The Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court recently rejected petitions challenging the validity of the rules restricting a prisoner from applying for parole before the completion of one year from the expiry of his last parole.

Actor Sanjay Dutt on Saturday returned to Pune’s Yerawada prison after his extended parole.

Justices B.R. Gavai and A.S. Chandurkar observed in their judgment that the challenge to the validity of the amendments to the Prisons (Bombay Furlough and Parole) Rules 1959 was “found to be without any merit.” It said the restrictions laid down by the State government were not found to be either unreasonable or unjustified.

“The right to be released on parole is not an absolute right. The same can be availed of in case of occurrence of the contingencies mentioned in Rule 19 of the Rules 1959,” the judgment stated. “Thus, in case of serious illness, delivery of a pregnant woman prisoner or in case of house collapse, floods, fire or earthquake, a prisoner if released on parole can seek extension of the period of parole if the contingencies so warrant up to a period of 90 days. The proviso to Rule 19 has merely restricted the release on parole for a period of one year after the expiry of last parole, except in case of death of the nearest relative mentioned in Rule 19. It, therefore, cannot be said that the entitlement of a prisoner to be released on parole is totally taken away.” the judgement stated.

Advocate Sait clarified that while furlough was a matter of right for every prisoner, parole was a discretionary power vested in the hands of the administrative authorities.

“Generally, furlough can be granted for 14 days at a time. A prisoner can seek a single extension of another 14 days,” he said.

But parole could be granted for one month at a time, with a permission to seek two extensions. “According to the previous rules, a prisoner would have been allowed to apply for parole twice a year. Every time, he could be granted 90 days (30 days at a time, and two extensions thereafter, based on merit). This means that every year, he could remain out of prison for a staggering 180 days. But now, according to the amendment which has been upheld by the court, he will be able to apply for parole only once a year. Thereafter, he could make another application only after a year of the expiry of his previous parole,” advocate Sait said.

The parole days spent outside the prison are counted in the imprisonment term.

The Bombay High Court, while passing the recent order, observed that the rampant misuse of the previous provisions led the government to amend the rules. “It is clear that the State government noticed that the provision for grant of parole leave was being misused on the pretext of illness of nearest relatives.