Calcutta, Jan. 31: The day that began with “a sense of real anticipation” for Peter Bleach ended with him trying in vain to sidestep splinter cases that loomed as legal landmines on his path to freedom.
It was 10.27 am by the Alipore central jail clock when British deputy high commissioner Andrew Hall drove in through the prison gates.
Sixteen hours before that, the presidential order granting remission of the rest of Bleach’s life sentence in connection with the Purulia armsdrop had reached Writers’ Buildings. This had prompted the diplomatic office in Calcutta and the home office in London to eye a berth for Bleach on the Sunday morning British Airways flight back home after spending more than eight years in Calcutta jails.
Some six hours later, when Hall emerged from the forbidding red building, the mood had turned distinctly downbeat.
“We are happy with the President of India’s order.… We have been in discussions with the West Bengal government, but all the formalities have not yet been worked out.… We hope it (Bleach’s release) will happen soon,” he told reporters gathered in front of Alipore jail since morning.
What precisely is holding up Bleach’s release' In broad print, it is the clause in the presidential note, which reached home secretary Amit Kiran Deb yesterday that no other case should be pending against Bleach. In fine print, it could be anything from “simple officialdom” to “lack of political will at the local level”, feel those closely connected with the case that has never been cracked.
“I spoke to Delhi to find out if there is any other case pending against him and I was told that there is one with customs in Mumbai. Unless that is cleared by the Centre, we cannot release him,” Deb stated today.
He had conveyed this over telephone to IG (prisons) Joydeb Chakraborty, the jail superintendent and the jail secretary who were huddled in the marathon meeting in the jail with Hall and two senior officials from the British deputy high commission.
But confusion continued to be a close ally of the Purulia case, with Chakraborty basing the crux of his argument against Bleach being allowed to leave on what the home secretary had brushed aside as “the other minor case in Alipore jail that has already been settled”.
The IG (prisons), after leaving Alipore jail around 1.15 pm, said: “Bleach will not be released till he appears in the chief metropolitan magistrate’s court on February 12, regarding the assault charge filed against him in Hastings thana (for an alleged attack on convict Kamal Routh in Presidency jail). He was granted bail, but the court has summoned him again. If he moves court and has this matter cleared, then he can go.”
Chakraborty went on to mention the customs case — involving charges related to the impounding of the aircraft used in the armsdrop, along with foreign currency and light arms recovered at the scene of the arrest at Mumbai airport in December 1995 — pending against Bleach in Mumbai.
“He had been summoned in September 2003, but could not be produced because he was unwell. There has been no communication about this since, and they are awaiting word about his present status.”