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Free run for Sanjay and Twitter jokes

Mumbai, Feb. 24: Sanjay Dutt’s back-to-back paroles have prompted not just a query from the Union home ministry but also multiple jokes.

Some say he has marked more time in jail on reel as Munnabhai than as an inmate at Pune’s Yerawada jail. On Twitter, he is being variously described as “India’s first freelance prisoner” and “best actor on parole”.

Poker-faced bureaucrats are also finding it difficult to deadpan when it comes to Sanjay. After the Union minister sought a report today on the chain of paroles, a senior official wisecracked: “Given the state machinery’s keenness to keep Sanjay out of prison, they might expel him from Yerawada jail for low attendance.”

Mumbai police are also bemused. “It is like Sanjay’s Pali Hill residence has turned into an extension of Yerawada,” said one officer.

Sanjay had surrendered before a court in Mumbai on May 18, 2013, after the Supreme Court rejected his plea to review an earlier order which had upheld his conviction in the 1993 Bombay blasts case.

he Supreme Court had reduced his jail term from six years to five. Since Sanjay had already spent 18 months as an undertrial after his arrest in 1993, his effective time behind bars after conviction would have been three-and-a-half years or 42 months.

Since going to jail in May last year, Dutt has been granted two leaves of furlough and allowed parole three times so far. That works out to a total of four months outside the jail in 10 months.

While parole is granted in cases of emergencies at the discretion of jail authorities, furlough leave is available as a right to the prisoner as defined by the courts and is treated as a remission of sentence.

On October 1, the actor was granted a two-week furlough for undergoing some medical tests. By the time the two weeks were over, it became clear that he had sought and been granted another two weeks of furlough. Sanjay returned to jail only on October 30.

“As per the Maharashtra Prison Manual of 1979, no convict can be granted furlough exceeding 21 days in a year. Also, a convict has to complete a year in prison before being sent out on parole. In Sanjay’s case, both the provisions were breached,” said Mumbai lawyer Nikhil Chaudhuri.

Tomorrow, Bombay High Court will hear a PIL against the repeated paroles allowed to Sanjay. The petition has been filed by one of Chaudhuri’s clients, Tushar Rabale, a Pune-based lawyer.

“The state government has contravened its own laws by granting continuous parole to actor Sanjay Dutt. The step is unconstitutional and is discriminatory towards other convicts. Just four months after his sentence began, Dutt applied for a 15-day furlough, complaining of leg pain. He sought and was granted another extension of 15 days at the end of the first furlough,” said Chaudhuri.

Dutt was out again a few days before Christmas — this time on a month’s parole.

“Please understand the difference between a parole and a furlough,” Sanjay had told reporters outside his Pali Hill apartment on December 21 when he returned home from jail and had claimed that he had sought parole as he feared his “wife might have cancer”.

When the one-month parole ended on January 21, Dutt sought an extension and was granted one till February 21. On February 18, the government granted him another extension till March 21.

According to jail rules, a convict can get a maximum of 90 days’ parole during a year calculated from April 1 to March 31 the following year. If the rule is followed, this is the last parole Sanjay can get this year.

Sanjay’s parole petitions — filed from Khar police station which is close to his Pali Hill residence — have always come with “very positive police reports,” said a source in Pune divisional commissionerate which approves the paroles.

Out on parole, Sanjay has been using his time “fruitfully”, focusing on his film production business. In the past one month, he has been meeting directors for making at least two films planned by his production house.

The actor and his wife held talks with and signed on choreographer-turned-director Prabhu Deva this month and are in final stage of talks with Rajkumar Hirani and Rohit Shetty.

At least one of the films will take off in 2016 when the prison term is expected to end formally. Sanjay is also giving finishing touches to his current home production Hasmukh Pighal Gaya.