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Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab:Capital Punishment


Authored By Anshu Prasad

Keywords- Rarest of the rare case, Constitutional validity, restrictions, IPC, CrPC,


Abstract

The matters relating to the death penalty are still debatable to date. In this case the constitutional validity of the death penalty provided in section 302 of the Indian penal code and sentencing procedure in section 354(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 has been challenged by Bachan Singh before the Supreme Court. The court dismissed the challenge to the constitutionality of section 302 of the IPC. The court had stated that the six fundamental freedoms that are guaranteed under Article 19(1) are not absolute rights and are subject to certain restrictions. The Apex Court had laid down the principle of “rarest of the rare cases” in awarding the death penalty and held that the provision of the death penalty as an alternative punishment of murder under section 302 insofar it is neither reasonable nor it is against the Public interest.

Case- Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab AIR 1980 SC 898, 1980

Petitioner- Bachan Singh

Respondent-State of Punjab

Date of Judgment- 16th August 1982

Bench- Justice Y. V. Chandrachud; Justice A. Gupta; Justice N. Untwalia; Justice P. N. Bhagwati and Justice R Sarkaria.


Introduction

The matters relating to the death penalty are still debatable to date. Many legislative decisions and changes in regard to the laws have been made in the past. The present case is a landmark judgment passed by a ratio of 4:1 judges where the Supreme Court laid down the doctrine of rarest of the rare case principle while awarding capital punishment or death sentence. The first case of capital punishment in India was that of Nathuram Godse & Narayan Apte in the Mahatma Gandhi assassination case on the 15th of November 1949.

Background of the case

This case is a landmark judgment determining the constitutional validity of the death penalty for murder under section 302 of the IPC and section 354(3) of the CrPC, 1973. The Judgment, in this case, has been delivered by a bench of 5 Judges of the Supreme Court. The SC has imposed a limitation on the death penalty by laying down the doctrine of rarest of the rare cases.


Facts of The Case

Bachan Singh was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of three persons namely Desa Singh, Durga Bai, and Veeran Bai by the sessions Judge. Even the High Court confirmed his death sentence and dismissed his appeal. He moved the SC appealing by Special Leave provided under Article 136 of the Indian Constitution, he challenged the constitutional validity of the death penalty provided in section 302 of the Indian penal code and sentencing procedure in section 354(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.


Issues

1. Whether the imposition of the death penalty under Section 302 of the IPC read with Section 354(3) Cr.P.C was arbitrary, unreasonable, and unconstitutional?

2. Whether the fact found by the lower court would be considered “special reasons” for awarding the death sentence as is required under Section 354(3) Cr.P.C?


Judgment

The court dismissed the challenge to the constitutionality of section 302 of the IPC. The six fundamental freedoms that are guaranteed under Article 19(1) are not absolute rights. Firstly, they are subject to inherent restraints stemming from the reciprocal obligation of one member of civil society to so use his rights as not infringe or injure similar rights of the other person. This is based on the principle of sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas (use your property in such a way that you do not injure other people’s).


Secondly, under clause (2) to (6) these rights have been expressly made subject to the power of the state to impose reasonable restrictions accordingly, which may even extend to prohibition on the exercise of those rights. The expression “special reason” in the context of Section 354(3) of Cr.P.C., obliviously means “exceptional reasons” founded on the exceptionally grave circumstances of the particular case relating to the crime as well as the criminal.


The Supreme Court laid down the principle of “rarest of the rare case” in awarding the death penalty. The court even said that it was to give sufficient weight to the mitigating circumstances pertaining to the criminal along with the aggravating circumstances relating to the crime. The Persons convicted of murder, life imprisonment is the rule, and the death sentence is an exception.


Ratio Decidendi

With the majority of 4:1, the court reaffirmed its earlier decision and held that the provision of the death penalty as an alternative punishment of murder under section 302 insofar it is neither reasonable nor it is against the Public interest. The Court in the case of Jagmohan Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh[1] observed that the death sentence does not extinguish all the freedoms guaranteed under Article 19(1) and it was also held that it was not violative of Article 14 of the constitution on the grounds that unguarded ad uncontrolled discretion is given to Judges to impose either capital punishment or imprisonment for life. In the Case, of Rajendra Prasad v. State of Uttar Pradesh[2], it was observed that a person loses his right to life when he is given the death sentence, which abridges his fundamental right.


Conclusion

In this case, the Judges differs in two views, the first majority consisted of Justice Y. V. Chandrachud; Justice A. Gupta; Justice N. Untwalia and Justice R Sarkaria. The other view was that of the minority consisting of Justice P. N. Bhagwati. The majority view was given concerning the constitutional validity of (i) death penalty for murder in 302 IPC (ii)and procedure in 354(3) CrPC, 1973. The Apex Court laid down the principle of “rarest of the rare cases” in awarding the death penalty. It seems like the death penalty has become an exception rather than a rule. However, in the case of Bachan Singh, the Court had failed to elaborate on the criteria for identifying the ‘rarest of the rare cases’.


References

· https://indiankanoon.org/doc/307021/.

· https://lawtimesjournal.in/bachan-singh-vs-state-of-punjab/.

· https://indjustice.com/judgements/2019/5/2/bachan-singh-v-state-of-punjab.

· https://lawlex.org/lex-bulletin/case-summary-bachan-singh-vs-state-of-punjab/24029.

· Rajendra Prasad v State of Uttar Pradesh, (1979) 3 SCR 646.

· Jagmohan Singh v State of Uttar Pradesh, 1973 SCR (2) 541.


Foot Notes:- [1] 1973 SCR (2) 541 [2] (1979) 3 SCR 646

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