How the System That Allowed Manu Sharma’s Early Release Works
Senior Advocate Kamini Jaiswal said that SRB is a multi-member body consisting of various arms of the governments.
Serving a life sentence after being convicted in the 1999 Jessica Lall murder case, Manu Sharma was released from Tihar Jail on Monday, 1 June, on grounds of “good behaviour”.
The premature release was approved the Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal on the recommendation made by the Sentence Review Board chaired by Delhi Home Minister Satyendra Jain.
A day after the release, several social media users, including journalist Swati Chaturvedi, started targeting Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government for the same with some claiming that the “L-G is bound to accept these recommendations.”
Let’s looks at the structure, governance and procedure of the release:
1. Who Constitutes the Sentence Review Board?
As per the 2004 order, the Sentence Review Board (SRB) comprises of Minister in-charge of Prisons, Principal Secretary (Home), Secretary Law, Justice & Legislative Affairs, District and Sessions Judge, Chief Probation Officer, senior police officer not below the rank of Joint Commissioner of Police, Director General of Prisons, Central Jail, Tihar, Delhi.
2. Does SRB Come Under Delhi Government?
In the aforementioned list, senior police officers who are not below the rank of Joint Commissioner of Police and DGP, Central Jail, Tihar, come under the Central government and not the Delhi government.
It is evident that the board does not contain only Delhi government officers but members of central government as well.
The board is a multi-member body consisting of various arms of the governments, according to senior advocate Kamini Jaiswal.
It is noteworthy that the 2004 order is a notification of the government of national capital territory of Delhi.
Manu Sharma’s lawyer Amit Sahni told The Quint that the SRB “is a statutory body constituted by the L-G under the powers vested in him and is constituted under the government of Delhi which is represented by members of Delhi government and Central government.”
The Quint’s legal editor Vakasha Sachdev, commenting on whether the board is a department under the Delhi government, said, “It's set up and headed by Delhi Home Minister, and includes bureaucrats from the Delhi government but its functioning is not exactly as a government department.”
Further, we scanned through the website of Delhi government and could not find SRB mentioned under list of departments, commissions and boards/autonomous bodies/corporations.
3. Is the L-G Legally Bound to Accept the Recommendations?
Manu Sharma’s name had come up for review several times since 2017, but was rejected each time. The SRB’s recommendation on 11 May was finally approved by the L-G.
“… the L-G of NCT of Delhi is pleased to remit the un-expired portion of the sentence of the following 19… life convicts on the recommendations of the Sentence Review Board…,” said the order.
In the 2004 order, under the guidelines for reviewing the cases and making its recommendation to the competent authority, point (v) states that SRB's recommendations “shall be placed before the competent authority without delay for consideration. The competent authority may either accept the recommendations of the SRB or reject the same on the grounds to be stated or may ask the Sentence Review Board to reconsider a particular case."
While elaborating that the 2004 order is applicable in case of Manu Sharma since he was convicted in 1999, Sharma’s lawyer said, “L-G is not legally bound to accept and he can reject SRB’s recommendations.”
A jail official, requesting anonymity, had in 2018 told news agency IANS, "It is up to the SRB meeting of seven to eight high-rank officials, chaired by Minister Satyendra Jain. The SRB will examine the case of 40-50 prisoners along with Manu Sharma, their police reports and social welfare reports to take a final decision.”
“Even if the SRB approves a prisoner’s release, a report is sent to the Lieutenant Governor for the final decision. The L-G reserves the right to turn down even the SRB report,” the official had then said.
Regarding the procedure of the release, Kamini Jaiswal said, “The police must have recommended something. Then, it came to the Delhi government, then it has gone to the L-G. Also, the sister of the deceased has said that she has no objection. They have taken into consideration the wishes of the deceased's sister who was the complainant. They have also taken into account whatever the jail must have reported."
4. Eligibility of Premature Release
The 2004 order states that a convict undergoing sentence of life imprisonment shall be eligible to be considered for the premature release after completing 14 years of actual punishment.
It further notes that just completing 14 years of imprisonment does not qualify a convict for automatic release from the prison.
Moreover, it lists the factors to be considered by the SRB in releasing a convict, which are, as follows:
- Whether the convict has lost his potential for committing crime considering his overall conduct in jail during the 14-year incarceration
- The possibility of reclaiming the convict as a useful member of the society
- socio-economic condition of the convict’s family
“After taking into account all the facts and circumstances of the case, that is, the convict having no previous criminal history, satisfactory jail conduct, no violation during parole/ furlough, lodgement in open jail, the board unanimously recommends premature release of convict Siddhartha Vashishtha,” read the report of the board sent to the L-G, a copy of which was accessed by The Quint.
Jessica Lall's younger sister Sabrina Lall, who fought tooth and nail to get justice and see Manu Sharma behind the bars said that she has “no objection” to his release from Tihar Jail. However, Lall added that she hoped and prayed that he will never ever think of repeating his actions from 21 years ago.
"My opposing or not opposing matters absolutely zero. All I said was, I don't have any objection. You know when reality hits you, it is not a happy or a good feeling. But what to do now? All one can hope and pray for is that he will never ever think, forget about doing anything like he did 21 years ago," Sabrina Lall said, speaking to The Quint.
A trial court had acquitted Sharma of the murder, but the high court, which later undertook the case amid nationwide outrage and protests, reversed the decision and sentenced him to a life-term in 2006. The Supreme Court upheld the sentence in 2010.
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