By: Sneha Shukla[1]

In the Supreme Court of India

Name of the caseKehar Singh & others v. State ( Delhi Administration)
Citation1988 AIR 1883, 1988 SCR Supl. (2) 24
Date of the judgement03/08/1988
AppellantKehar Singh & Others
RespondentState ( Delhi Administration)
Bench/ JudgeOza, G.L. (J)
Statues/ Constitution InvolvedConstitution of India, 1950Indian Penal Code,1860Criminal Procedure Code, 1952Indian Evidence Act, 1872Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952The Arms Act.
Important Articles/ SectionsConstitution of India: Articles 19, 21 &136 Indian Penal Code:  Sections 34, 120B, 302, &307Criminal Procedure Code: Sections 9(6), 164, 194, 327 & 354 (3)Indian Evidence Act: SECTIONS 10, 145, 155, 157 Commission of Inquiry Act: SECTIONS 3, 4, 5, 6, & 8 The Arms Act: 27, 54, & 59  


This case is related to the assassination of India’s First Female Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi. She is also known as the Iron Lady of India. In the year 1984, Mrs. Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her security guards, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh. Both belong to the Sikh community. The assassination was in revenge for the damage to Akaltakhat during Operation Blue Star. Beant Singh was found dead and Satwant Singh, Kehar Singh, and Balbir Singh were arrested. Kehar Singh was a religious fanatic and related to Beant Singh he influenced Beant Singh for assassination. On the behalf of Kehar Singh, a petition for President Pardon and Special Leave Petition was filed.


This case kehar Singh & others v. State of Delhi Administration is related to the assassination of the Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi. This case is also known as the Indira Gandhi assassination case. Beant Singh, Satwant Singh, Kehar Singh, and Balbir Singh were accused of the assassination. Balbir Singh was acquitted due to a lack of evidence. Kehar Singh influenced Beant Singh for assassination. Beant Singh and kehar Singh were the bodyguards of Mrs. Indira Gandhi assigned for her protection.

But both (Beant Singh and Satwant Singh) harbor a grudge against Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi for launching “ Operation Blue Star” in Amritsar to stop terrorists entering and terrorist groups’ entry into the Golden Temple. Many terrorists had taken refuge in the golden temple and some Sikh leaders supported and supplied the weapons. Therefore, in June 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi launched “Operations Blue Star” and ordered the army to take action whose main purpose is to eliminate the terrorists from the Golden Temple. In this Operation, Akal Takht of the golden temple was broken and because of this, non-secular beliefs of the Sikh community got hurt. This was the main reason behind the preplanned assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi.

The Petition was later submitted by one of the relatives of the accused of the assassination. The accused was sentenced to death and requested a Presidential Pardon. Therefore, the clemency petition submitted on behalf of Kehar Singh was rejected by the Indian President. Then the Special Leave Petition was filled in the Supreme Court.[2]


In Article 72 of the Indian Constitution, the President shall have the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remission of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offense where the sentence is a sentence of death.”

The President exercises his power of pardon on the advice of the council of ministers. He cannot independently exercise his power.[3]


Article 136 of the Constitution of India, 1949 deals with Special Leave to appeal by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court in its discretion grants special leave to appeal any judgment, decree, determination, sentence, or order in any matter passed by any court of India.[4]


The “rarest of rare” theory was introduced by the Supreme Court in the Bachan Singh case in 1980, and since then, life sentences are the norm while death sentences are the exception. The term “rarest of rare” is not defined by law. It depends on the specific facts and circumstances of the case, the severity of the crime, the offender’s behavior, his prior criminal history, his chances of reformation and reintegration into society, etc.

The standard criteria used to determine whether to sentence a convict to death is whether ensuring an ordered society necessitates ending the life of the individual who committed the crime and if failing to do so would render the death sentence stipulated by Section 302 of the IPC null and void.

The pre-planned, cruel, cold-blooded, and heinous nature of a crime—without giving the victim a chance—is typically taken into consideration when determining whether a certain instance falls within the definition of “rarest of rare.”[5]


In the year 1984, Operations Blue Star was initiated by the Indian army to enter inside the Golden Temple and expel the terrorists who had taken refugees and were planning a conspiracy against India. This operation resulted in great violence with loss of life and property. About 100 military personnel were martyred and more than 800 people were killed in the operation. During the operation “Akaltakhat ( the sacred tomb at the Golden Temple) was damaged. Due to this religious feelings of the Sikh community were hurt and they expressed their anger toward Indira Gandhi as she was Prime Minister of India at that time. And she ordered the Indian army to enter inside Golden Temple for the operation. This operation was named “ Operation Blue Star 1954”.

 In the same year “Indira Gandhi had an Interview with Irish Television.” She was accompanied by her staff, including chief of staff Narayan Singh, Rameshwar Dayal assistant sub-inspector Nathuram, and Servant and Special Assistant of RK Dhawan. Beant Singh and Satwant Singh were on a duty at the front door of the building as scheduled.  Beant Singh then fired five times and Satwant Singh fired twenty-five times at Indira Gandhi with their guns planning to take revenge on her.  The autopsy report showed that the death was due to trauma and shock. The two assassins were captured at the Indo-Tibetan border, where Beant Singh died and Satwant Singh was wounded. Kehar Singh is the uncle of Beant Singh’s wife who is a religious fanatic and influenced Beant Singh for revenge because it sounded like the message of the 10th Guru of Sikhism. An indictment has been filed against Satwant Singh, Kehar Singh, and Balbir Singh.

Then petition was filed by one of the family members of the accused of assassinating the Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi. The accused was awarded the death sentence. The petition was filed for President Pardon. The President of India, therefore, rejected the petition filed for grant of pardon on behalf of kehar Singh. Then Special Leave Petition was filled in Supreme Court.[6]


  1. Does the trial in Tihar Jail was valid?
  1. Does a Public trial have any restrictions?
  1. Can the High Court allot the particular case to a particular judge?
  1. Was it reasonable for the court to forbid the accused from using the Thakkar Commission report?[7]


Constitution of India-

Article 19 (1) (a):

States that – “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right shall include freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”[8]

Article 21:

States that – “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by the law.”[9]

Article 136:
“Special leave to appeal by the Supreme Court

  • Notwithstanding anything in this Chapter, the Supreme Court may, in its discretion, grant special leave to appeal from any judgment, decree, determination, sentence, or order in any cause or matter passed or made by any court or tribunal in the territory of India
  • Nothing in clause ( 1 ) shall apply to any judgment, determination, sentence or order passed or made by any court or tribunal constituted by or under any law relating to the Armed Forces.”[10]

The Indian Penal Code-

Section 34:

It states that – “When a criminal act is done by several persons in furtherance of the common intention of all, each of such persons is liable for that act in the same manner as if it were done by him alone.”[11]

Section 120B:

  • “Whoever is a party to a criminal conspiracy to commit an offense punishable with death, [imprisonment for life] or rigorous imprisonment for a term of two years or upwards, shall, where no express provision is made in this Code for the punishment of such a conspiracy, be punished in the same manner as if he had abetted such offense.
  •  Whoever is a party to a criminal conspiracy other than a criminal conspiracy to commit an offense punishable as aforesaid shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding six months, or with fine or with both.”[12]

Section 302:

 “Punishment for murder –Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”[13]

Section 307:

  • “Attempt to murder:- Whoever does any act with such intention or knowledge, and under such circumstances that, if he by that act caused death, he would be guilty of murder, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine; and if hurt is caused to any person by such act, the offender shall be liable either to [imprisonment for life] or to such punishment as is hereinbefore mentioned.
  • Attempts by life convicts:- When any person offending under this section is under sentence of 1[imprisonment for life], he may, if hurt is caused, be punished with death.”[14]

The Code of Criminal Procedure

Section 164:

“Any Metropolitan Magistrate or Judicial Magistrate may, whether or not he has jurisdiction in the case, record any confession or statement made to him in the course of an investigation under this Chapter or under any other law for the time being in force, or at any time afterward before the commencement of the inquiry or trial: Provided that no confession shall be recorded by a police officer on whom any power of a Magistrate has been conferred under any law for the time being in force.”[15]

Section 354(3):

“When the conviction is for an offense 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.”[16]

The Arms Act

Section 27: It States that:

  • “Whoever uses any arms or ammunition in contravention of section 5 shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than three years but which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine.
  •  Whoever uses any prohibited arms or prohibited ammunition in contravention of section 7 shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to a fine.
  •  Whoever uses any prohibited arms or prohibited ammunition or does any act in contravention of section 7 and such use or act results in the death of any other person, shall be punishable with death.”[17]

Indian Evidence Act-

Section 10: This section is about “Things said or done by conspirators about common design.”[18]

Section 145: “Cross-examination as to previous statements in writing.—A witness may be cross-examined as to previous statements made by him in writing or reduced into writing, and relevant to matters in question, without such writing being shown to him, or being proved; but, if it is intended to contradict him by the writing, his attention must, before the writing can be proved, be called to those parts of it which are to be used to contradict him.1145. Cross-examination as to previous statements in writing.—A witness may be cross-examined as to previous statements made by him in writing or reduced into writing, and relevant to matters in question, without such writing being shown to him, or being proved; but, if it is intended to contradict him by the writing, his attention must, before the writing can be proved, be called to those parts of it which are to be used to contradict him.”[19]

Section 155: “The credit of a witness may be impeached in the following ways by the adverse party, or with the consent of the Court, by the party who calls him:—

(1) By the evidence of persons who testify that they, from their knowledge of the witness, believe him to be unworthy of credit;

(2) By proof that the witness has been bribed, or has [accepted] the offer of a bribe, or has received any other corrupt inducement to give his evidence;

(3) By proof of former statements inconsistent with any part of his evidence which is liable to be contradicted.”[20]

Section 157: “To corroborate the testimony of a witness, any former statement made by such witness relating to the same fact, at or about the time when the fact took place, or before any authority legally competent to investigate the fact, may be proved.”[21]

Commission of Inquiry Act-

Section 4: “Powers of Commission.—The Commission shall have the powers of a civil court, while trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (5 of 1908), in respect of the following matters, namely:—

  • [summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person from any part of India] and examining him on oath;
  • requiring the discovery and production of any document;
  • receiving evidence on affidavits;
  • requisitioning any public record or copy thereof from any court or office;
  • issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses or documents;
  • any other matter which may be prescribed.”[22]

Section 6: “Statement made by persons to the Commission.—No statement made by a person in the course of giving evidence before the Commission shall subject him to, or be used against him in, any civil or criminal proceeding except a prosecution for giving false evidence by such statement: Provided that the statement—

  • is made in reply to a question which he is required by the Commission to answer, or
  • is relevant to the subject matter of the inquiry.”[23]

Section 8: “Procedure to be followed by the Commission.—The Commission shall, subject to any rules that may be made on this behalf, have the power to regulate its procedure (including the fixing of places and times of its sittings and deciding whether to sit in public or in private).”[24]


  • The learned counsel argued that the High Court does not have the power to announce or change the hearing of a criminal procedure outside the ordinary court.
  • The learned counsel held that Article 21 of the constitution guarantees a fast, open, and public trial. And dealing with the criminal trial in Tihar jail was a violation of this particular right that is mentioned in Section 327 of the code of criminal procedure.
  • The learned counsel further said that Article 19 (1) (a) of the constitution should not require court concessions, And there should be no discrimination in access to the public during judicial proceedings.
  • The learned counsel argued that not all documents for the examination of witnesses by the Thakkar commission were made available to applicants. Despite the appellant’s request during the proceeding for a copy of the witness’s statement reviewed by both the prosecution and the Thakkar commission, was not made available.
  • The confession of Sawant Singh is nowhere mentioned in the procedure mentioned in Section 164 of the Indian Penal Code due to which it is not admissible as evidence against him. Due to the lack of evidence against him, he is not entitled to convict.[25]


  • The learned counsel from the respondent side argued that Section 194 of the Criminal Procedure Code empowers the High Court with a certain power that it can appoint specific judges for a specific trial. Section 194 of the CRPC does not have any exception.
  • The learned counsel further denied that there was no violation of Article 21 of the constitution in this particular case.
  • The learned counsel said that if the confession is not properly recorded as required in Section 164 of CRPC, Section 281 of the corresponding to the previous section 364,  which is merely irregularity and section of obtaining evidence that the testimony was justified claimed to be possible by 463. It will be corrected and recorded and will not undermine the defendant’s defense of the proposal.
  • The learned Counsel argued that the High Court had the power under Section 9 (6) of the CRPC to arrange the place of the criminal setting for any particular trial. “ Section 2 (p) of the CRPC defines places as including a house, building, tent, vehicle and vessels that then in court.” So there is no infringement of the right guaranteed under Article 21 of the constitution. There were no restrictions on the family or other civilians from entering the place where the trial took place.[26]


After having heard both sides, the honorable court held that this case belongs to the rarest of rare categories, the Supreme Court ruled that the Prime Minister of India was a prominent and revered political figure who was brutally killed. Justice Shetty concluded the ruling by saying: “This brings me to the issue of sentence. Now, the typical sentence for murder is life in prison rather than the death penalty. The court must provide special justifications before passing a death sentence. Special justifications refer to particular evidence gathered in the case that supports the harsh punishment.

In Bachan Singh v. the State of Punjab,[27] this Court set forth specific principles to be applied to the facts of each unique case where the imposition of the death penalty is a possibility. It was noted that a harsh punishment need not be applied where there is no evidence of extreme guilt. Only in the rarest of circumstances, without an extenuating [mitigating] circumstance, may it be administered. This Court again outlined certain guidelines as to what constitutes “the rarest of rare cases” that call for the application of the death penalty in Machhi Singh v. the State of Punjab.[28] The High Court has carefully considered these guidelines and provided justification for why the death penalty alone should be imposed in this case.

I believe that the punishment meted out is just. There cannot be two points of view on this matter. Akal Takht was not the target of the “Blue star Operation.” Additionally, it wasn’t meant to offend Sikhs’ religious sensibilities. The responsible and responsive government chose the best interests of the country. However, the Prime Minister (late) Mrs. Indira Gandhi was made the target of the decision’s repercussions. The security officers who had a duty to save the Prime Minister’s life at all costs turned out to be the assassins. All moral principles, as well as all standards and duties, are disregarded as the worst kind of treachery. It is the most heinous and senseless murder. The dread judgment of the law is due for the planning and execution of this heinous act. “In light of the opinions I’ve given, I’d agree to reject Kehar Singh’s and Satwant Singh’s appeals, but I would grant Balbir Singh’s appeal by vacating his conviction and imprisonment and clearing him of all charges. 

About the legitimacy of the Delhi High Court’s decision regarding the trial’s location, Justice Shetty stated: “Section 9(6) of the Code of Criminal Procedure can be separated into two parts. The first section gives the High Court the authority to give notice of the location or locations where the Court of Session will meet to hear matters. The second section covers the Court of Sessions’ ability to convene hearings at locations other than those designated by the High Court in any given case.

Regarding the argument that the accused’s right was violated by having their trial while they were in custody, Justice Oza stated: “The trend of decisions of this Court has clearly shown that the procedure must be fair and just. Even a speedy trial has been regarded as a component of the protection provided by Article 21. Unquestionably, the procedure established by law as indicated in Article 21 is as provided in Section 327, and it cannot be said that simply because a trial was held in a specific location that it was a trial that was closed to the public unless it is proven based on facts that what is provided in Section 327 was prevented or was not permitted. It won’t be enough to merely imply that it was difficult to get to the jail to claim that the trial was no longer open to the public.

Regarding the accused’s inability to use the Thakkar Commission report, Justice Oza stated: “A commission’s report is a recommendation for the government to consider. Based on witness accounts and other evidence, the Commission has reached this conclusion. In a criminal case trial, it is irrelevant as evidence. [29]


Though extremely nasty and horrific, the case of Kehar Singh and Others v. State (Delhi Administration) has historical significance. It covered the assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, our country’s former prime minister, and how she was killed by people who were supposed to protect her life. The Akal Takht in the Golden Temple in Amritsar was damaged as a result of terrible treachery, fueled by the conduct of soldiers acting under her leadership during the execution of Operation Blue Star. Although indeed, such a move would inevitably incite extremely negative, if not outright fatal, feelings among the Sikh community, it must be realized that the government took this decision after careful consideration. Mrs. Gandhi just wanted to make sure that the terrorist(s) hiding inside the Golden Temple surrendered or were killed; defacing the Akal Takht was never her plan, but it was the death knell for her.

The accused, Kehar Singh and Satwant Singh (Beant Singh had passed away shortly after shooting the Prime Minister) were given the death penalty by the Supreme Court for criminal conspiracy to murder a person and the brutal murder of the then-Prime Minister. The Supreme Court classified this case as one of the rarest of rare cases. 30 bullets fired simultaneously from two separate firearms would kill anybody.  The Court gave the accused the death penalty as a result of the ferocity with which they carried out their plot. Balbir Singh was, however, exonerated by the court because there was insufficient evidence to conclusively show his guilt. This incident serves as a sobering reminder of how religious prejudice can impair a person’s ability to reason to the point where they are only interested in retaliation. The political figurehead of our nation was assassinated as a result of the Sikhs’ prevailing sense of retribution at the time.

[1] Author is 3rd semester student of Amity Law School,Lucknow.

[2] INDIANKANOON, ( last visited on 16/ Jul. /2022).

[3] DRISHTIIAS, ( last visited on 16/ Jul./ 2022).

[4] CONSTITUTIONOFINDIA,,in%20the%20territory%20of%20India (last visited on 16/ Jul./ 2022).

[5] HINDUSTAN TIMES, ( last visited on 18/Jul./2022).

[6] INDIANKANOON, ( last visited on 17/ Jul. /2022).

[7] Id.

[8] INDIA CONST. art. 19 (1) (a).

[9] INDIA CONST. art. 21.

[10] INDIA CONST. art.136


[12] INDIAN PENAL CODE. § 120 B.

[13] INDIAN PENAL CODE. § 302.

[14] INDIAN PENAL CODE. § 307.



[17] THE ARMS ACT. § 27.








[25] INDIANKANOON,,people%20can%20assert%20their%20right ( last visited on 18/ Jul./2022).

[26] INDIANKANOON,,people%20can%20assert%20their%20right ( last visited on 18/ Jul./2022).

[27] Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab 1980 , 2 SCC 684.

[28] Machhi Singh v. State of Punjab 1983, 3 SCR 413.

[29] INDIANKANOON,,people%20can%20assert%20their%20right ( last visited on 18/ Jul./2022).

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