Probation u/s Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 isn’t excluded from the provisions of the mandatory minimum sentence for offenses under the Indian Penal Code. This decision was taken by the bench of the Supreme Court of India comprising of Hon’ble Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Hrishikesh Roy in the case of Lakhvir Singh vs. State of Punjab [Criminal Appeal No.47-48 of 2021, Arising out of SLP (Crl.) Nos.6283-6284/2020]
In the instant case, the petitioner/accused were convicted for offence u/s 397 of the IPC and were sentenced to 7 years of rigorous imprisonment each. When the appeal was filed in the SC, it was contended that the parties had mutually agreed to a settlement. Whereas, the respondent i.e. the State opposed the benefit of probation under the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 for which a plea had been filed by the accused. And the State opined that the minimum sentence cannot be reduced to less than 7 years because it’s the minimum sentence stated in the statute.
SC bench observed that Section 4 of the Act under which they’ve found guilty is not punishable with death or life imprisonment. And since they were not 21 years old, they couldn’t be given help under section 6 of the Act and hence SC stated referring to the earlier judgments in the case of Ishar Das vs. State of Punjab, where it was held that the beneficiary provisions of the Act must be interpreted in a broader manner and therefore, they shouldn’t be read in a restricted manner.
Later on, the SC bench opined that “the Act may not apply in cases where a specific law enacted after 1958 prescribes a mandatory minimum sentence, and the law contains a non-obstante clause”. “Thus, the benefits of the Act did not apply in case of mandatory minimum sentences prescribed by special legislation enacted after the Act”. SC observed that in the previous judgment of State of Madhya Pradesh vs. Vikram Das that the court cannot award a sentence less than the mandatory sentence prescribed by the statute. And hence it was concluded that the benefit of probation under the said Act is not excluded by the provisions of the mandatory minimum sentence under Section 397 of IPC.
Finally, Supreme Court gave the judgment that “Accused on probation of good conduct under Section 4 of the said Act ‘on their completion of half the sentence and on their entering into a bond with two sureties each to ensure that they maintain peace and good behavior for the remaining part of their sentence, failing which they can be called upon to serve that part of the sentence.”