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35-year jail term replaces death

New Delhi, Feb. 26: The Supreme Court has set aside a rape-and-murder convict’s death penalty and handed him an unprecedented 35-year life term without remission in a case settled by the judiciary in only 14 months.

Life terms normally mean life behind bars, with a provision for release on remission after at least 14 years. But in this case, the court said Madhya Pradesh’s Rajkumar shall not be freed before 35 years.

However, the bench of Justices B.S. Chauhan and M.Y. Eqbal added a rider that Rajkumar’s release could be subject to the clemency powers of the President or governor.

The speed of the trial stood out too. The appeal in the Supreme Court itself took only eight months. The trial court in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandla, where Rajkumar had raped his friend’s 14-year-old daughter in December 2012, wrapped up the trial in less than two months and sentenced him to death.

The high court upheld the order in June 2013, following which Rajkumar appealed in the apex court. Today, the Supreme Court complimented the lower courts. “It (the case) is an exemplar of expeditious justice in the country. We expect such prompt disposal, specifically cases of such grave nature,” the bench said.

But it took a different view on the punishment. “The appellant had committed a heinous crime and raped an innocent, helpless and defenceless minor… but it is not a case which falls within a category of rarest of rare. Hence, we set aside the death sentence and award life imprisonment. The appellant must serve a minimum of 35 years in jail without remission, before consideration of his case for pre-mature release.”