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Dilbag Singh Vs. State of Punjab - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
CourtSupreme Court of India
Decided On
Reported inAIR1979SC680; 1979CriLJ636; (1979)2SCC103; [1979]2SCR1134
ActsCode of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) , 1973 - Sections 235(2), 248(2) and 360; Indian Penal Code (IPC) - Sections 34, 302, 304, 323 and 324
AppellantDilbag Singh
RespondentState of Punjab
Cases ReferredWilliams v. New York
Excerpt: an irritating land issue and temporary intoxication - the drinks vice was the minus point - a sentence or pattern of sentence which fails to take due account of the gravity of the offence can seriously undermine respect for law - held, appellant entitled to benefit of provisions of section 360 - appeal allowed. - [] in a double member parliamentary constituency one seat was reserved for the scheduled tribes and the other was general. four persons filed their nominations for the election, g 1 and g 2 for the general seat and s1 and s2 for the reserved seat. at the polls the number of votes received by the candidates were in the following order: s1, s2, g1 and g2. in accordance with the provisions of s. 54(4) of the representation of the people act, 1951, s1 was declared elected to..........making an offender a non-offender have revolutionized the judicial repertory in re-socializing the criminal. the sentence hearing for which the criminal procedure code, 1973 provides in section 248(2) and section 235(2) has hardly received the serious concern of the courts despite the international probation year and therapeutic accent in penological literature. 'if the criminal law as a whole is the cinderella of jurisprudence, then the law of sentencing is cinderella's illegitimate baby'. pre-sentence investigation reports, bestowal of intelligent care on the choice between institutional and non-institutional disposition and habitual neglect of new avenues open to the court have constrained us to grant leave in the case so that guidelines may be laid down and probation and.....

V.R. Krishna Iyer, J.

1. Every litigative appeal has a docket number but beneath the paper lurks a human factor, often forgotten in the forensic pugilists but now and then brought to the fore, as in this criminal appeal limited to the issue of appropriate sentence.

2. Surely, 'the law must keep its promises.' Justice Holmes expressed the obvious when he said this, but the breach of promise by the law on delivering criminal justice is daily experience, from police arrest to prison trauma. The focus in this case is on the sentencing alternatives in the Criminal Procedure Code; and the grievance pressed by counsel, when traditional grounds on the merits failed, was that the compassion of Section 360 professionally suffering benign neglect, be kindled and he be released. Enacted law is guilty of inaction, because its obscure presence on the statute book escapes the vigilance of the Bar. Where even the court ignores what is vital to the little man the guarantee of sentencing legality becomes a casualty. This case is an instance in point.

3. Now the brief story which enlivens the 'sentencing' submissions. Four villagers of rural Punjab, of whom the appellant is one, set upon Arjan Singh, a small official, while on his way back home. The sound and fury of the attack with sticks brought out the ill-starred, innocent Srimati Rakhi, Arjan Singh's brother's wife. Her daughter too came to the spot attracted by the fracas. Arjan Singh received blows, being the angry target of the assailants. But poor Rakhi, who came in accidentally, was hit on the head with a takua by Jagir Singh, one of the accused. She eventually died; and her daughter and Arjan Singh were hurt by the beating.

4. Four persons were charged by the police with offences under Section 302, 324 and 323 I.P.C. including constructive liability under Section 34. Two of them were acquitted by the trial court and the other two were convicted but appealed to the High Court. The man who dealt the fatal cut was Jagir Singh. His conviction under Section 302 I.P.C. and award of life imprisonment by the Sessions Court was converted into one under Section 304 Part I, I.P.C. with a consequential reduction of sentence to seven years' rigorous imprisonment. His conviction on certain other counts was maintained but we are not concerned with him at all, since the appellant in this Court is the other accused Dilbag Singh. His role was lesser and related to causing simple injury to Arjan Singh for which he was sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for one year and a fine of Rs. 200/-. He was held vicariously guilty under Sections 324/34 I.P.C. and awarded two years' rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 1000/-. In addition he was convicted under Section 323 I.P.C. for causing hurt to the daughter of the deceased and on this count punished with R.I. for one year together with a fine of Rs. 200/-.

5. Having declined leave on the question of guilt, we confine our attention to the contentions on the sentence. We proceed on the footing of the facts found and ask ourselves whether any basic flaw in sentencing technology affords appellate intervention and re-designing of reformatory treatment in the conspectus of circumstances present in the case.

6. The courts in our country consult the punitive tariffs prescribed in the Penal Code, consult the prison period awarded in practice for such offences and with marginal variations mechanise the process. Judged by that test, conviction under Section 324 I.P.C. read with Section 34 plus substantive guilt under Section 323 I.P.C. is visited with two years for the former and one year R.I. especially when the incident has ended in death. But penal humanitarinism, strategies of non-institutional rehabilitation and a complex of other considerations in making an offender a non-offender have revolutionized the judicial repertory in re-socializing the criminal. The sentence hearing for which the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 provides in Section 248(2) and Section 235(2) has hardly received the serious concern of the Courts despite the International Probation Year and therapeutic accent in penological literature. 'If the criminal law as a whole is the Cinderella of jurisprudence, then the law of sentencing is Cinderella's illegitimate baby'. Pre-sentence investigation reports, bestowal of intelligent care on the choice between institutional and non-institutional disposition and habitual neglect of new avenues open to the court have constrained us to grant leave in the case so that guidelines may be laid down and probation and community-oriented methods lying in the legal limbs may be re-activated. Our prisons are overcrowded, our prisoners are subjected to iatrogenic incarceration, our penal drills are self-defeatingly callous to correctional measures and our jail budgets bulge without countervailing community benefits because the Bench and the Bar have dismissed as below judicial visibility such patterns as probation, conditional release. The time has come for Courts to abandon the Monroe Doctrine towards penology and concern itself with innovative sentences.

7. But this involves careful study of the convict and his potentiality for reform, not guess-work nor insensitive assessments. Therefore, we directed, right at the start, the Chief Probation Officer, Punjab, to make a report to this Court 'as to the social circumstances and other relevant factors bearing on the consideration of eligibility of the petitioner to probation.' That report has been received and its contents indicate competent advertence to pertinent criteria which we may briefly sura up.

8. The appellant is 32 years old. His behavioral attitude is stated to be 'obedient and law-respecting in nature'. The officer goes on to state that the prisoner's character is fairly good, that he is upright, alert and interested in rural games. Of course, he seems to be wrestler of the locality which is good if it is practised as a game but dangerous if he exercises his muscles on other people's flesh. More importantly are the social influences that bear upon restraint and good behavior. He is a petty farmer who left school in his teens, has ten acres of land belonging to the joint family of himself and five brothers and the mother. Being a cultivator and living in the joint family circumstances the officer finds no adverse remarks against him in the locality. On the other hand, the report refers to his great respect for the former Sarpanch of the village. His family circumstances evoke commiseration because his father is dead having been murdered in 1960. His mother is alive and has to be maintained by himself and his two brothers who are truck drivers and the third a jawan. He has his own nuclear family to maintain with a young wife and four children. A pitiable factor is ' that his elder daughter is paralytic from birth. His social position shows that he belongs to a lower middle class family, lives by agriculture, loves his mother and brothers and has earned the good-will of his neighbours who think that the occurrence was induced by an irritating land issue and temporary intoxication. A sense of remorse has overcome him according to the Probation Officer who says that he is a first offender and not a recidivist. It is a painful fact, as noted in the report that this criminal case has cost him a tidy sum, loss of prestige and even family separation.

9. In the unrefined English of the Probation Officer we may summarise his assessment of the offender:

It was met of an accident as offender-client Dilbagh Singh seems to be law abiding and God fearing. His one weakness is wine and that is the route cause of the present diviation, otherwise on the whole offender's behavior is normal and adjustable. The offender is in curable stage as crime has not gone deep into him. He can be adjustable amicably within his normal and natural environmental factOrs. The client can easily be reformed as he is neither professional criminal nor exhibits any tendency to future deviation.

The social milieu, the domestic responsibilities, the respect for the former Sarpanch he shows, the general goodwill he commands are plus points. The tragic fact of his father's murder and the running misfortune of his young daughter's paralysed limbs are sour facets of his life. The circumstance that he is gainfully employed as agriculturist and his brothers, though in diverse occupations, remain joint family members, are hopeful factOrs. The aggressive episode which led to his conviction was induced by the company of his cousin who serves a seven year sentence and the inebriation due to drinking habit. This simple villager responsible and gentle, sad and burdened, repentant and drained of his little wealth by the criminal case, has a long way to go in life being in his early thirtys. The drinks vice was the minus point. Many a peaceable person, on slight irritation, suffers bellicose switch-over under alcoholic consumption.

10. How does judicial discretion operate in this skew of circumstances? To jail him is mechanical farewell to the finer sentencing sensitivity of the judge of salvaging a redeemable man by non-institutionalised treatment. The human consequences of the confinement process here will be no good to society and much injury to the miserable family and, above all, hardening a young man into bad behavior, with prestige punctured, family injured, and society ill-served. Nor was the crime such, so far as his part was involved, as to deserve long deterrent incarceration. Our prison system, until humane and purposeful reforms pervades, surely injures, never improves. Prison justice has promises to keep, and ethological changes geared to curative goals are still alien-from dress and bed, refusal of frequent parole and insistence of mechanical chores, bonded labour, nocturnal tensions, and no scheme to reform and many traditions to repress-such is the zoological institutional realism and rehabilitative bankruptcy which inflict social and financial costs upon the State. It is wasted sadism to lug this man into counter-productive imprisonment for one year.

11. Long years ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a forward-looking speech on John Day, said:

If the criminal's past history gives good reason to believe that he is not of the naturally criminal type, that he is capable of real reform and of becoming a useful citizen, there is no doubt that probation, viewed from the selfish standpoint of protection to society alone, is the most efficient method that we have. And yet it is the least understood, the least developed, the least appreciated of all our efforts to rid society of the criminal.

12. The appellant has served a substantial part of his sentence in jail because of judicial innocence of the normae in the area of non institutional disposition. It is easy to imprison, hard to individualise punishment. Sentencing legality is violated when the judge shirks. And the Bar is often alien to correctional alternatives and concentrates its ammunition on culpability and extenuatory scaling down of imprisonment.

13. The observations of the United States Supreme Court in Williams v. New York 337 U.S. 241 lay the right stress on pre-sentence reports:

have been given a high value by conscientious judges who want to sentence persons on the best available information rather than on guess-work and inadequate information. To deprive sentencing judges of this kind of information would undermine modern penological procedural policies that have been cautiously adopted throughout the nation after careful consideration and experimentation.

14. Judge F. Rayan Duffy has written:

If the judge has before him a complete and accurate pre-sentence investigation report which sets forth the conditions, circumstances, background, and surroundings of the defendant, and the circumstances underlying the offense which has been committed, the judge can then impose sentence with greater assurance that he has adopted the proper course. He can do so with much greater peace of mind.

15. The purpose of Section 360 of the Code is precisely this; the goal of Section 235(2) is just this. And yet, the exacting art is more honoured in the breach than in the observance if we many wrongly use a Shakespearean passage to drive home our point. We stress the legal position so that subordinate courts may not treat conviction as the terminal point but the end of one chapter. We are mindful of the complexity and remove the impression that easy resort to Section 360 is right. No; it is wrong. Two quotes set the record straight.

Imprisonment is the appropriate sentence when the offender must be isolated from the community in order to protect society or if he can learn to readjust his attitudes and patterns of behavior only in a closely controlled environment.

The consequences of a sentence are of the highest order. If too short or of the wrong type, it can deprive the law of its effectiveness and result in the premature release of a dangerous criminal. If too severe or improperly conceived, it can reinforce the criminal tendencies of the defendant and lead to a new offence by one who otherwise might not have offended so seriously again.

The decision which is presented at sentencing is also enormously complex. It properly is concerned, and often predominantly, with the future which can be predicted for the particular offender. But any single-valued approach to sentencing is misdirected. A sentence which is not in some fashion limited in accordance with the particular offence can lead to a system of incomparable brutality. Per contra, a sentence or pattern of sentence which fails to take due account of the gravity of the offence can seriously undermine respect for law.

16. In this case, after perusal of the report of the Probation Officer, counsel for the State, Sri Hardev Singh, with fair candour and shared correctness, consented to a release of the prisoner under Section 360. We agree. But one fact needs emphasis. The close nexus between violence and alcohol is a call to the State in every criminal investigation to identify the role of alcohol in the commission of the offence and in every prisoner's treatment to provide for anti-alcoholic therapy. To fail here is vicarious guilt of the State to Society. We direct release of the appellant forthwith. He will enter into a bond before the trial court together with Shri Dilbag Singh S/o Babu Singh as surety in the amount of Rs. 1000/- within two weeks of his release to keep the peace, be of good behavior, to abjure alcohol and not to commit offence for a period of three years and to appear and receive sentence, if called upon in the meantime. The appeal is allowed with this direction which is the Q.E.D. of sentencing justice.

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