Supreme Court: The Division Bench comprising of Indu Malhotra and Ajay Rastogi*, JJ., dismissed the instant appeal filed against the order of High Court, whereby the appellant had been sentenced with imprisonment for life for killing two minor children. The Bench, while observing motive of the crime stated,
“He was living in a relationship with the complainant Anju who had two children from the previous marriage, and had taken away the life of two minor innocent children at the very threshold of their life and murdered in a brutal manner by administering celphos to them has been established.”
On the fateful day of 18-03-2013, at about 7.30 a.m., Anju (mother of the children) went to the temple or prayers. On her return, she saw both her children lying on the cot struggling for life and the appellant went away telling her that he had given poison to both the children.
The Trial Judge held the appellant guilty of an offence under S. 302 of IPC and punished him with imprisonment for life which would mean remainder of natural life and fine of Rs.5000. On an appeal preferred by the appellant the High Court revisited the record in totality and upheld the sentence imposed by the Trial Court.
The grievance of the appellant was that the statement of material prosecution witnesses PW1 and PW2 had been recorded without affording reasonable opportunity to the appellant to cross-examine the prosecution witnesses as mandated under S. 230 of CrPC, 1973.
Noticing that after framing of charges, the appellant pleaded guilty, however following the rule of prudence, the Trial Court decided to examine four witnesses before recording the conviction the Bench rejected the contention of the appellant. Since, after cross examination of these two witnesses, the appellant pleaded to claim trial on and thereafter the evidence of other prosecution witnesses was recorded yet at no stage, the appellant moved any application for recalling the witnesses and this contention had been raised for the first time during second appeal.
Whether the Trial Court went ultra-vires while imposing imprisonment for remainder of natural life?
The appellant had contended that he had been sentenced with imprisonment for life which would mean a remainder of natural life which was not in the domain of the trial Court, and this could had been exercised only by the High Court or by this Court . to substantiate his claim, the appellant relied on Union of India v. V. Sriharan, 2016 (7) SCC 1, wherein it had been established that,
“The power to impose a modified punishment providing for any specific term of incarceration or till the end of the convict’s life as an alternate to death penalty, can be exercised only by the High Court and the Supreme Court and not by any other inferior court.”
The Bench, though, opined that it was true that the punishment of remainder of natural life could not had been imposed by the Trial Judge, but after looking into the entire case, it was held to be appropriate to confirm the sentence of imprisonment for life to mean the remainder of natural life while upholding the conviction under Section 302 IPC.
Hence, regardless of the irregularities of sentence as pointed out by the appellant, the Supreme Court agreed to exercise its jurisdiction and approve the sentence imposed by the Trial Court and dismissed the appeal.
[Gauri Shankar v. State of Punjab, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 96, decided on 16-02-2021]
Kamini Sharma has put this report together
*Judgment by: Justice Ajay Rastogi