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Mumbai: In the nearly 16 years he has spent in different prisons across Maharashtra, Mohammed Sajid Marghoob Ansari, a life convict in the 2006 serial train blast case, has accumulated numerous educational qualifications. The university degrees and certified courses he completed during his prison stay gave him a purpose while in jail. While he says degrees like the masters in political science, a certified course in human rights and Arabic studies helped him face the harsh realities of prolonged incarceration, a certified course in tourism gave him hope to travel around the world someday.
Among other things, these educational qualifications have also earned him three-months’ remission, a period crucial for anyone who has suffered a prolonged duration in confinement.
Forty-five-year-old Ansari has availed of one of the least known provisions in the Maharashtra prison rules, known as “educational remission”. Under this provision, a convicted prisoner can avail a maximum of 90 days remission against completion of educational courses while in jail. Since he has completed a master’s degree while in jail, he is eligible for this provision.
Ansari, like other convicts in the case, has always maintained that he was wrongly implicated and convicted on the basis of “false evidence”. His appeal against the conviction is pending before the Bombay high court for over two years without a hearing.
The Special Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) court judge Yatin Shinde had sentenced Ansari, along with Mohammed Ali, Dr Tanveer Ansari, Majid Shafi, Muzzammil Shaikh, Sohail Shaikh and Zamir Shaikh, to life imprisonment for providing material and logistical support for making bombs that had ripped across the city in 2006, killing over 280 persons and rendering several disabled. The court had sentenced Faisal Sheikh, Asif Khan, Kamal Ansari, Ehtesham Sidduqui and Naveed Khan to death on finding them guilty of planting these bombs in various trains.
Jail manuals and rules, which are meant both for prison officials and prisoners, are never easily accessible to those incarcerated. Ansari, however, during his 16 years in prison, has understood ways to navigate the system and has been accessing prison documents using the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Ansari, who is lodged at the Nashik Central Prison, began petitioning the prison officials demanding educational remission as stated in the prison circular. “Recently, I have completed my Master of Arts (political science) with 62% marks from IGNOU (Indira Gandhi National Open University). As per the circular dated 03.10.2019, I am completely eligible for educational remission of 90 days,” he argued in the letter.
When his letters did not elicit any response, he recently sought the same information under the RTI. In response, Sunil Ramanand, the additional director general of prisons, has responded saying that Ansari has been granted educational remission for three months. This is in addition to the remission period of one year, five months and four days that Ansari had earned by serving his jail term. Ansari, who was arrested soon after the train blast on July 11, 2006, spent the first nine years as a pretrial detainee and ever since as a convicted prisoner.
While a prisoner on life term has to spend the mandated 14 years in jail, the provision of remission aids the person’s premature or early release once their case is reviewed by the Sentence Review Board (SRB). The board consists of the home minister of the state, a jail superintendent, a chief probationary officer and a senior officer of the state police, among others, who deliberate upon three reports filed by three different authorities headed by the chief probationary officer, state police, and the jail superintendent respectively. Although Ansari has spent 16 years in jail, his case is yet to be sent for review.
Prisoners, mostly convicts, have been studying different educational courses while serving their terms. Ansari, who is one of the seven persons serving a life sentence (another five persons were awarded the death sentence) for their alleged roles in the train blast case, has studied eight different courses in the past decade and a half. Just months before his conviction in 2014, he had secured admission at Mumbai’s Siddharth Law College for a three-year law course. The prison authorities, however, did not allow him to pursue law as he was moved out of Mumbai central prison to Nashik central jail on his conviction.