The Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional guarantees against arbitrary treatment must not be foreclosed by an unfair process.
In the batch of cases which emanates from Uttar Pradesh, five hundred and twelve convicts who are undergoing a sentence of imprisonment for life seek premature release.
On 1 August 2018, the Government of Uttar Pradesh issued a policy governing premature release of convicts with the approval of the Governor under Article 161 of the Constitution. The policy is described as a “Standing Policy regarding premature release of prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment on the occasion of every Republic Day (26th January)”. The policy sets out categories of convicts entitled to premature release.
The division bench of Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and Justice Hima Kohli noted that the imposition of the requirement that a convict undergoing imprisonment for life would not be eligible for premature release until attaining the age of sixty years led to the institution of petitions under Article 32 of the Constitution before the Court.
The court further noted that the requirement that a convict undergoing life imprisonment could be considered for release only after attaining the age of sixty has been deleted.
The court said that the implementation of the policy for premature release has to be carried out in an objective and transparent manner as otherwise it would impinge on the constitutional guarantees under Articles 14 and 21.
“Once the state has formulated its policy defining the terms for premature release, due consideration in terms of the policy must be given to all eligible convicts” the court added.
The bench stated that the promise of equality in our Constitution would not be fulfilled if liberty were to be conditional on an individual’s resources, which unfortunately many of these cases provide hard evidence of.
The court directed that all the cases for premature release of convicts undergoing imprisonment for life in the batch of cases shall be considered in terms of the policy dated 1 August 2018, as amended, subject to the observations contained in the judgment.
The court added that the restriction that a life convict is not eligible for premature release until attaining the age of sixty years, which was introduced by the policy of 28 July 2021, stands deleted by the amendment dated 27 May 2022. Hence, no case for premature release shall be rejected on that ground.
The court ordered that in terms of para 4 of the policy dated 1 August 2018, no application is required to be submitted by a convict undergoing life imprisonment for premature release.
The bench directed that all the cases of convicts undergoing life sentence in the State of Uttar Pradesh who are eligible for being considered for premature release in terms of the policy, including but not confined to the five hundred and twelve prisoners involved in the batch of cases, shall be considered in terms of the procedure for premature release stipulated in the policy.
Case title: Rashidul Jafar @ Chota v/s State of Uttar Pradesh & Anr
Citation: Writ Petition (Criminal) No 336 of 2019