This article has been written by Mr. Shubham Mahadeo Walunj, a 3rd year BA LLB student from Yashwantrao Chavan Law College, Pune.
In a significant case in Indian legal history, Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, the constitutionality of the death penalty in India is discussed. The case was heard by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India in 1980, and the decision was delivered in 1983.
Bachan Singh was engaged in the crime and had received a death sentence for the murder of two individuals. In light of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which protects the right to life and personal liberty, the case raised significant concerns regarding the validity of the death sentence in India.
The Bachan Singh vs. State of Punjab case is considered important in Indian legal history because it established the legal framework for imposing the death penalty in India. The case introduced the concept of “rarest of rare” cases, which has been used as a guideline for deciding whether the death penalty should be imposed in cases where the accused has been found guilty of murder. The case has been cited in numerous other cases dealing with the death penalty and has had a significant impact on the way the Indian legal system approaches capital punishment.
Facts of the case
Bachan Singh was a farmer from Punjab, India. On July 31, 1979, he got into an argument with his neighbor, Basant Singh, over the watering of their crops. When the debate heated up, Bachan Singh fatally stabbed Basant Singh. Later that same day, Bachan Singh went to the home of Basant Singh’s brother-in-law, Darshan Singh, and stabbed him to death as well.
The trial court concluded that Bachan Singh was guilty of the two murder counts that were brought against him. According to Section 302 of the Indian Criminal Code, which permits the death penalty in murder cases, he was given a death sentence.
Bachan Singh appealed his sentence to the High Court of Punjab and Haryana, but the sentence was upheld. He subsequently filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of India, claiming that Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which protects the right to life and personal liberty, made the death sentence illegal.
The case was heard by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court, which delivered its decision in 1983. The idea of “rarest of rare” situations was developed by the court in addition to upholding the death penalty’s constitutionality as a standard for determining whether it should be applied. The court also commuted Bachan Singh’s sentence to life imprisonment.
- Is Section 302 of the Indian Criminal Code, 1860, which stipulates the death sentence as a punishment for murder, unconstitutional?
- Is the sentencing process outlined in Section 354(3) of the CrPC, 1973 illegal in that it gives the courts unrestrained and unchecked authority and permits the death penalty to be imposed arbitrarily on someone found guilty of any crime punishable by death or life in prison?
Contentions of the Petitioners
In the Bachan Singh vs. State of Punjab case, the prosecution argued in favor of the death penalty for Bachan Singh. The prosecution’s main arguments were:
- Deterrence: The death penalty acts as a deterrent and is necessary to prevent others from committing similar crimes.
- Retribution: The death penalty is necessary to satisfy the public’s demand for retribution and justice.
- Rehabilitation: Bachan Singh was beyond rehabilitation and the death penalty was the only appropriate punishment for his crimes.
- Protection of society: The death penalty was necessary to protect society from Bachan Singh, who was a danger to society.
The prosecution also argued that the death penalty was constitutional and did not violate Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The prosecution cited previous Supreme Court decisions that had upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty.
Contentions of the Respondents
In the Bachan Singh vs. State of Punjab case, the defense argued against the imposition of the death penalty on Bachan Singh. The defense’s main arguments were:
- Unconstitutional: The death penalty is unconstitutional as it violates the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
- Arbitrariness: The death penalty is arbitrary and discriminatory in its application and has been applied disproportionately against the poor and marginalized.
- Inhuman: The death penalty is inhuman and cruel punishment and violates the fundamental rights of the accused.
- Possibility of reform: Bachan Singh could be reformed and rehabilitated, and the death penalty was not necessary to protect society.
The defense cited international human rights laws and argued that the death penalty was a violation of these laws. They also argued that the death penalty was not an effective deterrent and that there was no evidence to support the claim that it prevented others from committing similar crimes.
In its judgment in the Bachan Singh vs. State of Punjab case, the Supreme Court of India upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty but introduced the concept of “rarest of rare” cases as a guideline for deciding whether the death penalty should be imposed. The court commuted Bachan Singh’s sentence to life imprisonment.
The court held that the death penalty should only be imposed in the rarest of rare cases, where the alternative sentence of life imprisonment would be “unquestionably inadequate” and the death penalty was the only appropriate punishment. The court also held that the death penalty should only be imposed after considering all relevant factors, including the nature of the crime, the circumstances of the offender, and the impact on society.
Analysis of the judgment
The judgment in the Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab case was a landmark decision that had a significant impact on the way the Indian legal system approaches capital punishment. The introduction of the “rarest of rare” doctrine provided a guideline for courts to determine when the death penalty is appropriate and helped to ensure that the death penalty was only imposed in the most exceptional cases.
The judgment also recognized the importance of individualized sentencing and the need to consider the circumstances of the offender when imposing a sentence. This was a significant departure from previous judgments that had treated the death penalty as a mandatory sentence for certain crimes.
In conclusion, the Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab case was a landmark decision in the history of the Indian legal system, which established guidelines for the imposition of the death penalty. The judgment recognized the importance of individualized sentencing and the need to consider the circumstances of the offender when imposing a sentence, and introduced the concept of “rarest of rare” cases as a guideline for deciding when the death penalty should be imposed.
The case also raised important questions about the constitutionality, fairness, and effectiveness of the death penalty in India. While the court upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty, one of the judges dissented and argued that the death penalty violated the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
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