The Delhi High Court on Friday asked the state government why former youth Congress leader Sushil Kumar Sharma, serving life term in the 1995 murder case of his wife Naina Sahni, has not been released after having undergone 23 years of incarceration.
Terming the issue as "serious", the court issued notice to the Delhi government and sought its stand on Sharma's habeas corpus plea seeking release from custody in the case on the grounds that he has been jailed for 23 years, including the period of remission, and his continued incarceration was illegal.
A bench of justices Siddharth Mridul and Sangita Dhingra Sehgal asked the Secretary, Home Department and Secretary of Law and Justice department to be present before it on the next date of hearing, December 18, with the original records of Sharma's application to the Sentence Review Board (SRB) for premature release and the reasons for rejecting it.
The bench said that "life and liberty of any individual is of paramount consideration" and asked the Delhi government how someone can be kept in custody "indefinitely".
Sharma, in prison since 1995, has contended that he has already undergone the maximum prescribed sentence as mandated under the SRB guidelines.
According to his plea, the guidelines on premature release state that life convicts sentenced for a single offence are to be released after completion of 20 years of incarceration and those who had committed heinous crimes are to be granted the relief after 25 years.
The petition, filed through advocate Amit Sahni, has said even though Sharma's case falls in the first category, he has also undergone 23 years of incarceration, with remission, and 23 years and six months, without remission.
Now 56, Sharma had shot dead his wife in 1995 objecting to her alleged relationship with a male friend. He had then chopped her body into pieces and attempted to burn it in a restaurant oven.
Known as the tandoor murder case, it is one of the landmark cases in India in which DNA evidence and a second autopsy were used to establish the guilt of the accused.
In his plea, Sharma has contended that his conduct in prison and while out on parole has been "exemplary" and he has never misused his liberty.
Apart from that, he has also argued that even the Supreme Court, while commuting his death sentence to life imprisonment, had held that he was not a confirmed criminal and there was no evidence to indicate that he was likely to revert to such crimes in future.
Another ground on which he has sought release from custody is that both his parents are over 80 years old and suffering from various ailments and there is no one to look after them.