Himachal Pradesh High Court: Anoop Chitkara J., allowed the petition and reduced the sentence to the period of imprisonment already undergone.
The facts of the case are such that an unmarried boy aged 24 years, who is in custody for around three months, because a minor girl aged 16 years, came to his home as they love each other, stayed there, had coitus, which on the intervention of her parents led to the registration of FIR. The petitioner filed a bail petition under Section 439 Criminal Procedure Code i.e. CrPC before this High Court, wherein the bail petition was dismissed as withdrawn vide order dated 17-12-2020. Assailing the said order instant petition was filed seeking regular bail on the ground of the conduct of the victim.
The Court observed that neither Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, (IPC), nor Section 6 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, (POCSO) create any restriction on grant of bail. It was further observed that after perusing the facts and circumstances, it seems that the petitioner and the victim knew each other and were romantically involved and there is no case of forcible sexual relationship; instead, the victim surrendered to the petitioner’s physical desires out of her love and affection towards him. The victim’s boldness to declare her passion towards the petitioner in the presence of her father and Police speaks volumes. Further, she also told them explicitly that she left her home out of her own free will and refused to go back with her father. These facts point out that the victim, being 16 years of age, though a minor, voluntarily left her home. Therefore, the rigors to reject bail and reasons to continue incarceration are reduced by the mitigating factors in the present case.
The Court further observed that adverting to the facts of the present case, the appellant has unintentionally admitted his culpability and the appellant has failed to propound how the elements of kidnapping have not been made out. His core contention appears to be that in view of consensual affair between them, the prosecutrix joined his company voluntarily. Such a plea, in our opinion, cannot be acceded to given the unambiguous language of the statute as the prosecutrix was admittedly below 18 years of age.
The court relied on judgment Satish Kumar Jayanti Lal Dabgar v. State of Gujarat, (2015) 7 SCC 359 and stated that consent of the minor is immaterial for purposes of Section 361 of IPC and provisions in the IPC and other laws like the Indian Contract Act, 1872, minors are deemed incapable of giving lawful consent. Section 361 IPC goes beyond this simple presumption and bestows the ability to make crucial decisions regarding a minor’s physical safety upon his/her guardians. Therefore, a minor girl’s infatuation with her alleged kidnapper cannot by itself be allowed as a defence, for the same would amount to surreptitiously undermining the protective essence of the offence of kidnapping. Similarly, Section 366 of IPC postulates that once the prosecution leads evidence to show that the kidnapping was with the intention/knowledge to compel marriage of the girl or to force/induce her to have illicit intercourse, the enhanced punishment of 10 years as provided thereunder would stand attracted.
The Court further relied on State of Madhya Pradesh v. Surendra Singh, (2015) 1 SCC 222
“13. It is the duty of every court to award proper sentence having regard to the nature of the offence and the manner in which it was executed or committed. The sentencing courts are expected to consider all relevant facts and circumstances bearing on the question of sentence and proceed to impose a sentence commensurate with the gravity of the offence.
The Court thus observed that there cannot be any mechanical reduction of sentence unless all relevant factors have been weighed and whereupon the Court finds it to be a case of gross injustice, hardship, or palpably capricious award of an unreasonable sentence. The Court further held that “the quantum of sentence awarded to the appellant deserves to be revisited”.
Grounds for revision
- No force, no pre-planning, use of any weapon or any vulgar motive had been present in the act of kidnapping.
- The young age of the accused at the time of the incident cannot be overlooked.
- trial delay at different levels i.e. more than twenty-two years have passed since the incident.
- The present crime was one of passion. No other charges, antecedents, or crimes either before 1998 or since then, have been brought to our notice.
- There is no grotesque misuse of power, wealth, status or age which needs to be guarded against.
The Court thus held that “the prosecution has established the appellant’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt and that no case of acquittal under Sections 363 and 366 of the IPC is made out. However, the quantum of sentence is reduced to the period of imprisonment already undergone.”
In view of the above, petition was allowed.[Virender Singh v. State of HP, 2021 SCC OnLine HP 280, decided on 04-02-2021]
Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has put this story together.