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Last Updated: Monday, 20 August 2007, 18:50 GMT 19:50 UK
Cash for innocent Indian prisoner
By Sandeep Sahu
BBC News, Bhubaneswar

Pratap Nayak
Mr Nayak has been left mentally scarred by his experience
A court in the Indian state of Orissa has awarded 800,000 rupees ($19,441) to a man who remained in jail eight years after being acquitted of murder.

Pratap Nayak, from Boudh district, had to languish behind bars because a local court official failed to inform the authorities about his acquittal.

On Monday, the Orissa High Court upheld a petition filed on his behalf.

His lawyers argued that his constitutional right to freedom and liberty had been severely curtailed.

No discrimination

The court ordered the Orissa state government to pay the compensation by 17 September.

It ordered that Mr Nayak should receive 75% of the monthly interest on the amount for his upkeep and medical treatment.

Nobody realised that Pratap was still rotting in jail
Prabir Das

A beaming Prabir Das, the man who fought a long legal battle for compensation on behalf of Mr Nayak, welcomed the High Court verdict.

"What was particularly praiseworthy about the ruling is the fact that the court rejected the state government's plea that Pratap deserved less compensation since he was a 'poor' man," he said.

Mr Das said the court made it clear that there could be no discrimination between "rich and poor" when it came to matters of fundamental rights.

Mr Nayak was only 13 when he was arrested along with five others for a murder in his village over a land dispute in 1989.

He maintained that he was only a witness to the incident while on his way back from school.

Tihar jail
Indian prisons are notoriously over-crowded

But he was sentenced to life imprisonment by the district court in the same year.

While the others managed to get bail, Mr Nayak could not because his poor and illiterate parents did not understand the legal requirements and were not in a position to furnish any money. So he continued to stay in the local jail.

He remained incarcerated even though the Orissa High Court in October 1994 set aside all the convictions on the grounds of insufficient evidence and acquitted all of the accused, including Mr Nayak.

But court officials never bothered to inform the local jail authorities about the High Court order - erroneously assuming that all the accused were already out on bail.

Negative schizophrenia

"Nobody realised that Pratap was still rotting in jail," said Mr Das.

It took nine long years after the convictions were set aside before Mr Nayak was finally released from jail on 22 January, 2003.

By then, he had already spent a total of 14 years in jail. His lawyers say that he has been robbed of his youth.

They say that he is now barely able to speak properly, and has been diagnosed as suffering from negative schizophrenia.

Pratap Nayak may have spent even longer in jail, but for the fact that Santosh Padhi, a local lawyer, stumbled upon this extraordinary miscarriage of justice.

He was making routine enquiries about Mr Nayak when he came to know about the High Court's judgement acquitting all the accused.

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