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Mercy for murderous rubbish rage

New Delhi, Nov. 5: The Supreme Court today reduced the life term pronounced in the murder of a rag-picker, saying throwing waste and rubbish inside a house or shop was “certainly a grave and sudden provocation”.

The observation of the court, which underscored that one should not attack another even in the heat of the moment, came in a fit-of-rage case in which a man killed a rag-picker for throwing waste into his employer’s shop every morning.

The court jailed Muthu for five years, saying culpable homicide did not amount to murder if the provocation was “grave and sudden”.

“Culpable homicide is not murder if the offender, whilst deprived of the power of self-control by grave and sudden provocation, causes the death of the person who gave the provocation or causes the death of any other person by mistake or accident,” the court said.

Judges A.K. Mathur and Markandeya Katju also ordered that any earlier jail term Muthu might have served be deducted from his five-year sentence.

According to the prosecution, Muthu, who worked for a wastepaper merchant, had just opened the shop at 8am on April 9, 1998, and was cleaning up when Siva, the rag-picker, threw wastepaper and cardboard boxes into the shop.

“Why do you do this every day'” Muthu had shouted before tugging at Siva’s hair.

Siva pushed him back. Muthu then grabbed a knife from a table in the shop and stabbed Siva in the chest. The rag-picker slumped to the ground and died.

The trial court held Muthu guilty of murder and sentenced him to life in jail. The high court upheld the verdict.

The apex court, however, said it was “satisfied” that the accused was “entitled” to exceptions under which homicidal acts did not amount to murder.

“… throwing waste and rubbish inside the house or shop of somebody is certainly a grave and sudden provocation,” the court said. “Everyone wishes to keep his premises neat and clean, and is likely to lose his self-control in such a situation.

“The incident in question occurred in a sudden fight and a heat of passion by a sudden quarrel without the appellant having taken undue advantage or acted in a cruel or unusual manner.”

The court also took into account the fact that Muthu had never planned the murder.

“If rubbish is thrown into one’s house or shop one would naturally get very upset. It is evident that the accused had no motive or intention to cause death of the deceased since the accused was not carrying the knife from before, and only picked it up during the scuffle with the deceased,” it said.

The two-judge bench agreed that even in the “heat of the moment”, one should not attack others. “No doubt, even in the heat of the moment or fit of anger one should not attack somebody since human beings are different from animals inasmuch as they have the power of self-control.

“Nevertheless, the fact remains that in the heat of the moment and in a fit of anger, people sometimes do acts which may not have been done after premeditation.”

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