SC stamp on states' prisoner powers

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  • Published 4.11.07

New Delhi, Nov. 4: The Supreme Court has upheld states’ powers to classify prisoners according to the gravity of their crimes and take a call on whether they could be released before time.

The order sets aside a Punjab and Haryana High Court ruling that said states had no authority to categorise prisoners. “The high court might not be correct in holding that (view),” the apex court said last week.

A classification made on the basis of “reasonable criteria” would not violate the right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution, the apex court said, while ruling on the Haryana government’s appeal against the high court order.

Based on the rules, the state had freed two convicts given life terms for the murder of three people. The trio were sentenced by a trial court in 1988 and the high court had dismissed their appeal.

The rules allow the state to consider freeing lifers if they have completed 10 years of actual imprisonment and 14 years in total, including the time served as an undertrial.

Under the state’s policy unveiled in April 2002, prisoners were divided into those convicted of serious charges and those who were not. The first category comprised those whose death sentence had been commuted to life and life convicts guilty of heinous crimes such as murder, repeated rape and sedition.

They could be considered for premature release if they had completed 20 years of the actual sentence and 25 years in total, including the time spent as an undertrial.

In the second category were life convicts guilty of murder with wrongful confinement for extortion/robbery, murder with dacoity and murders under the anti-terror law (Tada) and the Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955. Their cases could be considered for early release only if they had completed 14 years of their actual sentence, including the trial period. But the total time served, including remissions, should not be less than 20 years.