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Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab

Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab

By T.Tanya



Jurisdiction: The Honourable Supreme Court

Bench: Justice Y.Chandrachud, Justice A.Gupta, Justice N. Untwalua, Justice P. N.Bhagwati, Justice R.Sarkaria.

Date of ruling: 09.05.1980


The concept of capital punishment also known as the death penalty is a highly debatable matter till  now.

 In the above mentioned case SC announced important limitations on the death penalty by setting the 'rarest of rare' doctrine. This case is a landmark judgment given by 5 Judges Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court. In this context where the SC said that “A real and abiding concern for the dignity of human life postulates resistance to taking a life through law’s instrumentality. That ought not to be done except in rarest of rare cases where the alternative opinion is unquestionably foreclosed”.


 Bachan Singh was tried and convicted and sentenced to death under Section 302, Indian Penal Code for the murders of Desa Singh, Durga Bai and Veeran Bai by the Sessions Judge. The High Court confirmed his death sentence and dismissed his appeal. Bachan Singh then appealed to the SC by Special Leave, which came up for hearing before a Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court (consisting of Sarkaria and Kailasam, JJ.). The question raised in the appeal was, whether the facts found by the courts below would be "special reasons “for awarding, the death sentence as required under Section 354(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973



The issues that raised before the Court were:

●        Whether death penalty provided for the offence of murder in Section 302, Indian Penal Code, 1860 is unconstitutional?

●        If the answer to the above mentioned question be in the negative, whether the sentencing procedure provided in Section 354(3) of the Code of Criminal  Procedure, 1973 (Act 2 of 1974) is unconstitutional on the ground that it invests the Court with unguided and untrammeled discretion and allows death sentence to be arbitrarily imposed on a person found guilty of murder or any other capital offence punishable under the Indian Penal Code with death or, in the alternative, with imprisonment for life?


The majority view was given keeping in mind and the hon’ble Supreme Court was upheld

the constitutional validity of

●        death penalty for murder in 302 Indian Penal Code, 1860

●        procedure in 354(3) Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

There were two more issues which needed attention:

●        Whether Article 19 of Constitution of India is at all applicable for judging the validity of the impugned provision in section 302 of Indian Penal Code, 1860?

●        Whether the impugned limb of the provision of 302 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 contravenes Article 21 of the constitution?

It was finally held that the impugned provision of Section 302 Indian Penal Code,1860 violates neither the letter nor the ethos of Art. 19 of Constitution. As to the matter of 2nd point Art.21 of Constitution clearly brings out the implication that the founding fathers recognized the rights of the state to regulate law and order in state and impose death penalty on person   in accordance with fair, just and reasonable procedure established by valid law. There are several other indications, also, in the Constitution which show that the Constitution makers were fully cognizant of the existence of death penalty for murder and certain other offences in the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The constitutional validity of Section 354(3) of Code of Criminal Procedure is attacked on the ground that -A sentence of death is the extreme penalty of law and it is but fair that when a Court awards that sentence in a case where the alternative sentence of imprisonment for life is also available, it should give special reasons in support of the sentence. Accordingly, Sub-section (3) of Section 354 of the Code of Criminal Procedure,1973 provides: 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.

Court with the majority of 4:1 rejected the challenge to the constitutionality of Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code in so far as it provides for the death sentence as also the challenge to the constitutionality of Section 354(3) of the CrPC, 1973. The Writ Petitions and other connected matters may now be placed for hearing, in the usual course, before the Division Bench for consideration of the individual cases on merits, in the light of the principles enunciated in the majority judgment.


Indian Judiciary has made it clear that death penalty must strictly be restricted to “rarest of rare” cases.

Though this view favors the right to life under Article 21 the minimization of imposition of death sentence has led to increase in crimes. Heinous offences committed are awarded a lesser penalty and the offenders are not serious about their consequences.

National discussion about the death penalty has resurfaced from time to time. The Supreme Court addressed the question of constitutionality of the death penalty for the first time in Jagmohan Singh v State of Uttar Pradesh[2]The death sentence does not extinguish all the freedoms guaranteed under Article 19 (1) and it was also held that it was not violative of art 14 of the Constitution on the ground that unguarded and uncontrolled discretion is given to judges to impose either capital punishment or imprisonment for life. Thus the death penalty became the exception rather than the rule”. However, the Bachan Singh’s Case  decision did not elaborate the criteria for identifying "rarest of rare" cases.  The Bachan Singh case also does not explain as to what falls under the purview of “rarest of rare cases”.

[1] AIR 1980 SC 898

[2] (AIR 1973 SC 947)