HC Ought To Have Intervened: SC Comes To Rescue Of Person Who Would Have Spent 18 Years In Jail For Electricity Theft
The Supreme Court on Friday came to rescue a convict who has filed a habeas corpus plea before the Apex Court complaining that "the jail authorities are adamant to keep the petitioner in jail for a period of 18 years" contrary to the judgments of the Session Court sentencing the accused for 2 years.
"What are we here for? If we don't release him, it would be a breach of our duty under Article 136 of the Constitution of India", said CJI DY Chandrachud while sitting on the bench with Justice PS Narasimha.
In the present case, the Additional District Judge-I Hapur, by nine separate judgments delivered on the same date, convicted and sentenced the accused for 2 years simple imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 1000, in each of the cases involving theft of electricity equipment belonging to the State of Uttar Pradesh.
The Trial Court in all nine judgments directed that "the undergone period (of 21 months in custody) of the accused persons be set off against the period of sentence". However, the jail authorities treated the sentences to be counted in the subsequent case only after the completion of jail term in the earlier case.
"The Sessions Court has sent different warrants for different Sessions Trials. It has not been stated in any of these warrants that the sentence given in these different Sessions Trial will run concurrently", read the counter affidavit filed before the Supreme Court.
On being aggrieved, the convict petitioned the Allahabad High Court praying that sentence awarded should run concurrently. "We find that the action of Jail authorities by counting the imprisonment in subsequent case to commence after the conclusion of the previous one is clearly in accordance with the provisions of Section 427 of the Code of Criminal Procedure", said the High Court while refusing his prayers.
"Look what the High Court does? Surely, the High Court has power under 482 CrPC", said the Supreme Court.
"He did not file an appeal under CrPC. Instead, he filed a habeas corpus", submitted Counsel representing the State of Uttar Pradesh.
"Under Section 265G of CrPC, there is no provision for appeal in plea bargaining cases", argued Advocate on Record Ansar Ahmad Chaudhary, appearing on behalf of the petitioner.
The Chief Justice said that the High Court could have treated it like an appeal, in view of the exception provided under Section 265G CrPC. "Under Section 375 of CrPC, appeal may be filed against sentence, but not against conviction. Or a revision ought to have been filed in the High Court", apprised Senior Advocate Justice (Retd) S Nagamuthu, who was appointed as amicus curiae in the matter.
"Milord, 31 cases have been registered against him. He is a serial offender", further said the State Counsel. "Do we send him to jail for 18 years for Electricity theft?", asked the Chief Justice of India.
After hearing both sides and the amicus curiae, the Supreme dictated the following Oder:-
"The net consequence of the position as it emerges is that the appellant will have to undergo a total term of imprisonment of 18 years in respect of the nine convictions of offences under Section 136 of the Electricity Act, 2003 and cognate provisions.
In our view, once the petitioner espoused the remedy of moving the High Court in a Writ Petition under Article 226 of the Constitution. The HC ought to have noticed the serious miscarriage of injustice which should occur consequent upon the Trial Court not having exercised specifically its discretion within the ambit of Section 427(1).
When the appellant moved the High Court, he was aggrieved by the conduct of the jail authorities in construing the direction of Trial Court to mean that each of sentences would run consecutively at the end of the term of the previous sentence and conviction. The High Court, in our view, ought to have intervened in the exercise of its jurisdiction by setting right the miscarriage of justice which would occur in the above manner leaving the appellant to be incarcerated for a period of 18 years.
We allow the appeal and set aside the impugned judgment of the High Court. We order and direct that sentences which have been imposed on appellant in nine Sessions trial shall run concurrently. The Jail Authorities shall act immediately on production of certified copy of this Order."
"You cannot elevate theft of electricity to murder", observed the Bench orally after allowing the appeal.
Cause Title- Iqram v. The State of Uttar Pradesh & Ors.