The Supreme Court on Thursday sought CBI's response on a plea of former Congress councillor Balwan Khokhar, serving life term in an 1984 anti-Sikh riot case, seeking grant of either interim bail or parole for eight weeks in view of COVID-19 pandemic.
Khokhar and former Congress leader Sajjan Kumar are serving life imprisonment in Tihar jail in the case after the Delhi High Court convicted them on December 17, 2018.
A bench comprising Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justice Aniruddha Bose took note of the submissions made by Khokhar's counsel that prisons need to be decongested to contain the pandemic as has been suggested by courts as also the government.
The bench, hearing the plea via video conferencing, then asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the CBI, to file the response. Khokhar was earlier granted 4-week parole on January 15 by the top court following the death of his father.
Senior advocate H S Phoolka, who represented riot victims and was in his native village in Punjab, opposed the bail plea.
"That the Applicant is constrained to approach this court for enforcement of his rights guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution in order to save his life. Applicant who is a senior citizen around 65 years of age suffering from various ailments like diabetes, hypertension and severe joint pains and is languishing in jail for more than six years.
"The applicant has been denied parole which has been liberally granted to hundreds of prisons in the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic putting his life in jeopardy," the convict said in his plea.
It said that in March, when COVID-19 had started gripping the country, a statement was made by Delhi government in the high court that in order to contain the spread of the contagion, it would amend the Prisons Rules to give an option of parole to convicts and under trial prisoners.
The convict sought parole under amended Prison Rules 1211 and said that he was suffering from various ailments which made him vulnerable to the virus, it said.
The parole was denied to the convict under the Rule which prohibited such a relief in cases where investigations have been conducted by the CBI.
"That rejection of applicant's prayer for parole on this very ground is apparently unjustifiable and unconstitutional being violative of Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India," it said.
Earlier, the top court had said that it would hear the bail plea of other convict Sajjan Kumar in the case during summer vacation.
Khokhar's life sentence was upheld by the Delhi High Court in 2018, while it had reversed the acquittal of Kumar by the trial court in 2013, in a case related to the killings of five Sikhs in the Raj Nagar Part-I area in Palam Colony in southwest Delhi on November 1-2, 1984, and burning down of a gurdwara in Raj Nagar Part-II.
The anti-Sikh riots had broken out after the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984 by her two Sikh bodyguards.
The high court had also upheld the conviction and varying sentences awarded by the trial court to the other five -- Khokhar, retired naval officer Captain Bhagmal, Girdhari Lal and former MLAs Mahender Yadav and Kishan Khokhar.
It had also convicted them for criminal conspiracy to burn down residences of Sikh families and a gurdwara in the area during the riots.
The trial court in 2013 had awarded life term to Balwan Khokhar, Bhagmal and Lal, and a three-year jail term to Yadav and Kishan Khokhar.
Following the high court verdict, life term of Balwan Khokhar, Bhagmal and Lal has been upheld and the sentence of Yadav and Kishan Khokar has been enhanced to 10 years in jail.Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.