Calcutta, Sept. 13: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's government today decided to join the legal battle over the release of 23 life convicts who have spent more than 14 years in various state prisons and moved the Supreme Court for freedom.
The decision follows the apex court's directive to the government yesterday to reply within four weeks to the petitions by the convicts.
'We have received the apex court's order and have decided to contest the case. Advocate Tarachand Sharma will move on behalf of the government,' home secretary Prasad Ranjan Roy said.
Roy, who also heads the advisory committee that reviews early release of life convicts, said there is a provision of periodically reviewing the cases of those who have completed 14 years in prison. He added that a division bench of the court had in a June 2001 judgment held that 'life sentence means imprisonment for life not 14 years as it is followed in tradition'. The verdict came in the case of Lakshman Laskar versus the state of Bengal.
According to jail officials, the case of a murder convict serving a life sentence is sent to the advisory committee after he completes 14 years in prison. 'But it is not mandatory for us to release them after completion the period of 14 years. In fact, the apex court's ruling says life sentence means confinement in jail till death,' said state judicial secretary N.K. Chakraborty, who is also a member of the committee.
Chakraborty, accompanied by jail secretary P.K. Agrawal, today visited Alipore Central Jail and Presidency Jail to enquire about the condition of some life convicts lodged there.
Records from various jails reveal that on an average, 25 life convicts are being released after 14 years or more every year on the basis of the committee's recommendations. 'But life convicts cannot claim premature release as their right. It is solely the government's discretion to release a life convict prematurely,' said a deputy inspector general of prisons. Jail officials confirmed that the 23 life convicts who had moved the apex court are from Behrampore Central Jail, Alipore jail, Presidency and Dum Dum Central Jail. These jails house the maximum number of such convicts.
Over 1500 life convicts are lodged in eight prisons across Bengal. Most of them are relegated to a life of utter neglect without proper diet and medicine.