Minimum 7 yrs term mandatory for rapes: SC

New Delhi: Rapists should be awarded a minimum sentence of 7 years which can be reduced only in special circumstances, the Supreme Court has ruled ticking off the Rajasthan High Court for reducing the punishment of two convicts in a rape case.

"Such an order is violative of the mandatory requirement of law and has defeated the legislative mandate. Deciding the case in such a casual manner reduces the criminal justice delivery system to mockery," a bench of justices B S Chauhan and Dipak Misra said in a judgement.

The apex court passed the judgement while upholding an appeal filed by the Rajasthan Government challenging the high court`s decision to reduce the sentence on two rapists Vinod Kumar and Heera Lal without recording any special reasons for taking the lenient view.

On January 22, 2005, the Special Judge Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act had awarded 7 years RI for the duo after convicting them for rape of an SC woman who had checked into hotel along with her brother-in-law. However, the High Court on an appeal by the convicts reduced the sentence of Vinod Kumar from 7 years to 5 years and that of Heera Lal from 7 years to 11 months and 25 days.

Section 376 IPC (rape) mandates a minimum 7 years punishment, but which may be life or for a term which may extend to 10 years, provided that the court may for adequate and special reasons to be mentioned in the judgement, impose the punishment for a term less than 7 years.

Courts will be failing in its duty if appropriate punishment is not awarded for a crime which has been committed not only against the individual victim but also against the society to which the criminal and victim belong, the apex said citing a number of its earlier rulings.

The punishment to be awarded for a crime must not be irrelevant but it should conform to and be consistent with the atrocity and brutality with which the crime has been perpetrated, the enormity of the crime warranting public abhorrence and it should respond to the society`s cry for justice against the criminal," Justice Chauhan writing the judgement said.

"Religion, race, caste, economic or social status of the accused or victim are not the relevant factors for determining the quantum of punishment. The court has to decide the punishment after considering all aggravating and mitigating factors and the circumstances in which the crime has been committed. Conduct and state of mind of the accused and age of the sexually assaulted victim and the gravity of the criminal act are the factors of paramount importance," the bench said.

The bench said courts must exercise its discretion in imposing the punishment objectively considering the facts and circumstances of the case. "The power under the proviso is not to be used indiscriminately in a routine, casual and cavalier manner for the reason that an exception clause requires strict interpretation," it said.

"What is adequate and special would depend upon several factors and no straight jacket formula can be laid down. We fail to understand as how the findings on commission of rape have been affirmed without discussing the evidence on record," the court said. No such reasons have been recorded by the court for doing so and thereby it failed to ensure compliance of the mandatory minimum punishment prescribed, the bench said referring to the high court order.

The apex court set aside the high court order and directed the convicts to surrender and serve their remaining part of the sentence. "In case the respondents fail to surrender within the said period, the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Jaipur (City) is directed to take them into custody and send them to jail," the bench added.