The Supreme Court Thursday stayed a Gujarat High Court order granting two-week furlough to rape convict Narayan Sai, son of self-styled godman Asaram Bapu who is also undergoing life term for another rape case in Rajasthan. The apex court said however that it needs to examine whether the rules allow the annual furlough as per the calendar year or from 12 months after the last one was granted to a prisoner.
A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah issued a notice to Sai on Gujarat government's plea challenging the high court's single-judge order and stayed it till further orders. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Gujarat government, said the single-judge order of June 24, 2021, granted furlough to Sai for two weeks but the division bench had stayed it till August 13 and therefore the state has moved the top court challenging the June 24 order.
The bench said that under the Bombay Furlough and Parole Rules, applicable in Gujarat as well, a prisoner can be granted furlough once every year after he completes seven years in jail. “The idea of furlough is that a prisoner gets away from the environment of jail and is able to meet his family members,” the bench said, and asked Mehta what are grievances with the order. Mehta replied that under the rules and even in a judgement of this court, it has been held that furlough is not an absolute right and it depends on various factors.
He said Sai and his father were arrested for offences under rape charges and they wield considerable influence with money and muscle power.
Mehta pointed out that they had even tried to bribe police officials, mobile phones were recovered from their cell in jail and even three prime witnesses crucial to their cases were killed. The bench said that now that he is convicted, all these contentions will not hold good as he was also granted furlough in December last year, which the state government has never challenged.
Mehta said that last year Sai was granted furlough for two weeks as he wanted to visit his ailing mother and it was purely on humanitarian grounds that the state government did not find it appropriate to challenge that order.
The bench then asked Mehta, whether during his last furlough were there any incidents of law and order situation or was there any danger to peace and tranquillity to which he replied that it is not on record. Mehta said, “Problem now is that he is seeking furlough as a matter of right that he should be released every year on furlough”.
The bench said the point which needs examination is that under the rules it is said that a prisoner can avail furlough once every year after he serves seven year in imprisonment. "Whether once every year means once every calendar year or once every year means since the last time he got furlough. This is the point we need to examine. We are issuing notice to the respondent (Narayan Sai),” the bench said. It asked the counsel appearing for Sai to file his reply within a week and posted the matter for further hearing after two weeks.
On April 26, 2019, Sai was convicted under the Indian Penal Code sections 376 (rape), 377 (unnatural offences), 323 (assault), 506-2 (criminal intimidation) and 120-B (conspiracy) by a Surat court and sentenced to life imprisonment.
WHAT WAS THE CASE
In 2013, after Asaram was arrested for allegedly raping a girl in Rajasthan, two Surat-based sisters had accused Asaram and his son of sexual exploitation. The elder sister had accused Asaram of sexual assaults between 1997 and 2006 when she lived at his Ahmedabad ashram. The younger sister had accused the godman's son of sexual assaults when she lived at Asaram's ashram in the Jahangirpura area of Surat between 2002 and 2005.
The incidents of multiple sexual assaults and unnatural sex with the victim had taken place between 2002 and 2005, but the case against Sai had been filed only in 2013. Sai was arrested from the Delhi-Haryana border in December 2013. When Sai was in jail, Surat police had claimed to have unearthed elaborate plans to bribe police officers, doctors and even judicial officers to weaken the case against him.