The rarest of rare cases rule prescribed in Bachan Singh case [(1980) 2 SCC 684]  is clearly attracted and sentence of death is called for.

[Case Brief] Machhi Singh v. State of Punjab, (1983) 3 SCC 470

Case name: Machhi Singh v. State of Punjab

Citation: (1983) 3 SCC 470, 1983 SCR (3) 413

Court: The Hon’ble Supreme Court

Bench: Thakkar, M.P. (J)

Decided on: 20 July, 1983

Relevant Act/Sections: Section 302 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 , Sections 354(3), 368 and 386 of Criminal Procedure, Article 136 of the Constitution of India, Section 32 of the Evidence Act, 1872

  • BRIEF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:

  1. Protagonists of the “an eye for an eye” philosophy demand “death-for-death”. The “Humanists” on the other hand press for the other extreme viz. “death-in-no-case”.

  2. The occurrence giving rise to the proceedings culminating in the appeal before this court took place at village Alahi Baksh Badla at about 8.30 p.m. on August 12, 1977. Four members of the household of PW Amar Singh became the target of the assailants and lost their lives in the course of the murderous attack. The four victims were the wife and three sons of PW Amar Singh viz. (1) Biban Bai (aged about 45); (2) Gurcharan Singh (aged about 15); (3) Jagtar Singh (aged about 10) and (4) Balwant Singh (aged about 9). As luck would have it Amar Singh the head of the household and his 10 year old daughter, PW Mohindo, escaped the murderous assault and survived to tell the tale of the ghastly murder in the court. Evidence of PW Amar Singh shows that on the unfortunate night, he and the members of the household were sleeping in the courtyard.

  3. There was a lighted lantern in the courtyard which was placed on the small boundary wall of the kitchen. PW Amar Singh was sleeping on one cot. PW Mohindo, his daughter who survived the attack, was also sleeping on the same cot. Next to him was another cot on which his wife Biban Bai was sleeping. And an infant child was sleeping with her on the same cot. His two sons, Gurcharan Singh and Kulwant Singh, were sleeping together on another cot just nearby. PW Amar Singh suddenly woke up on hearing the noise of the barking of a dog since he was half awake being apprehensive of some trouble because of a murder case which was pending in a criminal court against his relations.

  4. Amar Singh sprang up on hearing the noise and instinctively went inside, where some sarkana reeds were heaped, and concealed himself there. He was peeping from his place of hiding and was able to see what was happening. Barely had he done so when he espied the five appellants, who were known to him, enter the courtyard. Appellant Machhi Singh and appellant Mohinder Singh were each armed with a rifle. Their three companions viz. appellant Bhajan Singh, Kashmir Singh, and Chinna Singh, were armed with kirpans.

  5. Appellant Machhi Singh fired a shot at Biban Bai, who was lying on the cot. At the same time appellant Mohinder Singh fired a shot at Balwant Singh who was lying on a cot. Appellant Machhi Singh then fired another shot at Jagtar Singh and yet another shot at Kulwant Singh. Appellant Mohinder Singh on his part fired a shot at Gurcharan Singh. It is the version of PW Amar Singh that his daughter PW Mohindo managed to get beneath the cot on which he was previously lying while the assailants were firing at the different victims.

  6. The three companions of appellants Machhi Singh and Mohinder Singh, namely, Kashmir Singh, Chinna Singh, and Bhajan Singh, gave kirpan blows which were aimed at the head of Biban Bai who had already been injured by rifle shots. The kirpan blows did not fall on the head of Biban Bai but struck the upper surface of the table which was lying nearby. Thereafter all the five culprits fled from there with their respective weapons. After daybreak PW Amar Singh left the house in order to lodge a report of the occurrence with PW 31 Head Constable Wassan Singh.

  7. In all, 17 people were killed, after which Machhi Singh and some of his close relations were arrested. Following the arrest of Machhi Singh, he and several other men who had participated in the attacks were put on trial for murder and for breaching law and order. Arrests continued, and in all 11 of Singh's affiliates (many of whom were close relatives) were put on trial for various crimes. 5 sessions of cases were held, all with Machhi Singh named as the primary defendant. By the end of the first round of legal proceedings in 1980, 9 men had been sentenced to life in prison, while Machhi Singh and three others were sentenced to death.

  8. The order of conviction and sentence gave rise to five murder references and fourteen appeals by the convicts before the High Court of Punjab and Haryana. The High Court heard every individual appeal separately, but disposed of the group of appeals by a common Judgment for the sake of convenience.

  9. The present group of appeals is directed against the aforesaid judgment rendered by the High Court. We will treat each of the appeals compartmentally, and separately, on its own merits, on the basis of the evidence recorded at the trial in each sessions case giving rise to the respective appeal. But for the sake of convenience we will dispose of the appeals by this common judgment. In order to avoid confusion, the occurrence in each village will be adverted to in the same manner in which the High Court has done.

  • ISSUE BEFORE THE COURT:

  1. Whether there is something uncommon about the crime which renders sentence of imprisonment for life inadequate and calls for a death sentence?

  2. Whether the circumstances of the crime are such that there is no alternative but to impose death sentence even after according maximum weightage the mitigating circumstances which speak in favour of the offender?

  • RATIO OF THE COURT:

  • Having dealt with the appeals on merits from the stand- point of proof of guilt and validity or otherwise of the order of conviction, the court now came face to face with the problem indicated when the curtain was lifted, namely, the application of the rarest-of-rare-cases rule to the facts of individual cases in the context of the relevant guidelines.

  • A synthesis has emerged in 'Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab 1982 AIR 1325’ ,wherein the "rarest-of-rare-cases" formula for imposing death sentence in a murder case has been evolved by this Court. Identification of the guidelines spelled out in 'Bachan Singh' in order to determine whether or not death sentence should be imposed is one of the problems engaging our attention, to which we will address ourselves in due course.

  • In this background ,the guidelines indicated in the above case were culled out by the courtthe court held the facts of each individual case where the question of imposing of death sentences arises. The following propositions emerge from Bachan Singh's case:

  1. The extreme penalty of death need not be inflicted except in gravest cases of extreme culpability;

  2. Before opting for the death penalty the circumstances of the 'offender' also require to be taken into consideration alongwith the circumstances of the 'crime'.

  3. Life imprisonment is the rule and death sentence is an exception. In other words death sentence must be imposed only when life imprisonment appears to be an altogether inadequate punishment having regard to the relevant circumstances of the crime, and provided, and only provided the option to impose sentence of imprisonment for life cannot be conscientiously exercised having regard to the nature and circumstances of the crime and all the relevant circumstances.

  4. A balance sheet of aggravating and mitigating circumstances has to be drawn up and in doing so the mitigating circumstances has to be accorded full weightage and a just balance has to be struck between the aggravating and the mitigating circumstances before the option is exercised.

  • The reasons why the community as a whole does not endorse the humanistic approach reflected in "death sentence-in-no-case" doctrine are not far to seek. The court court observed following:

  1. In the first place, the very humanistic edifice is constructed on the foundation of "reverence for life" principle. When a member of the community violates this very principle by killing another member, the society may not feel itself bound by the shackles of this doctrine.

  2. Secondly, it has to be realized that every member of the community is able to live with safety without his or her own life being endangered because of the protective arm of the community and on account of the rule of law enforced by it.

  • The court further observed that the very existence of the rule of law and the fear of being brought to book operates as a deterrent to those who have no scruples in killing others if it suits their ends. Every member of the community owes a debt to the community for this protection. When ingratitude is shown instead of gratitude by 'Killing' a member of the community which protects the murderer himself from being killed, or when the community feels that for the sake of self preservation the killer has to be killed, the community may well withdraw the protection by sanctioning the death penalty. But the community will not do so in every case. It may do so (in rarest of rare cases) when its collective conscience is so shocked that it will expect the holders of the judicial power centre to inflict death penalty irrespective of their personal opinion as regards desirability or otherwise of retaining death penalty.

  • The court held that the community may entrain such a sentiment when the crime is viewed from the platform of the motive for, or the manner of commission of the crime, or the anti-social or abhorrent nature of the crime, such as for instance:

  • Manner of Commission of Murder When the murder is committed in an extremely brutal, grotesque, diabolical. revolting, or dastardly manner so as to arouse intense and extreme indignation of the community. For instance ; When the house of the victim is set aflame with the end in view to roast him alive in the house. When the victim is subjected to inhuman acts of torture or cruelty in order to bring about his or her death.

  • Motive for Commission of murder When the murder is committed for a motive which evince total depravity and meanness. For instance ; When a hired assassin commits murder for the sake of money or reward When cold blooded murder is committed with a deliberate design in order to inherit property Anti Social or Socially abhorrent nature of the crime such as for instance: When murder of a Scheduled Caste or minority community etc., is committed not for personal reasons but in circumstances which arouse social wrath.

  • Magnitude of Crime When the crime is enormous in proportion. For instance When multiple murders say of all or almost all the members of a family or a large number of persons of a particular caste, community, or locality, are committed.

  • Personality of Victim of murder When the victim of murder is an innocent child who could not have or has not provided even an excuse, much less a provocation, for murder. A helpless woman or a person rendered helpless by old age or infirmity.

  • While discussing the motive the court concurred with the high court and observed following- Crime No. 1 (Crl. Appeal No. 78-79/81, Common) Machhi Singh killed Biban Bai and Jagtar Singh whereas Mohinder Singh killed Balwant Singh and Gurcharan Singh which has attracted on them death penalty. Now the circumstances of the case do reveal that it was a cold- blooded murder and the victims were helpless and undefended. And what was their fault, except that they were the immediate family of Amar Singh. The offence committed was of an exceptionally depraved and heinous character. The manner of its execution and its design would put it at the level of extreme atrocity and cruelty. The deceased woman and her children had offered no offence to Machhi Singh and Mohinder Singh. Crime NO.11 (Crl Appeal No.80-84/81 Common) We have found that two innocent helpless women named Ghamo Bai and Rajo Bai were brutally killed in a helpless and defenceless state in their own house and similarly a veteran couple namely Bishan Singh and his wife Paro Bai were killed by Machhi Singh and Jagir Singh appellants in similar circumstances. The crime committed carries features which could be utterly horrendous especially when we know the weapons and the manner of their use. The victims could offer no resistance to the accused appellants. The law clamours for a sterner sentence; the crime being heinous, atrocious and cruel. Crime NO. 111 (Crl. Appeal No. 85-86/81, Common) An old man Wanjar Singh and young man Satnam Singh were put to death for which Machhi Singh was sentenced to death for committing the murder of the latter and Mohinder Singh was sentenced to death for committing the murder of the former. These two defenceless and helpless men were put to death while asleep. The crime was gruesome and cold-blooded revealing the propensity of the accused appellants to commit murder. Crime NO. IV (Crl. Appeal No. 87/81, Common) A young man named Mohinder Singh, a bread-earner of the family, was put to death by Machhi Singh while asleep in his blissful abode. The crime was pre-mediated and hair- raising to the society at large in the sequence of which it came to be committed creating a great risk of serious bodily harm and death to many persons. Crime NO.V (Crl. Appeal Na. 88-89/81. Common) Sahib Singh, Mukhtiar Singh, Manto Bai, Palo Bai and Jita Singh were killed by five men including Machhi Singh and Jagir Singh appellants. Both these appellants pursued a course of utter cruelty and atrocity. Not only were the crimes cold-blooded, calculated and gruesome in features, these had been committed while spreading horror of a killing spree. They put to death a young newly married couple and rendered a young woman a widow. The helpless state of the victims and the circumstances of the case lead us to confirm the death sentence.

  • Insofar as appellant Jagir Singh is concerned death sentence has been imposed on him by the Sessions Court and confirmed by the High Court in relation to Crime No. 11A-B and V. The High Court has observed thus in the context of the relevant crime: Crime NO. 11A & B (Crl. Appeal No. 80-84/81. Common) "We have found that two innocent helpless women named Ghamo Bai and Rajo Bai were killed in a helpless and defenceless state in their own house and similarly a veteran couple namely Bishan Singh and his wife Paro Bai were killed by Machhi Singh and Jagir Singh appellants in similar circumstances. The crime committed carries features which could be utterly horrendous especially when we know the weapons and their manner of use. The victims could offer no resistance to the accused appellants. The law clamours for a sterner sentence; the crime being heinous, atrocious and cruel.” Crime NO. V (Crl. Appeal No. 88-89/81. Common) “ Sahib Singh, Mukhtiar Singh, Manto Bai, Palo Bai and Jita Singh were killed by five men including Machhi Singh and Jagir Singh appellants. Both these appellants pursued a course of utter cruelty and atrocity. Not only were the crimes cold-blooded calculated and gruesome in features, these had been committed while spreading horror of a killing spree. They put to death a young newly married couple and rendered a young woman a widow. The helpless state of the victims and the circumstances of the case lead us to confirm the death sentence.”

  • In so far as appellant Kashmir Singh s/o Arjan Singh is concerned death sentence has been imposed on him by the Sessions Court and confirmed by the High Court for the following reasons: Similarly, Kashmir Singh appellant caused the death of a child Balbir Singh aged six years while asleep, a poor defenceless life put off by a depraved mind reflecting grave propensity to commit murder.

  • The court was of opinion that so far as the three appellants are concerned the rarest of rare cases rule prescribed in Bachan Singh's case (Supra) is clearly attracted and sentence of death is called for. The court therefore fully uphold the view concurrently taken by the Sessions Court and the High Court that extreme penalty of death requires to be imposed on appellants (1) Machhi Singh (2) Kashmir Singh son of Arjan Singh (3) Jagir Singh.

  • DECISION HELD BY COURT:

  1. In the result we pass the following order:

  • Appeals preferred by appellant Mohinder Singh being Crl. Appeals Nos. Crl. 79/81 & 86 of 1981 are allowed. The order of conviction and sentence passed by the lower courts in so far as he is concerned are set aside.

  • In regard to the rest of the appeals by the rest of the appellants the orders of conviction and sentence passed by the lower courts are confirmed and all the appeals shall stand dismissed. The sentence of imprisonment under various counts and sentence imposed on the concerned appellant in allied appeals will run concurrently.

  • The death sentence imposed on the appellants named hereafter viz (i) Machhi Singh (ii) Kashmir Singh s/o Arjan Singh; (iii) Jagir Singh, having been confirmed, the sentence shall be executed in accordance with law.

  • Death sentence has separately been imposed on Appellant Machhi Singh in all the matters. By the very nature of things the sentence will be deemed to have been executed in all the cases if it is executed once.

  • Appellants in Crl. A. No. 419/82 viz. (i) Phuman Singh (ii) Jagtar Singh; and (iii) Kashmir Singh s/o Wadhawa Singh who are on bail pursuant to the order passed by this Court on September 15, 1982 shall surrender to their bail bonds in order to undergo the sentence imposed by the lower courts and confirmed by this Court. Their bail bonds shall stand cancelled. Such of the other appellants, if any, who are on bail shall surrender in order to undergo the sentence imposed by the lower courts as confirmed by this Court and their bail bonds shall stand cancelled.

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