By LE Desk
New Delhi, March 22: Shailesh Mapari, a resident of Bardez taluka in Goa, was convicted of killing his friend Sagar Chodankar in September 2004 and sentenced to life imprisonment two years later. His appeal against conviction was dismissed by the Bombay High Court on September 5, 2007.
On March 3 this year, his Special Leave Petition (SLP) challenging the High Court order was rejected by a Supreme Court Bench of Justices S K Kaul and Hemant Gupta.
However, the SC was “surprised” that Mapari’s case had not been forwarded for remission despite the fact that he had been in prison for over 16 years.
Though life imprisonment ordinarily means imprisonment until death, the executive at its discretion can order early release — and many states accordingly consider releasing life convicts after they complete 14 years in jail.
Apparently annoyed, the court said in its order that “this is an assistance which should be forthcoming from the Goa Legal Services Authority itself”, and “We thus, consider appropriate to direct that the case of the petitioner be taken up for consideration by the competent authority of the respondent state for release/remission in accordance with the norms of the respondent state”, The Indian Express reported.
The court ordered that the “decision be placed before us before the next date of hearing”, on April 19, 2021.
But what was not known to the court then is that Mapari, who was lodged in Colvale central jail, had died on December 21, 2020. He reportedly suffered a stroke in prison and was rushed to hospital, but could not be saved.
Far away in Moitem village in Bardez taluka of North Goa, Mapari’s brother Umesh (48), says the odds were always stacked against them. “A lot of people would tell us that life prisoners are released after 14 years, and we were hopeful that he too would come out — but the authorities were too mighty for us to approach, and we did not want to rub anyone the wrong way or get confrontational about this. People with a lot of money also struggle in such cases. We are poor and nobody wants to hear us,” said Umesh, who worked as a cook in a restaurant before he lost his job amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Advocate Tilak Raj Pasi, who appeared for Mapari before the SC, told The Indian Express that the case had come to him from the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee (SCLSC) — which arranges state-funded lawyers for litigants who cannot afford them — and that he too was unaware of the appellant’s demise.
“Ideally, the prison authorities or Goa State Legal Services Authority (GSLSA) should have communicated the fact of the demise to the SCLSC,” Pasi said.
The Indian Express looked into the records to ascertain what may have happened.
The case details on the Supreme Court website show that Mapari’s SLP was processed without undue delay in the SC Registry. The SLP was filed on February 12, 2021, registered on March 3, and put up for hearing the same day before the Bench headed by Justice S K Kaul.
Enquiries with the SCLSC showed that the matter was received for filing from Goa on November 20, 2020, and was entrusted to a panel lawyer on December 4, 2020.
Pasi said he had filed promptly, without wasting any time. “We received it on December 4, 2020 and filed it on February 12, 2021. That much time is needed to go through the case papers and prepare the SLP”, he said.
The Indian Express sent an email to the office of the Member Secretary, Goa State Legal Services Authority asking whether the fact of Mapari’s death was communicated to the SC Legal Services Committee and if so, when, and why his case was not processed for release earlier.
The GSLSA responded that it had sent a communication to the SC, and since the matter was still under the consideration of the top court, it would not be appropriate to comment.
The Indian Express also tried to reach the Colvale Jail Superintendent to know the reason for the delayed SLP — whether Mapari himself had delayed filing it, or whether there was any administrative delay.
A jail official said on the phone that he would communicate the message to the Superintendent, who may return the call. No call was, however, received.
Advocate Pasi subsequently told The Indian Express that he had received an email communication from the SCLSC on March 8 intimating him about the death of the convict. “They forwarded a communication from the GSLSA about the convict’s demise”, he said.
Umesh said: “On December 21 (2020), I got call from the prison informing me that Shailesh had suffered a stroke and was no more. He had no previous illness and he was still young (41). Had he been eligible for early release, he could have come home and we could have looked after him.”
Umesh, who had started a new job at a restaurant just a day before his brother’s death, could not return to work until 11 days after his brother’s last rites were performed in Moitem. “It was a new job and I had to be away for 11 days just after I started so I couldn’t keep that job. I have been unemployed for the whole year now,” he said.
Umesh said he visited his brother, the youngest among seven siblings, in jail at least once a month.They last met in February 2020, before the pandemic struck, he said.
The last time Shailesh was home, Umesh said, was three years ago on a 20-day parole. “He always felt very ashamed about what had happened. The deceased was his friend. But even at the time that he came home, he mostly kept to himself. Everyone in the village knew what kind of a person he was. He would always mind his own business. Very few care to find out if he was a bad person, or whether he was just going through a bad time.”