The law governing suspension, remission and commutation of sentence is both statutory and constitutional. The stage for the exercise of this power generally speaking is post- judicial, i.e., after the judicial process has come to an end.
The duty to judge and to award the appropriate punishment to the guilty is a judicial function which culminates by a judgment pronounced in accordance with law. After the judicial function thus ends the executive function of giving effect to the judicial verdict commences.
Chapter III of IPC deals with punishments. The punishments to which the offenders can be liable are enumerated in section 53, namely,
(ii) imprisonment for life
(iii) imprisonment of either description, namely, rigorous or simple
(iv) forfeiture of property and
Section 54 empowers the appropriate government to commute the punishment of death for any other punishment. Similarly, section 55 empowers the appropriate government to commute the sentence of imprisonment for life for imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding 14 years.
Chapter XXXII of the Criminal Procedure Code, to which section 433A was added, entitled `Execution, Suspension, Remission and Commutation of sentences’ contains sections 432 and 433 which have relevance; the former confers power on the appropriate government to suspend the execution of an offender’s sentence or to remit the whole or any part of the punishment to which he has been sentenced while the latter confers power on such Government to commute
(a) a sentence of death for any other punishment
(b) a sentence of imprisonment for life, for imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years, or for fine
(c) a sentence of rigorous imprisonment for simple imprisonment or for fine and
(d) a sentence of simple imprisonment for fine.
It is in the context of the aforesaid provisions that we must read section 433A which runs as under:
“433A. Restriction on powers of remission or commutation in certain cases–
Notwithstanding anything contained in Section 432, where a sentence of imprisonment for life is imposed on conviction of a person for an offence for which death is one of the punishments provided by law, or where a sentence of death imposed on a person has been commuted under section 433 into one of imprisonment for life, such person shall not be released from prison unless he had served at least fourteen years of imprisonment.”
The section begins with a non-obstante clause notwithstanding anything contained in section 432 and proceeds to say that where a person is convicted for an offence for which death is one of the punishments and has been visited with the lesser sentence of imprisonment for life or where the punishment of an offender sentenced to death has been commuted under section 433 into one of imprisonment for life, such offender will not be released unless he has served at least 14 years of imprisonment.
The reason which impelled to introduce the above proviso was “That sometimes due to grant of remission even murderers sentenced or commuted to life imprisonment were released at the end of 5 to 6 years.” It, therefore, felt that such a convict should not be released unless he has served atleast 14 years of imprisonment.
Therefore, one who could have been visited with the extreme punishment of death but on account of the sentencing court’s generosity was sentenced to the lesser punishment of imprisonment for life and another who actually was sentenced to death but on account of executive generosity his sentence was commuted under section 433(a) for imprisonment for life have been treated under section 433A as belonging to that class of prisoners who do not deserve to be released unless they have completed 14 years of actual incarceration.
Thus the effect of section 433A is to restrict the exercise of power under sections 432 and 433 by the stipulation that the power will not be so exercised as would enable the two categories of convicts referred to in section 433A to freedom before they have completed 14 years of actual imprisonment. This is the legislative policy which is clearly discernible from the plain language of section 433A of the Code. Such prisoners constitute a single class and have, therefore, been subjected to the uniform requirement of suffering atleast 14 years of internment.
Ashok Kumar Golu v. Union of India (1991)