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SC frowns on rape leniency
- Lower court punishment seen inadequate

New Delhi, Oct. 5: The Supreme Court has advised lower courts not to hand down “inadequate punishments” for rape as it is a crime against society and human dignity, not just a violation of an individual.

“Awarding of inadequate punishments by courts is becoming disturbingly frequent,” the apex court said in a judgment delivered on Monday and asked Madhya Pradesh High Court to consider afresh a rape case. The Supreme Court felt the punishment awarded to the convict was less.

In rape cases the punishment “shall not be less than 10 years” of imprisonment which “may be” extended for life. But for “adequate and special reasons”, lower courts and high courts in the country could award a sentence less than 10 years’ imprisonment which could be seven years or even less.

In the instant case, Madhya Pradesh High Court had awarded less than seven years to a rape convict. On the appeal of the state government for enhancing the punishment, the Supreme Court said the high court had disposed of the case “in a most unsatisfactory manner exhibiting complete non-application of mind”.

“Since the judgment of the high court is not in accordance with law, we have no option but to set aside the same and to remit the matter back to the high court for a fresh consideration of the appeal,” Chief Justice R.C. Lahoti and Justice G.P. Mathur said.

Justice P.K. Balasubramanyan, writing a separate but concurrent judgment, said rape “is a particularly heinous crime, a crime against society' one that reduces a man to an animal”.

The judge noted the “disturbing” trend of lower courts awarding “inadequate punishments” to rape convicts and said that “to view such an offence, once it is proved, lightly, is itself an affront to society”.

“Though the award of maximum punishment may depend on the circumstances of the case, the award of the minimum punishment generally is imperative,” Justice Balasubramanyan said.

He observed that the “power” under the Indian Penal Code for a court to award lesser sentence should not be used “indiscriminately or routinely”.

The judge said the reasons for awarding lesser punishment should be special and adequate and they should be set out clearly and cogently in the judgment.

“Long pendency of the criminal trial or the offer of the rapist to marry the victim are not relevant reasons” to award less punishment, the judge said.

“Nor is the age of the offender by itself an adequate reason” for a milder sentence.

“The rationale for advocating the award of a punishment commensurate with the gravity of the offence and its impact on society is to ensure that a civilised society does not revert to the days of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

“Not awarding a just punishment might provoke the victim or her relatives to retaliate in kind and that is what is exactly sought to be prevented by the criminal justice system we have adopted,” Justice Balasubramanyan, agreeing with the other two judges, said.

Quoting Kautilya, Justice Balasubramanyan said: “Whoever imposes severe punishment becomes repulsive to people, while he who awards mild punishment becomes contemptible.”

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