Monday, July 8, 2013

IPC's Section 364A: Too harsh a provision?

TNN Jul 5, 2013, 04.30AM IST
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court had laid down the "rarest of rare" criteria for courts to award death penalty only in select heinous and gruesome murder cases.
In this background, can Parliament enact a law providing for mandatory award of death penalty for those found guilty of murdering a person after kidnapping him to demand ransom? Would this not amount to pushing every offence of kidnap for ransom involving murder of the victim into 'rarest of rare' category without a judicial determination to that effect?
This question was framed by Justices T S Thakur and S J Mukhopadhaya while referring to a larger bench a petition challenging the constitutional validity of Section 364A of Indian Penal Code, which imposes mandatory death penalty in kidnap for ransom involving murder of the kidnapped.
The petition was filed by one Vikram Singh, who was convicted under Sections 302 (murder) and 364A of the IPC and awarded death penalty on both counts. The apex court had upheld his conviction and sentence.
But in his petition before the Supreme Court, his counsel D K Garg argued that if the court came to the conclusion that punishment provided under Section 364A of IPC was unconstitutional, then a lenient view could be taken on the death penalty awarded to his client under Section 302.
He argued that Section 364A made even a first time offender liable to be punished with death, which was too harsh to be considered just and appropriate.
Appearing for the Union government, additional solicitor general Sidharth Luthra argued, "It is within the legislative competence of Parliament to provide remedies and prescribe punishment for different offences depending upon the nature and gravity of such offences and the societal expectation for weeding out ills that afflict or jeopardize the lives of citizens and the security and safety of vulnerable sections of the society, especially children who are prone to kidnapping for ransom and being brutally done to death if their parents are unable to pay the ransom amount.
"The provisions of Section 364A are not only intended to deal with cases of kidnapping for ransom involving murder of victim but also cases in which terrorists and other extremist organizations resort to kidnapping for ransom or to such other acts only to coerce the government to do or not to do something."
The court agreed with Luthra that the petitioner had not questioned the competence of Parliament in enacting the law and said the petitioner challenged it only on the ground of harshness of the prescribed punishment.
The bench said, "The plea may indeed be in complete desperation but one can well understand such desperation among those who are waiting at the gallows for the hangman to put the noose around their neck. Dismissal of this appeal is bound to take them a step closer to the end.
"That apart, the questions (asked by the petitioner) may require an authoritative answer, by a bench of three judges, having regard to the fact that the death sentence awarded to the petitioner has been affirmed by a bench of two judges. The peculiar situation in which the case arises and the grounds on which the provisions of Section 364A are assailed persuade us to the view that this case ought to go before a larger bench of three judges for hearing and disposal."

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