Plea against 30-year sentence without remission misconceived, says Bench

The Supreme Court is competent and has the jurisdiction to fix a particular number of years with or without remission when it commutes the death sentence to life term while upholding the conviction of the accused under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, a Bench has ruled.

It rejected a writ petition filed by Gurvail Singh alias Gala for converting his sentence from 30 years in jail without remission to life imprisonment. He also sought a declaration that this court was not competent to fix a particular number of years (with or without remission) when it commuted the death sentence. The petitioner, along with the co-accused, was charged with killing four persons on the intervening night of August 20-21, 2000 and the trial court in Punjab awarded the death penalty and this was confirmed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

However, the Supreme Court commuted it to life imprisonment with a direction that the petitioner serve 30 years in jail without remission.

Rejecting Gala’s argument, the Bench of Justices B.S. Chauhan and S.A. Bodbea said the issue raised in this petition was elaborately dealt with by a three-judge Bench in Swamy Shraddananda case, in which it was held that life imprisonment could not be equivalent to imprisonment for 14 or 20 years, rather it always meant the whole natural life.

“This court has always clarified that the punishment so awarded would be subject to any order passed in exercise of the clemency powers of the President or the Governor, as the case may be. Pardon, reprieve and remissions are granted in exercise of prerogative power. The power to grant pardons and to commute sentences is coupled with a duty to exercise the same fairly and reasonably. Thus, such orders do not interfere with the sovereign power of the state.”

The Bench said: “This court issued orders to deprive a convict of the benefit of remissions only in cases where the death sentence has been commuted to life imprisonment and it does not apply in all cases wherein the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment.”

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