New Delhi, Sept. 1: The Supreme Court has expressed concern over proliferation of arms and ammunition, “whether licensed or not”, and asked courts not to deal with such cases lightly as it ordered a man back to jail this week.
“Proliferation of arms and ammunition, whether licensed or not, … disrupts the social order and development, vitiates (the) law and order situation, (and) directly contributes towards lethality of violent acts which needs to be curbed,” a two-judge bench said.
“We are sorry to note that law-enforcing agencies and to (a) certain extent courts always treat crimes lightly without noticing the havoc they can create to ordinary peace-loving citizens … and to national security…” the court said.
The observations came as the bench heard a case from Madhya Pradesh, where police had apprehended a man called Ayub Khan, who was caught with a country-made barrel gun with two rounds of bullets and 50gm of explosives, without any licence.
Charged under Section 25(1)(a) of the Arms Act, 1959, Khan was convicted by a local court, which jailed him for a year after taking note of the time the trial took and the time he spent in custody. The court also fined him Rs 100.
The high court confirmed the conviction but reduced the sentence to the period Khan had spent in jail — September 14-20, 2005. The fine was, however, raised to Rs 5,000.
The state then moved the top court, where it argued that the high court and the lower courts had erred in not awarding the minimum sentence even after convicting Khan under the Arms Act.
The state said the law prescribed a minimum sentence of three years, which could be extended to seven years and a fine.
The apex court upheld the state’s contention.
“We are of the view that the CJM as well as the sessions court have committed an error in the manner in which (the) sentence has been awarded…” the bench said, adding the high court, too, had committed a “grievous error in not awarding the proper sentence after having found the accused guilty”.
The bench said the high court had “confined” the sentence to the period the accused was in custody, stating that he had already served a “substantive period” in jail. “We are sorry to note that the HC has not taken pains to examine what was the period he had served by way of substantive sentence. The accused was in custody only for seven days i.e. from 14.9.05 to 20.9.05. We fail to see how the HC has reached a finding that the accused had served the substantive period of jail sentence.”
The court noted that the legislature, “in its wisdom”, had fixed a minimum sentence for such offences, having felt the “increased need” for stringent punishment to curb unauthorised access to arms and ammunition”.
The bench said a person found to be in the possession of a country-made barrel gun with two rounds of bullets and 50gm of explosives without licence must, in the absence of proof to the contrary, be “presumed” to have been carrying them with the “intention” of using them when the opportunity arose.
Once the accused has been found guilty, he has to undergo the minimum mandatory sentence prescribed under the statute, the court said, adding the chief judicial magistrate had overlooked this vital fact in awarding only a year’s imprisonment, which was confirmed by the sessions court.
The high court, the bench added, has made it worst by reducing the sentence to the period already undergone, which was only seven days.
Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra on Wednesday ordered the accused to serve the minimum sentence and pay a fine of Rs 5,000. The court said if he defaulted, he would have to spend three more months in jail.