Section 364A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in brief provides that whoever kidnaps or abducts any person or keeps a person in detention after such kidnapping or abduction, and threatens to cause death or hurt to such person, to compel the person to pay a ransom ‘shall be punishable with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine’. A Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices T S Thakur, R K Agrawal and Adarsh Goel upheld the constitutionality of this section.
Justice Thakur, speaking for the Bench, observed that “the gradual growth of the challenges posed by kidnapping and abductions for ransom, not only by ordinary criminals for monetary gain or as an organised activity for economic gains, but by terrorist organisations is what necessitated the incorporation of Section 364A in the IPC and a stringent punishment for those indulging in such activities”. The court ruled that in view of the “concern shown by Parliament for the safety and security of the citizens and the unity, sovereignty and integrity of the country, the punishment prescribed for kidnapping for ransom cannot be dubbed as so outrageously disproportionate to the nature of the offence as to call for the same being declared unconstitutional”. No doubt the Bench was not concerned with the question of the wisdom or morality of imposition of death sentences. The Supreme Court judgment, however, in a way reflects the present public mood in our country which is not in favour of total abolition of the death penalty in all cases and in all circumstances.
Crime and Proportionate Punishment: The issue of the gravity of the crime and the concept of proportionality as regards the punishment recently came up before a Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C Pant. Justice Misra, speaking for the court, succinctly observed that “the prime objective of criminal law is the imposition of adequate, just and proportionate punishment which is commensurate with the gravity, nature of the crime and manner in which the offence is committed keeping in mind the social interest and the conscience of the society”. He referred to an earlier judgment of the Supreme Court in 2006 wherein the court ruled that “undue sympathy to impose inadequate sentence would do more harm to the justice system, to undermine the public confidence in the efficacy of law…”
In the case before the Supreme Court, the accused were convicted of the offence of abetment of suicide under Section 306 of the IPC. The High Court took the view that “ends of justice would be amply met if their substantive sentences of imprisonment are reduced to the one already undergone by them”. The convicts had remained in custody only for a period of four months and 20 days. The Bench came down heavily on the High Court. In the felicitous language of Justice Misra, the judge’s discretion regarding sentencing “cannot be allowed to yield to fancy. …A judge has to keep in mind the paramount concept of rule of law and the conscience of the collective and balance it with the principle of proportionality. …One cannot brush aside the agony of the victim or the survivors of the victim”. The Supreme Court allowed the appeal and ordered that the convicts be taken into custody forthwith to undergo the remaining part of their sentences.
Adding Insult to Injury: BJP President Amit Shah was recently trapped in a lift in a state guest house in Patna for nearly 20 minutes. It appears that nobody was present in the guest house to deal with such emergencies. Shah was rescued by CRPF personnel who ripped apart the lift’s steel doors. State BJP President Mangal Pandey smelt a conspiracy, but the state government has attributed the mishap to overloading in the lift. RJD leader Lalu Prasad quipped that “a man as fat as Amit Shah shouldn’t have entered the Patna lift as Bihar lifts are not made to carry such fat people”. Now, that is adding insult to injury. And that is typical Lalu Prasad, especially in view of the upcoming Bihar elections.
(The author is a former Attorney General of India. firstname.lastname@example.org)