Bachan Singh V. State of Punjab AIR 1980 SC 898
The present case came out to be a burning issue with regard to the death penalty. Post Constitution many legislative efforts were made dealing with the feasibility and validity of capital punishment.
The present case is a landmark case determining the constitutional validity of the death penalty for murder provided in Section 302 of IPC and the procedure embodied in Section 354, Sub-section (3) of CrPC, 1973. In the present case, the Supreme Court of India laid down the ‘rarest of the rare doctrine’ by imposing the limitations on the death penalty. This case is a landmark judgment given by a five-judge bench of the Hon’ble SC.
The Appellant in a Criminal Appeal was convicted for the murders Desa Singh, Durga Bai, and Veeran Bai and sentenced to death under Section 302, Indian Penal Code by the Sessions Judge. The High Court confirmed his death sentence given by the sessions judge and dismissed his appeal. Bachan Singh, the appellant by Special Leave to Appeal came up for hearing before the Supreme Court to raise the consideration before the court that whether the facts of his case were “special reasons” for awarding him the death sentence as required in Section 354(3) of CrPC, 1973.
Whether the death penalty provided for murder in Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code is unconstitutional?
If the answer to the above question is negative, whether the sentencing procedure mentioned in Section, 354(3) of the CrPC, 1973 is unconstitutional on the ground that it gives unfettered power to Courts, allowing death sentence to be capriciously imposed on a person found guilty of murder punishable under IPC with death or with imprisonment for life?
Arguments on behalf of the Petitioner:
The very first contention raised on behalf of the petitioner was, that the death penalty for murder mentioned in Section 302 of IPC abridges Article 19 of the Constitution. It was humbly submitted by the counsel that the right to live in the basic enjoyment guaranteed to a citizen mentioned in clauses (a) to € and (g) and the death penalty puts an end to all these freedoms. As the death penalty serves no social purpose, the imposition of the same must be regarded as an “unreasonable restriction”. As the dignity of an individual is sombrely vouchsafed by the Preamble of the Indian Constitution, the imposition of the death penalty is a total prohibition of six Fundamental Rights guaranteed in 19(1).
Arguments on behalf of the Respondent:
The counsels on behalf of the respondents contended the principle of sic uteri tou ut alienum non laedas which means that a person may use the property in such a way that it does not injure someone else’s rights. They presented before the Court that the six rights guaranteed under Article 19(1) are not absolute rights, they are subjected to inherent restraints, putting obligations on the member of civil society to use his/her rights in such a manner that it does not infringe or injure similar rights of others.
In the present case, the Supreme Court lucidly dismissed the challenges pertaining to the constitutionality of Section 302 of IPC and 354(3) of CrPC. It was made very clear by the court that Article 19 clauses (2) to (6) have been expressly made subject to the power of the State to impose reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the rights of citizens. For the people convicted for the offense of murder, life imprisonment was made a rule and death sentence an exception. With the majority of 4:1, the Court struck down Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code as unconstituti onal and void.
The bench while giving the decision said that “Judges are never bloodthirsty”. While giving the judgment the judges relied on the judgments of Jagmohan Singh v State of Uttar Pradesh,[ii] and Rajendra Prasad v State of Uttar Pradesh,[iii] there was a plurality observed in the case of Rajendra Prasad and was further observed that a person loses his right to life when he is given a death sentence, abridging his fundamental right. In Jagmohan’s case, it was observed that the judges of the nation are vested with discretion in the matter of fixing the degree of the penalty or punishment.
The present case lay down specifically that the death penalty must be restricted to and given in “rarest of the rare cases”. Essentially the death penalty became an exception rather than a rule. It may be said that the case gave the landmark judgment that the death penalty must be considered an exception and life imprisonment a rule but failed to elaborate the criteria for the “rarest of the rare cases”. The bench gave two views in the case, the majority view is given by Justice Sarkaria, Chandrachud, Gupta; Untwalia validated the section 302 of IPC and 354(3) of CrPC on the touchstone of constitutionality. Nation’s attention has always been grabbed by the imposition of a death sentence.