By – Illa Dwivedi


CITATION1983 AIR 957 1983 SCR (3) 413 1983 SCC (3) 470 1983 SCALE (2)1
DATE OF THE CASE20th July 1983


Section 302 of IPC deals with the punishment of death, life imprisonment and /or fine murder. Murder on provocation, private defence, the duty of public servant, or death caused in the sudden fight is some exceptions of this section. In this case, the principle of rarest of rare cases came up for consideration and elaboration. This was the case of extraordinary cruelty. In this case, the main accused Machhi Singh along with other accuses killed many people of a family in a night in a family conflict. This is the case in which the court framed some guidelines for the rarest of rare cases.


 The Machhi Singh v State of Punjab is a case that plays important role in the judicial system of India. The three-judge bench of a supreme court judgment in Machhi Singh v State of Punjab was delivered three years after the Bachan Singh case. In this case, Supreme Court laid down a broad outline of the conditions when a death sentence should be imposed. In this case, the court set out the specific criteria for surveying when a case could fall under the class of rarest of rare.

Justice Thakkar pronouncing for the court held that five categories of cases may be considered as rarest of rare cases having it coming extreme penalty.

 They are:-

  • Manner of commission of murder:-  when the murder is committed in an exceptionally vicious manner to provoke intense and extreme indignation in the community.
  • The motive for commission of murder:- when the murder is committed for a motive which evinces total wickedness and meanness.
  • The magnitude of the crime:- when the crimes of an immense proportion, like multiple murders of a family or a large no of people in a particular caste, community are committed.
  • The personality of a victim murdered:-

 when the victim is:-

  • An innocent child who could not have provided even an excuse for murder .
    • A helpless woman or a person rendered helpless by old age.
    • When the victim is some public figure .
    • When a victim is a person whom the murderer is in the position of trust.
  • Anti-social or socially abhorrent nature of the crime:- When the murder of a scheduled caste or minority community etc. is committed to terrorizing them .


The Machhi Singh case was a series of family disputes that escalated into violence in Punjab. Seventeen lives were lost in the course of a series of five events that emerged in quick succession in five different villages situated in the neighbourhood of each other . The seventeen people who lost their lives and the three who sustained injuries were related to one Amar Singh and his sister Piaro Bai. The occurrence giving rise to the proceedings culminating in the appeal before this court took place at village Alahi Baksh Badla on August 12, 1977.  Four members of the Amar Singh became the target of the attackers and lost their lives in the course of the murderous attack. The four victims include a wife and three sons of Amar Singh. As the luck would have it Amar Singh and his 10years old daughter Mohindo escaped the murderous assault and survived to tell the tale of the ghastly murder in court. Appellant Machhi Singh and Mohinder Singh were each armed with a rifle. Their three companions were armed with kirpans. Appellant Machhi fired a shot on his wife who was lying on the cot. At the same time appellant, Mohinder fired a shot on the son lying on a cot, and then Machhi fired shots on other sons.

 At about 9 to 10 pm on the same day, nine 9  persons intruded in the house of one Kahar Singh at Sowaya Pai armed with deadly weapons. They killed 2 inmates of the household and injured the 3rd one by gunshot.

From there they straightway proceed to a place called Kho Kunjuka situated at a distance from the said village. They forcefully entered Bishan Singh’s house and killed him and smt. Paro and her child by firing rifle shot.

One Mohinder Singh was shot dead at about 1 am at the village of Kamrewala. He was the brother of Amar Singh. The FIR was filed within half an hour by the victim’s wife piaro Bai.

At about 3:30 am on the night of 12 and 13 five miscreants armed with deadly weapons affected forcibly entry into the house of one Ujagar Singh at the village Dandi Khur.  They attacked inmates and killed his sister and four near relatives.


In this case in the state of Punjab, a series of family disputes intensified into violence. A series of attacks took place in and around 5 villages in Punjab on the night between the 12th and 13th of August 1977. In which total no of 17 peoples were killed and 3 people got injured including men, women, and children were related to Amar Singh and his sister Piaro Bai. Machhi Singh was a man who has organized and executed the attack was in a feud with another man Amar Singh and his sister Piaro  Bai. About the murder of 17 people Machhi Singh and his 11 companions, close relatives, and associates were prosecuted in five session courts. Machhi Singh was a common Accused in every case. The composition of his co-accused fluctuated no.-wise from trial to trial, after the series of trials the accused found guilty were convicted under appropriate provisions. Machhi Singh and 3 others were awarded the death sentence and 9 accused were awarded imprisonment for life. 14 appeals were made by the convicts before Punjab has Haryana high court. Having lost their appeals and the death sentences have been confirmed,  the appellants have come in an appeal by the way of special leave.


The major issue addressed by the supreme court of India in this case was:-

  • Are the circumstances of the offense such that there is no other alternative but an only death penalty even after according to the absolute weightage to the mitigating conditions which speak in favor of the offender.
  • Is there something unusual that could render the imprisonment for life inappropriate and call for a death sentence.
  • Whether Machhi Singh and other convicts deserve to get the death penalty by applying the rarest of rare procedures laid down by the court in Bachan Singh v state of Punjab.



  • Since it was night, electricity had not yet reached the concerned village at that time. and the light shed  by the lantern cannot be considered to be sufficient enough to enable the eyewitnesses to identify the convicts.
  • They also argued that in each crime the appreciation of evidence regarding identification has to be made in the context of the fact situation that a light lantern was hanging in the courtyard where the victims  were sleeping on the cots.
  •  They argued that the evidence of the two eye witnesses namely, P.W. Amar Singh and P.W. Mohindo was not such as could be implicity relied upon, and the rest of the evidence was neither sufficient, nor satisfactory enough, to bring home the guilt to appellant Machhi Singh.


  • As electricity has yet not reached the village the people of the village are habituated to see things in the light of the lantern.  Their eyesight gets mended and becomes habituated to the circumstances. Their power of seeing is therefore not diminished by the circumstances that the incident is witnessed in the light of the lantern and not in electric light. Therefore  insufficiency  of light cannot make the commission of the crime by the accused doubtful .
  • Identification did not pose any difficulty as the accused were know to the witnesses .

In fact, there was a conflict in a long-standing family.

  • As culprits had not covered their faces to hide their identities it was not difficult to identify the culprits from their facial features,  etc.


Section 302 of IPC:-

Section 302 of IPC states that Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to a fine.

Section 354(3) of CRPC:-

It states that 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.

Article 19 of the Indian constitution:-

It 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.”

Article 20 of the Indian constitution:-

 Protection in respect of conviction for offences:-

  • No person shall be convicted of any offence except for violation of the law in force at the time of the commission of the act charged as an offence, nor be subjected to a penalty greater than that which might have been inflicted under the law in force at the time of the commission of the offence
  • No person shall be prosecuted and punished for the same offence more than once
  • No person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself

Article 21 of the Indian constitution:-

It states that – no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by the law.

Article 22 of the Indian constitution:-

Protection against arrest and detention in certain cases:-

  • No person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest nor shall he be denied the right to consult, and to be defended by, a legal practitioner of his choice.
  • Every person who is arrested and detained in custody shall be produced before the nearest magistrate within a period of twenty four hours of such arrest excluding the time necessary for the journey from the place of arrest to the court of the magistrate and no such person shall be detained in custody beyond the said period without the authority of a magistrate.


Hon’ble justice Thakkar observed that:-

In the landmark judgment of Bachan Singh v State of Punjab, the constructional validity of the death penalty for murder provided in sec 302of IPC and sentencing procedure embodied in sec 354 (3) of CRPC were upheld.

In the case, Rajendra prasad v state of UP justice VK Krishna Iyer said that the provision of the death penalty in sec 302 of IPC degrades articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution. In this case, Supreme Court observed that:-

  • the rights guaranteed under article 19 of the constitution are not absolute. The state can impose reasonable restrictions.
  • Article 20,21and 22 are primarily concerned with the penal ordinances of the other laws under which the personal security or liberty of powers could be taken away in the concern of society and they set down the limits within which the state control should be exercised.

It was observed that the special reason needs to be determined in light of aggravating and mitigating factors. and what is the relative weight given to these factors would depend on the facts and circumstances of that particular case.


The circumstances of the case do convey that this case is an emotionless murder and the victims were unarmed and undefended. The committed was an extremely wicked and vicious character. The court validates the view concurrently taken by the sessions court and the high court of Punjab and Haryana that extreme punishment of death mandates to be imposed on Machhi  Singh and 3 others. Accordingly, the death penalty was finalized by the court. The benefit of reasonable doubt was given to Mahinder Singh as there was a lack of evidence that the rifle was in possession of him. As for Kashmir Singh is concerned the death sentence has been imposed on him by a sessions court and confirmed by the high court for a reason he has caused the death of a child of 6 years while sleeping. In so far rest of the appellants concerning the sentence of imprisonment for life and other sentence imposed on each of them must be confirmed. The death penalty was imposed on the appellants named hereafter viz Machhi Singh,  Kashmir Singh, Jagir Singh has been confirmed the sentence shall be executed following the law. Death sentence has been separately imposed on the appellant Machhi Singh in all the matters. By the very nature of aspect, the sentence will be deemed to have been executed in all the cases if it is executed in one.


The three-judge bench Supreme Court judgment in the Machhi Singh case was delivered three years after Bachan Singh was the first attempt to further develop the original death penalty sentencing framework.  Indicating on the issues of the death penalty, the court in Machhi Singh explored the reasons why the community as a whole does not endorse the humanistic approach for death sentence in-no-case. Machhi Singh introduced collective conscience into the capital sentencing framework and laid down five categories where the community would expect the holders of judicial power to impose a death sentence.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Harsh

    Ila, you completely slayed the game, this case analysis was truly a delight to one’s eye.

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