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Awarding punishment lesser than the minimum prescribed under Section 376, IPC, is an exception to the general rule

In State of Rajasthan v. Vinod Kumar, AIR 2012 SC 2301, Apex Court while dealing with the issue of minimum sentence provided under the statute held:

“19. Awarding punishment lesser than the minimum prescribed under Section 376, IPC, is an exception to the general rule. Exception clause is to be invoked only in exceptional circumstances where the conditions incorporated in the exception clause itself exist. It is a
settled legal proposition that exception clause is always required to be strictly interpreted even if there is a hardship to any individual. Exception is provided with the object of taking it out of the scope of the basic law and what is included in it and what legislature desired to be excluded. The natural presumption in law is that but for the proviso, the enacting part of the Section would have included the subject-matter of the proviso, the enacting part should be generally given such a construction which would make the exceptions carved out by the proviso necessary and a construction which would make the exceptions unnecessary and redundant should be avoided. Proviso is used to remove special cases from the general enactment and provide for them separately.

Proviso may change the very concept of the intendment of the enactment by insisting on certain mandatory conditions to be fulfilled in order to make the enactment workable.(Vide: S. Sundaram Pillai, etc. v. V.R. Pattabiraman, AIR 1985 SC 582; Union of India and Ors.
v. M/s. Wood Papers Ltd. and Anr., AIR 1991 SC 2049; Grasim Industries Ltd. and Anr. v. State of Madhya Pradesh and Anr., AIR 2000 SC 66; Laxminarayan R. Bhattad and Ors. v. State of Maharashtra and Anr., AIR 2003 SC 3502; Project Officer, ITDP and Ors. v. P.D.
Chacko, AIR 2010 SC 2626; and Commissioner of Central Excise, New Delhi v. Hari Chand Shri Gopal and Ors., (2011) 1 SCC 236).

20. Thus, the law on the issue can be summarised to the effect that punishment should always be proportionate/ commensurate to the gravity of offence…. The court has to decide the punishment after considering all aggravating and mitigating factors and the circumstances in which the crime has been committed. Conduct and state of mind of the accused ……and the gravity of the criminal act are the factors of paramount importance. The
court must exercise its discretion in imposing the punishment objectively considering the facts and circumstances of the case. The power under the proviso is not to be used indiscriminately in a routine, casual and cavalier manner for the reason that an exception clause requires strict interpretation…

The court while exercising the discretion in the exception clause has to record  exceptional reasons” for resorting to the proviso. Recording of such reasons is sine qua non for granting the extraordinary relief. What is adequate and special would depend upon several factors and no straight jacket formula can be laid down.”