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Rigorous imprisonment to the predator of a defenseless child: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court sentenced the convict to 25 years of rigorous life imprisonment while allowing his appeal to commute death sentence, as ordered previously by the High Court and Trial Court. The bench consisting of J. Uday Umesh Lalit, J. Indu Malhotra and J. Krishna Murari, observed that the standards to grant death sentences are much higher than as seen in the present case of Shatrughna Baban Meshram v. State of Maharashtra [Criminal Appeal Nos. 763-764 of 2016].

According the FIR lodged by the father of the victim who was a girl of two and half years old, Shatrughna Baban Meshram, the accused and the victim’s uncle, after taking her away from the house of the complainant, was found lying in a construction site, next to the victim who was without her pants, her face being bitten and her private parts swollen. When taken to the hospital, the doctor examined and declared her dead. The appellant was charged with rape of a minor and murder under Section 6 of the POCSO Act and Sections 376(1)(2)(f)(m), 376A, 302 of the IPC respectively.  

The Trial Court awarded death sentence and rigorous imprisonment for life to the accused, of which the former was subject to confirmation by the High Court. The HC affirmed the orders of the Trial Court saying that this falls under the rarest of rare cases, and relied on Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab [(1980 2 SCC 684] and Machhi Singh and others v. State of Punjab [(1983) 3 SCC 470], while stating that “The appalling cruelty shown by him to the minor girl child is extremely shocking and it gets accentuated, when his age is taken into consideration. It was not committed under any mental stress or emotional disturbance and it is difficult to comprehend that he would not commit such acts and would be reformed or rehabilitated. As the circumstances would graphically depict, he would remain a menace to society, for a defenceless child has become his prey. In our considered opinion, there are no mitigating circumstances”.

In the present appeal, although SC found the appellant guilty of the offence punishable under Section 302 of the IPC, the court stated that “there was no requisite intent as would bring the case under any of the first three clauses of Section 300 IPC, the offence in the present case does not deserve death penalty”. The SC classified the matter broadly under two heads –

“(A) Whether the circumstantial evidence in the present case is of unimpeachable character in establishing the guilt of the Appellant or leads to an exceptional case.  (B) Whether the evidence on record is so strong and convincing that the option of a sentence lesser than a death penalty is foreclosed.”

The SC held that “The circumstances are clear, consistent and conclusive in nature and are of unimpeachable character in establishing the guilt of the Appellant”, however, the court did not find that the option of a sentence lesser than death penalty was completely foreclosed. Further the court added “ It is true that the sexual assault was very severe and the conduct of the Appellant could be termed as perverse and barbaric. However, a definite pointer in favour of the Appellant is the fact that he did not consciously cause any injury with the intent to extinguish the life of the victim”.

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