Monday, December 28, 2015

SC rejects Maharashtra bid to release 11 policemen

Maharashtra government’s attempt to release 11 policemen serving life terms for killing an alleged member of Chhota Rajan’s gang in a fake encounter in 2006, the Supreme Court Monday rejected a plea to suspend their conviction for six months as per the state government’s order.

A bench of Justice S A Bobde and Justice P C Pant refused to grant any interim reprieve to the police officers, thereby affirming the Bombay High Court order directing them to surrender before jail authorities by January 4, 2016.

On December 21, while staying the state government’s order, the High Court had said it is “shocked and surprised” to see all authorities in unison facilitate the release of the policemen, even as the old, infirm and poor are frequently denied such relief.

Ramnarayan Gupta alias Lakhan Bhaiya, an alleged Chhota Rajan gang member, was killed in a fake encounter on November 11, 2006 in Versova.

An FIR was lodged in 2009 on the orders of the High Court after a special investigation team found that a rival of Lakhan Bhaiya had paid the policemen to kill him. A trial court in 2013 convicted 21 people, including the 11 police officers, and sentenced all of them to life terms. The policemen, who were jailed after the chargesheet was filed in the case, have so far served more than five years in jail

 On December 2 this year, the Maharashtra government issued an order suspending the conviction of the 11 policemen for six months. The government substantiated its order with favourable reports it received from various government agencies and from a sessions court judge. The policemen were released from jail the very next day, compelling Lakhan Bhaiya’s brother Ramprasad Gupta to move the High Court against this order.

The High Court had stayed the government order after agreeing with advocate Yug Mohit Choudhary, counsel for the victim’s brother, who pointed out that pertinent provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code barred the state government from releasing a convict if he or she has been sentenced to life term for an offence entailing death as maximum punishment.

The police officers then approached the Supreme Court, where they raised a question of law regarding interpretation of the CrPC provisions. They argued that the state government wants to release them for only six months since their appeal against the conviction will take time. Further, the state government, the petition contended, cannot be denuded of its power to suspend conviction, which is different from granting remission or commutation.

But the Supreme Court bench observed that no ground for granting interim relief is made out and the policemen should go back to jail until their petition is decided.

On the point of law as to whether the state government has the authority to suspend conviction of an accused before the expiry of 14 years of jail term, the bench agreed to examine the petition, moved jointly by the 11 policemen, and issued notices to the Maharashtra government and Gupta.

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