In the Supreme Court of India
|NAME OF THE CASE||Vikram Singh v. Union of India|
|CITATION||(2015) 9 SCC 502|
|DATE OF JUDGEMENT||Aug 21, 2015|
|APPELLANTS||Vikram Singh alias Vicky & Another|
|RESPONDENTS||Union of India & Others|
|BENCH/JUDGE||T.S. Thakur, R.K. Agrawal, Adarsh Kumar Goel|
|STATUES/CONSTITUTION INVOLVED||Indian Penal Code, 1860 Constitution of India|
|IMPORTANT SECTIONS/ARTICLES||Indian Penal Code- Sections 364A, 302, 11 Constitution of India- Articles 21, 32 and 226.|
In this case, the appellants kidnapped a young boy for some ransom and ended up murdering him in the process. The appellants were awarded a death sentence for committing offences punishable under Sections 302 and 364A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The sentence awarded to them was affirmed in the appeals filed by the appellants in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana and the Supreme Court respectively. Following this, the appellants filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court stating that Section 364A of the Indian Penal Code ultra vires the Constitution as it awards the death penalty to anyone found guilty and they want it to be struck down. The appellants also requested that their death sentence given by the Trial Court be commuted to life imprisonment. Later on, they withdrew their petition and filed a similar petition in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana. The High Court dismissed the petition and that judgment is being challenged in this appeal before the Supreme Court.
“Writ Petition is an order by a higher court to a lower court or courts, directing them to do something or stop them from doing something. Writ is a form of written command in the name of the court. It directs you to act in a specific way”. “Mandamus is a Latin word meaning ‘we command’. Mandamus is a court writ whereby the higher courts orders the lower court, tribunal, forum or any other public authority to do any act which otherwise also falls under the purview of their duty”.
“One issues the writ of mandamus when a public officer fails to perform his/her official duty or something which forms part of his/her official duty. Writ of Mandamus is a matter of grace and not a matter of right. But it is the discretionary power of the court to allow the writ of mandamus. This means if the court thinks that there may have been a failure in performing the duty by the lower court or public authority, then the court may allow the writ of mandamus”.
BACKGROUND OF THE CASE
- In this case, the appellants kidnapped 16-year-old Abhi Verma, the son of a goldsmith from his school in exchange for some ransom and ended up murdering him in the process.
- The appellants were tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for committing offences punishable under Sections 302 and 364A of the Indian Penal Code. The conviction and punishment given to them were upheld by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana in an appeal and eventually by the Supreme Court in the criminal appeal filed by the appellants.
- The appellants then filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court stating that Section 364A, added into the IPC by Act 42 of 1993, is beyond the powers of the Constitution in the sense that it proposes the death penalty for anyone found guilty. The petition also requested that the petitioner’s death sentence be revoked and a mandamus directing the commutation of the petitioner’s sentence to life imprisonment was also requested.
- The petition was ultimately withdrawn with the petitioners given the liberty to approach the High Court for redressal. Following that, the appellant petitioned the High Court of Punjab and Haryana in Chandigarh. They prayed for a mandamus to strike down Section 364A of the IPC and an order to restrain the execution of their death sentence. The writ petition also requested that the appellant’s case be reopened and that their death sentences be commuted to life imprisonment.
- The High Court concluded that the court had evaluated the nature of the offence and its seriousness and determined that the appellants deserved the maximum sentence prescribed for both of the offences proven against them.
- The High Court held that Section 364A of the IPC, even in the form in which it was first introduced, made kidnapping by any person in the circumstances specified in the provision an offence, regardless of the fact that, at the time of its initial insertion, India was not a signatory to the International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages, 1979.
- As a result, the High Court rejected the argument that Section 364A was used only in circumstances where the kidnapping was intended to pressure the government or any foreign organisation to perform or not do a specific act, including the demand for ransom money. The High Court dismissed the writ petition based on this rationale, and it is this decision that is being challenged in this appeal before the Supreme Court.
ISSUES RAISED BEFORE THE COURT
- Whether it is acceptable to withhold the punishment under Section 364A if the ransom was sought from a private individual?
- Whether Section 364A ultra vires the Constitution as it eliminates judicial discretion over the kind of punishment to be awarded?
ARGUMENTS FROM THE APPELLANTS SIDE
- The learned counsel for the appellants contended that Section 364A of the IPC was attracted only in situations where an offence was committed against the Government, any foreign State, or international inter-governmental organisation. The provision is not applicable in situations where the victim was abducted or kidnapped for ransom from a private individual.
- Appellants counsel Mr. Sodhi argued that kidnapping for ransom is already covered in the existing provisions of the IPC and they’re sufficient to deal with typical cases involving kidnapping for ransom. Thus, making it unnecessary for the Parliament to enact Section 364A of the IPC to cover an ordinary crime.
- According to the appellant’s counsel, the insinuation is that Section 364A was inserted specifically to deal with terrorist-related ransom scenarios and not usual offences like the one in this case.
- The counsel claimed that Section 364A violated the appellants’ right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution by denying the courts the power to impose a sentence other than death or life imprisonment. They quoted the judgment from the case Mithu v. State of Punjab.
ARGUMENTS FROM THE RESPONDENTS SIDE
- The learned counsel for the respondents argued that the question of whether Section 364A IPC applied to the case at hand had already been examined and ruled by the Supreme Court in the criminal appeal filed by the appellants. The judgment given by the Court had attained finality so it wasn’t open to the appellants to re-agitate in collateral proceedings. They referred to the decision of the court in the case Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar v. State of Maharashtra
- The counsel contended that the High Court had accurately analysed the provisions and observed the historical context to rule that Section 364A was not limited to cases involving acts of terrorism but was even applied in cases where the crime is committed to get ransom.
- Section 364A of the IPC is broadly worded to cover not only situations where terrorists take hostages to coerce the Government or a foreign State or any international inter-governmental organisation but also in situations where a person abducts or kidnaps the victim to compel payment of a ransom by the victim’s family.
Indian Penal Code, 1860
- Section 364-A:- Kidnapping for ransom, etc.—Whoever kidnaps or abducts any person or keeps a person in detention after such kidnapping or abduction, and threatens to cause death or hurt to such person, or by his conduct gives rise to a reasonable apprehension that such person may be put to death or hurt, or causes hurt or death to such person in order to compel the Government or any foreign State or international inter-governmental organisation or any other person to do or abstain from doing any act or to pay a ransom, shall be punishable with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.
- Section 302: – Punishment for murder —Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.
- Section 11: – “Person” —The word “person” includes any Company or Association or body of persons, whether incorporated or not.
Constitution of India
- Article 21: – Protection of life and personal liberty. —No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
- Article 32: – Remedies for enforcement of rights conferred by this Part. —
(1) The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part is guaranteed.
(2) The Supreme Court shall have power to issue directions or orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari, whichever may be appropriate, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by this Part.
(3) Without prejudice to the powers conferred on the Supreme Court by clauses (1) and (2), Parliament may by law empower any other court to exercise within the local limits of its jurisdiction all or any of the powers exercisable by the Supreme Court under clause (2).
(4) The right guaranteed by this article shall not be suspended except as otherwise provided for by this Constitution.
- Article 226: – Power of High Courts to issue certain writs. —
(1) Notwithstanding anything in Article 32, every High Court shall have power, throughout the territories in relation to which it exercises jurisdiction, to issue to any person or authority, including in appropriate cases, any Government, within those territories directions, orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari, or any of them, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by Part III and for any other purpose.
(2) The power conferred by clause (1) to issue directions, orders or writs to any Government, authority or person may also be exercised by any High Court exercising jurisdiction in relation to the territories within which the cause of action, wholly or in part, arises for the exercise of such power, notwithstanding that the seat of such Government or authority or the residence of such person is not within those territories.
(3) Where any party against whom an interim order, whether by way of injunction or stay or in any other manner, is made on, or in any proceedings relating to, a petition under clause (1), without— (a) furnishing to such party copies of such petition and all documents in support of the plea for such interim order; and (b) giving such party an opportunity of being heard, makes an application to the High Court for the vacation of such order and furnishes a copy of such application to the party in whose favour such order has been made or the counsel of such party, the High Court shall dispose of the application within a period of two weeks from the date on which it is received or from the date on which the copy of such application is so furnished, whichever is later, or where the High Court is closed on the last day of that period, before the expiry of the next day afterwards on which the High Court is open; and if the application is not so disposed of, the interim order shall, on the expiry of that period, or, as the case may be, the expiry of the said next day, stand vacated.
(4) The power conferred on a High Court by this article shall not be in derogation of the power conferred on the Supreme Court by clause (2) of Article 32.
To the respondent’s argument that the judgment of this case has reached finality the court responded that this court considered the competing considerations of giving finality to the court of last resort’s judgments, on one hand, and the need to dispense justice on reconsideration of a judgment, on the other, and held that in the rarest of rare cases, a final judgment of the court may require re-consideration to rectify the miscarriage of justice complained of. In such instances, the court would be required not just to correct the error legally but also ethically. The court also ruled that the need to do justice in such unusual circumstances should take precedence over the principle of certainty or finality of rulings.
Initially, Section 364A of the Indian Penal Code made kidnapping for ransom, etc. an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life or fine. The Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, 1994 amended Section 364A on kidnapping for ransom, etc. to make it clear that kidnapping a person to compel the Government or any foreign State or international inter-governmental organization or any other person is punishable under this section.
The subsequent amendment to Section 364A in the year 1994 merely added the phrase “foreign state or international inter-governmental organization” to the provision without removing the pre-existing phrase “any other person.” This means that the expression “any other person” in Section 364A ever since it was incorporated into the IPC was intended to apply the provisions not only in circumstances where the government was asked to pay a ransom or perform any other act but also in situations where any other person, including a private person, was asked to pay a ransom.
Section 11 of the IPC defines the term “person” as: “The word ‘person’ includes any company or association or body of persons, whether incorporated or not.” This means that the term “person” appearing in Section 364A includes a company or association or body of persons, whether incorporated or not, apart from natural persons. The tenor of the provision, the context, and the statutory definition of the expression ‘person’ all militate against any attempt to restrict the meaning of the term “person” to the “government” or “foreign state” or ‘international intergovernmental organizations” only.”
The court observed that nothing in the provision suggests that it applies exclusively in ransom situations resulting from terrorist attacks intended against the government or any foreign state or international inter-governmental organisation. The language used in the provision is comprehensive enough to include cases where the demand for ransom is made for monetary benefit from a private individual rather than as part of a terrorist act.
For the argument made by the appellant’s counsel that Section 364A violated the appellant’s right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. The court concluded that there is no comparison between Mithu v. State of Punjab case and the case of the appellants who have been awarded death sentences not only because the law so mandated but also because the Supreme Court, after carefully considering the entire situation, found that to be the only sentence that will meet the ends of justice. In this case at hand, not only was Abhi Verma kidnapped for ransom, which would in itself result in the death penalty, but he was also murdered in the process. 
Abhi Verma was just 16 years old when he was picked up by Vikram Singh, a familiar face, but he quickly realized his situation and yelled for aid. His terror can be felt when he must have heard the threatening calls made to his father and witnessed the preparations to eliminate him, which included taping his lips and administering an overdose of deadly drugs. The family’s grief, distress, and devastation at the death of their only son can also be imagined.
It has been emphasised that Sections 364-A and 302 both provide for the imposition of a death sentence, and because abduction for ransom was possibly the most heinous of offences, the appellants should be given no leeway as they killed a young boy for money. Thus, the appeal failed, and the case was dismissed.
In this judgment, the court appropriately interpreted Section 364A of the Indian Penal Code. The Court rejected the appellants contention that their actions would not be punished under the provision since they did not entail any activity against the State, and sentenced them under Section 364A of the IPC.
The court’s conclusion that Sec 364A is not unconstitutional due to the disproportionate punishment imposed is also correct since the appellants, in this case, were also charged under Sec 302 of the IPC. Our country’s criminal justice delivery system needs similar verdicts like this as they will make the provisions of our criminal law more stringent and rigorous. It will also help in deterring perpetrators who try to manipulate the law to their advantage.
 Author is a 3rd semester student of Amity Law School, Lucknow.
 Prachi Darji, What is a Writ Petition? How do you file one in Court?, MyAdvo (Last visited on July 23, 2022, 5:25 PM), https://www.myadvo.in/blog/how-to-file-writ-petition-in-court/.
 2015 SCC Online SC 747 at Page 504.
 2015 SCC Online SC 747 at page 515.
 Mithu v. State of Punjab, (1983) 2 SCC 277.
 Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1967 SC 1.
 Supra note 7.
 Indian Penal Code, 1860, § 364-A.
 Indian Penal Code, 1860, § 302.
 Indian Penal Code, 1860, § 11.
 INDIA CONST. art. 21.
 INDIA CONST. art. 32, cl. 2.
 INDIA CONST. art. 32, cl. 3.
 INDIA CONST. art. 32, cl. 4.
 INDIA CONST. art. 226, cl. 2.
 INDIA CONST. art. 226, cl. 3.
 INDIA CONST. art. 226, cl. 4.
 Supra note 7.
 Supra note 18.
 Supra note 19.
 Supra note 12.
 2015 SCC Online SC 747 at page 527.
 Jismin Jose, Vikram Singh @ Vicky & Anr vs Union of India & Ors, Law Times Journal (July 23, 2022, 10:00 AM), https://lawtimesjournal.in/vikram-singh-vicky-anr-vs-union-of-india-ors/.