This judicial innovation, formalised by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in the Rajiv Gandhi killers’ case in December 2015, helps “get rid of death penalty” and addresses the genuine concerns of the society to see justice done, a three-judge Bench led by Justice J. Chelameswar observed in its recent judgment.
The innovation involves substituting death penalty with a “special category” of life imprisonment without the benefit of release on remission for prolonged periods ranging from 25 to 30 years, if not more.
This innovative approach veering away from capital punishment was formalised after the Supreme Court gave itself the authority to tweak the sentencing laws and evolve a special category of sentence in its judgment in Union of India versus Sriharan alias Murugan last year. The special category is to be limited to a “very few cases”. This special category finds its first mention in the Swami Shraddananda versus State of Karnataka judgment of the Supreme Court in 2008.
The innovation, according to Justice S.K. Singh, who authored the Lodhi judgment for Justice Chelameswar’s Bench, is an endeavour by the apex court to make “no party (convict or the society) a loser”.
So having saved Lodhi from the hangman’s rope, Justice Singh stripped him of his right to apply for release from prison on remission for the next 25 years. Thus, any hope Lodhi might have had for his release after serving the first 14 years was effectively extinguished.
The prolonged period of incarceration with no hope, Justice Singh observed, was justice enough for the rape and murder of a “defenceless child” whose body was found in a gunny bag at Lodhi’s residence in 2011.
“The judicial innovation bridges the gap between death sentence on the one extreme and only 14 years of actual imprisonment in the name of life imprisonment on the other… it serves a laudable purpose,” the Supreme Court observed.
Law Commission of India Chairperson, Justice B.S. Chauhan, seconds the judgment’s optimism, saying the Supreme Court may have indeed found an “alternative” to capital punishment .
Quoting both the Sriharan and Shraddananda verdicts, Justice Singh, in his judgment in the Tattu Lodhi case, observed that “the innovative approach, on the one hand, helps the convict get rid of death penalty in appropriate cases. On the other, it takes care of genuine concerns of the victim, including the society…”