28 March 2023 :
The Supreme Court on 27 March 2023 released a death row convict upon finding that even though he was a juvenile at the time of the commission of the offence he was tried as an adult and was sentenced to death.
Noting that under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 (2015 Act), one cannot be subjected to death penalty and the maximum punishment is three years sentence, a Bench comprising Justice KM Joseph, Justice Aniruddha Bose and Justice Hrishikesh Roy passed orders to release Narayan Chetanram Chaudhary forthwith, after he has been in detention for over 28 years. Prosecution’s case Narayan along with two other accomplices had committed murder of five women (one of whom was pregnant at the time of commission of offence) and two children in Pune.
Narayan was arrested from Rajasthan on 5 September 1994 and is in detention for more than 28 years. The Trial Court had convicted and sentenced him to death in 1998. The High Court affirmed the sentence and so did the Apex Court. Thereafter, a review petition was filed, which was eventually dismissed. Subsequently, an application under 9(2) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 was moved claiming that Narayan was a juvenile at the time of the commission of the offence. In 2019, the Apex Court directed a Principal District and Sessions Judge, Pune (inquiring judge) to decide the juvenility of the applicant and send a report.
"The instant case reflects gross lethargic and negligent attitude of the State... Keeping in view Section 9(2) of the Act, we have no other option but to refer the matter to the Principal District and Sessions Judge, Pune, to decide the juvenility of the applicant", the Supreme Court observed in 2019 while directing inquiry on juvenility claim in 2019.
The report received from the inquiring judge confirmed the juvenility of the applicant at the time of commission of the offence. As per the chargesheet, Narayan was 20 years old at the time of the commission of the offence. According to the certificate of date of birth issued on the 30th January 2019 it is recorded that Narayan was born on 1 February 1982. Therefore, on the date of commission of the offence, Narayan would have been 12 years 6 months old. However, the certificate was issued in the name of one Niranaram. There were also discrepancies in his age reflected in various documents.