Section 57 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 – Explained!

In Lakkhi v. State of Rajasthan, the High Court of Rajasthan observed that life imprisonment means imprisonment for life till the convicts breathes his last unless such sentence is commuted under various provisions of Acts and Rules. He has no right to be automatically released after fourteen or twenty years. Under section 57 of the Code life imprisonment does not mean imprisonment for twenty years for all purposes but only for calculating fractions. Section 55 empowers appropriate government to commute sentence of life imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.

But this does not mean that life imprisonment is imprisonment for fourteen years and prisoner would be automatically released after fourteen years. Even life convicts can be released from prison under the Rajasthan Prisoners (Shortening of Sentences) Rules, 1958 and the Rajasthan Prisoners’ (Release on Parole) Rules, 1958.

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In Subhash Chandra v. Krishan Lai, the accused was convicted of murder and was sentenced to imprisonment for life. On the question as to when will he come out of the prison after undergoing this sentence the Supreme Court observed that in the peculiar circumstances of the case, apprehending imminent danger to the life of the appellant and his family in future, taking on record the statement made on behalf of the respondent, the court is inclined to hold that for him imprisonment for life shall be imprisonment in prison for the rest of his life. He shall not be entitled to any commutation or premature release under section 401 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, Prisoners Act, Jail Manual or any other statute and the rules made for the purposes of grant of commutation and remissions.

In Shri Bhagwan v. State of Rajasthan, there was robbery and murder of five members of a family in a house. Series of injuries were caused to deceased persons by using different household articles as weapons. The Supreme Court held that the case was not rarest of rare kind and awarded imprisonment for life with the direction that since the offences were heinous and barbaric, in no case the twenty year old accused be released before completing twenty years in prison.

In Prakash Dhawal Kliairnar v. State of Maharashtra, the accused killed his brother, brother’s wife and children because of frustration as the brother was not partitioning the alleged joint property. The Supreme Court ruled that this was a heinous and brutal crime but it did not fall under the rarest of rare category. The accused did not have any criminal tendency.

He was working as a water analyser with the State Government and was not a menace to the society. The confessional statement of his son who was another accused in the case showed that after commission of the offence he found tears in the eyes of his father. The Supreme Court changed the death sentence to imprisonment for life with the stipulation that he would not be released before serving at least twenty years in prison including the period already served by him.

In Ê. V. Chacko v. State of Kerala, the Kerala High Court has held that unless sentence of imprisonment for life is commuted by the competent authority, the prisoner has to undergo imprisonment for whole of his life.

In Md. Munna v. Union of India, the Supreme Court has ruled that imprisonment for life means rigorous imprisonment for life and it is not equivalent to imprisonment for fourteen or twenty years.

In Reddy Sampath Kumar v. State of Andhra Pradesh, the accused doctor made his father-in-law and mother-in-law believe that they and their three minor children were suffering from AIDS which was not true. Thereafter, in order to grab their property he killed them by giving them poisonous injections under the pretext that he was giving them treatment for AIDS. The Supreme Court convicted him for the murders and imposed imprisonment for life on him with the direction that he shall not get benefit of remission granted on auspicious occasions.

In Swami Shraddhananda alias Murali Manohar Mishra v. State of Karnataka, the appellant caused death of his wife by administering her sleeping pills and thereafter put her body in a wooden box that he had earlier got made. He dug up a portion of the ground near their bedroom and placed the box in it. He got the pit filled up with earth and covered up the same with stone slabs and cement. The deceased wife came from a highly reputed and wealthy family and the appellant had married her for wealth.

The appellant then sold her properties as fast as possible and projected to the world that she was avoiding social contacts and so not meeting people. The appellant was convicted and sentenced to death by the trial court. The High Court confirmed his conviction but the two judge there differed on the quantum of punishment – one feeling death penalty was appropriate and the other thinking life imprisonment with the stipulation that he would remain in prison for rest of his life was proper. The Supreme Court confirmed the conviction and awarded imprisonment for life to him with the remark that he would be in prison for as long as he was alive.

In Ham Ghosh v. State of West Bengal, a person constantly used to tell the accused not to drink country liquor. Enraged by this, the accused killed that person’s wife and son. The trial court and the High Court both convicted him of the two murders and awarded him death penalty. The Supreme Court upheld his conviction but sentenced him to life imprisonment with the stipulation that for him life imprisonment would mean a minimum of thirty five years in prison.