The Supreme Court on February 8, 2019, in the case of State of Madhya Pradesh v. Vikram Das, has held that the High Court could not award sentence less than the minimum sentence contemplated by the Statute.
A Bench comprising of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta was hearing an appeal filed by the Madhya Pradesh government against the 2012 decision of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, which modified the six-month prison sentence awarded to the respondent to 11 days, the extent of sentence already undergone by him.
The order of the High Court was passed in appeal filed by the respondent against the 2007 order passed by the Trial Court wherein the court convicted him for the offence under Section 3(1)(xi) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and sentenced him to undergo rigorous imprisonment for six months with fine of Rs 500. Madhya Pradesh High Court extended the fine from Rs 500 to Rs 3000.
Section 3(1) of the Act provides for a punishment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to five years and with fine. Therefore, the question before the apex court was whether the High Court could award sentence less than the minimum sentence contemplated by the Statute.
The Bench observed that “The conviction has not been disputed by the respondent before the High Court as the quantum of punishment alone was disputed. Thus, the High Court could not award sentence less than the minimum sentence contemplated by the Statute.”
Further, the Bench also observed that “Where the minimum sentence is provided for, the court cannot impose less than the minimum sentence…and that provisions of Article 142 of the Constitution of India cannot be resorted to impose a sentence less than the minimum sentence.”
Therefore, the court allowed the appeal and ordered the respondent to undergo remaining sentence imposed by the Trial Court.