28 Aug 2016

Moral Science as a mandatory subject: Supreme Court declines to direct

Recently a case came up before the Supreme Court. It was filed by a lady-lawyer requesting the Court to direct one and all to ensure that 'moral science' was made a mandatory subject in class-room education upto class XII. In the petition it was stated that "she is deeply distressed with the rapidly degrading moral values in the society touching every aspect of life where making money, anyhow has become the sole motto of society” and in her view "the present education system does not inculcate the true purpose of education, which is to produce a good human being". The lady-lawyer further submitted before the Supreme Court that the State is under "a constitutional obligation to endeavour to provide educational facilities which inculcate moral values in the course of primary and secondary education". She also stressed upon Article 25 and 51A(f) of the Constitution of India to submit before the Supreme Court that it should pass an order "for the inclusion of moral science as a compulsory subject in the syllabus of school education from classes I to XII in order to inculcate moral values and nurture national character in the national interest". The Supreme Court, however, refused.

In its order reported as Mrs. Santosh Singh v. Union of India [Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1028/2014] the Supreme Court took note of these and other submissions and also the response of CBSE and NCERT to opine that sufficient steps were being taken by the concerned authorities and in any case the subject brought before it was beyond judicial review. 

Some of the pertinent observations made by the Supreme Court while rejecting the petition as are under;
14 There can be no gain-saying the fact that moral values are an integral component of value based education. The purpose of education is to engender in the young, a spirit of enquiry, a desire for knowledge and a sense of values. Among those values are the fundamental values on which our constitutional core is founded: liberty, equality and the dignity of each individual. The purpose of education also includes the creation of responsible and informed citizens conscious both of their rights and of their duties to others.
15 Education is an important instrument towards the development of the individual as indeed, it is a vital instrument in nation building. Technology has effaced conventional barriers and the world has become a globally networked community of information ideas. The challenges which confront the system of education have evolved rapidly, perhaps too rapidly for our educational system to develop pragmatic solutions to meet them.
16 The issue before the Court is whether a mandamus of this nature can be issued by the Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction in the public interest.
17 While there can be no dispute about the need of providing value based education, what form this should take and the manner in which values should be inculcated ought not to be ordained by the court. The court singularly lacks the expertise to do so. The petitioner has a grouse about what she describes as the pervading culture of materialism in our society. The jurisdiction of this Court under Article 32 is not a panacea for all ills but a remedy for the violation of fundamental rights. The remedies for such perceived grievances as the petitioner has about the dominant presence of materialism must lie elsewhere and it is for those who have the competence and the constitutional duty to lay down and implement educational policies to deal with such problems.
18 There is a tendency on the part of public interest petitioners to assume that every good thing which society should aspire to achieve can be achieved through the instrumentality of the court. The judicial process provides remedies for constitutional or legal infractions. Public interest litigation allows a relaxation of the strict rules of locus standi. However, the court must necessarily abide the parameters which govern a nuanced exercise of judicial power. Hence, where an effort is made to bring issues of governance before the court, the basic touch stone on which the invocation of jurisdiction must rest is whether the issue can be addressed within the framework of law or the Constitution. Matters of policy are entrusted to the executive arm of the State. The court is concerned with the preservation of the rule of law.
19 This petition is illustrative of matters which lie beyond the province of judicial review. Whether children pursuing their education from classes I to XII should be saddled with a separate course of moral science is not for the court to decide. Whether a value based educational system would best be subserved by including a separate subject on moral science or whether value based teaching should traverse the entire gamut of a prescribed curriculum is a matter which cannot be resolved by applying settled norms of judicial review. These are matters which cannot be determined in the exercise of the jurisdiction of the court under Article 32
20 The argument on morality seems attractive to those - like the well meaning petitioner -who lament the decadence of civilisation. Combine morality with the need to redefine the values which a society wishes for its young and you have a seemingly persuasive argument in support. The difficulty in a court mandated acceptance of this argument is precisely its inability to unravel the complexities in the position and the answers which it proposes.
21 Morality is one and, however important it may sound to some, it still is only one element in the composition of values that a just society must pursue. There are other equally significant values which a democratic society may wish for education to impart to its young. Among those is the acceptance of a plurality and diversity of ideas, images and faiths which unfortunately faces global threats. Then again, equally important is the need to foster tolerance of those who hold radically differing views, empathy for those whom the economic and social milieu has cast away to the margins, a sense of compassion and a realisation of the innate humanity which dwells in each human being. Value based education must enable our young to be aware of the horrible consequences of prejudice, hate and discrimination that continue to threaten people and societies the world over. Morality as a defining concept of spreading values may run the risk of being dangerously one sided, exposing young citizens to the same dogma which those who decry the creed of materialism seek to change. Moreover, morality itself is a notion which has varying hues.
22 It is unrealistic for the court to assume that it can provide solutions to vexed issues which involve drawing balances between conflicting dimensions that travel beyond the legal plane. Courts are concerned with issues of constitutionality and legality. It is difficult to perceive how matters to which solutions may traverse the fields of ideology, social theory, policy making and experimentation can be regulated by this court such as by issuing a mandamus to enforce a scheme of instruction in a particular subject in school education. Should a subject be taught at all? Should a set of values or a line of enquiry and knowledge be incorporated as a separate subject of discourse in an educational system? Would a horizontal integration of a given set of values across existing subjects better achieve a desirable result? Is it at all desirable to impose another subject of study upon the already burdened school curriculum? 
23 These are vexed issues to which more than one solution may appear just. That is exactly the reason why a resolution of such matters must rest with those who have the responsibility to teach and govern over matters of education. Every good that is perceived to be in the interest of society cannot be mandated by the court. Nor is the judicial process an answer to every social ill which a public interest petitioner perceives. A matter such as the present to which a solution does not rest in a legal or constitutional framework is incapable of being dealt with in terms of judicially manageable standards.

Criminal Sentences - Concurrent or Consequentive ?

When a person commits more than one offences, should he be punished once or more than once is the question which came up before the Supreme Court recently. It was found that there was a difference of opinion arising from earlier decisions of the Court. Accordingly a larger bench of five judges of the Supreme Court recently took up the issue to decide it with finality. 

In its decision in Muthuramalingam v. State [Criminal Appeals No. 231-233/2009] the Supreme Court put the issue in perspective thus: "Whether consecutive life sentences can be awarded to a convict on being found guilty of a series of murders for which he has been tried in a single trial?" It is important to note the factual background in which this question arose. It was noted in the decision in the following terms;
"3. The appellants were tried for several offences including an offence punishable under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (for short, “the IPC”) for several murders allegedly committed by them in a single incident. They were found guilty and sentenced to suffer varying sentences, including a sentence of imprisonment for life for each one of the murders committed by them. What is important is that the sentence of imprisonment for life for each one of the murders was directed to run consecutively. The result was that the appellants were to undergo consecutive life sentences ranging between two to eight such sentences depending upon the number of murders committed by them. Criminal appeals preferred against the conviction and the award of consecutive life sentences having failed, the appellants have filed the present appeals to assail the judgments and orders passed by the courts below."
The reason for this debate arises in view of the discretion cast upon the criminal court regarding sequencing the sentences under Section 31 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The said provision, in as much as it formed the subject-matter of consideration by the Supreme Court, is reproduced for ease of reference;
“31. Sentences in cases of conviction of several offences at one trial.
(1) When a person is convicted at one trial of two or more offences, the Court may, subject to the provisions of section 71 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860), sentence him for such offences, to the several punishments prescribed therefor which such Court is competent to inflict; such punishments when consisting of imprisonment to commence the one after the expiration of the other in such order as the Court may direct, unless the Court directs that such punishments shall run concurrently.
(2) In the case of consecutive sentences, it shall not be necessary for the Court by reason only of the aggregate punishment for the several offences being in excess of the punishment which it is competent to inflict on conviction of a single offence, to send the offender for trial before a higher Court: 

Provided that-
(a) in no case shall such person be sentenced to imprisonment for longer period than fourteen years;
(b) the aggregate punishment shall not exceed twice the amount of punishment which the Court is competent to inflict for a single offence.
(3) For the purpose of appeal by a convicted person, the aggregate of the consecutive sentences passed against him under this section shall be deemed to be a single sentence.” 
The five-judge bench of the Supreme Court delineated the legal position in the following terms;
"17. The legal position is, thus, fairly well settled that imprisonment for life is a sentence for the remainder of the life of the offender unless of course the remaining sentence is commuted or remitted by the competent authority. That being so, the provisions of Section 31 under Cr.P.C. must be so interpreted as to be consistent with the basic tenet that a life sentence requires the prisoner to spend the rest of his life in prison. Any direction that requires the offender to undergo imprisonment for life twice over would be anomalous and irrational for it will disregard the fact that humans like all other living beings have but one life to live. So understood Section 31 (1) would permit consecutive running of sentences only if such sentences do not happen to be life sentences. That is, in our opinion, the only way one can avoid an obvious impossibility of a prisoner serving two consecutive life sentences.
20. ... In the cases at hand, the appellants were not convicts undergoing life sentence at the time of commission of multiple murders by them. Their cases, therefore, fall more appropriately under Section 31 of the Code which deals with conviction of several offences at one trial. Section 31(1) deals with and empowers the Court to award, subject to the provisions of Section 71 of the IPC, several punishments prescribed for such offences and mandates that such punishments when consisting of imprisonment shall commence one after the expiration of the other in such order as the Court may direct unless the Court directs such punishments shall run concurrently. The power to award suitable sentences for several offences committed by the offenders is not and cannot be disputed. The order in which such sentences shall run can also be stipulated by the Court awarding such sentences. So also the Court is competent in its discretion to direct that punishment awarded shall run concurrently not consecutively. The question, however, is whether the provision admits of more than one life sentences running consecutively. That question can be answered on a logical basis only if one accepts the truism that humans have one life and the sentence of life imprisonment once awarded would require the prisoner to spend the remainder of his life in jail unless the sentence is commuted or remitted by the competent authority. That, in our opinion, happens to be the logic behind Section 427 (2) of the Cr.P.C. mandating that if a prisoner already undergoing life sentence is sentenced to another imprisonment for life for a subsequent offence committed by him, the two sentences so awarded shall run concurrently and not consecutively. Section 427 (2) in that way carves out an exception to the general rule recognised in Section 427 (1) that sentences awarded upon conviction for a subsequent offence shall run consecutively. The Parliament, it manifests from the provisions of Section 427 (2), was fully cognizant of the anomaly that would arise if a prisoner condemned to undergo life imprisonment is directed to do so twice over. It has, therefore, carved out an exception to the general rule to clearly recognise that in the case of life sentences for two distinct offences separately tried and held proved the sentences cannot be directed to run consecutively. The provisions of Section 427 (2) apart, in Ranjit Singh’s case (supra), this Court has in terms held that since life sentence implies imprisonment for the remainder of the life of the convict, consecutive life sentences cannot be awarded as humans have only one life. That logic, in our view, must extend to Section 31 of the Cr.P.C. also no matter Section 31 does not in terms make a provision analogous to Section 427 (2) of the Code. The provision must, in our opinion, be so interpreted as to prevent any anomaly or irrationality. So interpreted Section 31 (1) must mean that sentences awarded by the Court for several offences committed by the prisoner shall run consecutively (unless the Court directs otherwise) except where such sentences include imprisonment for life which can and must run concurrently. We are also inclined to hold that if more than one life sentences are awarded to the prisoner, the same would get super imposed over each other. This will imply that in case the prisoner is granted the benefit of any remission or commutation qua one such sentence, the benefit of such remission would not ipso facto extend to the other.
25. While we have no doubt about the correctness of the proposition that two life sentences cannot be directed to run consecutively, we do not think that the reason for saying so lies in the proviso to Section 31 (2). Section 31(2) of the Cr.P.C. deals with situations where the Court awarding consecutive sentences is not competent to award the aggregate of the punishment for the several offences for which the prisoner is being sentenced upon conviction. A careful reading of sub-Section (2) would show that the same is concerned only with situations where the Courts awarding the sentence and directing the same to run consecutively is not competent to award the aggregate of the punishment upon conviction for a single offence. The proviso further stipulates that in cases falling under sub-section (2), the sentence shall in no case go beyond 14 years and the aggregate punishment shall not exceed twice the amount of punishment which the Court is competent to award. Now in cases tried by the Sessions Court, there is no limitation as to the Court’s power to award any punishment sanctioned by law including the capital punishment. Sub-section (2) will, therefore, have no application to a case tried by the Sessions Court nor would Sub-section (2) step in to forbid a direction for consecutive running of sentences awardable by the Court of Session."
Having undertaken the legal analysis as above, the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court concluded the legal position in the following terms;
"31. In conclusion our answer to the question is in the negative. We hold that while multiple sentences for imprisonment for life can be awarded for multiple murders or other offences punishable with imprisonment for life, the life sentences so awarded cannot be directed to run consecutively. Such sentences would, however, be super imposed over each other so that any remission or commutation granted by the competent authority in one does not ipso facto result in remission of the sentence awarded to the prisoner for the other
32. We may, while parting, deal with yet another dimension of this case argued before us namely whether the Court can direct life sentence and term sentences to run consecutively. That aspect was argued keeping in view the fact that the appellants have been sentenced to imprisonment for different terms apart from being awarded imprisonment for life. The Trial Court’s direction affirmed by the High Court is that the said term sentences shall run consecutively. It was contended on behalf of the appellants that even this part of the direction is not legally sound, for once the prisoner is sentenced to undergo imprisonment for life, the term sentence awarded to him must run concurrently. We do not, however, think so. The power of the Court to direct the order in which sentences will run is unquestionable in view of the language employed in Section 31 of the Cr.P.C. The Court can, therefore, legitimately direct that the prisoner shall first undergo the term sentence before the commencement of his life sentence. Such a direction shall be perfectly legitimate and in tune with Section 31. The converse however may not be true for if the Court directs the life sentence to start first it would necessarily imply that the term sentence would run concurrently. That is because once the prisoner spends his life in jail, there is no question of his undergoing any further sentence. Whether or not the direction of the Court below calls for any modification or alteration is a matter with which we are not concerned. The Regular Bench hearing the appeals would be free to deal with that aspect of the matter having regard to what we have said in the foregoing paragraphs."

Harsher Punishment for Road Accidents: Supreme Court ponders

Taking note of its earlier observation that in India the drivers on the road feel as of they are “Emperors of all they survey”, the Supreme Court in its recent order has asked the Attorney General of India to explain the stand of the Government on harsher punishments for road accidents.

Currently Section 304A of the Indian Penal Code punishes an act of Causing death by negligence by an imprisonment of two years and a fine or both. In view of the Supreme Court, this punishment is "absolutely inadequate". While noting that it is the will of the Parliament to prescribe a punishment for an offence, in view of the Supreme Court it is important to understand the view of the Government of India on the subject. 

Though we do not find any merit in this special leave petition and it should have seen the end today, yet we have kept it alive as we have something to say.

In State of Punjab vs. Saurabh Bakshi (2015) 5 SCC 182, this Court has observed thus:
“Before parting with the case we are compelled to observe that India has a disreputable record of road accidents. There is a nonchalant attitude among the drivers. They feel that they are the “Emperors of all they survey”. Drunkenness contributes to careless driving where the other people become their prey. The poor feel that their lives are not safe, the pedestrians think of uncertainty and the civilized persons drive in constant fear but still apprehensive about the obnoxious attitude of the people who project themselves as “larger than life”. In such obtaining circumstances, we are bound to observe that the lawmakers should scrutinise, relook and revisit the sentencing policy in Section 304-A IPC. We say so with immense anguish.”
We have said that Section 304-A IPC should be revisited so that higher punishment can be provided. The aforesaid passage clearly indicates that punishment provided under Section 304-A is absolutely inadequate. We are absolutely conscious, as the aforesaid would convey, it is up to the Parliament. However, we would like to hear the learned Attorney General for India on this score. Mr. Maninder Singh, learned Additional Solicitor General, who is present in the Court, submits the he will apprise the learned Attorney General to assist the Court. 

Let the matter be listed on 30th August, 2016.
One hopes that the Government shares the concern and will initiate the necessary action to change the mindset as the Supreme Court has noted.