Imprisonment for life is equivalent to rigorous imprisonment for life: Supreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case where a man was convicted for killing his wife on the suspicion of her infidelity and was sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for life, the bench of L. Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai, JJ has refused to go into the question of propriety of specifying rigorous imprisonment while imposing life sentence and has held that imprisonment for life is equivalent to rigorous imprisonment for life.

While there are several judicial precedents where the Supreme Court has held that imprisonment for life has been regarded as equivalent to rigorous imprisonment for life, the verdict in Naib Singh v. State of Punjab, (1983) 2 SCC 454 makes this position amply clear.

In the aforesaid case, the Petitioner was originally sentenced to death for committing an offence of murder under Section 302 IPC. Later, the death sentence was commuted to imprisonment for life by the Government of Punjab. After having undergone sentence of 22 years, Naib Singh filed a Writ Petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India challenging his continued detention. One of the points argued by the Petitioner relates to sentence of imprisonment for life not to be equated to rigorous imprisonment for life.

The Court, in the said judgment, held,

“… in view of the authoritative pronouncements made by the Privy Council and this Court in Kishori Lal case [Kishori Lal v. Emperor, AIR 1945 PC 64 : 72 IA 1 : 219 IC 350] and Gopal Godse case [Gopal Vinayak Godse v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1961 SC 600 : (1961) 3 SCR 440 : (1962) 1 SCJ 423 : (1961) 1 Cri LJ 736] respectively, it will have to be held that the position in law as regards the nature of punishment involved in a sentence of imprisonment for life is well settled and the sentence of imprisonment for life has to be equated to rigorous imprisonment for life.”

[Md. Alfaz Ali v. State of Assam, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 719, order dated 14.09.2021]


For Petitioner: Advocate Ajay Marwah

For State: Advocate Debojit Borkakati

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