Surlakar murder: HC rejects convicts’ plea for early release

Citing prison rules, it refuses to accept time spent on parole and furlough as jail time; asserts convicts can put up their case only after completing total 14 years in prison
Surlakar murder: HC rejects convicts’ plea for early release

The High Court of Bombay at Goa on Wednesday rejected the petitions of Rohan Dhungat, Ryan Pinto, Sheikh Mamlekar and Shankar Tiwari, all convicted of kidnapping and killing Mandar Surlakar in 2006, for early release from jail.

The Sentence Review Board had recommended premature release of the convicts, which was rejected by the State government.

The four convicts had kidnapped 17-year-old Surlakar in Miramar and demanded a ransom of Rs 50 lakh. When the victim’s father refused to pay and instead went to the police, the kidnappers killed Surlakar and dumped his body in a nullah. The four were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Surlakar murder: HC rejects convicts’ plea for early release
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Premature release

In 2021, the High Court declined a plea of the victim’s father that the four undergo life imprisonment for the remainder of their natural lives, and left the question of premature release to a competent authority.

The petitioners for the convicts argued that the Board had correctly recommended the premature release of the petitioners but felt the government had incorrectly rejected it.

The additional public prosecutor and advocate for the victim’s father contested this view and submitted that the convicts had not suffered 14 years of imprisonment and hence, under the Criminal Procedure Code, there was no question of premature release.

Surlakar murder: HC rejects convicts’ plea for early release
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Years of imprisonment undergone

They submitted that the convicts had spent a little over two years on parole and two months on furlough. Most of the convicts had also earned remission of 18 to 20 months. This period could not be counted for determining actual imprisonment undergone by the convicts, they submitted.

During the hearings, advocates for the convicts did not raise serious arguments to include the period of remission for determining the actual period of imprisonment, but added that the period spent on parole and furlough should be included.

Surlakar murder: HC rejects convicts’ plea for early release
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Mandatory 14 years in prison essential

While faulting both the Board and the government for not applying their minds while recommending early release of the convicts and rejecting it, respectively, Justices R N Laddha and M S Sonak, pointed out that what is clear is that the convicts have not undergone the mandatory 14 years of imprisonment.

Two important considerations before the HC were whether periods spent on parole and remission ought to be counted as imprisonment.

The HC relied on the Supreme Court judgement in Raj Kumar Alias Bittu case where it was stated that a convict has to undergo a minimum period of 14 years imprisonment without remission in a case where the punishment carries the death sentence.

Surlakar murder: HC rejects convicts’ plea for early release
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Prison rules matter

As far as period on parole and furlough are concerned, the HC noted that under Rule 335 of Prison Rules, this period has to be considered as remission and rejected the plea to include it as time in prison.

While Dungat has undergone 11 years and four months of imprisonment, Sheikh has been in prison for 12 years, Tiwari for 12 years and 10 months and Pinto for 12 years and four months.

Although all four were arrested on August 16, 2006, the periods under imprisonment vary because of the days spent under parole is different for each one.

Dismissing the petitions, the HC ruled that the convicts can place their cases before the Sentence Review Board only after completion of the mandatory 14 years in prison.

Surlakar murder: HC rejects convicts’ plea for early release
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