The Supreme Court bench headed by Justice SA Bobde today issued notice to the Centre on a PIL challenging mandatory death penalty under section 3(2)(i) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
The provisions prescribes mandatory death penalty to a non-SC/ST person, if he is found to have knowingly fabricated or given false evidence in a criminal case resulting in the award of death penalty to a SC/ST person and his consequent execution.
The petition filed by Delhi-based lawyer Rishi Malhotra contends that the provision is "manifestly arbitrary, disproportionate, excessive, unreasonable, unjust, unfair, harsh, unusual and cruel".
Mandatory death penalty is against the dictum of the Supreme Court in Bachan Singh and Mithu cases, states the petition.
The petition also points out that in State of Punjab Vs. Dalbir Singh, 2012 (3) SCC 346, mandatory death penalty under sec.27(3) of the Arms Act was declared as ultravires the Constitution.
An identical provision in the Indian Penal Code -Sec.194 IPC- provides for an option of awarding death sentence or sentence of imprisonment of life.Similarly, sec.31A (1)(b) of the NDPS Act which initially provided for mandatory death sentence was rightly amended in the year 2014 by the legislature itself providing for an option of awarding death sentence or any other imprisonment as specified in sec.31 of the Act. Pointing out these aspects, the petition seeks to highlight that the provision in SC/ST Act is arbitrary.
"if the mandatory death sentences are allowed to continue in statutes, it would defeat the existence of very important provisions of Code of Criminal Procedure namely 235(2) Cr.P.C. as well as sec.354 (3) Cr.P.C. both of which provides for hearing of an accused on the quantum of sentence as well as giving reasons for imposing sentence by the Court", the petition states.