The imprisonment which one has undergone in default of payment of fine does not release him from his liability to pay the fine. On the face of it, it may look a little harsh but that is the mind of the makers of the Code and they had sound logic behind this thinking. Consequently, the property of one who has undergone imprisonment in default of payment of fine could be taken by distress in order to realise the fine.
The fine remaining unpaid in full or in part may be levied at any time within six years after the sentence was passed. If, however, an offender is liable to imprisonment for a longer period than six years, then the fine may be levied at any time before that period expires. If the offender dies before paying the fine or before the fine is levied, his property would be legally liable to pay off his debts.
In this context section 421 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 is also relevant which states (1) when an offender has been sentenced to pay a fine, the court passing the sentence may take action for the recovery of the fine in either or both of the following ways, that is to say, it may (a) issue a warrant for the levy of the amount by attachment and sale of any movable property belonging to the offender; (b) issue a warrant to the Collector of the district, authorising him to realise the amount as arrears of land revenue from the movable or immovable property, or both, of the defaulter: provided that, if the sentence directs that in default of payment of fine, the offender shall be imprisoned, and if such offender has undergone the whole of such imprisonment in default, no court shall issue such warrant unless, for special reasons to be recorded in writing, it considers it necessary so to do, or unless it has made an order for the payment of expenses or compensation out of the fine under section 357(2). (2). The State Government may make rules regulating the manner in which warrant under clause (a) of sub-section (1) are to be executed, and for the summary determination of any claims made by any person other than the offender in respect of any property attached in execution of such warrant (3) where the court issues a warrant to the Collector under clause (b) of sub-section (1), the Collector shall realise the amount in accordance with the law relating to recovery of arrears of land revenue, as if such warrant were a certificate issued under such law: provided that no such warrant shall be executed by the arrest or detention in prison of the offender.
The Supreme Court has held in Mahtab Singh v. State, that if a higher Court has given a stay or suspension, the period of the same must be excluded while computing the period of six years under this section. In Sham Singh v. State, the accused, who had been convicted under sections 408 and 468 of the Code, had already served his substantive sentence of six years and was undergoing imprisonment in default of payment of fine, filed a writ of habeas corpus contending that since six years were already over, his imprisonment in default of payment of fine was illegal.
It was held that since sections 68 and 69 of the Code were independent of section 70, the expiry of limitation for levy of fine under section 70 did not affect the liability of the convict under section 68 to undergo imprisonment in default of payment of fine. With reference to the expression ‘may be levied at any time within six years’ under this section the Supreme Court has held that fine recovery proceedings must start within the period of six years. Consequently, if a distress warrant has been issued within six years of the sentence, the requirements of this section are met even if the fine realization proceedings may not have been completed.
The Supreme Court has also ruled that the limitation starts from the date when the sentence has been passed by the trial Court and not from the date when the High Court dismisses the revision. The reason for this is that unless specifically ordered, the filing of the appeal or revision does not arrest the operation of the sentence of conviction.
Sections 63 to 70 of the Code have been referred to under section 25, General Clauses Act, 1897.