The Madras High Court on Wednesday quashed criminal proceedings against S. Nalini, a life convict in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, for allegedly possessing a cell phone in jail.

On April 20, 2010, when officials searched her cell in the Special Prison for Women, Vellore, they found a mobile phone in a bag. When they tried to seize it, Nalini prevented them from discharging their duties.

The next day, the Prison Superintendent filed a complaint with the Bagayam police station, and a case was registered.

After an enquiry by the jail Superintendent, Nalini was awarded the major punishment of permanent reduction from ‘A’ class to ‘B’ class on May 28, 2010.

The petitioner’s counsel contended that under the Tamil Nadu Prison Rules, the jail superintendent had the option of either exercising her power of punishment or prosecuting a prisoner before the magistrate. Since in this case the prison official had already exercised her power of punishment, she had no jurisdiction to proceed further before another forum.

Thus, the criminal proceedings initiated against Nalini before the Judicial Magistrate No.1, Vellore, were without jurisdiction.

Disposing of the petition, Justice P. Devadass said when some actions were both prison offences and offences under the IPC, Rule 301 of the prison rules gave a choice to the jail Superintendent either to exercise the power conferred upon him or proceed against the prisoner before the jurisdiction magistrate. The jail official could not do both. If both were done, it would amount to abuse of the court process. In the present case, in view of the option having been exercised by the jail Superintendent by reducing the prisoner’s class, the magistrate had no jurisdiction to proceed further in the criminal proceedings.

For certain offences inside the prison, the Superintendent had no option except to refer them to the magistrate under Rule 300. The offences alleged against Nalini under sections 353 (assault or criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty) 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence) IPC read with section 42 of the Prison Act (penalty for introduction or removal of prohibited articles into or from prison and communication with prisoners) were not included in the list of offences mentioned in Rule 300, the Judge said.

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