SC issues notice to Centre on death penalty in SC/ST cases

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday issued a notice to the Centre on a plea challenging the validity of a section which prescribes for mandatory death sentence in a case where an innocent member of a Scheduled Caste (SC) or a Scheduled Tribe (ST) is convicted and is executed as a consequence of false and fabricated evidence given by the accused.

The action of a bench headed by Justice S.A. Bobde came on a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the mandatory death penalty under section 3(2)(i) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

The plea was filed by advocate Rishi Malhotra.

The advocate told the court that the provision is “manifestly arbitrary, disproportionate, excessive, unreasonable, unjust, unfair, harsh, unusual and cruel”.

Under Section 3(2)(i) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, whoever, not being a member of SC/ST, gives or fabricates false evidence intending thereby to cause any member of SC/ST to be convicted of an offence which is capital by the law for the time being in force shall be punished with imprisonment for life, and with fine, and if an innocent member of SC/ST is convicted and executed in consequence of such false or fabricated evidence, the person who gives or fabricates such false evidence, shall be punished with death.

The petitioner requested the court to strike down the provision with regard to mandatory death penalty as prescribed under Section 3(2)(i) of The Scheduled Castes & The Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989.

The petitioner said the said law is ultra vires of the Constitution and against the fundamental tenets of Constitutional laws.

Citing various other sections which were quashed or amended by the court earlier, the advocate said: “As and when an occasion had arisen where the mandatory imposition of death penalty is called in question in different statutes, either this court by exercising its Constitutional powers of judicial review has struck down those provisions by holding it to be unconstitutional and void or the legislature itself has amended those provisions by removing the mandatory imposition of death penalty.”

He mentioned Section 27(3) of the Arms Act which was declared void.

He also told the court that the second part of Section 194 IPC is almost akin to Section 3(2)(i) of the Act but with a major difference in sentencing in as much as Section 194 IPC provides for an option of awarding death sentence or sentence of imprisonment for life.

Similarly, Section 31A (1)(b) of the NDPS Act which initially provided for mandatory death sentence was rightly amended in 2014 by the legislature itself and further provided for an option of awarding death sentence or any other imprisonment as specified in Section 31 of the Act.

Furthermore, if the mandatory death sentences are allowed to continue in the statute books, it would defeat the existence of very important provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure namely 235(2) Cr.P.C. as well as Section 354 (3) Cr.P.C. both of which provide for hearing of an accused on the quantum of sentence, the advocate added.