Report No. 202
2.9 Life Imprisonment means imprisonment for whole life:
2.9.1 In Section 304B, the maximum sentence that can be awarded is imprisonment for life.
2.9.2 In Gopal Vinayak Godse v. State of Maharashtra, (AIR 1961 SC 600 : 1961 Cr. L.J. 736 : 1961 (3) SCR 440), the Constitution Bench of the Hon'ble Supreme Court held that the sentence of imprisonment for life is not for any definite period and the imprisonment for life must, prima facie, be treated as imprisonment for the whole of the remaining period of the convicted person's natural life.
2.9.3 In Zahid Hussein v. State of W.B., (2001) 3 SCC 750, the Hon'ble Supreme Court has observed that:
"4. The Supreme Court after examining the provisions of Article 161 of the Constitution, Cr.PC and IPC has consistently held that a sentence of imprisonment for life does not automatically expire at the end of 20 years of imprisonment including remission, as a sentence of imprisonment for life means a sentence for the entire life of the prisoner unless the appropriate Government chooses to exercise its discretion to remit either the whole or part of the sentence. (See Gopal Vinayak Godse v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1961 SC 600 : 1961 Cr. L.J. 736 : (1961) 3 SCR 440; State of M.P. v. Ratan Singh, AIR 1976 SC 1552 : 1976 Cr. L.J. 1192 : (1976) 3 SCC 470 : 1926 SCC (Cr.) 428; Sohan Lal v. Asha Ram, (1981) SCC 106; and Bhagirath v. Delhi Admn., 1965 Cr.L.J. 1179 : (1986) 2 SCC 580 : 1985 SCC (Cr.) 280.
5. We extract below sub-rules (4) and (29) of Rule 591 of the West Bengal Rules for the Superintendence and Management of Jails (for short 'the Rules').
"(4) In considering the cases of prisoners submitted to it under sub-rules (1) and (2), the State Government shall take into consideration - (i) the circumstances in each case, (ii) the character of the convict's crime, (iii) his conduct in prison, and (iv) the probability of his reverting to criminal habits or instigating others to commit crime. If the State Government is satisfied that the prisoner can be released without any danger to the society or to the public it may take steps for issue of orders for his release under Section 401 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898.
(29) Every case in which a convict, who has not received the benefit of any of the foregoing Rules, is about to complete a period of 20 years of continued detention including remission earned, if any, shall be submitted three months before such completion by the Superintendent of the Jail in which the convict is for the time being detained, through the Inspector General, for orders of the State Government. If the convict's jail records during the last three years of his detention are found to be satisfactory the State Government may remit the remainder of his sentence."
6. These sub-rules do not provide for automatic release of a life convict after he has completed 20 years of the detention including remission. Under these sub-rules the only right which a life convict can be said to have acquired is a right to have his case put up by the prison authorities in time to the State Government for consideration for premature release and in doing so that the Government would follow the guidelines mentioned in sub-rule (4).
7. The Explanation to Section 61 of the Act is as follows:-
"Explanation .- For the purpose of calculation of the total period of imprisonment under this section, the period of imprisonment for life shall be taken to be equivalent to the period of imprisonment for 20 years."
8. The Explanation came for consideration by the Supreme Court in Laxman Naskar (Life Convict) v. State of W.B., (2000) 7 SCC 626 : 2000 SCC (Cr.) 280, and this Court held that the said Explanation is only for the purpose of calculation of the total period of imprisonment of a life convict under Section 61, which shall be taken to be equivalent to the period of imprisonment for 3920 years and a `life convict would not be entitled to automatic release under this provision of law.
We, therefore, find no substance in the submission made by Mr.Malik, the learned Senior Counsel. [Mr. Malik had submitted that in view of sub-rules (4) and (29) of Rule 591, all the petitioners were entitled to be released as of right as their total period of imprisonment was `more than 20 years].
11. Following guidelines were framed by the Government or the premature release of life convicts, namely:
(i) Whether the offence is an individual act of crime without affecting the society at large.
(ii) Whether there is any chance of future recurrence of committing crime.
(iii) Whether there is any fruitful purpose of confining of these convicts any more.
(iv) Whether the convicts have lost potentiality in committing crime.
(v) Socio-economic condition of the convicts' families.
12. The Review Board refused to grant premature release of the petitioners on the following grounds:
(1) police report is adverse;
(2) the convicts are not overaged persons and as such have not lost the potentiality in committing crime;
(3) since other co-convicts were trying to come out from jail, there was a possibility of regrouping for antisocial activities;
(4) the offence was not an individual act of crime but was affecting society at large;
(5) convicts were antisocial; and
(6) the witnesses who had deposed at the trial as well as local people were apprehensive of retaliation in the event of premature release.
14. The conduct of the petitioners while in jail is an important factor to be considered as to whether they have lost their potentiality in committing crime due to long period of detention. The views of the witnesses who were examined during trial and the people of the locality cannot determine whether the petitioners would be a danger to the locality, if released prematurely. This has to be considered keeping in view the conduct of the petitioners during the period they were undergoing sentence. Age alone cannot be a factor while considering whether the petitioners still have potentiality of committing crime or not as it will depend on changes in mental attitude during incarceration."
2.9.4 In Ravindra Trimbak Chouthmal v. State of Maharashtra, (1996) 4 SCC 148, Hon'ble Supreme Court commuted the sentence of death to imprisonment for life and further ordered that sentence passed under Section 201 to run not concurrently but consecutively: While doing so, the Court observed:
"We have given considered thought to the question and we have not been able to place the case in that category which could be regarded as the "rarest of the rare" type. This is so because dowry death has ceased to belong to that species of killing. The increasing number of dowry deaths would bear this. To halt the rising graph, we, at one point, thought to maintain the sentence; but we entertain doubt about the deterrent effect of death penalty. We, therefore, resist ourselves from upholding the death sentence, much though we would have desired annihilation of a despicable character like the appellant before us. We, therefore, commute the sentence of death to one of RI for life imprisonment.
But then, it is a fit case, according to us, where, for the offence under Sections 201/34, the sentence awarded, which is RI for seven years being the maximum for a case of the present type, should be sustained, in view of what had been done to cause disappearance of the evidence relating to the commission of murder - the atrocious way in which the head was severed and the body was cut in nine pieces. These cry for maximum sentence. Not only this, the sentence has to run consecutively, and not concurrently, to show our strong disapproval of the loathsome, revolting and dreaded device adopted to cause disappearance of the dead body."