New Delhi: Fine amounts imposed on convicts should not be excessive but decided keeping in view their financial condition, the magnitude of offence and other relevant considerations, the Supreme Court has ruled.

"In such circumstance, we are of the view that it is the duty of the court to keep in view the nature of offence, circumstances in which it was committed, the position of the offender and other relevant considerations such as pecuniary circumstances of the accused person as to character and magnitude of the offence before ordering the offender to suffer imprisonment in default of payment of fine.

"The provisions of Sections 63 to 70 of IPC make it clear that an amount of fine should not be harsh or excessive. We also reiterate that where a substantial term of imprisonment is inflicted, an excessive fine should not be imposed except in exceptional cases," Justice Sathasivam writing the judgement said.

The bench also comprising Justice Ranjan Gogoi passed the ruling while reducing to 10 years from 15 years; and altering to six months the default sentence as against three years RI imposed on Shahejadkhan Mahebubkhan Pathan and Narendrasinh Chandrashekhar Rai by a Gujarat Sessions court in a narcotics case.

The trial court while awarding 15 years RI for the duo had also imposed a fine of Rs 1.5 lakh each on the conviction, in default of which they were ordered to undergo further three years RI.

The Gujarat High Court dismissed the appeal filed by the two, following which they appealed in the Apex Court.

The Apex Court taking a sympathetic view of the two convicts noted that they were first time offenders having no past antecedent about their involvement in offence of like nature. Besides they have already undergone 12 years imprisonment and so it reduced their sentence to 10 years.

The convicts were caught by the Narcotics department on September 4, 2000, while carrying 500 grams brown sugar (narcotic substance) at Kalupur Railway Station, Ahmedabad while they were travelling in Sarvodaya Express from Delhi to Ahmedabad through Ratlam.

Referring to the plea that the fine and default sentence were excessive, the bench said, it was clear under clause(b)of sub-section (1) of Section 30 of CrPC authorises the court to award imprisonment in default of fine up to 1/4th of the term of imprisonment which the court is competent to inflict as punishment for the offence.

"However, considering the circumstances placed before us on behalf of the appellants-accused, viz., they are very poor and have to maintain their family, it was their first offence and if they fail to pay the amount of fine as per the order of the additional sessions judge, they have to remain in jail for a period of 3 years in addition to the period of substantive sentence because of their inability to pay the fine, we are of the view that serious prejudice will be caused not only to them but also to their family members who are innocent.

"We are, therefore, of the view that ends of justice would be met if we order that in default of payment of fine of Rs.1.5 lakh, the appellants shall undergo RI for 6 months instead of 3 years as ordered by the Additional Sessions Judge and confirmed by the High Court," the bench said.

The Apex Court said the the term of imprisonment in default of payment of fine is not a sentence, unlike the sentence for commission of a crime.

The court said the appellants shall be set at liberty forthwith unless they are required in any other offence.

(Agencies)

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