Why is Ram Rahim, chief of Dera Sacha Sauda, out on parole again? | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Why is Ram Rahim, chief of Dera Sacha Sauda, out on parole again?

Jan 21, 2024 08:04 PM IST

Convicted of rape in 2017, murder in 2019 and criminal conspiracy in 2021, the religious leader has been granted temporary release from prison for the 9th time

Incarcerated controversial head of Sirsa-based sect, Dera Sacha Sauda, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh who is serving a 20-year sentence for rape received yet another temporary release of 50 days last week, the ninth time since 2017. His frequent parole has come in for criticism from families of victims with the Haryana government often getting blamed for showing “generosity” towards him.

Chief of Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda sect, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, is serving a 20-year sentence for rape and a subsequent life term for murder and another for conspiracy to murder at a Rohtak prison. (HT File) PREMIUM
Chief of Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda sect, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, is serving a 20-year sentence for rape and a subsequent life term for murder and another for conspiracy to murder at a Rohtak prison. (HT File)

The religious leader is serving a 20-year jail term at Rohtak’s Sunaria jail after he was convicted in 2017 of raping of two disciples. He was subsequently convicted in two murder cases and will serve life sentences of those crimes after this jail term. Ram Rahim Singh and three others were convicted in January 2019 for the murder of a journalist more than 16 years ago. In October 2021, he and four others were convicted for hatching a conspiracy to kill Ranjit Singh, a manager at the dera.

Since his conviction, the dera chief has spent 184 days outside the jail and by the end of these 50 days, it will take the count to 234 days.

Is this legal?

The short answer is yes. But thereby hangs the tale.

In 2022, the Haryana government came out with the Haryana Good Conduct Prisoners (Temporary Release) Act, which entitled a prisoner to 10 weeks of parole in a calendar year (January to December) cumulatively which could be availed in two parts. The new law also permitted temporary release of three weeks on furlough which could not be availed in parts.

The Haryana government, after seeking legal opinion from Advocate General (AG) BR Mahajan in 2022 concluded that Ram Rahim Singh did not fall in the category of hardcore prisoners — defined as those who, among several other crimes, are convicted for “serial killing”, that is murder under section 302 of the IPC in two or more cases in different first information reports.

The category of hardcore prisoners was introduced in 2012 as an amendment to the earlier act. Such convicts face severe restrictions — only 48 to 96 hours of temporary release under an armed police escort and only to attend a marriage or in the event of death of close family members.

The earlier act was formulated in 1988 and also laid down stringent conditions on parole or furlough. One of them was that a prisoner may be considered for temporary release if a member of the prisoner’s family had died or was seriously ill, or the prisoner themselves were seriously ill, or for their own weddings, as well as those of close blood relations, or for agricultural activity.

The 2022 law does not stipulate such conditions but has different categories of parole — regular, emergency and custodial.

Ram Rahim Singh has availed of regular parole consistently since 2022.

In 2023, he was granted temporary release thrice — a 40-day parole on January 17, a 30-day parole on July 17 and a 21-day furlough on November 17. In 2022, he was out on a three-week furlough on February 7, following which, he was granted permission for a 30-day parole on June 17 and again, a 40-day parole on October 15.

However, in 2020 and 2021, he was granted two brief temporary releases for a day and 12 hours, respectively. Since 2017, he has been out on temporary release on nine occasions.

Distinction between parole and furlough

When a prisoner is on parole, his or her period of release does not count towards the total period of sentence. But when he or she is on furlough, he or she is eligible to have the period of release counted towards the total period of his sentence undergone by him. Thus, the period of sentence spent on furlough by the prisoners need not be undergone by him as is done in the case of parole.

As per the new law, once Ram Rahim Singh has completed three-fourths of the total sentence in a term (in this case, the rape conviction), and 10 years of the life sentence (for murder), he can avail of four weeks of furlough, but not in parts.

Anshul Chhatrapati, son of slain journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati, for whose murder Ram Rahim Singh is serving a life sentence questions the law that gives convicts a relaxation in terms of temporary release. “There were certain conditions that a convict had to fulfil in the older law for being considered for grant of temporary release. The new law has a lacuna as it does not consider the Dera head as a hardcore convict despite his sentencing in three different cases including rape and murder,” Anshul said.

“He has been convicted for criminal conspiracy under section 120-B read with section 302 of the IPC in both the murder cases. Section 302 in his convictions determines the quantum of punishment only,” the AG said, explaining why Ram Rahim Singh did not fall within the category of hardcore prisoner.

‘Government’s helping the Dera’

Anshul said that the Dera’s revival is being steered with the active connivance of the state government. “There is a tacit understanding between the Dera and the state government. The government wants crowds to return to him as his followers can influence the 2024 elections. It cuts both ways,” he said.

Last January, BJP leaders — Rajya Sabha MP Krishan Lal Panwar and former minister Krishen Bedi —attended a virtual satsang addressed by the Dera head and held an interaction with him during his 40-day parole. Though the two denied any political motive, the opposition Congress criticised their action as a “vote-catching ploy”. In 2022, Haryana BJP leaders, including Karnal mayor Renu Gupta, attended an online congregation addressed by the Dera head (who was out on temporary release), triggering criticism.

Prof Ashutosh Kumar, a political scientist from Panjab University, Chandigarh, said the Dera head is relevant in election season, because of the following his sect commands.

State officials, however, denied the claims. Every convict has the right for being considered for temporary release, they argued.

“The parole and furlough are according to the law and rules. No preferential treatment is being given to Dera head,” an official said, on the condition of anonymity. Officials quote high court directives where the divisional commissioner’s orders denying parole to a convict without justification have been quashed.

Citing a 2023 order of the Punjab and Haryana high court, the official said that divisional commissioners have been asked by the court to ensure that whenever they pass orders, the rejection “is on the grounds that the security of the state or nation is under threat, and whether the petitioner has availed parole and returned on time”.

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