Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab

Chaitanya Sharma (National Forensic Sciences University, Delhi Campus)

ABSTRACT / HEADNOTE

The Bachan Singh v State of Punjab [1]is a landmark case in constitutional law of India which deal with constitutionality of capital punishment in India under Article 21 [2]of Indian constitution. The following case give birth to the new doctrine named as “Rarest of Rare” doctrine which must be applied while dealing with death penalty matters. The 5-judge bench of supreme court heard this matter in 1980 including then CJI Y.C. Chandrachud.

    After hearing both parties’ arguments and referring various cases of supreme court the bench opined that the death penalty could be imposed in certain circumstances, but with strict guidelines to ensure fairness and proportionality.

    It was also put emphasis on the background of the accused and the crime committed by him and supreme court also underlined the importance of considering mitigating factors and permitted accused to present his viewpoint in front of the court before confirming his final sentence for death.

    This landmark judgement also gives a set of guidelines to the other high courts to keep in mind the guidelines while awarding or conforming the death sentence to the accused and only allow the capital punishment in most heinous cases and where life imprisonment would be insufficient to the gravity of crime committed by the offender.

    This case has given a new direction to the death penalty debate and the jurisprudence concerned with the death penalty in Indian legal system and is widely analysed by various jurist and academicians who are researching on death penalty.

    Keywords: Death Penalty, Article 21, Rarest of Rare Doctrine, Constitutional Validity,   Punishment.

    CASE DETAILS

    Judgement Cause TitleBachan Singh vs State of Punjab  
    Case NumberCriminal appeal No. 273 of 1979
    Judgement Date9 May, 1980  
    CourtSupreme Court of India
    QuorumY.V. Chandrachud,  N.L.Untwalia,  P.N. BhagwatiR.S. SarkariaA.C. Gupta  
    AuthorR.S. Sarkaria  
    CitationAIR 1980 SC 898
    Legal Provisions InvolvedSection 302 Indian Penal Code, section 354 (3) Criminal Procedure Code, Article 14, 19(2)(3)(4)(5)(6) and 21 of Constitution of India

    INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND OF JUDGEMENT

    The case takes his origin from the state of Punjab in India. The accused in the following case Mr. Bachan Singh was convicted for murder and trial court sentenced him capital punishment. Not satisfied with the judgement the latter appealed to the apex court of India which is Supreme Court and challenged the constitutional validity of capital punishment in the light of Article 21 of Indian constitution. This case opened the avenues for the hon’ble Supreme Court to reconsider the constitutional validity of Capital Punishment. The hon’ble Supreme Court established the legal framework and principles that guide the imposition of death penalty in India.

    FACTS OF THE CASE

    • Bachan Singh was a farmer in state of Punjab, India. On July 31st 1979 he got involved in an argument with deceased Basant Singh who was stabbed by Bachan Singh
    • In evening of the same day accused i.e. Bachan Singh went to the brother of deceased, Darshan Singh and stabbed him also.
    • The trial court find him guilty of Section 302[3] of Indian Penal Code,1860 and awarded him with death penalty.
    • Bachan Singh appealed in the Punjab and Haryana High Court but the application was rejected was sentence was confirmed.
    • Finally, Bachan Singh appealed to the supreme court of India and challenged the constitutional validity of Article 21 of Indian Constitution. 

      LEGAL ISSUES RAISED
    • whether the death penalty violated the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution?
    • whether Section 302 of the Indian Criminal Code, 1860, which stipulates the    death sentence as a punishment for murder, unconstitutional?

      PETITIONER/ APPELLANT’S ARGUMENTS
    • The counsels for Appellant submitted that Death penalty is not accordance with the constitution of India as it violates the “Right to Life” which is envisaged in Article 21 of Constitution of India.
    • The counsels for Appellant submitted that the awarding the capital punishment is an arbitrary process and due diligence was not carried out and is used unlawfully against the poor strata of the society.
    • The counsels for Appellant submitted that Bachan Singh can be reformed if provided with proper treatment and care.

      RESPONDENT’S ARGUMENTS
    1. The counsels for Respondent submitted that death penalty act like a deterrence in the society and will prevent other people and criminal to commit these acts.
      1. The counsels for Respondent submitted that society should be protected by the people like Bachan Singh as they are danger for the society as well as state.

    RELATED LEGAL PROVISIONS

    Indian Penal Code, 1860

    • Section 302-Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death or 1 [imprisonment for life], and shall also be liable to fine.”

      Code of Criminal Procedure,1973
    • Section 354(3)-When the conviction is for an offence punishable with death or, in the alternative, with imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term of years, the judgment shall state the reasons for the sentence awarded, and, in the case of sentence of death, the special reasons for such sentence.”

      Constitution of India
    • Article 14-The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.”
    • Article 19(2)- “Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of 4 [the sovereignty and integrity of India,] the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.”
    • Article 19(3)- “Nothing in sub-clause (b) of the said clause shall affect the operation of any existing law in so far as it imposes, or prevent the State from making any law imposing, in the interests of 4 [the sovereignty and integrity of India or] public order, reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause”.
    • Article 19(4)- “Nothing in sub-clause (c) of the said clause shall affect the operation of any existing law in so far as it imposes, or prevent the State from making any law imposing, in the interests of  [the sovereignty and Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc. integrity of India or] public order or morality, reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause.”
    • Article 19(5)-Nothing in 1 [sub-clauses (d) and (e)] of the said clause shall affect the operation of any existing law in so far as it imposes, or prevent the State from making any law imposing, reasonable restrictions on the exercise of any of the rights conferred by the said sub-clauses either in the interests of the general public or for the protection of the interests of any Scheduled Tribe”.
    • Article 19(6)-Nothing in sub-clause (g) of the said clause shall affect the operation of any existing law in so far as it imposes, or prevent the State from making any law imposing, in the interests of the general public, reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause, and, in particular, 2 [nothing in the said sub-clause shall affect the operation of any existing law in so far as it relates to, or prevent the State from making any law relating to,— (i) the professional or technical qualifications necessary for practising any profession or carrying on any occupation, trade or business, or (ii) the carrying on by the State, or by a corporation owned or controlled by the State, of any trade, business, industry or service, whether to the exclusion, complete or partial, of citizens or otherwise].”

      JUDGEMENT
      • RATIO DECIDENDI
        • Death penalty is not per se unconstitutional and can be awarded and it is also not violation any fundamental right specially Article 21 of Indian Constitution as Article 21 is not absolute but has certain exceptions in which death penalty is one of them.The hon’ble Supreme court introduced the new doctrine which is “Rarest of Rare” according to which death punishment can only be awarded in exceptional cases.
    • OBITER DICTA
      • The abolition of death penalty comes in the ambit of legislation.

    CONCLUSION & COMMENTS

    In conclusion it can be inferred that Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab was a landmark judgement which given a new direction for awarding capital punishment and introduction of the doctrine of Rarest of Rare also helped the judges to decide whether to give capital punishment or not.

    • REFERENCES
      • Important Cases Referred
    • Mukesh v. State for NCT of Delhi, (2017) 6 SCC 1
    • Yakub Abdul Razak Memon v. State of Maharashtra Writ Petition (Cri) No. 129 SC, 2015
    • State v. Mohd Afzal, (2003) 71 DRJ 178
    • Md Ajmal Md Amir Kasab @ Abu v. State of Maharashtra, (2012) 9 SCC 1
      • Important Statutes Referred
        • Indian Penal Code,1860:  Section 302
        • Code of Criminal Procedure,1973: Section 354(3)
        • Constitution of India: Article 14, 19(2)(3)(4)(5)(6) and 21

    [1] AIR 1980 SC 898,1980

    [2] No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

    [3] Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death or 1 [imprisonment for life], and shall also be liable to fine.

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