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The Delhi High Court on Monday asked the AAP government to consider Jessica Lal murder convict Manu Sharma’s request for premature release at the next meeting of the Sentence Review Board (SRB) that is likely to be held in March.

Justice Najmi Waziri issued the direction after the Delhi government told the court that under the new Delhi Prisons Rules, 2018 which came into effect from January 1, 2019, SRB meetings would be held every quarter instead of once in six months, and Sharma’s case would be considered at the next one.

The court said that in the circumstances, the Board will consider the reports in favour of the convict’s release as well as his satisfactory conduct in prison in its next meeting, and disposed of his plea.

During the hearing, the court was surprised that while the Delhi Police had not objected to Sharma’s plea for premature release, its nominee on the Board had done so.

Senior advocate Salman Khurshid, appearing for the 43-year-old convict, told the court that his client has undergone 21 years one month and six days of imprisonment, including remission, and therefore, he was eligible for premature release.

Remission is part of a sentence, which is granted to an accused after assessing his behaviour and conduct during his stay in jail and the period of interim bail or parole or furlough. A remission is added to the sentence undergone by a prisoner in jail.

Khurshid and advocate Amit Sahni, told the court that Sharma’s conduct in prison and while on bail, parole or furlough has been good and there was no adverse report opposing his request.

However, his plea for release was rejected merely on the ground of “gravity and perversity of the crime” committed by him and no other cogent reasons were given, they said.

Rahul Mehra, appearing for the government, told the court that SRB guidelines were not binding on it and they only laid down the eligibility criteria to be considered for premature release.

Mehra further said that under the new rules, the eligibility criteria of having undergone 20-25 years of imprisonment with remission has been done away with.

He assured the court that Sharma’s case would be considered under the new rules when the SRB holds its next meeting.

In his plea filed through Sahni, Sharma had sought quashing of the October 4, 2018 SRB recommendation, rejecting his plea, as well as the December 7, 2018 order of the Delhi government, upholding the board’s view.

Sharma, son of former Union minister Venod Sharma, was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by the high court in December, 2006 for killing Jessica Lal in 1999.

The trial court had acquitted him, but the Delhi High Court had reversed the order and the Supreme Court had upheld his life sentence in April, 2010.

Lal was shot dead by Manu Sharma after she had refused to serve him liquor at the Tamarind Court restaurant owned by socialite Bina Ramani at Qutub Colonnade in south Delhi’s Mehrauli area on the night of April 30, 1999.

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