In a first, Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court on Monday confirmed a double death sentence and double life imprisonment awarded to a 21 year old man for rape and murder of his two year old niece in February, 2013.
Shatrughna Meshram was awarded death sentence under Section 376-A and 302 of the Indian Penal Code by the Yavatmal Sessions Court. He was also sentenced to two life terms under Section 376 (2) (f) (i) (m) (rape) and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), 2012.
Confirming the death sentence, the Bench comprising Justice Bhushan Gavai and Justice Prasanna Varale observed, "In the present case, as we have stated above, the victim was of two and half years of age, as such, the heinous and gruesome rape and murder of the child victim at the hands of the appellant/accused, needs to be dealt with the deterrent punishment like death sentence."
The Public Prosecutor submitted before the High Court that the act of the convict was "not only cruel but showing the utmost perversity of the psyche of the accused satisfying his lust and overpowering the helpless child victim and such heinous act of the accused has shocked the conscious of society and for the said act, the only punishment is the death punishment".
The convict, on the other hand, contended that the Sessions Judge had failed to appreciate evidence and "was swayed away on the superficial circumstances, such as the victim was a child."
He had further put forward a plea for leniency considering his young age and poor family background. He submitted that there existed a possibility of his being rehabilitated and not committing any offence in the future. However, observing that this cannot be a mitigating circumstance in cases of extreme depravity, the Bench rejected the plea. The act was considered to fall under the 'rarest of rare' category for awarding death sentence, as laid down in the landmark judgment pronounced in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, (1980) 2 SCC 684.
Considering the observations made in Bachan Singh's case, the Court observed, "In the light of this clause, if the present matter is seen, the record reveals that the victim is a child of two and half years of age. The victim was subjected to a forceful sexual exploitation. The medical evidence shows that the death is caused due to forceful intercourse. In our opinion, the present case also covers clause (a) of "aggravating circumstances" wherein it is referred that if a murder is committed after previous planning and involves extreme brutality."
The sentence awarded is one of its kind under Section 376-A of the IPC which was brought through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 after the gruesome Delhi gang-rape case. Section 376-A provides for an offence of committing rape and inflicting injury which causes death or causes the woman to be in a persistent vegetative state. The amendment was largely based on the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee Report of 2013. A summary of the report can be read here.
Read the Judgment here.