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The Supreme Court has ruled that social and economic backwardness is one of the mitigating circumstances while commuting the death sentence of two convicts to life imprisonment.

The convicts Mulla and Guddu along with others had abducted five villagers and murdered them in cold blood on December 21, 1995 when they failed to meet their demands for ransom of Rs 10,000 each.

The victims were Hari Kumar Tripathi, Nanhakey, Ram Kishore, Chhotakkey and a woman Gangadai.

A bench comprising Justices P Sathasivam and H L Dattu, however, ruled that life imprisonment in this case must extend to their full life, subject to any remission by the government for good reasons.

Justice Sathasivam, writing the 65-page judgement for the bench, noted ‘another factor which unfortunately has been left out in much judicial decision making and sentencing is socio-economic factors leading to crime.

We at no stage suggest that economic depravity justify moral depravity, but certainly recognized that in the real world, such factors may lead a person to crime.

The 48th report of the Law Commission also reflected this concern.

Therefore we believe, socio-economic factors might not dilute guilt but they may amount to mitigating circumstances.

Socio-economic factors lead us to other related mitigating factors that are the ability of the guilty to reform.

It may not be misplaced to note that a criminal who commits crime due to his economic backwardness is most likely to reform.

The court on many previous occasions has held that this ability to reform amount to a mitigating factor in cases of death penalty.’ The apex court further noted ‘in the present case, the convicts belong to an extremely poor background. With lack of knowledge on the background of the appellants, we may not be certain as to their past, but one thing which is clear to us is that they have committed these heinous crimes for want of money.

Though we are shocked by their deeds, we find no reason why they cannot be reformed over a period of time.’ Convicts have been in jail for the last 14 years and one of them is about 65 years of age.

Trial court in Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh had awarded death sentence to the two which was confirmed by Allahabad High Court as the victims were in the age group of 25-50 years.

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