The government process has to "abide" by court directions, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday while pulling up Kerala authorities for not deciding the proposal pertaining to premature release of two convicts who are serving life term and have been in jail for 28 years, including remission.
While expressing anguish that decision has not been taken by competent authority on the issue despite its earlier order, the Supreme Court ordered that the convicts, who are serving life term in connection with a two-decade-old case of hooch tragedy which had claimed 31 lives, be forthwith released on bail.
A bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar was told by the counsel appearing for Kerala that some more time was required to complete the process.
The bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and CT Ravikumar, said the convicts are in custody for over 28 years and the top court had already granted time to the state to take decision in this regard.
When the state's counsel argued that some more time was needed as it is a "government process", the bench said, "The government process has to abide by the directions of the court."
The bench, which was hearing a plea filed by the wives of the two convicts seeking their release from jail, referred to earlier orders passed in the matter and said that on September 6 it had given a "clear direction" that the decision be taken by the competent authority within two weeks.
The petition, filed through advocate Malini Poduval, said that convicts Vinod Kumar and Manikantan have undergone total incarceration of over 28 years and nearly 30 years respectively, including remission.
"This is not the way government can function contrary to the directions given by the court. There was purpose behind that direction. Is it not? It was adjourned earlier also," the bench said during the hearing.
"We will direct their release on bail if you are not taking decision within the time given by the court. You cannot come in our way. That is our prerogative. You may take your time to decide the proposal," the bench told the state's counsel.
The top court noted in its order that despite repeated opportunity given to the state to expedite the decision making process concerning the proposal for premature release of the convicts, once again further time has been sought by the government.
It said that while requesting for further time, "no satisfactory explanation" has been given why the government was unable to take a final decision on the proposal within two weeks from September 6 as directed by the court.
The bench directed that the convicts be released on bail during the pendency of the petition.
"They should be released forthwith on conditions as may be specified by the trial court and not later than 48 hours from passing of this order," the bench said and posted the matter for hearing after six weeks.
In its August 3 order passed in the matter, the Supreme Court had directed the state to place the proposal before the state advisory committee and said that the panel may take appropriate decision after considering all aspects of the matter.
Later, in its September 6 order, the top court had noted, "As per the additional counter affidavit, it appears that the committee has already recommended premature release of the husbands of the petitioners..."
"Let that be placed before the competent authority who, in turn, may take decision expeditiously and not later than two weeks from today and report compliance in that behalf".
The petitioners have claimed in the plea that after completing 14 years of actual imprisonment, the convicts have been giving representations to the prison advisory board for their premature release but the same were rejected without disclosing any reasons to them.
The plea said both the accused were convicted along with others by the trial court and were awarded life imprisonment in the case which was registered in Kollam.
It said 31 people had lost their lives, six had suffered blindness while over 500 had fallen sick due to illicit liquor.
The plea said the Supreme Court had in 2011 upheld the judgement delivered by the Kerala High Court which had sentenced the convicts for life in the case.
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