Crime rate is increasing all over the world so as in India. Punishments are awarded in India through different legislations like Crpc (Code of Criminal Procedure) and IPC (Indian Penal Code). Death penalty is legal punishment in India. On December 24, 2017 Madhya Pradesh passed a bill which introduces capital punishment in case of rape of a minor girl. According to Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1898, death was default punishment for murder and judges have to cite reasons in their judgement if they award life imprisonment instead of death penalty. Section 302 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) states that “ Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death, or imprisonment of life and shall also liable to fine”. The Constitutional validity of this section was challenged in Supreme Court of India in the case “Jagmohan Singh v. State of UP” on the basis that imposition of capital punishment of death sentence is violative under Article 14 of Indian Constitution. To address this issue court had referred to 25th Report of Law Commission of India which states that India couldn’t risk the abolision of capital punishment in India. Therefore they stated that awarding capital punishment is not unconstitutional. An amendment was made to Code Of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) in 1995 and also in 1973 which states that death penalty can only be imposed in exceptional cases and require special reasons.

                   Krishna Iyer J a strong protagonist for abolision of death sentence states that only imprisonment of life can be given as punishment for murder cases unless security of state or country are threatened, so that a murderer can get an opportunity to reform himself/herself. Generally Hanging and Shooting are two methods of death penalty. Death penalty was given as punishment for murder cases earlier. Scope of giving death penalty for murder cases changed after Bachan singh’s case in Supreme Court of India. In this case Supreme Court stated that imprisonment for life is nominal punishment in murder cases and  death penalty can only be given in Rarest of rare cases. This means Doctrine of Rarest of rare cases came into existence in Bachan singh case. However Supreme Court of India didn’t specified any guidelines in case which can be referred as rarest of rare cases. This can be analysed only by the judge who is hearing that case keeping in view of the facts of that particular case. Supreme Court announced Doctrine of Rarest of rare cases knowing the fact that it can result in a differing set of results. 35th law commission report also states the same that imposition of death penalty is at the discretion of that particular court with a provisio that “the vesting of that such discretion or working discretion is necessary and the provisions conferring  such discretion are working satisfactorily”. Example of  Rarest of rare cases is Nirbhaya ,which  tookplace in Delhi on 16 December  2012 has shaken India. The convicted  were acted brutally towards the victim  which resulted in the death of the victim. Finally the convicted were hanged to death on 20 March 2020.

                   In this current research researcher wants to clearly analyse different case laws on Doctrine of rarest of rare cases. Researcher also wants to study about crime rate in India.


             Different sections of IPC and Crpc support the death punishment in India. To know whether the death penalty is consistent with the Indian constitutional framework or not researcher referred some sections.  Section 302 of IPC states that “ Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable for fine”. While section 354(3) of Crpc states that “  When the conviction is for an offence punishable with death or, in the alternative, with imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term of years, the judgment shall state the reasons for the sentence awarded, and, in the case of sentence of death, the special reasons for such sentence.” Here unlike section 354(3) of Crpc  section 302 of IPC doesn’t state that there should be special reasons stated for awarding death punishment. Indian Constitution also provides an opportunity to the accused to escape the death penalty through Article 72(1)c which empowers the President “ to suspend, remit or commute the death sentence of any person ”. Indian law also changed in the post- independence era. Crpc of 1898 says that death penalty is the rule and imprisonment for life is an exception. But the Crpc of 1973 says that for awarding death penalty special reasons must be stated. Like this along with the passage of time Indian law also changed and finally doctrine of rarest of rare cases was introduced in India.

 Capital Punishment in India :

            India is a democratic country where people prevail in large. Laws are made to ensure that the citizens lead a life of respect and dignity. Punishments are awarded to the accused as it effects the general public and to avoid the possibility of occurrence of that crime again in future. Capital punishment is the most severe punishment all over the world. Courts award capital punishment or any other punishment to reduce the crime rate.  The concept of Capital punishment is prevailing in ancient times also. In ancient times capital punishment was awarded for normal mistakes against society. Nature of crime changed with the passage of time. Earlier crimes are of trivial nature. But now crimes are not of trivial nature. As stated earlier crime rate is alarming in India. In ratio of crime India exists in top ten countries of the world . Legislature has brought many types of punishments so that people in fear of punishments doesn’t commit crimes. After many judgements in India the concept of capital punishment has slightly changed in its meaning. Now the death penalty will be awarded in rarest of rare cases only. Capital punishment is the death sentence awarded for different capital offences. With the passage of time Indian laws have also changed drastically. There is almost a drop of 27% in the number of prisoners sentenced to death in Sessions Court in 2017. Some argue that awarding capital punishment is a violation of Article 14. But the Court have decided that it is not a violation of Article 14.

Doctrine of Rarest of rare cases :

      As stated earlier capital punishment is awarded  only in rarest of rare case but there are no such parameters to conclude that this case falls in the category of rarest of rare cases. Through the case of Bachan singh doctrine of rarest of rare cases was introduced in to the law. To understand the doctrine of rarest of rare cases researcher had refered few case laws. In Jagmohan Singh vs State of Uttar Pradesh Supreme Court has supported the constitutionality of death penalty and held that India cannot take risk by abolishing death penalty and awarding death sentence will be based on the circumstances of the case. In the case of  Macchi Singh and Ors vs State of Punjab the Court had given more clarity on the doctrine of rarest of rare cases. In this case Macchi singh with 11 others had killed many people brutally. All of were of a opinion that death penalty should be awarded to him. But Court said some conditions to be fulfilled for awarding death penalty. Those are :

“a) When the murder was extremely brutal in nature which arouse intense and extreme indication of the community.

 b) When the murder is committed for a motive which evinces total depravity and meanness.

 c) Dowry deaths or killing due to infatuation with another woman, of a member of a scheduled tribe or scheduled caste on grounds of his caste/tribe; offences to terrorize people to give up property and other benefits in order to reverse past injustices and to restore the social balance.

d) In cases of multiple murders of a members of a particular family, caste, community or locality.

 e) Where the victim is an innocent child, helpless woman, aged or infirm person, a public figure whose murder is committed other than for personal reasons.”

            In Ramnares and Ors vs State of Chattisgarh Supreme Court awarded death penalty to the accused for a brutal act ( gang rape and murder ). As the Court  doesn’t lay any guidelines to constitute an act as rarest of rare case and left to the discretion of the judge dealing a case led to a chaos situation where this has been misused. In Erabadhrappa vs State of Karnataka, the accused had misused his position of trust and brutally murdered for greed. But the Court didn’t regard this as a rarest of rare case and in Mukund vs State of Madhya Pradesh also the Court said that murders were brutal in nature and had involved betrayal of trust but didn’t consider as rarest of rare case. Like this in different cases based on the nature of the act committed and the circumstances Court sentenced different punishments.

End notes :

[i] Indian Penal Code 1860 §302

[ii] Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 §354(3)

[iii] Akansha Maddan, Capital Punishment on Rarest of rare case : Is it just and fair? 1 ALRRJ 3,45 (2014 )

[iv] Akansha Maddan, Capital Punishment on Rarest of rare case : Is it just and fair? 1 ALRRJ 3,45 (2014 )

[v] Akansha Maddan, Capital Punishment on Rarest of rare case : Is it just and fair? 1 ALRRJ 3,45 (2014 )

[vi] Macchi Singh v State of Punjab AIR 1983 SC 957

[vii] Akansha Maddan, Capital Punishment on Rarest of rare case : Is it just and fair? 1 ALRRJ 3,45 (2014 )

[viii]Ramnares and Ors v State of Chattisgarh AIR 2012 SC 1357

[ix]Erabadhrappa v State of Karnataka 1983 2 SCC 330

[x]Mukund v State of Madhya Pradesh 1997 10 SCC 130

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