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
Section 364A of the Indian penal code prescribes punishment for the crime of kidnapping for ransom. This section states that “Whoever kidnaps or abducts any person or keeps a person in detention after such kidnapping or abduction and threatens to cause death or hurt to such person, or by his conduct gives rise to a reasonable apprehension that such person may be put to death or hurt, or causes hurt or death to such a person in order to compel the Government or to any foreign State or international inter-governmental organization or any other person to do or abstain from doing any act or to pay a ransom, shall be punishable with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”
In case of Vikram Singh @ Vicky & Anr vs. Union of India & Ors. , the appellants were convicted by the court under section 302 and 364A of the Indian Penal Code, for kidnapping and killing of a minor boy and for demanding ransom from the victim’s father amounting 50 Lakhs. Their conviction by the trial court was further affirmed by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana and eventually by the honorable Supreme Court. However, the appellants reappeared in the court by special leave. A writ petition was filled by the appellants for stating that Section 364A inserted in the IPC by Act 42 of 1993 was ultra vires the Constitution to the extent that the same prescribes death sentence for the person found guilty.
Arguments by the petitioners
The major argument put forth by the councils appearing on behalf of petitioners was that section 364A of the IPC can only be attracted to situations where an offense is committed against the government, any foreign state or international inter-governmental organization and that the provision had no application to situations in which a victim was abducted or kidnapped for ransom demand from a private individual. It was contended that such a provision was enacted for cases in which kidnapping is done by terrorists for ransom or where terrorists take hostages with a view of compelling the government or a foreign state or international inter-governmental organization to do or abstain from doing any act including payment for ransom.
It was next argued by the respondents that kidnapping for ransom was already covered by the existing provisions in the IPC. He urged that Sections 359, 360 and 361 of the IPC deal with ‘kidnapping’, which according to Section 359 is of two kinds viz. kidnapping from India and kidnapping from lawful guardianship. ‘Kidnapping from India’ is under Section 360 of the IPC while ‘kidnapping from lawful guardianship’ is covered by Section 361 of the IPC. Both the situations are made punishable under Section 363 of the IPC with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years besides fine.
Arguments by the respondents
The councils appearing on behalf of the respondents relied on former judgments by the honorable Supreme Court, it was contended that section 364A of the IPC was worded in sense to cover not only situations where kidnapping is done by terrorists of government or foreign state or an international inter-governmental organization but also where any person abducts or kidnaps the victim for no more than compelling payment of ransom by the family of the victim. It was contended that the high court had rightly analyzed the provisions, examined the historical perspective to hold that section 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.
The judges were of the view that there is nothing in the provision to suggest that the section is attracted only when there is a situation arising in acts of terrorism. The language employed in the provision is in our view, wide enough to cover even cases where the demand for ransom is made not as a part of any terrorist act but also for monetary gain from a private individual. The court in respect of the use of ‘any other person’ in the section stated that they ought to be read ejusdem generic (a rule of construction and not a rule of law). The rule applies in situations where specific words forming a distinct genus class or category are followed by general words. In the present case, the court had a view that the term ‘person’ used in the expression ‘any other person’, appearing in Section 364A of the IPC must be understood as referring to ‘person’ as defined in Section 11 of the IPC.
The second contention, regarding the unconstitutionality of the provision as ultra vires of the right to life guaranteed to the appellants under article 21 of the constitution was further cleared by the court. The court upheld the verdict upheld by the High Court where it referred to the historical background of the following act, where it was held that originally when this act sec. was inserted it applies to any person who has committed the offense of kidnapping, however, it was only in 7th September 1994 this provision was inserted in order to honor the commitment for the convention on International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages, 1979. And therefore the said writ petition can’t be held right.
Holding punishment for the crime proportionate, the court held that
(a) Punishments must be proportionate to the nature and gravity of the offenses for which the same are prescribed.
(b) Prescribing punishments is the function of the legislature and not the Courts’.
(c) The legislature is presumed to be supremely wise and aware of the needs of the people and the measures that are necessary to meet those needs.
(d) Courts show deference to the legislative will and wisdom and are slow in upsetting the enacted provisions dealing with the quantum of punishment prescribed for different offenses.
(e) Courts, however, have the jurisdiction to interfere when the punishment prescribed is so outrageously disproportionate to the offense or so inhuman or brutal that the same cannot be accepted by any standard of decency.
(f) The absence of objective standards for determining the legality of the prescribed sentence makes the job of the Court reviewing the punishment difficult.
(g) Courts cannot interfere with the prescribed punishment only because the punishment is perceived to be excessive.
(h) In dealing with questions of proportionality of sentences, capital punishment is considered to be different in kind and a degree from the sentence of imprisonment. The result is that while there are several instances when capital punishment has been considered to be disproportionate to the offense committed, there are very few and rare cases of sentences of imprisonment being held disproportionate.
The court held that the need to bring in Section 364A of the IPC arose initially because of the increasing incidence of kidnapping and abduction for ransom. This is evident from the recommendations made by the Law Commission. 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.
Edited by Ankita Jha