State of Punjab Vs.
Manjit Singh & Ors.  INSC 1120 (28 May 2009)
IN THE SUPREME COURT
OF INDIA CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION CRIMINAL APPEAL NOS. 786-789 OF 2003
State of Punjab .... Appellant Versus Manjit Singh & Ors. .... Respondents
these criminal appeals the issue that arises for our consideration is whether
in the facts and circumstances of the present case, the maximum penalty of
death sentence is called for or life sentence which is awarded to the
respondents by the High Court would meet the ends of justice.
Sewa Singh, the deceased, was the Municipal Commissioner of Municipal
Committee, Sirhind City. He also used to recite Kirtan in the Gurdwara Sahib
whereas his son Rachhpal Singh alias Happy, Inderjit Singh and Kuldeep Singh,
were also working as Sewadars in Gurdwara Bara Sirhind, which was quite near
the house of Sewa Singh. Kamaljit Singh and Manjit Singh were previously
working as Sewadar in the Gurdwara. While working as such they had developed
illicit relations with Bhinder Kaur, the wife of Sewa Singh, the deceased. The
said illicit relation became known to Sewa Singh, the deceased, and his son
Rachhpal Singh alias Happy and they did not appreciate the said illicit
relationship and sometimes used to beat Bhinder Kaur and told her in specific
terms not to indulge in such activities. They also restrained accused Kamaljit
Singh and Manjit Singh to come to their house. Bhinder Kaur did not like the
aforesaid attitude of her family and was also fed up with the harassment caused
to her and told about such mal-treatment and harassment caused, to the accused
Kamaljit Singh and Manjit Singh.
Having known about
the attitude and mal-treatment being meted out to Bhinder Kaur, they came on
the fateful day of 26.6.1994 to the house of Sewa Singh when he was sleeping in
his house whereas his son Rachhpal Singh alias Happy was sleeping in the
Gurdwara Bara Sirhind. Having reached the house of Sewa Singh, the accused
Kamaljit Singh armed with Kirpan and accused Manjit Singh armed with Khanda,
killed Sewa Singh in his house whereas the remaining three persons namely
Rachhpal Singh alias Happy, Inderjit Singh and Kuldip Singh were killed in the
Gurdwara by them.
to the aforesaid murders, a First Information Report (for short `the FIR') was
registered bearing FIR No. 46, on 26.06.1994 at about 2.30 2 a.m. on the
statement of Joginder Singh who approached the Police Station, Sirhind and got
recorded the FIR to the effect that he was working as an electrician and had
been living near Gurdwara Bara Sirhind and that on the intervening night of
26.06.1994, when he was sleeping in his house, at about 1.30 a.m. he heard a
noise from the house of Sewa Singh, the deceased which was located quite near
his house, he went outside and saw that the light in front of the house of
Inderjit Singh was on and two Sikh youths armed with Kirpans stained with blood
were shouting that they had finished Sewa Singh, the deceased, his son Rachhpal
Singh alias Happy and their supporters and they would not spare anybody who
comes to their help. It was also stated in the FIR that he along with other
neighbours went to the house of Sewa Singh and found him dead. They left
Bhinder Kaur near the dead body and went to the Gurdwara Sahib where they found
other three persons murdered namely Rachhpal Singh alias Happy, Inderjit Singh
and Kuldip Singh. While Rachhpal Singh alias Happy and Inderjit Singh were
lying murdered in the room of the Gurdwara Sahib, Kuldip Singh was found killed
in the Varandah of the Gurdwara.
registering the FIR the police started investigation during the course of which
they arrested Kamaljit Singh, Manjit Singh. Bhinder Kaur was also arrested.
After completion of the investigation, the police submitted 3 charge-sheet
against the aforesaid accused persons. The court framed charges against the
accused persons under Sections 302/34 IPC read with Section 120-B IPC, for
causing death of Sewa Singh, Rachhpal Singh alias Happy, Inderjit Singh and Kuldeep
the course of trial, the prosecution examined its witnesses whereas the defence
did not produce any witness. The trial court, after conclusion of the trial and
on appreciation of the evidence on record, passed a judgment and order finding
both the accused persons namely, Kamaljit Singh and Manjit Singh guilty of the
offences under Section 302 read with Section 120-B IPC and sentenced both of
them to death with direction that they be hanged by the neck till death subject
to, however, the confirmation by the High Court. As regards Bhinder Kaur, it
was held by the trial court that she was one of the co-conspirator for killing
Sewa Singh and his son Rachhpal Singh @ Happy. The trial court, after taking
into consideration that now she is left all alone in the family and that she
never intended that Inderjit Singh and Kuldeep Singh be done to death,
sentenced her to undergo imprisonment for life under Section 120-B IPC read
with Section 302 IPC.
in respect of two of the accused persons death sentence was awarded, reference
was made to the High Court for confirmation of the 4 death sentence. On the
other hand, all the three accused persons filed separate criminal appeals
before the High Court.
the aforesaid three criminal appeals and the reference were taken up together
for consideration and after appreciation of the evidence on record, the High
Court upheld the order of conviction passed against all the three accused
persons. The High Court, however, after considering the facts and circumstances
of the case held that the case in hand cannot be called as rarest of the rare
cases. It was held by the High Court that both the appellants (respondents
herein) who have been sentenced to death do not deserve capital punishment.
Consequently, their sentence of death was converted into a sentence of
imprisonment for life and to pay a fine of Rs. 10,000/- each.
State of Punjab being aggrieved by the aforesaid order of alteration of the
sentence of the two accused persons namely Kamaljit Singh and Manjit Singh
filed the present appeals on which the notice was issued. The appeals were
listed for hearing and we heard the appeals with the assistance of Public
Prosecutor appearing for the State of Punjab.
was submitted before us by the counsel appearing for the appellant-State that
it was a brutal murder of four persons by the two accused and, therefore, the
High Court was not justified in converting the death sentence awarded by the
trial court into the imprisonment for life. He also submitted before us that
reliance of the High Court on the decision of this Court in Om Prakash v. State
of Haryana [(1999) 3 SCC 19] is misplaced. It was submitted by him that death
of four persons in the present case was one of the aggravating causes. There
being other factors such as the nature of offence, manner, motive and other
aggravating factors surrounding the case which when considered together would
definitely make out a case of rarest of rare case.
the light of the submission made by the learned counsel appearing for the
appellant-State, we have examined the records and relevant case laws.
Supreme Court has held succinctly in several decisions that for a case to be
regarded in the rarest of rare category, fact situation has to be exceptional,
like after committing one offence another offence is committed so as to cover
up the first offence. In Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab [(1980) 2 SCC 684]
this Court for the first time used this category (rarest of rare) for awarding death
penalty. However, the Bachan Singh (supra) decision did not elaborate the
criteria for identifying "rarest of rare" cases. In Machhi Singh v.
State of Punjab [(1983) 3 SCC 470] this Court laid down the guidelines for the
application of the "rarest of rare" rule to specific cases. The
guidelines were couched in fairly broad terms that relate to several
considerations such as: "Manner of commission of murder",
"Motive for the commission of murder", "Anti-social or socially
abhorrent nature of the crime", "Magnitude of crime" and
"Personality of victim of murder".
regard to the quantum of punishment to be awarded to persons found guilty of
offences dealt with in the IPC, the Code confers a wide discretion on the court
in the matter of awarding appropriate punishment by prescribing the maximum
punishment and in some cases both the maximum as well as the minimum punishment
for the offence. Though no general guidelines are laid down in the Code for the
purpose of awarding punishment, generally the judicial discretion of the court
is guided by the principle that the punishment should be commensurate with the
gravity of the offence having regard to the aggravating and mitigating
circumstances vis-`-vis an accused in each case. In such situation, the obligation
of the court in making the choice of death sentence for the person who is found
guilty of murder becomes more onerous indeed.
the question of awarding the sentence for the offences for which life
imprisonment as well as the death sentence is prescribed, sub-section (3) of
Section 354 CrPC enjoins that in the case of sentence of death, special 7
reasons for such sentence shall be stated. As already noted, the provision was
elaborately discussed by this Court in Bachan Singh (supra). The Court pointed
out the change in the policy of sentencing in following manner: (SCC p. 734,
para 151) "151. Section 354(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
marks a significant shift in the legislative policy underlying the Code of
1898, as in force immediately before 1-4-1974, according to which both the
alternative sentences of death or imprisonment for life provided for murder and
for certain other capital offences under the Penal Code were normal sentences.
Now, according to the
changed legislative policy which is patent on the face of Section 354(3), the
normal punishment for murder and six other capital offences under the Penal
Code, is imprisonment for life (or imprisonment for a term of years) and death
penalty is an exception."
ascertaining the existence or absence of special reasons in the context, it was
observed that though, in a sense, to kill is to be cruel and, therefore, all
murders are cruel, yet such cruelty may vary in its degree of culpability and
it is only when culpability assumes the proportion of extreme depravity that
special reasons can legitimately be said to exist. It was emphasized that life
imprisonment was the rule and death sentence was an exception and that death
sentence must be imposed only when life imprisonment appears to be an
altogether inadequate punishment having regard to the relevant circumstance of
the crime and provided that the option to sentence of imprisonment for life
cannot be conscientiously exercised having regard to the nature and
circumstances of the crime and all the relevant circumstances.
Machhi Singh (supra) a three-Judge Bench of this Court having considered the
guidelines laid down in the above-noted case added that the following two
questions might be asked and answered as a test to determine the rarest of rare
case in which death sentence could be inflicted: (SCC p. 489, para 39)
"(a) Is there something uncommon about the crime which renders sentence of
imprisonment for life inadequate and calls for a death sentence? (b) Are the circumstances
of the crime such that there is no alternative but to impose death sentence
even after according maximum weightage to the mitigating circumstances which
speak in favour of the offender."
in Allauddin Mian v. State of Bihar [(1989) 3 SCC 5] it was laid down that
unless the nature of the crime and the circumstances of the offender reveal
that the criminal was a menace to the society and the sentence of life
imprisonment would be altogether inadequate, the court should ordinarily impose
a lesser punishment and not the extreme punishment of death which should be
reserved for exceptional cases only.
above discussed legal principles have been followed consistently in numerous
judgments of this Court. Whether the case is one of the rarest of 9 the rare
cases is a question which has to be determined on the facts of each case. It
needs to be reiterated that the choice of the death sentence has to be made
only in the rarest of the rare cases and that where culpability of the accused has
assumed depravity or where the accused is found to be an ardent criminal and
menace to the society and; where the crime is committed in an organized manner
and is gruesome, cold-blooded, heinous and atrocious; where innocent and
unarmed persons are attacked and murdered without any provocation.
back to the present case, it is no doubt true that both the respondents behaved
in a most cruel manner, killed four persons while they were asleep. Three, out
of the four deceased persons, were murdered within the precincts of a Gurdwara.
But, there are certain mitigating circumstances in the case which cannot be
lost sight of. Both the respondents, as is disclosed from the records, had
illicit relationship with the third accused namely Bhinder Kaur and when she
narrated her woes and the harassment, both the accused persons, as it appears
from the record, lost their balance and acted in a cruel manner by entering
into the house of Sewa Singh-deceased in the dead night and killing Sewa Singh
in the house and other three sons in the Gurdwara. Thereafter, they also gave
threat to everybody outside the house by stating that they have killed those persons
and, therefore, no one should dare to come near them. This behaviour on the
part of the accused-respondents would show that they acted in the manner being
driven more by infatuation and also being devoid of their sense on coming to
know about the ill treatment meted out to Bhinder Kaur. Though the act of the
accused is a gruesome one but it was a result of human mind going astray. No
doubt, they acted in a ghastly manner for which, in our considered view, they
have been adequately punished. The High Court has given its reasons for not
awarding the death sentence and also relied upon a Supreme Court decision for
view of the aforesaid discussion, keeping in view entire facts and
circumstances of the case, the reasons given by the High Court for altering and
converting capital sentence to a sentence of life are found to be cogent and
reasonable. We do not intend to interfere with the said judgment and order
passed by the High Court. Therefore, the life sentence awarded to all the three
accused persons by the High Court stands upheld.
the result, the appeals stand dismissed.
[Dr. Mukundakam Sharma]
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