The Delhi High Court has said that the application for premature release of convicts who have undergone long incarceration period must not be dealt with in mechanical and clerical manner.

Chambers of Ishaan Garg

Ch. No. 217, Western Wing, District & Sessions Court, Tis Hazari, New Delhi, Delhi 110054

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Justice Saurabh Banerjee observed that when the convict has undergone substantial and long period of incarceration, the eventual purpose of imprisonment, including the most serious offences, is reformative and not retributive.

The court said that to deny the benefit of remission to a convict, solely on the basis of the nature of crime committed and without appreciating other parameters including but not limited to his age, health, socio-economic condition, family relations, post- conviction and jail conduct would not serve the ends of justice.

“It is of ultimate importance that the societal interest must be balanced with the rights of the convict and resorting to mechanical and clerical approach in dealing with the application of premature release where the convicts have undergone long periods of incarceration which will result in defeating the said purpose,” the court said.

Justice Banerjee made the observations while dealing with a plea moved by a convict, who had been in jail for more than 19 years after being convicted for highjacking a flight, challenging an order passed by Deputy Secretary (Home) in 2021 rejecting his application for premature release.

Hari Singh was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2021 under Section 4 of the Anti Hijacking Act, 1982 and Section 353, 365 and 506(II) of Indian Penal Code, 1860. His appeal against the conviction was dismissed by the High Court in 2011.
It was Singh’s case that he was in judicial custody since April 1993 and that despite becoming eligible for premature release in 2019, after completion of 14 years of incarceration including 10 years without remission, his name was sent to the Sentence Review Board (SRB) after a delay of 2 years.

It was submitted that the SRB rejected his name in a mechanical manner in direct contravention of not only the Delhi Prison Rules and his fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of India, but also the recommendations passed by the National Human Rights Commission.

On the other hand, the prosecution submitted that considering the gravity and heinousness of the offence wherein Singh hijacked an Indian Airlines flight, took it to Pakistan and then to Amritsar, putting the life of almost 200 passengers in jeopardy, the SRB had rightly exercised its discretion to not grant remission of sentence.

Granting relief to Singh, the court remanded the matter back to the DG (Prisons) and the SRB to reconsider the convict’s application for premature release afresh, with a direction to return a finding with adequate reasoning.

“The above clearly shows that in terms of the factors enumerated hereinabove, the SRB has only considered factor (i) i.e., whether the offence affects the society at large, but has failed to return any finding on the remaining factors (ii) to (v). Though this Court is mindful of the gravity and nature of the offence committed by the petitioner, however, in the opinion of this Court, the same cannot be the only factor to deny the benefit of premature release of the petitioner,” the court said.

It noted that Singh had undergone almost 16 years and 5 months of incarceration and had earned a total remission of approximately 3 years and 9 months.

“The petitioner has been working as a ‘Lunger Sahayak’ and his overall jail conduct has been satisfactory. The petitioner has been granted bail/parole/furlough for a total of 26 times, and no punishment has been awarded to him since his incarceration,” the court said.