NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday commuted the death sentence awarded to a man for kidnap and murder of a seven-year-old boy in Tamil Nadu in 2009, to 20-year jail term without remission.
A bench of Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud and Justices Hima Kohli and P S Narasimha said as per the ‘rarest of rare’ doctrine, the death sentence can not be imposed only by taking into account the grave nature of crime but only if there is no possibility of reformation in a criminal.
"We are of the view that even though the crime committed by the petitioner is unquestionably grave and unpardonable, it is not appropriate to affirm the death sentence that was awarded to him," the bench said.
"It cannot be said that there is no possibility of reformation even though the petitioner has committed a ghastly crime," the bench added.
The bench also said since a sentence of life imprisonment is subject to remission, this would not be adequate in view of the gruesome crime committed by the petitioner.
The top court declared that the man must undergo life imprisonment for not less than 20 years without remission of sentence.
Giving relief to Sundar alias Sundarrajan, the bench noted several mitigating factors, including that he had no prior antecedents, he was 23 years old when he committed the crime and he has been in prison since 2009 where his conduct has been satisfactory, except for the attempt to escape prison in 2013.
The bench also pointed out, “The petitioner is suffering from a case of systemic hypertension and has attempted to acquire some basic education in the form of a diploma in food catering. The acquisition of a vocation in jail has an important bearing on his ability to lead a gainful life."
The bench also said, “The duty of the court to enquire into mitigating circumstances as well as to foreclose the possibility of reformation and rehabilitation before imposing the death penalty has been highlighted in multiple judgments of this Court. Despite this, in the present case, no such enquiry was conducted and the grievous nature of the crime was the only factor that was considered while awarding the death penalty”.
In the instant case, the bench said there was no separate hearing on sentencing in the trial court and the appellate court did not consider the mitigating circumstances before awarding the capital punishment to the petitioner.
The judgement came on a review petition by Sundar, who was alleged to have picked up the victim while he was returning from school in the school van on July 27, 2009.
In September 2010, the Madras High Court had confirmed the conviction and the award of the death sentence to the accused, which was upheld by the top court on February 5, 2013.
Sundar had called the mother of the child demanding a ransom of Rs 5 lakh for his release.
In July, 2009, the police raided Sundar’s house and arrested him along with a co-accused who was later acquitted. He confessed to strangling the boy, putting his body in a gunny bag and throwing it in the Meerankulam tank.
In 2013, Sundar moved the apex court seeking a review of his conviction for murder and also the death sentence on the basis of the decision of a constitution bench in Mohd Arif vs Registrar, Supreme Court.
In its decision, the top court also issued notice to the inspector of police, Kammapuram police station in Cuddalore district as to why action should not be taken in pursuance to the affidavit filed in court concealing the conduct of the petitioner. It directed for registering the matter as a suo motu proceeding for contempt of court.