Balwant Singh Vs. State of Punjab
 INSC 273 (11 November 1975)
CITATION: 1976 AIR 230
CITATOR INFO :
RF 1976 SC2196 (1) RF 1979 SC 916 (193) C
1980 SC 898 (163)
Code of Criminal Procedure (Act II)
1973-Section 354(3) Scope of.
The appellant, `B' aged 60 years, on 13-4-1974 was convicted u/s 302 I.P.C. For the murder of `M' by poisoning on that date. On
appeal by special leave on the limited question of sentence under the new
Criminal Procedure Code of 1973, the Court ^
HELD: (i) In India the Legislature in its
wisdom has not thought it fit and proper to abolish the death penalty
altogether, but there has been a gradual swing against the imposition of such
penalty. [685-F] (ii) Under section 354(3) of the Criminal Procedure code,
1973, the Court is required to state the reasons for the sentence awarded and
in the case for the' sentence of death special reasons are required to be
stated. Awarding of the sentence other than the sentence of death is the
general rule now and only special reasons or special facts and circumstances in
a given case will warrant the passing of a death sentence like (i) the crime
having been committed by professional or a hardened criminal (ii) crime
committed in a very brutal manner or on a helpless child or woman. [686, C, D]
(iii) In the instant case (a) even after noticing the provisions of the section
354(3) of the new Criminal Procedure Code, the High Court wrongly relied on the
principle of absence of extenuating circumstance and (b).
There was no special reason nor any has been
recorded by the High Court for confirming the death sentence. [686 F, G] Mangal
Singh v. State of U.P., A.I.R. 1975 S.C. 76 and Perumal v. The State of Kerala, A.I.R. 1975 S.C. 95 not applicable.
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION : Criminal
Appeal No. 301 of 1975.
Appeal by Special Leave from the Judgment and
order dated the 25th April, 1975 of the Punjab & Haryana High Court at
Chandigarh in Criminal Appeal No. 1325 of 1974 and Murder Reference No. 59 of 1
S. K. Mehta, M. Qamaruddin and K. R. Nagaraja
for the Appellant.
O. P. Sharma for the Respondent.
The Judgment of the Court was delivered by
UNTWALIA, J.-Balwant Singh, the sole appellant in this appeal, was convicted
under section 302 of the Penal Code and sentenced to death by the Trial Court.
His conviction and sentence have been confirmed by the High Court of Punjab and
Haryana. Special leave to appeal was granted by this Court limited to the
question of sentence only. We have, therefore, to see whether on the facts of
this 685 case the High Court was right in confirming the death sentence imposed
upon the appellant or was is, a case where the lesser sentence of life
imprisonment ought to have been awarded.
The appellant was aged about 60 years at the
time of the occurrence. He was working as a Granthi of a Gurudwara in village
Salihna District Faridkot. Mohan Singh the deceased was a member of the
Managing Committee of the Gurudwara. He made certain complaints against the
appellant to the President of the Managing Committee and asked for his removal
from the post of the Granthi. The appellant, therefore, bore a grudge against
the deceased. In the early hours of April 13, 1974 the appellant gave Karah
Parshad of Granth Sahib to Mohan Singh mixing opium it. As soon as Mohan Singh
took the Parshad he felt sick and his heart began to sink. In spite of the
medical aid he could not survive and died about 4 hours after the administering
of the poison to him by the appellant. On the facts found by the learned
Sessions Judge and as affirmed by. the High Court, the appellant was convicted
under section 302 of the Penal Code. The question for consideration is whether
the sentence of death was rightly passed. It may be noticed that the occurrence
took place on April 13, 1974 after coming into force of the Criminal Procedure
Code, 1973 on and from April 1, 1974. Provisions of Section 354(3) of the new
Code, as noticed by the High Court, governed this case. Yet the High Court
confirmed the sentence of death relying upon two decisions of this Court which
were not concerned with the application of law engrafted in section 354(3) of
the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 but were given with reference to the Code
of Criminal Procedure Code, 1898 as it stood at the relevant time.
It is well-known that in many parts of the
world an agitation has been going on against the imposition of death penalty
even in murder cases. And in many countries or States death penalty has been
abolished. In India the Legislature in its wisdom has not thought it fit and
proper to abolish the death penalty altogether but there has been a gradual
swing against the imposition of such penalty. Under the Code of Criminal
Procedure, 1898 as it stood before its amendment by Act 26 of 1965, sub-section
(5) of Section 367 required:
"If the accused is convicted of an
offence punishable with death, and the Court sentences him to any punishment
other than death, the Court shall in its judgment state the reason why sentence
of death was not passed :" Under the provision aforesaid if an accused was
convicted for an offence punishable with death then imposition of death
sentence was the rule and awarding of a lesser sentence was an exception and
the Court had to state the reasons for not passing the sentence of death. By
the Amending Act 26 of 1955 the said provision was deleted.
Thereafter it was left to the discretion of
the Court, on the facts of 686 each case, to pass the sentence of death or to
award the lesser sentence. In the context of the changed law if in a given case
the passing of the death sentence was not called for or there were extenuating
circumstances to justify the passing of the lesser sentence then the lesser
sentence was awarded and not the death sentence.
Section 354(3) of the new Criminal Procedure
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 ' Under this provision the Court is required to state the
reasons for the sentence awarded and in the case of sentence of death, special
reasons are required to be stated. It would thus be noticed that awarding of
the sentence other than the sentence of death is the general rule now and only
special reasons, that is to say, special facts and circumstances in a given
case, will warrant the passing of the death sentence. It is unnecessary nor is
it possible to make a catalogue of the special reasons which may justify the
passing of the death sentence in a case. But we may indicate just a few, such
as, the crime has been committed by a professional or a hardened criminal, or it
has been committed in a very brutal manner or on a helpless child or a woman or
the like. On the facts of this case, it is true that the appellant had a motive
to commit the murder and he did it with an intention to kill the deceased. His
conviction under section 302 of the Penal Code was justified but the facts
found were not such as to enable the Court to say that there were special
reasons for passing the sentence of death in this case The High Court has
referred to the two decisions of this Court namely in Mangal Singh v. State of
U.P.(1) and in Perumal v. The State of Kerala(2) and has then said "There
are no extenuating circumstances in this case and the death sentence awarded to
Balwant Singh appellant by the Sessions Judge is confirmed.. ". As we have
said above, even after noticing the provisions of section 354(3) of the new
Criminal Procedure Code the High Court committed an error in relying upon the
two decisions of this Court in which the trials were held under the old Code.
It wrongly relied upon the principle of absence or extenuating circumstances a
principle which was applicable after the amendment of the old Code from January
1, 1956 until the coming into force of the new Code from April 1, 1974. In our
judgment there is no special reason nor any has been recorded by the High Court
for confirming the death sentence in this case. We accordingly allow the appeal
on the question of sentence and commute the death sentence imposed upon the
appellant to one for imprisonment for life.
S.R. Appeal allowed, sentence modified.
(1) A.T.R. 1975 S.C. 76.
(2) A.T.R. 1975 S.C. 95.