Can exorbitant escort charges for prisoners on parole be waived, HC asks Maharashtra govt

Mohammed, who was sentenced to life imprisonment and is lodged in Nagpur Central Prison, had in 2020 sought a 14-day parole due to the death of his father and brother.

Noting that paying an amount of “nearly Rs 1 lakh per day” was not possible for 95% of the prison population, the Bombay High Court has asked the Maharashtra government to inform it of any provision that permitted exemption of escort charges in the event parole was granted to convicts.

A division bench of Justice S S Shinde and Justice N J Jamadar was on Tuesday hearing a plea by two convicts in 2006 Mumbai serial train blasts case — Mohammed Ali Alam Shaikh and Muzammil Attaur Rehman Shaikh — who challenged the 2018 amendment to the prison rules, which makes it mandatory for convicts to pay “exorbitant” police escort charges for release on parole following a blood relative’s death.

Mohammed, who was sentenced to life imprisonment and is lodged in Nagpur Central Prison, had in 2020 sought a 14-day parole due to the death of his father and brother. The court granted him parole in February this year and said that he can approach Jail Superintendent seeking waiver of the Rs 1. 63 lakh escort charges.

Muzammil, who was also sentenced to life imprisonment and is lodged in Nashik Central prison, had in 2019 sought emergency parole to complete his father’s final rites. The HC had asked the Jail Superintendent to consider his request for parole. His plea said that earlier, in 2018, he was granted parole by the Supreme Court to meet his mother and had to pay Rs 70,000 escort charges. He wished to meet his bedridden mother again, but the amount he would be required to pay for the purpose is unjustified, the plea said.

The two convicts moved the HC claiming the Jail Superintendent was demanding “heavy escort charges” for release on parole, which they could not afford and sought to waive off the same on humanitarian grounds.

“The system of Parole and Furlough was enacted with the belief that every individual deserves a second chance. It was with the idea of rehabilitation and reformation of a prisoner… Imposing the cost of escort charges on the Petitioner and his family, who are economically poor, excludes him from enjoying his rights under the Constitution,” stated the plea.

Advocate Kritika Agarwal, representing the applicants, informed the bench that the duo had been in custody for several years, adding that the escort charges sought for release on parole were “exorbitant” in both the cases and beyond their financial capacity. The amount should, therefore, be waived off, the plea added.

The Court noted that “nearly Rs 1 lakh per day for the prisoners is not possible for 95% of their population” and sought to know if there was a provision allowing waiver of escort charges for those who could not afford the same.

Agarwal informed the HC that another bench of the High Court in 2019 had directed the state government to lay down guidelines for fixing charges of police escort for emergency parole. Referring to Prisons Rules, the bench inquired why the rules cannot be laid down to exempt prisoners from paying journey charges.

Chief Public Prosecutor Aruna Pai, representing the state government, told the HC that a government resolution (GR) has been issued on May 6, 2019, wherein the formula for calculating police escort charges required to be paid by prisoner before being released on parole was provided. After Agarwal sought to challenge the said GR, the bench asked her to amend the plea. The bench also appointed senior advocate Mihir Desai as Amicus Curiae in the case. The court will hear the plea next in the first week of August.

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