Section 302 IPC does not include the word ‘rigorous': counsel

The Supreme Court has reserved verdict on the validity of trial and higher courts awarding rigorous imprisonment to convicts while sentencing them to a life term.

A Bench of Justices H.S. Bedi and C.K. Prasad reserved judgment on a special leave petition from Dipesh Balchandra Panchal, who questioned the awarding of rigorous life imprisonment by the trial court and confirmation by the Gujarat High Court. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering Indrasinh in Kutch district on August 16, 1999.

Senior counsel Parmanand Katara, appearing for Panchal, argued that instead of being awarded “rigorous imprisonment,” those sentenced to life be subjected only to “simple imprisonment.” Quoting Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, which says, “Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine,” Mr. Katara argued that since it “does not include the word ‘rigorous,' no court could award rigorous punishment.”

Judges could not specify in murder cases the rigorous nature of the sentence, as the Section “does not permit them to do so. If rigorous imprisonment is awarded, it is ultra vires, void, unconstitutional, arbitrary, illegal and against the natural and codified justice.”

Mr. Katara said that since a life convict was already doomed to remain in jail either throughout his life or at least for 14 years, subjecting him/her to "rigorous" work would only amount to putting him/her to further torture. He wanted the Supreme Court to clearly spell out the period for which a life convict should remain in jail as no specific duration had been provided.

“The distinction lies in the fact that under ‘rigorous imprisonment' a convict has to do hard work like digging the earth, ploughing or cooking food for 500 co-prisoners. Whereas, under ‘simple imprisonment' tasks like sewing, gardening or serving refreshments to co-prisoners are prescribed.”

Courts could not sentence a person to ‘rigorous' imprisonment unless the statute expressly provided for it, counsel said.

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