By orders of November 7 (2019), in a rarest of rare case, the Supreme Court chose to reverse a concurrent finding of sentence of life imprisonment with a fine of Rs.50,000, by the trial court and Madras high court, on Kandasamy Ramaraj, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Army. This decision was picked up by this writer from the buzz in the corridors of high court. There was unanimity that it was truly noteworthy, where the apex court chose to interfere. Ordinarily, it was never done. The legal fraternity was wondering whether the top court was pivoting to offer a new lease of life to similarly placed convicts, previously nonexistent.
Picking upon this expression of 'surprise' at this overturning verdict, a careful scrutiny of the cryptic verdict of the Supreme Court suggests that 'enhancement in compensation to Rs.2 lakh to the parents seems to have been an atonement for the reduction in life imprisonment' as an advocate quipped.
Fast Track Court No.5 at Chennai had on April 20, 2012, convicted Ramaraj to undergo life imprisonment with Rs 50,000 as fine or compensation payable to the parents. The accused, was an ex-serviceman living in OEG Officers Enclave near the secretariat, after retirement on April 30, 2011, having been granted an extended period of stay. On July 3, 2011, the fateful day, at around 1.30 pm, Dilshan and his friends Sanjay, Praveen and Vignesh from the nearby slum ventured into the army enclave to hunt for almonds. The lads were testing their marksmanship by flinging stones at their targets, mangoes and almonds, when they suddenly heard a bang. Sanjay, Praveen and Vignesh saw Dilshan falling and took to their heels.
The 'bang' turned out to be a 'bullet fired from the nearby quarters in the compound', where the mango and almond trees were situate. It was on sustained enquiry and questioning that Kandasamy Ramaraj, was caught napping with 'contradictory answers'. The killing of the 13-year-old fun-loving boy, indulging in mango and almond hunting, which each one of us may have been guilty of at that age, went viral on media. There arose a serious protest from the local hutment dwellers in the vicinity, who laid a siege of the Army enclave. Investigation was transferred to CB-CID.
To cut the story short, serious and professional forensic search zeroed in on the fact that it was the retired military officer who had fired the bullet. It was concurrently found that “Kandasamy Ramaraj in his confession statement to the police (admissible portion) disclosed the fact that he had dropped the rifle in Cooum river at the Napier bridge point and had thrown the unused cartridges in the river little away near the MLA's hostel side. The accused had also disclosed that he had thrown the bullet pouch in the rear side compound of the MLAs hostel abutting Sivananda Road.” They were duly recovered and exhibited as proof before the sessions court.
On a combined consideration of the facts and circumstances, the trial court was satisfied that not only had Kandasamy Ramaraj, a marksman, had fired the bullet at the innocent boy and took his life with pin point accuracy, as the entry/exit of the bullet in his temple revealed; he was also guilty of trying to tamper with the evidence and that constitutes 'obstruction of justice', a very serious offence.
Penning for the Division Bench, comprising Justice S. Rajeswaran, Justice P.N. Prakash, began the 40-page, 69-para verdict with these pregnant words: “Adam ate the forbidden apple and he was expelled from Heaven. Dilshan, a lad of 13, yearned for almonds and got expelled from Earth”. Meticulously marshalling the facts, the learned judges unanimously concluded that the trial court had returned a very fair and justifiable finding on the guilt of the accused. In particular, the efforts of the convict to cover his tracks were flagged off as a very serious. Life sentence was held to be a fitting legal response to render justice to the deceased and his family nay society at large.
One is truly surprised, if not aghast, that in a cryptic verdict running to a few pages, the two Supreme Court judges Mohan M. Shantanagoudar and Aniruddha Bose, while concurring with the factual findings, reduced the sentence to one of 10 years plus Rs 2 lakh as monetary compensation to the parents. They have ruled, “...with due regard to the temperament of Kandasamy Ramaraj during his frequent run-ins with the children, we are of the opinion that the appellant committed the offence in question whilst he was deprived of the power of self-control upon sudden provocation by the children. In our considered opinion, there was no calculated intention or premeditation on his part to commit the murder of the deceased. Hence, the offence committed by Kandasamy Ramaraj may fall under the first exception to Section 300 of the IPC. Consequently, it can be safely said that the appellant had committed the offence under Sec.304, Part II of the IPC.” Thus, the sentence was reduced to rigorous imprisonment of 10 years, from life imprisonment, with due regard to the period of imprisonment undergone.
Legally, “sudden provocation” is distinct from “sustained provocation.” In the face of “frequent run-ins with the children”, it could be construed as “sustained provocation”, taking it out of the applied exception.
The parents have been granted Rs 2 lakh, the fine payable by the convict and upon failure, he shall undergo a further period of 3 years imprisonment, in lieu thereof. But is it closure for the parents? Are they entitled to feel aggrieved that the Supreme Court chose to interfere with concurrent findings by the courts below, a rarity in criminal jurisprudence? This surely was not one of those extraordinary cases of miscarriage of justice that cried for interference. The state may well owe it to the parents and society to seek a review of the reduction in sentence. If not the state, even the parents may be entitled to.
More importantly, what of the conduct of the convict to throw the rifle into Cooum river, balance cartridges and pouch to hide the truth? It was a serious offence in 'Obstruction of Justice'. In fact, rule of law commends that such conduct in seeking to destroy evidence is a far more serious offence than the commission of the offence itself. The trial and High court recorded it as a fact and buttressed their conclusions with that in mind. Why did it not matter before the Supreme Court? Or does it not matter?
Did the Supreme Court elevate the conduct of Kandasami Ramraj killing Dilshan from the confines of his enclosure, unseen by the children, to Lord Rama killing Vaali, at least by 4 years (life term normally means 14 years in jail)? According to the Ramayana, after Vaali was hit by an arrow from Lord Rama, he angrily asked Lord Rama: “I thought you were a virtuous person. How could you have done such a vicious act without coming to meet me man to man? “ Lord Rama smiled and said, “O Vaali, although there was no fault of your brother Sugriva, you attacked him, insulted him, exiled him and threatened to take his life, you even took his wife as your own . Hence you are an aggressor. Vedic scriptures declare that if any person becomes an aggressor with wicked intentions, he deserves to be killed and there is no sin in killing such a person by whatever means.”
Dilshan was no wicked Vaali. Parents of Dilshan are entitled to feel disappointed as Kandasamy Ramaraj was no Lord Rama either, when he shot and killed the kid....