Even If Minimum Sentence Is Provided U/s. 7 Of Essential Commodities Act, Person Is Entitled To Benefit Of Probation: SC
The Supreme Court has held that even if a minimum sentence is provided under Section 7 of the Essential Commodities, 1955 (EC Act), the person is entitled to the benefit of probation, being of the year 1955 and the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 being later.
The two-Judge Bench comprising Justice Abhay S. Oka and Justice Rajesh Bindal observed, “Even if there is minimum sentence provided in Section 7 of the EC Act, in our opinion, the appellant is entitled to the benefit of probation, the EC Act, being of the year 1955 and the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 being later. Even if minimum sentence is provided in the EC Act, 1955 the same will not be a hurdle for invoking the applicability of provisions of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958. Reference can be made to a judgment of this Court in Lakhvir Singh v. The State of Punjab & Ors.”
The Bench was dealing with an appeal filed by the appellant challenging the judgment of the Calcutta High Court whereby it upheld the decision of the Trial Court.
Advocate Robin Khokhar appeared on behalf of the appellant while Advocate Madhumita Bhattacharjee appeared on behalf of the State.
In this case, the appellant was tried and convicted under Section 7(1) (a)(ii) of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 for violation of para 3(1) of the West Bengal Pulses, Edible Oil (Dealers Licensing) Order, 1978 and it was on account of the fact that at the time of inspection of his grocery shop on in 1985, mustard oil and vegetable oil were found to be more than the permissible limit. The Trial Court sentenced the appellant to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of six months and imposed a fine of Rs.500/-.
The sale proceeds of the seized oil were forfeited to the State and in appeal, the High Court upheld the conviction, however, reduced the sentence from rigorous imprisonment of six months to rigorous imprisonment of three months. However, the fine was upheld and the notice in the appeal was issued in 2018 restricted to the question of imposition of a fine in lieu of or in addition to sentence.
The Supreme Court after hearing the contentions of the counsel noted, “The fact that inspection of the shop of the appellant was carried out on 20.8.1985, hence the incident had taken place more than 37 years back. As was pointed out at the time of hearing, the appellant throughout remained on bail. … the Court may, for adequate and special reasons, impose punishment less than the minimum prescribed in the Section. However, the fact remains that the offence in the case in hand was committed on 20.8.1985 and in terms of the Essential Commodities (Special Provisions) Amendment Act, 1981, the proviso was not in force on that date.”
The Court did not find that any case was made out for interference in the concurrent findings of the facts recorded by all the courts below.
“It was found that the stock of mustard oil and vegetable oil found at the shop of the appellant was more than the permissible limit, hence, this was violative of para 3(1) of the West Bengal Pulses, Edible Oil (Dealers Licensing) Order, 1978. … However, still we find that a case is made out for grant of benefit of probation to the appellant for the reason that the offence was committed more than 37 years back and it was not pointed out at the time of hearing that the appellant was involved in any other offence”, said the Court.
The Court further noted that the appellant remained on bail and while entertaining his appeal, the Apex Court had even granted him exemption from surrendering. Hence, the Court directed that the appellant be released on probation under Section 4 of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958.
Accordingly, the Court disposed of the appeal.
Cause Title- Tarak Nath Keshari v. State of West Bengal