News that Bollywood actor >Sanjay Dutt will be released by the end of Februar y after serving a five-year prison term for being in possession of an AK-56 assault rifle over 20 years ago will surely draw contrasting reactions from the film industry on the one hand and wider society on the other. His peers in filmdom and his legion of fans may see cause for great happiness in his impending release. However, there may be a > larger section of society that may wonder whether justice will truly be served if Mr. Dutt, who is already seen to have enjoyed generous spells of furlough and parole while serving his sentence, is being treated in a special way by his release being advanced by about eight months. Given the widespread perception — reinforced by the recent acquittal of another film star, > Salman Khan, in a hit-and-run case — that the system will work only to the advantage and benefit of celebrities, questions will naturally be asked whether Mr. Dutt is being treated preferentially. Arrested in the aftermath of the 1993 Mumbai blasts, he spent 18 months in prison before getting bail. In March 2013, the Supreme Court confirmed a lower court conviction, but reduced his jail term from six to five years. After being given time to wind up his film commitments, he began to serve the 42-month remainder of his term in May 2013. Even then, citing reasons as trite as that he was married and had children, and that he had depicted on screen a form of Gandhian protest, many had appealed for pardon on his behalf. The Maharashtra Governor, however, did not succumb to the demand for preferential treatment to him solely on the basis of his popularity.
In the normal course, a prisoner’s release eight months ahead of the completion of his term will not give rise to unusual scrutiny. >Good behaviour is reason enough for routine remission for all convicts , and there may be no cause to suspect that Mr. Dutt has been chosen out of turn. Yet, the State government will have to be cautious and scrupulous in computing the exact number of days he is legally entitled to, mainly to dispel the popular impression that he is being favoured. The actor may have spent as many as 146 days on parole or furlough since May 2013. In law, a furlough is an entitlement earned by spending specified periods in jail, while parole is granted only in an emergency. Both are considered necessary to help prisoners maintain continuity in their family life and help them avoid the ill-effects of protracted incarceration. Comparisons are also bound to be drawn between Mr. Dutt’s case and that of Zaibunissa Kazi, a septuagenarian fellow-prisoner who is also serving a five-year term in the same case. It will only be fair to expect that the rules of remission will apply in equal measure to all prisoners regardless of their social stature or background.