REVIEW OF BACHAN SINGH VS STATE OF PUNJAB
This case marks a watershed moment in the Supreme Court's history, as it was decided by a five-judge bench. The Supreme Court established the "rarest of the rare" doctrine in this decision, which placed significant restrictions on the death penalty. "A genuine and enduring concern for the dignity of human life presupposes resistance to taking a life through the instrumentality of law," the Supreme Court stated. This should only be done in the rarest of circumstances where the opposite opinion is absolutely excluded."
Bachan Singh, the appellant, was found guilty of his wife's murder and sentenced to life in jail. He was living with his cousin Hukam Singh and his family after completing his sentence (i.e. after his release), but Hukam Singh's wife and son objected to the appellant's residence in their home. Vidya Bai was woken by an alarm a few days prior to this incidence in the middle of the night when she witnessed the appellant inflicting an axe strike on her sister's (Beeran Bai) face. Vidya Bai was blown on the face and ear with an axe while attempting to stop the appellant, resulting in injuries to her face and ear, rendering her comatose.The shriek awoke Diwan singh, who was sleeping nearby, and he rang an alarm to rouse Gulab singh, who was sleeping nearby. They both rushed to stop an appellant with an axe in Desa bai's face. When he saw them approaching him, he dropped the axe and bolted. Diwan Singh and Gulab Singh pursued him but were unable to arrest him. The sessions judge later tried, convicted, and sentenced Bachan Singh to death under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code for the murders of Desa Singh, Durga Bai, and Veeran Bai. The High Court upheld the sessions judge's death sentence and denied his appeal. Bachan Singh then filed a Special Leave appeal with the Supreme Court, asking if the facts of his case were "special reasons" for handing him the death penalty, as required by section 354(3) of the CrPC, 1973.
The Supreme Court clearly dismissed the constitutional objections to Sections 302 of the IPC and 354(3) of the CRPC. The court went on to say that the six essential rights provided by Section 19(1) are not absolute. These rights are subject to inherent limitations arising from the reciprocal commitment of one member of a civil society to use his rights in a way that does not infringe or harm the rights of others ( sic uteri tuo ut alienum non laedas). The court also made it apparent that article 19 clauses (2) to (6) have specifically made subject to the state's capacity to put reasonable restrictions on the enjoyment of citizen rights.There are several other indications, also, in the constitution which show that the constitution make fully cognizant of the existence of death penalty for murder and certain other offences in the IPC 1860.
The expression “Special reason” in section 354(3) of CRPC means exceptional reasons “ founded n the exceptionally grave circumstances the death penalty or an alternative imprisonment for life is awarded. The apex court laid down the principle of “rarest of the rare cases” in awarding the death penalty. Those convicted for murder, life imprisonment is the rule and death sentence is an exception.
By a vote of 4:1, the Supreme Court maintained its previous ruling, holding that the death sentence as an alternative punishment for murder under Section 302 is not irrational nor against the public interest. It does not contravene either the letter or the spirit of Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. It satisfies the requirements of the Constitution. The use of discretion under section 354(3) of the CRPC, 1973 should be limited to extraordinary and grave circumstances, and the imposition of a death sentence should be reserved for the most unusual of situations.
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