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"Not consistent with order of Apex Court", Karnataka HC asks state to reconsider GO denying parole to prisoners in default of fine

Rintu Mariam Biju

The Karnataka High Court today directed the state government to reconsider its order denying the release on parole of those offenders who are undergoing sentence for default of fine not preceded by a substantive sentence.

A Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Vishwajit Shetty passed the order, noting that the state government's move was in contravention of the Supreme Court order dated March 23.

A petition filed before the High Court states that on April 15, the Government of Karnataka had amended Rule 191 of the Karnataka Prison Rules, 1974 under Karnataka Epidemic Diseases, stating that,

“A sentence in default of fine preceded with substantive sentence shall not be released on parole under COVID-19 Provision.”

As per the petition, another notification issued by the state government on the same day read,

“Prisoners under offences being investigated by NIA/CBI/ED or any Central Agency or under any Economic Offences shall not be released on parole under COVID-19 Provision.”

When the matter came up for hearing today, the Bench noted,

"The High Powered Committee has not recommended this...There is no rational explanation why you (State Government) have enacted the notification."

The Bench went on to note,

"Clause n of Rule 191 (of Karnataka Prison Rules) deals with prisoners who are undergoing sentence in default of fine not preceded with a substantive sentence. Prima facie, it appears to us exclusion introduced by clause n may not be consistent with the order of the Apex Court issued under Article 142 of the Constitution of India."

"Moreover, prima facie, it appears to us that all offences for which sentence in default of fine not preceded with a substantive sentence has nothing to do with the interest of security of the state the same way, the offences arising out of private transactions are commercial transactions. We, therefore, direct the State to reconsider the inclusion of clause n as exception to the proviso incorporated by the Amended Karnataka Prison Rules."

Karnataka High Court

With these observations, the Court proceeded to list the matter on June 24.

The petition was filed on behalf of two persons imprisoned due to their inability to pay fines, and two others who had committed offences which were being investigated by National Investigation Agency (NIA).

On the strength of these government notifications amending the existing provision for release on parole under the Karnataka Prison Rules, the applications of all four petitioners were rejected by the jail authorities.

It was contended that denying parole to the petitioners amounts to contempt of the Supreme Court order dated March 23, by which all states were asked to consider releasing prisoners facing sentences of up to seven years in order to decongest prisons in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was further submitted that the alleged amended Parole Rules are illegal, are against the principles of Natural justice and unconstitutional, and the same is liable to be quashed.

The plea further adds,

"That the impugned decision of the Government of Karnataka falls short to meet the emergent situation of COVID-19 which is likely to spread like wildfire in prisons owing to overcrowding of prisons. The prison inmates as well as prison guards and jailors are put at high risk owing to overcrowding of prisons, and in light of the directives of the Hon’ble Apex Court, it is essential that the petitioners are not put to unnecessary risk by a blanket disqualification without reasonable basis."

On these grounds, the petitioner sought to quash the said government notifications amending the Karnataka Prisons Rules, 1974.

However, during the previous hearing, the Court had made it clear that prima facie, it was not satisfied with the challenge to the second government notification denying release on parole for prisoners charged with offences investigated by the NIA, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Enforcement Directorate (ED) or any Central agency.

Advocate Saoud Shaikh appeared for the respondents in the matter.

[Read plea here]

plea challenging govt notifications on interim parole.pdf
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