Report No. 262
(vi) Wrongful Executions and Failure of the Clemency Process
(a) The Case of Jeeta Singh Harbans Singh v. State of U.P., (1982) 2 SCC 101
6.6.12 The case of Jeeta Singh has been discussed in the previous chapter, but is of relevance here as well. Jeeta Singh, Harbans Singh and Kashmira Singh were sentenced to death by the trial court for equal roles in an offence of murder. The High Court confirmed their death sentences. Each of them filed separate appeals to the Supreme Court which came up for hearing before different Benches. Jeeta's special leave petition ('SLP') was dismissed on 15.4.1976. Kashmira's SLP was admitted on the question of sentence, and on 10.4.1977 his appeal was allowed and the death sentence was commuted by the Supreme Court. Harbans Singh's SLP was dismissed on 16.10.1978.
His review petition was dismissed on 9.5.1980, and his mercy petition was rejected by the President on 22.8.1981. While rejecting Harbans and Jeeta's mercy petitions, the executive did not note that the Supreme Court had allowed the appeal and had commuted the death sentence of an identically placed co-accused (Kashmira Singh) more than 4 years earlier. Harbans Singh and Jeeta Singh were scheduled for execution on 6.10.1981.
Harbans Singh once again appealed to the Supreme Court by way of an Article 32 petition, and was saved. Jeeta did not, and was hanged. Harbans Singh v. State of U.P., (1982) 2 SCC 101. See also Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, (Justice Bhagwati's dissent), (1982) 3 SCC 24, at para 71, where he termed Harbans Singh's case as "the most striking example of freakishness in imposition of death penalty".
(b) The Cases of Ravji alias Ram Chandra v. State of Rajasthan, (1996) 2 SCC 175 and Surja Ram v. State of Rajasthan, (1996) 6 SCC 271
6.6.13 Cases of Ravji Rao and Surja Ram have been discussed in the previous chapter. Here, the focus is how their mercy petitions were dealt with by the executive.
6.6.14 In Ravji @ Ram Chandra v. State of Rajasthan, (1996) 2 SCC 175 ('Ravji'), a case which was decided by a Bench of two judges, the Supreme Court explicitly held:
It is the nature and gravity of the crime but not the criminal, which are germane for consideration of appropriate punishment in a criminal trial. Ravji alias Ram Chandra v. State of Rajasthan, (1996) 2 SCC 175, at para 24.
6.6.15 Thus, the Court while confirming the death sentence in Ravji's case held that the circumstances relating to the criminal are irrelevant and focused exclusively on the circumstances relating to the crime. This aspect of the decision in the Ravji's case is in direct conflict with the Bachan Singh ruling where the Court held that which held that in all cases, including the most brutal and heinous crimes, circumstances pertaining to the criminal should be given full weight. Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, (1980) 2 SCC 684, at para 161.
As noted in the previous chapter, the Court in Santosh Kumar Bariyar v. State of Maharashtra ('Bariyar') noticed the conflict between Ravji's case and Bachan Singh and noted the Ravji decision as a per incuriam judgement.
6.6.16 Though Ravji was sentenced to death on the basis of a per incuriam judgement, his mercy petition was rejected in a mere 8 days on 19.3.1996 and he was executed on 4.5.1996. Similarly, the mercy petition of Surja Ram, who was also wrongly sentenced to death on the same reasoning, was executed on 7.4.1997. His mercy petition was rejected in 14 days on 7.3.1997.