The Supreme Court on Friday reduced the death sentence handed to anaccused in the 2001 abduction and murder case of national tennis champion S Kartikraj, to life imprisonment, and raised questions about the efficacy of capital punishment. The tennis champ was abducted in Pune by four accused, one of whom, Kumar Gaurav, turned approver. They demanded a ransom of Rs 7 lakh. The accused, who were Kartikraj's room-mates in college, lured him to a particular place on the pretext of giving him a party. When he reached there, they kidnapped him, tortured him for 2 hours and killed him on August 8, 2001. They cut his body into pieces, stuffed them in plastic bags and disposed the bags at different places. A Pune court sentenced Santosh Bariyar to death, and handed life imprisonment terms to Sanjeev and Santosh Roy. In2005, the Bombay High Court upheld the Pune court's order. In the SC, defence lawyers pointed out that neither the trial court nor the High Court had given reasons, which is required under the law, for finding Bariyar's case fit for the extreme penalty of death and handing a lesser punishment to his two friends, who played an equally evil role in the murder.
Holding that life imprisonment is a rule while death sentence is an exception, a bench of Justices SB Sinha and Cyriac Joseph said though the manner and method of disposal of Kartikraj's body was "abhorrent and goes a long way in making the present case a most foul and despicable case of murder" but mere mode of disposal of a dead body may not by itself be made the ground for inclusion of a case in the 'rarest of rare' category for imposing a death sentence. There are other factors to be considered before handing out the capital sentence, the judges held. The apex court cited another judgment dealing with one Ravindra Trimbak Chouthmal from Maharashtra who had killed his wife over dowry. Chouthmal had severed his wife's head and cut her body into 9 pieces and disposed them. The court then expressed doubts over the efficacy of the deterrent effect of capital punishment and commuted the death sentence to one of rigorous imprisonment for life. In the absence of any significant empirical attention to deterrence and severity of the extreme penalty by Indian criminologists, the judgment stated, "We cannot assume that severity of punishment correlates to deterrence to an extent which justifies the restriction of the most fundamental human right to life and liberty through the imposition of the death penalty." It added, "The goal of crime reduction can be achieved by better police and prosecution service to the same or at least to a great extent than bythe imposition of the death penalty."
(Source: DNA India, 16 May 2009)
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