by Jo Ellen Nott
Nagpur, an educational and cultural center of nearly three million located at the geographical center of India, made judicial headlines on March 16, 2022, when the local bench of the Bombay High Court held Superintendent of Central Prison Nagpur Anupkumar M. Kumre guilty of contempt and sentenced him to seven days behind bars for selectively denying prisoners emergency parole during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The State of Maharashtra, where Nagpur is located, made public Rule 19(1)(c) on May 8, 2020, providing emergency parole for those at high risk of death from the disease. Kumre was later found guilty on 41 counts of contempt because he released six ineligible prisoners yet denied 35 eligible prisoners’ pleas for emergency parole.
The legal action began when prisoner Hanuman Anandrao Pendam filed suit against Kumre for denying him emergency parole. The superintendent justified his decision by stating that Hanuman had absconded for 14 days after a previous 21-day furlough. In a curious turn of events, Kumre then admitted the prisoner had reported back on time but had gone out again simply to take a COVID-19 test.
Apparently, that sort of sloppy record-keeping was not unique. The Court ordered the Commissioner of Police and the Additional Chief Secretary to launch a departmental investigation for contempt after discovering multiple discrepancies in Kumre’s affidavit, according to news agency The Live Nagpur.
The Court then found the superintendent’s actions in violation of the Indian Constitution, specifically Article 14’s guarantees of equality before law and equal protection of laws and Article 21’s guarantee that no person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
The Court said in its decision that “selective compliance of binding precedent adversely affects the rights of poor prisoners and affects their faith in the administration of justice,” adding that “selectively circumventing its precedents undermines the dignity of the Court.”
Kumre tendered an unconditional apology, but the Court did not accept it, saying that do so would only encourage more misconduct from jail superintendents and that Kumre made the apology only after justifications for his actions had failed. In addition to his sentence, he was fined 5,000 rupees (about $65 USD). He has 10 weeks to appeal to the Supreme Court.
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