Author: Tanuj Bhoir.
AIR 1980 SC 898.
NAMES OF PARTIES
Appellant: Bachan Singh;
Respondent: State of Punjab.
Justice Y.C. Chandrachud;
Justice A. Gupta;
Justice N. Untwalia;
Justice P.N Bhagwati;
Justice R. Sarkaria.
In the case of Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, the Hon’ble supreme court of India, gave the ‘Rarest of the Rare’ Doctrine. The doctrine stated that the death punishment is an absolute, unique exception, and cannot be the rule. This doctrine worked as the measuring tool for the award of the death punishment to the criminal if found guilty for a particular crime. The supreme court said that “A real and abiding concern for the dignity of human life postulates resistance to taking a life through law’s instrumentality. That is not to be done except in rarest or the rare case where the alternative opinion is unquestionably foreclosed”.
This doctrine given by Hon’ble court justify if the death penalty must be given in a particular crime. The crime done by the accused must be horrifying towards the society for the death punishment, and it is not possible to give death penalty in every situation. Thus, the Hon’ble supreme court established the doctrine in regards to the death penalty and its application in law.
- Bachan Singh (Appellant) was found guilty for the murder of his wife and was sentence for life imprisonment. After undertaking the terms of imprisonment, he was inhabiting with his cousin Hukam Singh and his family, which was objected by Hukam Singh’s Wife and son.
- Some days prior to this incident during midnight Vidya Bai was awakened by alarm and saw the Bachan Singh (Appellant) saddling with axe on her sister’s face. Vidya Bai in an attempt to stop him, got severely hurt in her face and ear with an axe making her unconscious.
- Diwan Singh who was sleeping at time, woke up due to the noise and raised, seeing appellant holding an axe while standing near Desa Bai. Appellant i.e. Bachan Singh notice both of them moving towards him in defence to not get caught the appellant left the axe and ran.
- Bachan Singh was tried and convicted and was sentenced death punishment under Section 302, Indian Penal Code (IPC) for the murders of Desa Singh, Durga Bai and Veeran Bai by the sessions judge. The High Court while dismissing the appeal, confirmed his death sentence given by the sessions judge.1
- Bachan Singh then appealed to the Hon’ble Supreme Court by Special Leave, raised the issue, weather the circumstances in the case were setting in the criteria of ‘Special reason’ to punish him with death sentence.
- Whether the death penalty for the offence of murder mentioned in Section 302 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 is Unconstitutional
- Whether the facts provided to the lower court will be consider as “special reason” for death penalty as mentioned in section 354(3) of CrPC?
The court dismissed the appeal in accordance with the majority opinion. The Court also held that the provision of death penalty as an alternative punishment for murder under Section 302 of Indian Penal Code is neither unreasonable nor it is against the public interest. It does not violate of Article 19 of the Constitution of India and also is constitutionally valid.
Thus, Section 302 of Indian Penal code is Constitutional. And doctrine of ‘Rarest of Rare’ fulfil the ‘Special reason’ criteria in the case and thus, death penalty would be awarded under section 354(3) of CrPC.
In the case of Bachan Singh V. State of Punjab Hon’ble Supreme court, dismissed the challenge regarding the unconstitutionality of section 302 of Indian Penal Code and 345(3) of CrPC in context to which stated that, the Constitution of India provide six fundamental rights, which are not absolute in nature.
Under Clauses (2) to (6) of Article 19 of Constitution of India, these rights are expressly mentioned are subjected to the power of the state, which can impose reasonable restrictions. This restriction might be extended in a special case. Thus, considering the above limitations a death penalty would be an exception, and would be given in rarest or rare case depending on the situation or the facts of the case.
Another situation raised in Bachan Singh V. State of Punjab was courts have unrumpled power in imposing the death penalty, and the nature and extent of the special reasons. The term ‘special reasons’ as stated in Section 354(3) of CrPC means exceptional reasons owing to the grave nature of the crime. In this case the court laid down the doctrine of ‘Rarest of rare case”.
Life imprisonment is the rule and the death sentence can be awarded as the punishment in the exceptional conditions of the case. The murder is the horrifying crime which affects not just the victim but also the people in the society, if the case consists of horrifying conditions the death penalty would be given, this is the rarest of the rare situation and shows the implementation of ‘Rarest of rare’ Doctrine.
The doctrine of ‘Rarest of Rare’ considers various aspect mentioned in the Mens Rea, for a convict to be punished with death sentence following criteria needs to be fulfilled:
- Intention: The Intention plays a crucial role in the determining the crime, if the convict had a clear intention to committee the crime, also knew the consequence for the same. In such a case intention of the convict plays an important role.
- Brutality: brutality is one of the grounds to determine the crime under criminal law, but is not always consider as the grounds for the providing the death punishment. Thus, brutality is one of the grounds but not always consider in the situation of death punishment.
- Sentimental shock: if the factual basis of case must cause sentimental shock to the victim and to the society, in such a case the convict is eligible to get death penalty.
- Amount of harm caused: The amount of injury caused to the person (may it be in form of physical injury, mental injury, emotional injury, injury to property, or reputation) plays role for deciding upon enhancement of punishment.
Thus, under criminal law the Mens Rea is used as deciding factor for the providing the death penalty. There is a formulation under criminal which states:
Mens Rea + Actus Reus = Crime
Doctrine was applied in the case of Mukesh & Anr v. State of NCT of Delhi the bench decided based on the following criteria were the convict have intention to conduct the crime, brutality and the act of the crime added the sentimental shock in the society, thus, the punishment of death punishment in the case of Mukesh & Ors. v. State of NCT of Delhi, was valid and followed ‘Rarest of Rare’ doctrine.
The Doctrine given in the case of Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab has stated that the death punishment is to be given only in the rare movement depending on the case. But the as moving forward the death punishment have increase in Indian judiciary, cases like Rajendra Prasad v. State of Uttar Pradesh2, Mukesh v. State (NCT of Delhi)3 this are the cases were the death penalty was given, day by day due to the increase in the crime rate and facts of the case have forced the Court to award the death penalty.
Thus, though the punishment is life imprisonment but awarding death penalty to the accuse can be given under special circumstances as in the case Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab.4
In the case of Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab has given the important points relating to the constitutionality of Section 302 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) and also the case provided with the doctrine which lays the exception of death penalty given to the murder convict.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has given the explanation that the section 302 of Indian Penal code is constitutional, they discuss that this cannot be consider unconstitutional as it does not violate the rights mentioned in the Article 19 of Constitution of India.
In context to the above the Court set a doctrine of ‘the Rarest of Rare’ thus doctrine suggested that the Life imprisonment is the punishment in the murder cases the death punishment can be an exception, if it fulfils the ‘special reasons’ in the case, thus, and stated that the death punishment given in the lower court in the case of Bachan Singh case is justified.
In the Bachan Singh case showed the constitutionality of 302 of Indian Penal Code and the death punishment does not violate the basic rights mention under the Constitution of India, it also introduced the ‘Rarest of Rare’ doctrine as there was intention to conduct the crime, and thus the decision of the death penalty was valid and not unconstitutional.
- Rajendra Prasad v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 1979 AIR 916.
- Mukesh & Anr v. State of NCT of Delhi, (2017) 6 SCC 1.
- Bachan Singh V. State of Punjab AIR 1980 SC 898.