Chawla & ANR Vs. State of Haryana
 INSC 30 (12 February 1974)
SARKARIA, RANJIT SINGH SARKARIA, RANJIT SINGH
CITATION: 1974 AIR 1039 1974 SCR (3) 340 1974
SCC (4) 579
MV 1982 SC1325 (69)
Criminal law--Practice and
Procedure--Sentence of life imprisonment for murder, when may be granted.
Six accused were charged with the murder of
Two of the accused-the appellants-were
convicted of murder of two of the deceased, respectively and were sentenced to
death by the High Court in appeal. The other four accused were sentenced to
In appeal to this Court, regarding the
sentence of death passed on the two appellants,
HELD : The death sentence should be commuted
to imprisonment for life. for the following reasons :- (a) It was probable that
the tragedy was provoked or precipitated by the blame-worthy and intransigent
conduct of the deceased in regard to the retaining or taking possession of the
land that had been finally allotted to the accused by the Consolidation
authorities, and over which land, there were disputes between the accused and
(b) The first appellant was responsible for
causing only one out of the 3 fatal injuries received by the deceased for whose
murder he was convicted. Probably, that was the only blow given by him to the
deceased, while the remaining 6 punctured wounds were all caused by the other
accused who were awarded the lesser sentence.
(c) The appellants are immature youths who
appear to have acted at the instigation of their elder.
(d) The appellants must have suffered
prolonged mental torture on account of their being constantly haunted by the
specter of death for one year and 10 months ever since they were sentenced to
death by the trail court.
Moreover the Court has now a discretion to
award either of the two penalties prescribed under s. 302, Penal Code, and
death sentence is now exacted only where the murder was perpetrated with marked
brutality. [346 E-347 C] Vivian Rodrick v. The State of West Bengal, A.I.R.
1584; Gurdip Singh v. State of Punjab, A.I.R.
1971 S.C. 2240, State of Maharashtra. V. Manglye Dhavu Kongil, A.I.R. 1972 S.C.
1797, State of Bihar v. Pashup all Singh' and another, A.I.R. 1973 S.C.
Gajanand and ors. v. State of U.P.
A.I.R. 1954 S.C. 695, and Ediga Anamma v.
State of Andhra Pradesh, Cr. A. 67/73 decided on 11-2-74, followed.
Brij Bhukhan and ors. v. State of U.P. A.I.R.
1957 S.C. 474, Mizali and anr. etc. v. State of U.P. A.I.R. 1959, S.C. 572 and
Jagmohan Singh v. State of U.P. Cr. L.J. 370 (S.C.), referred to.
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION : Criminal
Appeal No. 109 of 1973.
Appeal by Special leave from the judgment and
order dated the 13th November, 1972 of the Punjab and Haryana High Court at
Chandigarh in Criminal Appeal No. 493 of 72 and Murder Reference No. 21 of
N. S. Das Bahl, for the appellants.
341 V. C. Mahajan and R. N. Sachthey, for the
The Judgment of the Court was delivered by
SARKARIA J. The facts giving rise to this appeal by special leave are as under
Jagga had three sons; Bishna, Ram Lal and Har
Lal. Ram Dia, Dal Singh and Ram Singh deceased were the sons of Bishna. Ram Lal
and his sons, Chawla and Dhanna, Har Lal, his son, Puran, and Har Lal's
grandson, Mukhtiara, are the accused in this case.
During consolidation operations in their
village, Deora, dispute arose between Ram Lal and Har Lal on one side and
Bishna on the other, over the allotment of a plot, measuring 4-1/4 acres. This
plot was allotted by the Consolidation Officer to Bishna; but in revision, the
Additional Director, Consolidation on May 4, 1968, set aside the Order of the
Consolidation Officer and allotted it to Ram Lal and Har Lal, accused. Bishna
died and the deceased succeeded him.
Aggrieved, the deceased persons moved the
High Court under Art. 226 of the Constitution for bringing up and quashing the
order of the Director. The High Court dismissed this petition 'on July 14, 1971
and upheld the order of the Director. On October 4, 1971, the Assistant
Collector made an order that, in implementation of the order of the Director of
Consolidation, the land be demarcated at the spot and possession delivered to
the allottees. It was further directed that the land be mutated in favour of
the allottees. On October 5, 1971, the Kanungo, in compliance with the
Assistant Collector's 'order, demarcated the land at the spot and delivered
symbolical possession of Kila Nos.
129/7, 129-17/1, 129/14, 129/16 as those
fields were under crop. He delivered actual possession of the other fields,
comprised in the allotment, which were not under crops, including Khasra No.
129-6/2 to the accused, Ram Lal and Har Lal. The deceased persons, however, did
not submit to this symbolical and actual delivery of possession. They
instituted a suit in the Civil Court at Kaithal and obtained an ex parte
interim injunction restraining the accused from taking possession of the land.
This injunction was served on Ram Lal accused on November 5, 1971.
On November 11, 1971, Ram Dia, Dal Singh and
Ran Singh deceased went to the fields with their ploughs. Dal Singh started
reaping chari crop, Ran Singh started ploughing, the field, while Ram Dia went
on a round of the field. At about 11 a.m., all the six accused, in a body
reached the field.
Puran and Ram Lal were armed with Suas
(iron-spiked sticks), Dhanna with a Gandasa, and Har Lal, Mukhtiara and Chawla
with lathis. On reaching the spot, Har Lal exhorted his companions to kill the
deceased. Thereupon, Chawla, Puran and Ram Lal gave blows with their respective
weapons to Ram Dia, Ran Singh came to the rescue of his brother. thereupon,
Dhanna and Mukhtiara assaulted him with their respective weapons. Dal Singh
interceded but all the six accused belaboured him. The occurrence was witnessed
by Smt. Mali, Nasib Singh and Shadi who had run to a safe distance and stood
there. After the assault, the accused ran away taking their weapons with them.
Ram Dia died at the spot.. Dal Singh succumbed to 342 his injuries after his
admission in the Civil Hospital Kaithal, while Ran Singh expired in Medical
College/Hospital, Rohtak on November 13, 1971.
The Sessions Judge convicted and sentenced
Chawla, Puran and Mukhtiara accused to death under s.302/34, Penal Code. He
further convicted them under s.302/149 on three counts and sentenced them each
to imprisonment for life. A conviction under s.148, Penal Code with a sentence
of one year's imprisonment each was also recorded. The remaining accused were
also convicted under ss. 302/149 and 34 and 148, Penal Code and on the capital
charge sentenced to imprisonment for life, each.
On appeal, the High Court commuted the death
sentence of Puran to one of imprisonment for life on the ground that it was not
known as to which of the three fatal injuries to Ram Dia had been caused by
Puran. It confirmed the death sentences of Chawla and Mukhtiara, for committing
the murders of Ram Dia, and Ran Singh, respectively. The conviction of Ram Lal,
Har Lal and Dhanna under ss.302/149 was also maintained.
Special Leave in this case was granted only
with regard to the capital sentence inflicted on Chawla and Mukhtiara,
Mr. Behal, learned amicus curiae has urged
that the death sentences were not justified because of these alleviating
circumstances (a) The cause of the tragedy can be traced to the unreasonable,
stubborn, and blame- worthy conduct of the deceased in retaking or retaining
possession of the land that after a protracted litigation, had been finally
allotted and made over to the accused party by the Director of Consolidation.
The violence seems to have erupted because of the wrongful act of the deceased
in ploughing Kila No. 6/2 etc., actual possession of which had been duly
delivered by the Consolidation Authorities, earlier to the accused party. Ram
Dia armed with a stick was on guard duty while the other deceased were
ploughing or sowing in the dis- puted land. Ram Dia provoked the assault by
dealing blows with a stick to Har Lal accused.
(b) In the case of Chawla appellant, it was
not clear whether any fatal injury to Ram Dia was caused by him. In any case,
it was unreasonable to mark him out for capital punishment for inflicting only
one of the three fatal injuries with a lathi, when the coaccused to whom the
punctured, fatal wounds were attributed, have been awarded the lesser penalty.
(c) That Chawla and Mukhtiara appellants are
raw youths, aged 25 and 24 years, respectively, who probably acted under the
instigation of their father; and that the death sentence has been hovering over
their heads for an agonisingly long period of about 1 year 343 and 10 months.
The above circumstances, according to Mr.
Behal, taken separately as well as collectively, furnish sufficient ground for
mitigation of the capital sentence. Reference has been made to the decisions of
this Court in Vivian Rodrick v. The State of West Bengal;(1) Gurdip Singh v. State
of Punjab;(2) State of Maharashtra v. Naglya Dhavu Kongil;(3) State of Bihar v.
Pashupati Singh and another(4) and Gajanand and ors. v. State of U.P.(5) On the
other hand, Mr. Vikram Mahajan, learned Counsel for the State vehemently
contends that none of the circumstances pointed out by Mr. Behal is a good
extenuating factor. It is emphasised that the accused went armed with a
determination to kill the deceased persons and they succeeded in their
nefarious design. This was a case of cold-blooded triple murder and no leniency
in the matter of sentence wag called for. It is argued that the mere fact that
the murders were committed at the exhortation of the eldest accused Har Lal,
was no around in law for not inflicting the capital sentence on the appellants.
He ha-, further pointed out that the mere fact that a period of about 1 year
and 10 months has elapsed since the award of the capital sentence, which is
mainly due to the protracted proceedings, is no ground for reducing the capital
In support of his arguments, learned Counsel
has relied on Brij Bhukhan and ors. v. State of U. P.;(6) Mizaji and anr.
etc. v. State of True, according to the
finding of the courts below, the occurrence took place actually in Kila No.
6/1, and not in Kila No. 6/2, which was in dispute. The very numbering of these
fields by the Settlement authorities shows that they are sub divisions or parts
of the same Kila No 6. The disputed land was thus intermingled with the plot of
occurrence. The deceased were feeling aggrieved by the partition and allotment
of this land including Kila 6.
Indeed, despite the conclusion of the,
dispute by the consolidation authorities, the deceased were keeping it alive.
The Kanungo's Report (Ex.PJJ). dated October 5.
1971. whereby possession of the disputed land
was delivered to the accused party. shows that Kila No. 6/2 in Rectangle No.
129 was one of those disputed plots, the actual possession of which had been
delivered to the accused party.
It was the prosecution case, itself. that
shortly before the assault, Ram Singh was ploughing to sow wheat, while Dal
Singh was cutting chari from the field adjacent to the disputed land and Ram
Dia was having a round of the fields, possibly to keep a watch against the'
accused. Chawla in his examination under s .142- Cr- P. C. gave this version of
the incident-- (1) A. I. R. 1971 S. C. 1584;
(2) A. I. R. 1971 S. C. 2240, (3) A. T. R
1972 S. C. 1797;
(4) A. T. R. S. C. 2699 (5) A.I.R. 1954 S.C.
(6) A. T. R. 1957 S. C. 474 (7) A. I. R. 1959
S. C.572 (8) Cr. L. J. 370 (S. C.).
344 "-Ram Dia asked us to give up the
possession of the land and hand over the same to him. We told him that he could
take back the possession in the same way as the possession had been delivered
to us by the Tehsildar, Girdawar and Patwari.
At this, Ram Dia said that he would take the
possession forcibly. We told him that we would not hand over the possession by
force. On the day ,of occurrence, Ram Dia and his brothers started ploughing
the land and uprooting the crops sown by us, with the help of two ploughs. At
sun- rise, Har Lal armed with a lathi, I armed with a two-pronged jaily and Ram
Lal armed with a lathi were going on the road from Deora to Ujana to go to our
field......... Har Lal told us that it seemed to him that the land in dispute
was being ploughed by the deceased. Har Lal went and stood in front of the
bullocks and told Ram Dia that he should have been satisfied after cultivating
The land since the consolidation and that he should desist from ploughing the
land and destroying the crop. At this Ram Dia gave a lathi blow which hit Har
Lai on the right hand. At this, Har Lai, Ram Lai and myself gave injuries with
our respective weapons...... We got Har Lai medically examined. . . . "
Though this version of the accused was not sufficient to make a case of private
defence yet, coupled with the Kanungo's report, EX.PJJ, and the surrounding
circumstances, it strongly points to the conclusion that the tragedy was
probably precipitated by the deceased's insistence on cultivation and
possession of the disputed land includling those fields of which actual
possession had been duty delivered by the consolidation authorities to the accused.
The appellants had the order of Additional
Director of Consolidation in their favour in respect of the land in dispute.
The deceased challenged that order by a writ petition under Article 226 in the
High Court which dismissed the ,same and upheld the order-of the Director.
Thereafter on October 5, 1971. in implementation of the Director's order,
symbolical pos-session of that part of the land which was under crops, and
actual possession. of the fields which were vacant, was delivered, to the accused.
It seems that the deceased udder the cloak of an ex-parte interim in unction
obtained by them on November 4, 1971, were deter- mined to retain or retake
possession even of those fields of which 'actual possession had been delivered
to the accused party by the consolidation authorities.
This takes us to the next circumstance
stressed by Mr. Behal.
Chawla has been awarded the capital sentence
for the murder of Ram Dia. The part ascribed to, the appellant by the
witnesses, who admittedly had run away to some distance at the commencement of
the assault, was that he had inflicted a fatal blow with a lathi on the
deceased. Dr. Rai Gupta who conducted the autopsy, testified that there were
eight injuries in all on the dead-body of Ram Dia, out of which, six were
punctured wounds. Injury No. 6 345 was an abrasion on the left fore-arm. Injury
No. 8 was a depression of the frontal and parietal bones. All the injuries,
collectively, in the opinion of the Doctor, were, sufficient to cause death in
the ordinary course of nature.
It is iniury 8 which was attributed by the
witnesses to Chawla, appellant. in the examination-in-chief, the Doctor did not
say that this injury was by itself, fatal. In cross-examination in the
Committal Court, she said that injuries 1, 2 and 4. individually as well as
collectively, could cause death. At the trial, Dr. Raj Gupta changed this
version and said that injuries. 1, 4 and 8 we-re individually sufficient in the
ordinary course of nature to cause death. She excluded injury No. 2 from the
category of fatal injuries, and, in its Place, substituted injury No. 8. If the
Doctor's former statement made in the Committal Court was correct, then injury
8 was not a fatal injury and the three fatal injuries (1, 2 and 4) were
punctured wounds which could have been caused by Ram Lal and Puran only, who
were armed with sharp-pointed weapons.
Further, in the Committal Court, Dr. Gupta
'had clearly testified that none of the 8 injuries found on the body of Ram Dia
had been caused with a blunt weapon. On this point.
also, she took up a different position at the
trial and said that injury 8 might have been caused with a lathi. In any case,
apart from a minor abrasion on the left fore-arm which could have been the
result of a fall, there was only one injury on the body of Ram Dia, caused With
a lathi. It could not be said that Chawla played the dominant role in the
assault. His part, if not less, was in no way greater than that of Har Lal and
Ram Lal who had caused the fatal punctured wounds.
We have referred to the contradictory
positions taken by the medical officer, not to show that Chawla could not be
convicted under s 302, Penal Code, but to appreciate his precise role in the,
assault on Ram Dia, for the purpose of sentence, only. From Dr. Gupta's evidence
it is clear that he had caused only one injury, with a lathi. to Ram Dia and
his part in the assault. if not less, was in no way greater than that of Har
Lal and Ram Lal who had caused no less than six injuries, including two fatal,
to the deceased.
Further circumstance which deserves
consideration is that these raw youths, Chawla and Mukhtiara. appear to have
acted under the instigation of their elder, Har Lal.
Still another factor to be taken into account
in prescribing the punishment is that death penalty has been brooding over the
heads of these young men for an agonisingly long period.
They were committed for trial two Years in
February 1972, and were condemned to death by the trial court in April 1972. By
cold logic, this circumstance is a mitigating factor, more often than not,
being the unwarranted result of Law's delays, is vulnerable. But humane
considerations of administering justice tempered with mercy have impelled the
courts to recognise it as an ameliorating circumstance. In the last half a
century, the science of criminology has taken great strides. There has been
rethinking about crime and punishment. The process is con- 346 tinuing. Winds
of compassion for the criminal. blowing the world over, are affecting law and
logic, the Judge and the Legislator, alike. Draconion notions and retributive
relics of lex, elionis are yielding to "Mankind's concern for
Charity". In every creature, "born but to die", it is
"blindness to the future, kindly given " that keeps life going. But
in a condemned man, the Book of Fate open before him constantly telling of the
doom prescribed, the life- stream of hopes and aspirations rapidly starts
drying under the excruciating heat of the mental desert. With passage of time,
the prisoner painfully awaiting execution, becomes no better than a
"life-less" mummy. It was in this perspective that this Court in
State of Bihar v. Pashupati Singh and anr. (supra), ruled that if there has
been a long interval between the date of the ,offence and the consideration of
appeal by the Supreme Court. the capital sentence for the commission of an
offence under S. 302, Penal Code for which the accused has undergone a long
period of mental agony, the sentence of death may not be exacted. A similar
note was struck by a Bench of this Court, constituted by both of us', in Ediga
Anamma v. State of Andhra Pradesh(1).
Parliament also has taken note of the current
penological thought. Before Criminal Amendment Act 26 of 1955, for the offence
of murder, death sentence was the rule and transportation for life an
exception. and if the lesser penalty was to be awarded, then subsection (5) of
S. 367, Code of Criminal Procedure required reasons to be given. By Act 26 of
1955, this sub-s. (5) was recast and the requirement of giving reasons for the
lesser punishment, was done away with. The former rule is thus no longer
operative. The Court has now a discretion to award either of the two penalties
prescribed under S. 302, Penal Code.
Death sentence is now exacted ,only where the
murder was perpetrated with marked brutality.
Parliament has passed the Criminal Procedure
Code, 1973, which is coming into force shortly, In it, the position is reverse
of what it was before the Amendment of 1955. After this Bill becomes law, it
will be obligatory for the court to give reasons if the death sentence is to be
The Penal Code Bill, 1955, which is on the
anvil, reserves capital punishment for only a few types of murders.
We have referred to the modern penological
thought and current legislative trends not with a view to decide this case on
the basis of what is yet in embryo, but to have a proper perspective for
appreciating of the circumstances which have been urged in this case in
mitigation of the sentence. To sum up, these are:
(a) There was some probality of the tragedy
having been provoked or precipitated by the blame-worthy and intransigent
conduct of the deceased in regard to the retaining or retaking possession of
the land (1) C. A. 67/73 decided on 11-2-74.
347 that had been finally allotted to the
accused by the consolidation authorities.
(b) Chawla appellant was responsible for
causing only one out of the three fatal injuries received by Ram Dia, deceased.
Probably, that was the only blow given by him
to the deceased, while the remaining six punctured wounds were all caused by
the other accused who have been awarded the lesser sentence.
(c) Chawla and Mukhtiara, appellants are
immature youths who appear to have acted at the instigation of their elder, Har
(d) Prolonged mental torture suffered by
Chawla and Mukhtiara on account of their being Constantly haunted by the
spectre of death for the last one year and 10 months.
Perhaps, none of the above circumstances,
taken singly and judged rigidly by the old Draconian standards, would be
sufficient to justify the imposition of the lesser penalty;
nor are these circumstances adequate enough
to palliate the offence of murder. But in their totality, they tilt the
judicial scales in favour of life rather then putting it out.
The circumstances considered above have long
been recognised by courts as valid grounds for mitigating the sentence.
They are not innovations. Formerly what was
penumbra of extenuation,
"dim-described", now, in the twilight of compassion, has become clearly
Before we part with this judgment, we may in
fairness to the learned Counsel for the State, note it here that the rulings
cited by him turn on their own facts. In Mizajis case and Jagmohan Singh's case
(supra), the accused were awarded capital sentences as they were found guilty
of having fired the fatal shots with fire-arms. 'in Brij Bhukhan's case
(supra), the victim had been dragged out of his own house and mercilessly
beaten. Such is not the case here.
For the foregoing reasons, while maintaining
the convictions of the appellants, we would allow the appeal and commute the
death sentences of the appellants to that of imprisonment for life on each
count. The Appeal allowed.
sentences shall run concurrently.