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Appeal No. 273 of 1979


AIR 1980 SC 898, 1980 CriLJ 636, 1982 (1) SCALE 713, (1980) 2 SCC 684, 1983 1 SCR 145


Y Chandrachud, A Gupta, N Untwalia, P Bhagwati, R Sarkaria


9 MAY, 1980.

This reference to the Constitution Bench raises a question in regard to the constitutional validity of the death penalty for murder provided in Section 302, Penal Code, and the sentencing procedure embodied in Sub-section (3) of Section 354 of the CrPC, 1973.


Bachan Singh had been convicted of his wife’s murder and sentenced to life in jail under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code in the previous case. After serving his term, he was released and spent about six months with his cousin Hukam Singh and his family. Hukam Singh’s family members, including his wife and kid, questioned the appellant’s presence at his apartment.

The family went to bed after dinner on the night of the crime, July 4, 1977. When Vidya Bai (daughter) was woken by the alarm about midnight, she witnessed the appellant inflicting axe blows on the face of her sister, Veeran Bai. When she tried to stop him, the appellant struck her in the face and ear with the axe, knocking her out. Diwan Singh awoke from his rest after hearing the shriek and witnessed the appellant attack Desa Singh with the axe.

The Sessions Court later found the appellant guilty of murdering three individuals, including Hukam Singh’s son, Desa Singh, Durga Bai, and Veeran Bai (Hukam Singh’s daughters), as well as injuring Vidya Bai (Hukam Singh’s other daughter). On appeal, the High Court upheld the death sentence given by the Trial Court. In addition, both the Trial Court and the High Court ruled that Vidya Bai’s injuries were inhumane.

Bachan Singh then sought a special leave to appeal in the Supreme Court, raising the issue of whether “special reasons” exist in the facts of the case, which are required for the death penalty to be imposed under Section 354(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.


  • Whether or not Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code’s provision for the death penalty for murder was unconstitutional?
  • Is Article 19 relevant in establishing the validity of Section 302 of the IPC’s challenged provision?
  • Is Section 302 of the IPC’s disputed limb in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution?
  • Is Section 354(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code, which governs sentencing, unconstitutional on the grounds that it gives the Court unguided and unrestricted discretion and allows the death penalty to be imposed arbitrarily on a person found guilty of murder or any other capital offence punishable under the Indian Penal Code if the answer to the preceding question is no?


The Supreme Court dismissed the constitutional objections to Sections 302 of the Indian Penal Code and 354(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code. The Court went on to say that the six essential rights protected by Article 19(1) aren’t absolute. For starters, they are subject to limitations imposed by an individual’s commitment not to exercise their rights in a way that harms or infringes on the rights of other members of society. This is founded on the maxim sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas, which states that an individual must use their property in a way that does not infringe on another person’s legal rights.

Another question is whether the courts have unfettered discretion in inflicting the death penalty, as well as the nature and scope of the specific reasons. Section 354(3) of the CrPC defines “special reasons” as “extraordinary causes related to the serious nature of the offence.” In granting the death punishment, the Supreme Court established the theory of the “rarest of the rare circumstances.” For individuals convicted of murder, life imprisonment is the norm, with the death penalty being an exception. It would be unusual to use discretion under Section 354(3) of the CrPC, 1973. Only offences that shook society’s collective conscience would receive the death punishment. Only in the rarest of circumstances should the death penalty be used.

This is written by Dalima Pushkarna student at Dr Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow.

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