The Union Home Ministry has advised the West Bengal government to challenge the Calcutta High Court judgment that granted political status to Maoists. The high court’s judgment is feared to have opened a possibility for the rebels to exploit a state specific act to justify even the act of waging war against the nation.
Hearing three different revision petitions on August 8, Justice Kanwaljit Singh Ahluwalia declared seven persons accused of being Maoist leaders “political prisoners within the meaning and ambit of Correctional Services Act.” Jails are referred to as “Correctional Homes” in West Bengal official records. The judgment also said that they would be entitled to amenities given to political prisoners in jail, including a chair, mirror, comb, table fan, light and mattress. Justice Ahluwalia said this while expressing his displeasure over the fact that the act differentiates between political and other prisoners.
However, over a week ago, the Union Home Ministry wrote a letter to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee advising her to look into the possibility of amending the West Bengal Correctional Services Act of 1992 that came into force eight years after the Left government took over the reins of the state. Sources in the government said the section 24 of the Act has wider connotations giving a chance to even members of banned outfits like al-Qaeda to exploit it and claim political status.
The Section 24 classifies prisoners as civil prisoners, criminal prisoners, political prisoners among others while Section 24(3)(vi) states that any offence allegedly committed in furtherance of any political or democratic movement or an act done with political objective and without personal motive is construed as “political offence.” Though he gave the Naxalites political prisoners’ status owing to the Act, Justice Singh said: “What is to be noticed with concern is that Section 24 uses the word ‘political or democratic movement’ and not ‘political and democratic movement.’ ”
“The intention of the legislature not to use the word political and democratic movement makes it explicitly clear that belief in the democracy is not a condition precedent for declaring the prisoner a political prisoner,” Justice Ahluwalia wrote. Drawing reference from the apex court, the high court had said that “Naxalism or Maoism is a political movement wedded to violence and the participants thereof are political prisoners.
“The sweep of this section is so encompassing that the believers of any kind of political movement are to be acknowledged as political prisoners and thus, it cannot be held that those who participate in unlawful activities cannot be recognised as political prisoners”. Maoist backed People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities chief Chhatradhar Mahato, CPI (Maoist) spokesperson Gaur Chakraborty, Sukh Shanti Baske, Prasun Chatterjee, Sambhu Soren and Sagun Murmu were among the people who had approached the high court through three revision petitions.