage of the law, the Union home ministry had on October 8 written to Bengal’s home secretary urging him to consider inserting a clause to prevent granting political prisoner status to any member of a banned organisation.

“Even before writing the letter we had told the Bengal government (about our fears). They said we would think of an ordinance. But they are yet to reply,” said a source.

Aftab Ansari, who is on death row for the 2002 American Center attack, has requested Alipore central jail authorities for political prisoner status.

Sources said Union ministry officials fear Ansari might soon be able to enjoy the status. Worse, an exchange of communication between the home ministry and the law ministry last month concluded that the Centre cannot appeal in such cases as prisons is a state subject.