Report No. 39
25. First alternative not suitable.-
In favour of the first alternative it can be said that cases occasionally arise where a capital offence has been committed but the circumstances are such that the offender does not merit the sentence of rigorous imprisonment for life, i.e., imprisonment with hard labour, and that the court trying the case should have the power to give a direction under section 60 of the Penal Code that, having regard to those circumstances, the imprisonment should be simple and not rigorous.
The case of Mathammal Saraswathi (op. cit.) which came up before the Kerala High Court (where a pregnant woman who found life in her husband's house intolerable-decided to put an end to herself and also her three children, but, as fate would have it, succeeded only in regard to the latter) was undoubtedly of this character. But then, such hard cases are rare, and when they do occur, they can be readily, and perhaps more adequately, dealt with by the Government exercising the powers of commutation and remission vested in them. Section 55 of the Penal Code would seem to be very relevant and specially designed for this purpose.
26. It has to be borne in mind that, as analysed in paragraph 6 above, the offences for which the sentence of imprisonment for life is prescribed in the Penal Code are of a grave and heinous character. Where it is prescribed as the sole punishment or as an alternative to a sentence of death, there would be little scope in the general run of cases for the court to make the imprisonment simple and not rigorous. Some slightly less serious offences are made punishable with imprisonment for life or imprisonment of either description for a term.
If in such cases the circumstances are such that a lenient view should be taken of the offence, the court has already the power to impose simple or rigorous imprisonment for a suitable period and would not have to impose a sentence of imprisonment for life. It does not therefore seem to us either necessary or desirable that under the law the punishment of imprisonment for life should be declared to be either rigorous or simple and that the court should have the discretion to direct in the sentence which kind it would be.