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SCOI Report: One BJP-led state supported others' cases for local remission powers

As the oral submissions in the Union of India vs V Sriharan @ Murugan matter concluded on Wednesday (August 12) in the Supreme Court, it became obvious that the Rajasthan government chose to adopt the submissions of other State Governments who have, by and large, opposed the Union of India’s plea for restricting the state governments’ power under the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.PC ) to remit life sentences.

The counsel for Rajasthan, Additional Advocate General, SS Shamshery, in his brief submission, told the Constitution Bench that the state’s views are similar to other state governments who made oral submissions in the matter.

While the States of Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala argued substantively in court to oppose the Centre, Rajasthan only adopted their arguments.

The Karnataka AG, Prof Ravivarma Kumar, did not address any arguments other than endorsing the plea for vacation of the previous interim stay orders. However, the tone and tenor of his argument was that of TN, though he was sitting on the UOI’s side.

No state has orally argued in support of the Centre’s stand. Although all the States were noticed in the matter as respondents, only six States chose to make oral submissions.

The court has allowed all the States to file written submissions, although it is not yet clear whether the States who chose not to make oral submissions in the matter will file written ones.

On the final day of arguments on August 12, solicitor general (SG) Ranjit Kumar argued that where ever the expression “appropriate Government” is used, primacy lies with Central Government, and only the residuary powers remain with the State Governments.

He submitted that the Supreme Court had earlier upheld the classification of heinous offences, and exclusion of life convicts who were found guilty of committing such offences from the purview of remission. The SG also relied on another judgment of the Supreme Court to buttress the view that denial of remission of sentences in heinous offences is valid in law.

Kumar then turned the respondents’ argument on its head, by suggesting that they in fact argued that the court should be nudged into giving death penalty, because according to them, there should be only two alternatives before the court - death sentence or life imprisonment, and if the court found 14 years of life imprisonment insufficient, in view of the gravity of the offence, there is no alternative, but to impose death sentence, as the alternative of imposing 20 years or 25 years sentence is unacceptable to them.

The SG then argued that creating a special category of sentence between death and 14 years life imprisonment is possible under Article 136 jurisdiction, and the court need not invoke Article 142 for this purpose. Within Article 136, it is possible for the court to fix a term for life imprisonment, he contended. As the court was not touching Articles 72 and 161, the convict could still avail these sovereign powers, and his ray of hope was not diminished at all, he suggested.

Kumar disagreed with Ram Jethmalani that the death sentence could be commuted to a fine.

He then questioned whether the Tamil Nadu Government applied its mind, when it sought to remit the sentence of convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, within a day of the Supreme Court commuting their death sentences.

Calling it “undue haste” on the part of the State Government, the SG was categorical that Section 432 Cr.PC is not a parallel power, but only a procedural exercise of remission power; therefore, societal interests must be balanced with that of the accused, he told Justice Kalifullah, who posed a pointed question whether in the guise of finality to a decision, the question of reformation of the convict must be ignored.

Read previous SCOI Reports on Union of India vs V Sriharan @ Murugan here.

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