Calcutta, Sept. 6: Gravity of the crime notwithstanding, a juvenile delinquent cannot be sentenced to life imprisonment, Calcutta High Court ruled today.
'A court of law should not lose sight of the fact that the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 does not permit it to send a juvenile delinquent to jail for detention for more than three years,' Justices Alok Kumar Basu and Pranab Kumar Deb said.
The judgment came as the court was hearing the case of Nishi Roy, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1997 when he was 18. Nishi was accused of murdering a three-and-a-half year-old by pushing him into an abandoned well in a jungle at Pat Jhalda in Purulia district, 300 km from here.
'Such juvenile convicts can never be sentenced to life or given capital punishment. Even if lodged in jail for a long stretch, they will have to be released once they complete 18 years of age,' the bench said.
The judges directed the registrar (administration) of the high court to send a copy of the judgment to all juvenile courts, juvenile boards and police authorities, including the inspector-general (prisons), Joydeb Chakraborty.
Elaborating on the verdict, the court said state authorities had the discretion to decide where juvenile convicts would be kept in detention.
The court directed the superintendent of Midnapore prison, where Nishi spent eight years, to set him free.
'We cannot give back the petitioner his formative days, which he was forced to spend in detention due to an error on the part of the judicial system. So we, hereby, direct the superintendent of Midnapore jail to release him immediately,' the judges ordered.
On January 13, 1994, Nishi ' he was 15 then ' had lured Rajesh Goswami and five-year-old Mahima Roy to a jungle with the promise of plums. He took them to the well and pushed them into it.
The toddlers' parents, along with neighbours, combed the village and nearby areas for the missing duo. They asked Nishi for information, but he did not say anything. One of the neighbours then told the parents that he had heard a girl crying in the jungle.
They found the children lying in the well and lifted them with the help of a chain of saris. However, Rajesh was dead by then and Mahima was unconscious.
Mahima, who was admitted to a local hospital, narrated the story to her parents, who lodged a police complaint against Nishi.