The Supreme Court has sought response from the Central government on a plea challenging the constitutional validity of Section 376DB of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to the extent its prescribes life imprisonment for the remainder of the natural life of the convict, as the minimum sentence [Nikhil Shivaji Golait vs UOI]
Section 376DB prescribes punishment for gang rape of girls under 12 years of age.
The petitioner, who moved the top court under Article 32, is a convict serving his sentence of life imprisonment till death under the provision.
The bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Surya Kant issued notice to the Central government on the plea filed through advocate Gaurav Agrawal.
Section 376DB reads,
“Where a woman under twelve years of age is raped by one or more persons constituting a group or acting in furtherance of a common intention, each of those persons shall be deemed to have committed the offence of rape and shall be punished with imprisonment for life,which shall mean imprisonment for the remainder of that person’s natural life, and with fine, or with death.”
The provision which was introduced in response to the infamous Nirbhaya case, has been challenged as violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution since it takes away all possibilities of reformation of an individual.
By citing past cases, the petitioner has argued that in many cases where a person has been convicted of raping a minor girl, courts have commuted their death sentence to life imprisonment which runs to 20, 25 or 30 years.
However, if the life sentence has to be till the person dies, the said imprisonment may be even 40 years or 50 years which is totally disproportionate to the offence committed, the plea said.
The plea contended that the provision is “manifestly arbitrary” as under Section 376AB of IPC when a person is convicted of raping a minor under 12, the minimum life sentence awarded is of 20 years. However, the plea pointed out that just because it is gang rape, the term of imprisonment could be 40 or 50 years.