In The Supreme Court of India Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction Case No.: Criminal Appeal No. 824 of 2013 Appellants: Vikram Singh @ Vicky & Anr Respondent: Union of India & Ors. Date of Judgement: 21 August, 2015 Bench: Bench: T.S. Thakur, R.K. Agrawal, Adarsh Kumar Goel
The conviction and sentence of the appellants under Sec 302 and Sec 364A of IPC was affirmed by the HC of Punjab and Haryana and in appeal by the SC. Thereafter the appellants moved to the HC for declaring Sec 364A IPC unconstitutional and for restraining the sentence passed.
The appellants contended that they cannot be charged under Sec 364A as the provision solely involves acts committed against the Government, inter governmental organization etc. and that the punishment imposed under Sec 364A is disproportionate to the act committed and hence the provision is liable to be stuck down as unconstitutional. Against this the respondents contended that the punishment imposed is not disproportionate and that the provision also includes under its ambit the kidnapping and abduction by private individuals for money. The Court analysed the contentions of both the parties, applying the theories of quantum of punishment and the legislative intend behind the introduction of Sec 364A and came to the conclusion that Sec 364A cannot be held to be unconstitutional and also dismissed the appeal.
The appellants were tried, convicted and sentenced to death for commission of offences punishable under Sec 302 and 364 A of IPC. The conviction and sentence was affirmed by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana in appeal and eventually by the Supreme Court. The appellants then filed Writ Petition before the Supreme Court of India for a declaration that Sec 364 A IPC was ultra vires the Constitution to the extend that it prescribes death sentence for anyone found guilty. The appellants also prayed for quashing the death sentence awarded to them by the Trial Court. The Writ Petition was eventually withdrawn with liberty to the petitioners to approach the jurisdictional High Court for redress.
The appellant then moved to the HC praying for a mandamus striking down Sec 364 A of the IPC and for an order restraining the execution of the death sentence awarded to them. The HC concluded that SC has considered the nature of the offence and its gravity and held that the appellants deserved the maximum punishment prescribed for both offences proved against them. The Writ Petition was on that reasoning, dismissed by the HC. Finally this appeal was preferred in the Supreme Court against the dismissal of the Writ Petition by the HC.
The issues raised in the cases are
- Whether the act of the appellants can be charged under Sec 364A as it was not committed against the Government, any foreign State or international inter-governmental organization.
- Whether Sec 364A as the same prescribes death or imprisonment is unconstitutional on account of the punishment being disproportionate to the gravity of the crime committed.
Arguments in favour of the Appellants
The arguments in favour of the appellants are as follows;
1. Sec 364A of IPC was attracted only in situation where an offence was committed against the Government, any foreign state or international inter-governmental organization.
2. The provision had no application to situations in which a victim was abducted or kidnapped for ransom demand from a private individual.
3. Sec 364A were meant to deal with kidnapping by terrorists for ransom or where terrorist take hostages with a view to compelling the Government or a foreign State or international inter-governmental organization to do or abstain from doing any act including payment of ransom.
4. Sec 364A of IPC is unconstitutional as the punishment imposed under the provision is disproportionate to the crime committed.
Arguments in favour of the Respondents
The arguments in favour of the respondents are as follows;
1. Sec 364A of IPC was widely worded to cover not only situations where terrorists take hostages to compel the Government but also where any person abducts or kidnaps the victim for no more than compelling payment of ransom by the family of the victim.
2. HC has rightly analysed the provisions, examined the historical perspective to hold that Sec 364A was not confined only to cases involving acts of terrorism but was attracted even in cases where the crime is committed for securing ransom.
3. The view taken by the Supreme Court in the appeal having finality, it was not open to the appellants to re-agitate the issue in collateral proceeding.
The Court while deciding the case analysed the legislative purpose behind the introduction of Sec 364A IPC and the recommendations made by the Law Commission in that regard. The gradual growth of the challenges posed by kidnapping and abductions for ransom, not only by ordinary criminals for monetary gain or as an organized activity for economic gains but by terrorist organizations is what necessitated the incorporation of Section 364A of the IPC and a stringent punishment for those indulging in such activities. Therefore given the purpose of the enactment of the provision for the safety and security of the citizens and the unity, sovereignty and integrity of the country, the punishment under Sec 364 A cannot be dubbed as so outrageously disproportionate to the nature of the offence as to declare the same unconstitutional. Moreover the judicial discretion available to the Courts to choose from the two alternative sentence would be exercised by the Courts along judicially recognized lines and death sentences awarded only in the rarest of the rare cases.
And the accused in the case have been held guilty not only under Sec 364A, but even under Sec 302 of the IPC. Therefore the Court observed that the sentence of death awarded to them for both was considered to be just, fair and reasonable, even by the standards of rarest of rare cases, evolved and applied by this Court.
The Court after consideration of the arguments advanced by the appellants and the respondents and the various theories of punishment and quantum of punishment and the law relating to kidnap and abduction in foreign countries held that the provision of Sec 364A cannot be said to be unconstitutional on account of the punishment being disproportionate to the gravity of the crime committed .a sentence of death in a case of murder may be rare, but, if the courts have, upon consideration of the facts and evidence, found that the same is the only sentence that can be awarded, it is difficult to revisit that question in collateral proceeding.
Accordingly the Court dismissed the appeal
The Court has rightly interpreted Sec 364A of IPC in this judgment. The Court did not accept the argument by the appellants that their act would not be punishable under the provision since it do not involve any activity against the State and made the appellants punishable under Sec 364A.
The decision of the Court Sec 364A cannot be held to be unconstitutional on account of disproportional punishment imposed is also accurate as the appellants in this case were also charged with Sec 302 under IPC.
The criminal justice delivery system of our country needs judgments in similar lines as this will make the penal provisions of criminal law more stringent and will avoid any loopholes for the culprits.