Death Sentence can be reduced to Life Imprisonment on grounds of material delay.

Supreme Court of India

Bench: Oza, G.L. (J), Dutt, M.M. (J), Singh, K.N. (J), Shetty, K.J. (J), Sharma, L.M. (J)

PETITIONER:SMT.TRIVENIBEN & ORS.
Vs.
RESPONDENT:STATE OF GUJARAT & ORS.

DATE OF JUDGMENT07/02/1989

BENCH:
OZA, G.L. (J)
SHARMA, L.M. (J)
DUTT, M.M. (J)
SINGH, K.N. (J)
SHETTY, K.J. (J)

CITATION:
1989 AIR 1335 1989 SCR (1) 509
1989 SCC (1) 678 JT 1989 (1) 314
CITATOR INFO :
R 1989 SC2299 (3)
E&F 1991 SC 345 (12,19,20)
R 1991 SC1548 (3,5,8,10)

ACT:
Constitution of India, 1950: Article 32–Death
sentence–Undue long delay in execution–When justifies
commutation to life imprisonment–Whether Supreme Court
can reopen the conclusions reached by the court sentencing
the prisoner–Earlier judgment of Court–Whether can be
challenged on ground of violation of fundamental
rights–Mercy petitions–Expeditious disposal of–Necessity
Art. 20(1)–Death sentence–Securing convict in prison
until execution of sentence—-Whether amounts to double
jeopardy.
Art. 21–Person sentenced to death–Inordinate delay in
execution of sentence–Whether amounts to mental
torture–Necessity for observance of procedural fairness
emphasised.
Arts. 141-145–Larger Bench of the Court–Whether enti-
tled to overrule view of a smaller Bench.
Arts. 72, 161–Mercy petitions–Expeditious disposal
of-Necessity for.
Criminal Procedure Code, 1973: Sections 413, 4 14 and
354(3)-Delay in execution of death sentence–Whether can be
a ground for commutation to life imprisonment–Time taken
upto final verdict-Whether to be excluded in considering
delay in execution of death sentence–Whether any time limit
can be prescribed for execution of death sentence–Good
conduct of prisoner after final verdict–Whether can be
ground for commutation.
Indian Penal Code, 1860—Sections 120-B, 121, 132, 302,
307 & 396–Death sentence–Whether constitutionally valid.

HEADNOTE:
The accused were convicted under s. 302 I.P.C. and
sentenced to death by the trial court. The High Court con-
firmed their conviction and
510
sentence.. This Court dismissed their special leave peti-
tions/appeals and subsequent review petitions. Their mercy
petitions to the President and/ or Governor were also re-
jected. Therefore, they approached this Court by way of Writ
Petitions for setting aside the death sentence and substi-
tuting it by a sentence of life imprisonment on the ground
of prolonged delay in the execution. They contended that the
dehumanising factor of prolonged delay with the mental
torture in confinement in jail had rendered the execution
unconstitutional.
In view of the conflicting decisions of this Court in
T.V. Vaitheeswaran v. State of Tamil Nadu, [1983] 2 SCR 348
and Sher Singh & Ors. v. The State of Punjab, [1983] 2 SCR
582 and observations in Javed Ahmed Abdul Hamid Pawala v.
State of Maharashtra, [1985] 2 SCR 8 on the question of
delay, the writ petitions were referred to a five judges
Bench.
While a Bench of two Judges held in Vaitheeswaran’s case
that two years delay in execution of the sentence after the
judgment of the trial court would entitle the condemned
prisoner to ask for commutation of his sentence of death to
imprisonment for life, a three Judges’ Bench held, in Sher
Singh’s case, that delay alone is not good enough for commu-
tation and two year’s rule could not be laid down in the
cases of delay and that the Court in the context of the
nature of the offence and delay, could consider the question
of commutation of death sentence. In Javed’s case this Court
observed that where the condemned man had suffered more than
two years and nine months and was repenting and there was
nothing adverse against him in the jail records, this period
of two years and nine months with the sentence of death
heavily weighing on his mind, would entitle him for commuta-
tion of sentence of death into imprisonment for life.
The questions for consideration in these cases were: (a)
whether prolonged delay in execution of the sentence of
death rendered it inexecutable and entitled the accused to
demand the alternate sentence of imprisonment for life, (b)
what should be the starting point for computing this delay,
(c) what were the rights of a condemned prisoner who had
been sentenced to death but not executed, and (d) what could
be the circumstances which should be considered along with
the time that had been taken before the sentence is execut-
ed.
On October 11, 1988 this Court dismissed all the writ
petitions, except Writ Petition No. 1566 of 1985, which was
partly allowed and the sentence of death awarded to the
accused was substituted by the sen-
511
tence of imprisonment. Over-ruling the decision in Vaithees-
warans case that two years’ delay would make the sentence of
death inexecutable, this Court held that undue long delay in
execution of the sentence of death would entitle the condem-
ned person to approach this Court under Article 32 but this
Court would only examine the nature of delay caused and
circumstances ensued after sentence was finally confirmed by
the judicial process and would have no jurisdiction to
reopen the conclusions reached by the Court while finally
maintaining the sentence of death, that this Court, might
consider the question of inordinate delay in the light of
all circumstances of the case to decide whether the execu-
tion of the sentence should be carried out or should be
altered into imprisonment for life and that no fixed period
of delay would be held to make the sentence of death inexe-
cutable. Reasons for the judgment were to follow.
Giving the reasons for the Judgment,
HELD: Majority: Oza, Murari Mohon Dutt, Singh and Sharma JJ.
Per Oza, J:
1.1 The delay which could be considered while consider-
ing the question of commutation of sentence of death into
one of life imprisonment could only be from .the date the
judgment by the apex Court is pronounced i.e when the judi-
cial process has come to an end. [528E-F]
1.2 The condemned prisoner knows that the judgment
pronounced by the Sessions Court in the case of capital
punishment is not final unless confirmed by the High Court.
All the delay upto the final judicial process is taken care
of while the judgment is finally pronounced, and in a number
of cases the time that has elapsed from the date of offence
till the final decision, has weighed with the courts and
lesser sentence awarded only on this account. [526E, H;
527A]
State of Uttar Pradesh v. Lalla Singh and others, [1978]
1 SCC 142; Sadhu Singh v. State of U.P., AIR 1978 SC 1506;
State of U.P.v. Sahai, AIR 1981 SC 1442 and Joseph Peter v.
State of Goa, Daman & Diu, [1977] 3 SCR 771, referred to.
Piare Dusadh and others v. The King Emperor, [1944]
Federal Court Reports 61, referred to.
1.3 Practically, in all the High Courts a confirmation case
i.e. a
512
case where the sentence of death is awarded by the Sessions
Court and is pending in the High Court for confirmation in
the High Court a time bound programme is provided in the
rules and, except on some rare occasions, the High Court has
disposed of a confirmation case between six months to one
year. At the Sessions level also, the normal procedure of
the sessions trial is that it is taken up day today and it
is expected that such a sessions case should be given top
priority and it is expected that such trials must continue
day to day till it is concluded. Even in this Court, al-
though there is no specific rule, normally these matters are
given top priority, and ordinarily, it is expected that
these matters will be given top priority and shall be heard
and disposed of as expeditiously as possible. Therefore, as
long as the matter is pending in any Court before any final
adjudication, even the person who has been condemned or
sentenced to death has a ray of hope. Therefore, it could
not be contended that he suffers that mental torture which a
person suffers when he knows that he is to be hanged but
waits for the Dooms day. [527G-H; 528C-E]
1.4 After the matter is finally decided judicially, it
is open to the person to approach the President or the
Governor as the case may be with a mercy petition. It is no
doubt true that sometimes such mercy petition and review
petitions are filed repeatedly causing delay, but a legiti-
mate remedy if available in law, a person is entitled to
seek it and it would, therefore, be proper that if there has
been undue and prolonged delay, that alone will be a matter
attracting the jurisdiction of this Court, to consider the
question of execution of the sentence. However, while con-
sidering the question of delay after the final verdict is
pronounced, the time spent on petitions for review and
repeated mercy petitions at the instance of convicted person
himself shall not be considered. [528F, G; 529A]
1.5 The only delay which would be material for consider-
ation will be the delay in disposal of the mercy petitions
or delays occurring at the instance of the Executive. [529B]
1.6 When petitions under Art. 72 or 161 are received by
the authorities concerned, it is expected that these peti-
tions shall be disposed of expeditiously. [529C]
T.V. Vaitheeswaran v. State of Tamil Nadu, [1983] 2 SCR
348, over-ruled.
Sher Singh & Others v. The State of Punjab, [1983] 2 SCR
582, affirmed.
513
Javed Ahmed Abdul Hamid Pawala v. State of Maharashtra,
[1985] 2 SCR 8, referred to.
2.1 A judgment of the Court can never be challenged
under Art. 14 or 21 and, therefore, the judgment of the
court awarding the sentence of death is not open to chal-
lenge as violating Art. 14 or 21. [531G-H]
Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar and Ors. v. State of Maharash-
tra and Anr., [1966] 3 SCR 744 and A.R. Antulay v. R.S.
Nayak and another, [1988] 2 SCC 602, relied on.
2.2 The only jurisdiction which could be sought to be
exercised by a prisoner for infringement of his rights can
be to challenge the subsequent events after the final judi-
cial verdict is pronounced and it is because of this that on
the ground of long or inordinate delay a condemned prisoner
could approach this Court. [532A-B]
2.3 It will not be open to this Court in exercise of
jurisdiction under Art. 32 to go behind or to examine the
final verdict reached by a competent court convicting and
sentencing the condemned prisoner and even while considering
the circumstances in order to reach a conclusion as to
whether the inordinate delay coupled with subsequent circum-
stances could be held to be sufficient for coming to a
conclusion that execution of the sentence of death will not
be just and proper. The nature of the offence, circumstances
in which the offence was committed will have to be taken as
found by the competent court while finally passing the
verdict. It may also be open to the court to examine or
consider any circumstances after the final verdict was
pronounced if it is considered relevant. [532B-D]
2.4 The question of improvement in the conduct of the
prisoner after the final verdict also cannot be considered
for coming to the conclusion whether the sentence could be
altered on that ground also. [532D]
3.1 Before 1955, sentence of death was the rule, the
alternative sentence had to be explained by reasons. There-
after, it was left to the discretion of the court to inflict
either of the sentences and ultimately in the 1973 Code
normal sentence is imprisonment for life except that for the
special reasons to be recorded sentence of death could be
passed. This indicates a trend against sentence of death but
this coupled with the decisions wherein sentence of death
has been accepted as constitu-
514
tional, show that although there is a shift from sentence of
death to lesser sentence, there is a clear intention of
maintaining this sentence to meet the ends of justice in
appropriate cases. Therefore, in spite of the divergent
trends in the various parts of the world there is a consist-
ent thought of maintaining the sentence of death on the
statute book for some offences and in certain circumstances
where it may be thought necessary to award this extreme
penalty. It is awarded in the rarest of rare cases and this
is the accepted position of law. [524B-D]
Bachan Singh etc. etc. v. State of Punjab etc. etc.,
[1983] 1 SCR 145 and Machhi Singh and others v. State of
Punjab, [1983] 3 SCC 470 referred to.
3.2 The circumstances in which the extreme penalty
should be inflicted cannot be enumerated in view of complex
situation in society and the possibilities in which the
offence could be committed and the Legislature was, there-
fore, right in leaving it to the discretion of the judicial
decision as to what should be the sentence in particular
circumstances of the case. But the Legislature has put a
further rider that when the extreme penalty is inflicted it
is necessary for the court to give special reasons thereof.
[525H; 526A-B]
4. The prisoner, who is sentenced and kept in jail
custody under a warrant under s. 366(2) of the Criminal
Procedure Code is neither suffering rigorous imprisonment
nor simple imprisonment. In substance, he is in jail so that
he is kept safe and protected with the purpose that he may
be available for execution of the sentence which has been
awarded. Hence this will not amount to double jeopardy. [53
1E]
The life of the condemned prisoner in jail awaiting
execution of sentence must be such which is not like a
prisoner suffering the sentence, and it is essential that he
must be kept safe. [531F]
Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, [1979] 1 SCR 392 re-
ferred to.
Per Jagannatha Shetty, J (Concurring):
5. Article 21 demands that any procedure which takes
away the life and liberty of persons must be reasonable,
just and fair. This procedural fairness is required to be
observed at every stage and till the last breath of the
life. [546C]
515
Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, [1978] 1 SCC 248; The
State of West Bengal v. Anwar Ali, [1952] SCR 284; Bachan
Singh v. State of Punjab [1980] 2 SCC 684; Mithu v. State of
Punjab, [1983] 2 SCC 277 and Sher Singh v. State of Punjab,
[1983] 2 SCC 582, relied on.
6.1 The delay which is sought to be relied upon by the
accused consists of two parts. The first part covers the
time taken in the judicial proceedings. It is the time that
the parties have spent for trial, appeal, further appeal and
review. The second part takes into fold the time utilized by
the executive in the exercise of its prerogative clemency.
[547H; 548A-B]
6.2 The time taken in the judicial proceedings by way of
trial and appeal was for the benefit of the accused. It was
intended to ensure a fair trial to the accused and to avoid
hurry-up justice. The time is spent in the public interest
for proper administration of justice. If there is inordinate
delay in disposal of the case, the trial court while sen-
tencing or the appellate court while disposing of the appeal
may consider the delay and the cause thereof along with
other circumstances. The court before sentencing is bound to
hear the parties and take into account every circumstance
for and against the accused. If the court awards death
sentence, notwithstanding the delay in disposal of the case,
there cannot be a second look at the sentence, save by way
of review. [548F-H]
6.3 There cannot be a second trial on the validity of
sentence based on Art. 21. The execution which is impugned
is execution of a judgment and not apart from judgment. If
the judgment with the sentence awarded is valid and binding,
it fails to be executed in accordance with law. Therefore,
if the delay in disposal of the case is not a mitigating
circumstance for lesser sentence, it would be wholly inap-
propriate to fail back upon the same delay to impeach the
execution. [548H; 549A-B]
6.4 If the delay in passing the sentence cannot render
the execution unconstitutional, the delay subsequent thereof
cannot also render it unconstitutional- Much less any fixed
period of delay could be held to make the sentence inexe-
cutable. It would be arbitrary to fix any period of limita-
tion for execution on the ground that it would be a denial
of fairness in procedure under Article 21. [549B-C]
T.V. Vaitheeswaran v. State of Tamil Nadu, [1983] 2 SCR
348, over-ruled.
516
6.5 The time taken by the executive for disposal of
mercy petitions may depend upon the nature of the case and
the scope of enquiry to be made. It may also depend upon the
number of mercy petitions submitted by or on behalf of the
accused. The Court, therefore, cannot prescribe a time limit
for disposal of even mercy petitions. However, Article 21 is
relevant at all stages, and the principle that speedy trial
is a part of one’s fundamental right to life and liberty is
no less important for disposal of mercy petition. [549E-F]
Hussainara Khatoon v. The State of Bihar, [1979] 3 SCR
169 and 1980 1 SCC 81 and Kadra Pahadiya v. State of Bihar,
[1981] 3 SCC 671 and 1983 2 SCC 104 relied on.
6.6 It has been universally recognised that a condemned
person has to suffer a degree of mental torture even though
there is no physical mistreatment and no primitive torture.
He may be provided with amenities of ordinary inmates in the
prison. But nobody could succeed in giving him peace of
mind. [549G-H]
Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, [1978] 4 SCC 494 re-
ferred to.
As between funeral fire and mental worry, it is the
latter which is more devastating, for, funeral fire burns
only the dead body while the mental worry burns the living
one. This mental torment may become acute when the judicial
verdict is finally set against the accused. Earlier to it,
there was every reason for him to hope for acquittal. That
hope is extinguished after the final verdict. If, therefore,
there is inordinate delay in execution, the condemned pris-
oner is entitled to come to the court requesting to examine
whether, it is just and fair to allow the sentence of death
to be executed. [550C]
6.7 The jurisdiction of the Court at this stage, is
extremely limited. The Court, while examining the matter,
cannot take into account the time utilised in the judicial
proceedings up to the final verdict. The Court also cannot
take into consideration the time taken for disposal of any
petition filed by or on behalf of the accused either under
Art. 226 or under Art. 32 of the Constitution after the
final judgment affirming the conviction and sentence. The
Court may only consider whether there was undue long delay
in disposing of mercy petition; whether the State was guilty
of dilatory conduct and whether the delay was for no reason
at all. Though the inordinate delay may be a significant
factor, but that by itself cannot render the execution
uncon-
517
stitutional. Nor it can be divorced from the dastardly and
diabolical circumstances of the crime itself. [550D-G]
T.V. Vaitheeswaran v. State of Tamil Nadu, [1983] 2 SCR
348 over-ruled.
Sher Singh v. State of Punjab, [1983] 2 SCR 582 affirmed.
Javed Ahmed Abdul Hamid Pawala v. State of Maharashtra,
[1985] 2 SCR 8; Vivian Rodrick v. The State of West Bengal,
[1971] 1 SCR 468; State of U.P. v. Paras Nath Singh & Ors.,
[1973] 3 SCC 647; Bihar v. Pashupati Singh, [1974] 3 SCC
376; State of U.P. v. Suresh, [1981] 3 SCC 635 at 643; State
ofU. P. v. Sahai, [1982] 1 SCC 352; Ram Adhar v. State of
U.P., [1979] 3 SCC 774 at 777; State of U.P. v. Lalla Singh
JUDGMENT:
[1978] 4 SCC 428; Nachhittar Singh v. State of Punjab, [1975] 3 SCC 266; Maghar Singh v. State of Punjab, [1975] 1 SCC 234; Lajar Mashi v. State of U.P., [1976] 1 SCC 806; Hussainara Khatoon v. The State of Bihar, [1979] 3 SCR 169 and 1980 1 SCC 81 and Kadra Pahadiya v. State of Bihar, [1981] 3 SCC 671 and 1983 2 SCC 104 referred to. 6.8 If the Court wants to have a look at the grievance as to delay then there should not be any delay either in listing or in disposal of the matter. The person who com- plaints about the delay in the execution should not be put to further delay. The matter, therefore, must be expedi- tiously and on top priority basis, disposed of. [550D-E] 6.9 The contention that the accused should not be exe- cuted if he has since improved is unavailable, since it seeks to substitute a new procedure which the Code does not provide for. [551B]

7. The judicial verdict pronounced by court in relation to a matter cannot be challenged on the ground that it violates one’s fundamental right. The judgment of a court cannot be said to affect the fundamental rights of citizens. [534A-B] Naresh Sridhar Mirajkar, [1963] 3 SCR 744 relied on.

8. It is now obligatory for the court to state reasons for the sentence awarded for the offence of murder. The court cannot award death sentence without giving special reasons and only in exceptional cases and not in the usual run of murders. There are just six offences carrying death penalty and that too as an alternate sentence. [543E-F]

9. The criminal law always keeps pace with the develop- ment of society. The punishment which meets the unanimous approval in one generation, may rank as the most reprehensi- ble form of cruelty in the next. The representatives of the people are cognizant of the contemporary social needs. The legislative amendments brought about from time to time are indicative of their awareness. The penal law cannot remain isolated and untouched. It will be profoundly influenced by philosophy prevailing. Time may reach for the representa- tives of people to consider that death penalty even as an alternate sentence for murder is uncalled for and unneces- sary. There is nothing in our Constitution to preclude them from deleting that alternate sentence. [540C; 542H; 543H; 544A] Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, [1980] 2 SCC 684 and Mithu v. State of Punjab, [1983] 2 SCC 277, referred to.

10. The practice prevailing over the years had been that a larger bench straightaway considers the correctness of and, if necessary, overrules the view of a smaller bench. This practice has been held to be the crystallised rule of law in a recent decision by a special bench of seven judges of this Court. This must be regarded as a final seal to the controversy, and it is now not open to any one to contend that a bench of two judges cannot be overruled by a bench of three judges. [536H; 537E] A.R. Antulay v.R.S. Nayak, AIR 2988 SC 1532, followed.

& CRIMINAL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION: Writ Petition (CRL) Nos. 1566/86, 186/85,192/86,338/88 & 649/87. (Under Article 32 of the Constitution of India.) R.K. Jain, Rangarajan, Mrs. Urmila Sirur, Mohd. Naseem, Rakesh K. Khanna, P.K. Jain, Mukul Mudgal, Sanjay Parikh, B.P. Singh, P. Krishna Rao, B.K. Prasad, Ms. Malini Poduwal, Lalit Kumar Gupta, Manoj Swarup, Harish Salve, Rajiv Garg, Rajiv Shakdhar, N.D. Garg, L.K. Gupta (Amicus-curiae), M. Veerappa and Dalveer Bhandari for the Petitioners. K. Parasaran, Attorney General, B. Datta, Additional Solicitor General, V.C. Mahajan. T.U. Mehta, Anand Prakash, Ms. A Subhashini, A.K. Srivastava, S.K. Bhattacharya, M.N.Shroff, Ms. Sushma Ralhan. Mahabir Singh, AV. Rangam and R.S. Suri for the Respondents.

A.K. Goel, Ajit Pudissery and Mrs. Jayamala Singh for the Interveners.

The following Judgments of the Court were delivered:

OZA, J. These matters came up before us because of the conflict in the two decisions of this Court:(i) T.V. Va- theeswaran v. State of Tamil Nadu, [1983] 2 SCR 348; Sher Singh & Others v. The State of Punjab, [1983] 2 SCR 582 and observations in the case of Javed Ahmed Abdul Hamid Pawala v. State of Maharashtra, [1985] 2 SCR 8. In Vatheeswaran’s case, a Bench of two Judges of this Court held that two years delay in execution of the sentence after the judgment of the trial court will entitle the condemned prisoner to ask for commutation of his sentence of death to imprisonment for life. The Court observed that:

“Making all reasonable allowance for the time necessary for appeal and consideration of reprieve, we think that delay exceeding two years in the execution of a sentence of death should be considered sufficient to entitle the person under sentence of death to invoke Art. 21 and demand the quashing of the sentence of death.”
In Sher Singh’s case which was a decision of a three Judges’ Bench it was held that a condemned prisoner has a right of fair procedure at all stages, trial, sentence and incarceration but delay alone is not good enough for commu- tation and two years rule could not be laid down in cases of delay. It was held that the Court in the context of the nature of offence and delay could consider the question of commutation of death sentence. The Court observed:

“Apart from the fact that the rule of two years run in the teeth of common experience as regards the time generally occupied by pro- ceedings in the High Court, the Supreme Court and before the executive authorities. We are of the opinion that no absolute or unqualified rule can be laid down that in every case in which there is a long delay in the execution of a death sentence, the sentence must be substituted by the sentence of life imprison- ment. There are several other factors which must be taken into account while considering the question as to whether the death sentence should be vacated. A convict is undoubtedly entitled to pursue all remedies lawfully open to him to get rid of the sentence of death imposed upon him and indeed, there is no one, be he blind, lame, starving or suffering from a terminal illness, who does not want to live.”
It was further observed:

“Finally, and that is no less important, the nature of the offence, the diverse circum- stances attendant upon it, its impact upon the contemporary society and the question whether the motivation and pattern of the crime are such as are likely to lead to its repetition, if the death sentence is vacated, are matters which must enter into the verdict as to wheth- er the sentence should be vacated for the reason that its execution is delayed. The substitution of the death sentence by a sen- tence of life imprisonment cannot follow by the application of the two years’ formula, as a matter of “quod erat demonstrandum”.
In Javed’s case, it was observed that the condemned man who had suffered more than two years and nine months and was repenting and there was nothing adverse against him in the jail records, this period of two years and nine months with the sentence of death heavily weighing on his mind will entitle him for commutation of sentence of death into im- prisonment for life. It is because of this controversy that the matter was referred to a five-Judges’ Bench and hence it is before us.

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Learned counsel for the petitioners at length has gone into the sociological, humane and other aspects in which the question of sentence of death has been examined in various decisions and by various authors. It is however not disputed that in Bachan Singh etc. etc. v. State of Punjab etc. etc., [1983] 1 SCR 145 constitutionality of sentence of death has been upheld by this Court. Learned counsel has at length referred to the opinion of Hon. Mr. Justice P.N. Bhagwati, as he then was, which is the minority opinion in Bachan Singh’s case. In his opinion Justice P.N. Bhagwati has conducted a detailed research and has considered the materi- al about the various aspects of sentence of death. Learned Attorney General appearing for the respondents also referred to some portions of the judgment but contended that howsoev- er condemned the sentence may be but its constitutional validity having been accepted by this Court all this study about looking at it from various angles is not of much consequence. He also contended that the opinion has been drifting and the statistics reveal that at one time there was a trend towards abolition of death sentence and then a reverse trend started and therefore all this, so far as the present case is concerned, is not neces- sary. One of the contentions advanced by learned counsel for the petitioners was that apart from all other considerations it is clear that this is a sentence which if executed is not reversible and even if later on something so glaring is detected which will render the ultimate conclusion to be erroneous the person convicted and executed could not be brought back to life and it was on this basis that it was contended that although the law provides for the sentence and it has been held to be constitutional but still the Courts should be slow in inflicting the sentence and in fact it was contended that courts are in fact slow in awarding the sentence. In Bachan Singh’s case, it was observed:

“To sum up, the question whether or not death penalty serves any penological purpose is a difficult, complex and intractable issue. It has evoked strong, divergent views. For the purpose of testing the constitutionality of the impugned provision as to death penalty in Section 320, Penal Code, on the ground of reasonableness in the light of Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution, it is not necessary to express any categorical opinion, one way or the other, as to which of these two antitheti- cal views, held by the Abolitionists and Retentionists, is correct. It is sufficient to say that the very fact that persons of reason, learning and light are rationally and deeply divided in their opinion on this issue, is a ground among others, for rejecting the petitioners’ argument that retention of the death penalty in the impugned provisions, is totally devoid of reason and purpose. If, notwithstanding the view of the Abolitionists to the contrary, a very large segment of people the world over, including sociologists, legislators, jurists, judges and administra- tors still firmly believe in the worth and necessity of capital punishment for the pro- tection of society, if in the perspective of prevailing crime conditions in India, contem- porary public opinion channalised through the people’s representatives in Parliament, has repeatedly in the last three decades, rejected all attempts, including the one made recently, to abolish or specifically restrict the area of death penalty, if death penalty is still a recognised legal sanction for murder or some types of murder in most of the civilised countries in the world, if the framers of the Indian Constitution were fully aware of the existence of death penalty as punishment for murder, under the Indian Penal Code, if the 35th Report and subsequent Reports of the Law Commission suggesting retention of death penalty, and recommending revision of the Criminal Proce- dure Code and the insertion of the new sec- tions 235(2) and 354(3) in that Code providing for pre-sentence hearing and sentencing proce- dure on conviction for murder another capital offences were before the Parliament and pre- sumably considered by it when in 1972-73, it took up revision of the Code of 1898, and replaced it by the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, it cannot be said that the provisions of death penalty as an alternative punishment for murder, in section 302, Penal Code, is unrea- sonable and not in public interest. Therefore, the impugned provision in section 302, vio- lates neither the letter nor the ethos of Article 19.”
We are in entire agreement with the view expressed above. It is not necessary to go into the jurisprudential theories of punishment deterrent or retributive in view of what has been laid down in Bachan Singh’s case, with which we agree but the learned counsel at length submitted that the modern theorists of jurisprudence have given a go-bye to the retributive theory of punishment although in some coun- tries it is recognised on a different principle i.e. to pacify the public anger whereas some theorists have tried to put both the theories together. So far as the deterrent theory of punishment is concerned even about that doubts have been expressed as regards the real deterrent effect of punishment. The absence of determent effect has been at- tributed to various causes sometimes long delay itself as public memory is always short. When the convict is utlimate- ly sentenced and executed people have forgotten the offence that he has committed and on this basis it is sometimes felt that it has lost its importance. In the present case we are not very much concerned with all these questions except to some extent the question of delay and its effect. It was also contended that this sentence is a sentence which is irreversible thereby meaning that if ultimately some mistake in convicting and executing the sentence is detected after the sentence is executed there is no possi- bility of correction. After all the criminal jurisprudence which is in vogue in our system even otherwise eliminates all possibilities of error as benefit of doubt at all stages goes in favour of accused. Apart from it there are only a few offences where sentence of death is provided and there too the manner in which the law has now been changed ultimately the sentence of death is awarded in the rarest of rare case. Therefore not much could be made of the possibility of an error.

The offences in which sentence of death is provided are under Sections 120-B (in some cases), 121, 132,302,307 (in some cases) and 396.

The law as it stood before 1955 the Court was expected to give reasons if it chose not to pass a sentence of death as normally sentence of death was the rule and alternative sentence of imprisonment of life could only be given for special reasons. As Section 367 clause (5) in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 stood:

“If the accused is convicted for an offence punishable with death, and the Court sentences him to any punishment other than death, the Court shall in its judgment state the reasons why the sentence of death was not passed.”
Section 367 clause (5) of Cr. P.C. was amended in 1955 and after the amendment discretion was left to the courts to give either sentence. Section 367 clause (5) after the amendment reads:

“In trials by jury, the Court need not write a judgment, but the Court of Sessions shall record the heads of the charge to the jury: Provided that it shall not be neces- sary to record such heads of the charge in cases where the charge has been delivered in English and taken down in shorthand.”
Thus the legislature dropped that part of the sub-clause which made it necessary for the Court to state reasons for not awarding sentence of death. Thus after the amendment the legal position was that it was the discretion of the Court to award either of the sentences.

In the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 Section 354 clause (3) has now been introduced and it has been provided that in all cases of murder, life imprisonment should be given unless there are special reasons for giving sentence of death. This provision Sec. 354 clause (3)reads:

“When the conviction is for an offence punish- able with death or in the alternative with imprisonment for life or imprisonment of 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 sen- tence.”
It is thus clear that before 1955 sentence of death was the rule, the alternative sentence had to be explained by rea- sons. Thereafter it was left to the discretion of the court to inflict either of the sentences and ultimately in the 1973 Code normal sentence is imprisonment for life except for the special reasons to be recorded sentence of death could be passed. It is therefore clear that this indicates a trend against sentence of death but this coupled with the decisions ultimately wherein sentence of death has been accepted as constitutional go to show that although there is a shift from sentence of death to lesser sentence but there is also a clear intention of maintaining this sentence to meet the ends of justice in appropriate cases. It is there- fore clear that in spite of the divergent trends in the various parts of the World there is consistent thought of maintaining the sentence of death on the statute book for some offences and in certain circumstances where it may be thought necessary to award this extreme penalty. As stated generally that it is awarded in the rarest of rare cases and in this accepted position of law, in our opinion, it is not necessary to go into the academic question about sociologi- cal and humane aspects of the sentence and detailed examina- tion of the jurisprudential theories.

It was also contended though not very seriously that in ultimate analysis out of the two sentences imprisonment for life or death it has been left to the discretion of the courts. On the one hand it was suggested that there are no norms laid down for exercise of discretion but on the other hand it was also admitted that it is very difficult to lay down any hard and fast rule and apparently both the sides realised that the attempt that was made by this Court in enumerating some of the circumstances but could not lay down all possible circumstances in which the sentence could be justified. In Machhi Singh and others v. State of Punjab, [1983] 3 SCC 470 it was observed that:

“In this background the guidelines indicated in Bachan Singh’s case, will have to be culled out and applied to the facts of each individu- al case where the question of imposing of death sentence arises. The following proposi- tions emerge from Bachan Singh’s case:
(i) The extreme penalty of death need not be inflicted except in gravest cases of extreme culpabili- ty.
(ii) Before opting for the death penalty the circumstances of the ‘offender’ also require to be taken into consideration along with the circumstances of the ‘crime’.
(iii) 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.
(iv) A balance-sheet of aggravating and mitigating circumstances has to be drawn up and in doing so the mitigating circum- stances have 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.
In order to apply these guidelines inter alia the following questions may be asked and answered:
(a) Is there something uncommon about the crime which renders sentence of imprisonment for life inadequate and calls for a death sentence?
(b) Are the circumstances of the crime such that there is no alternative but to impose death sentence even after according maximum weightage to the mitigating circum- stances which speak in favour of the offender? If upon taking an overall global view of all the circumstances in the light of the afore- said’ proposition and taking into account the answers to the questions posed hereinabove, the circumstances of the case are such that death sentence is warranted, the court would proceed to do so.”
In ultimate analysis it could not be disputed and was not seriously disputed that the circumstances in which the extreme penalty should be inflicted cannot be enumerated in view of complex situation in society and the possibilities in which the offence could be committed and in this context in ultimate analysis it is not doubted that the Legislature therefore was right in leaving it to the discretion of the judicial decision as to what should be the sentence in particular circumstances of the case. But the Legislature has put a further rider that when the extreme penalty is inflicted it is necessary for the court to give special reasons thereof.

In the matter before us we are mainly concerned with a) delay in execution of the sentence of death; b) what should be the starting point for computing this delay?; c) what are the rights of a condemned prisoner who has been sentenced to death but not executed? and d) what could be the circum- stances which could be considered alongwith the time that has been taken before the sentence is executed. The main theme of the arguments on the basis of delay has been the inhuman suffering which a condemned prisoner suffers waiting to be executed and the mental torture it amounts to and it is in this background also that the par- ties argued at length about the starting point which should be considered for computing delay in execution of the sen- tence. On the one hand according to the petitioners the mental torture commences when the trial court i.e. the Sessions Court pronounces the judgment and awards capital punishment. However, learned counsel also conceded that even the condemned prisoner knows that the judgment pronounced by the Sessions Court in the case of capital punishment is not final unless confirmed by the High Court. Mainly therefore it was contended that the real mental torture commences after the death sentence is confirmed by the High Court and therefore to consider the question of delay the time should be computed from the date of the High Court judgment. On the other hand learned Attorney General contended that even if the judgment of confirmation by the High Court is passed in which capital punishment is awarded, invariably comes to this Court and this Court ordinarily grants leave and ap- peals are heard at length and it was therefore contended that the delay in execution of the sentence really could be considered after the pronouncement of the final verdict by this Court and it is only after the final verdict is pro- nounced that it could be said that the judicial process has concluded. It is no doubt true that sometimes in these procedures some time is taken and sometimes even long time is spent. May be for unavoidable circumstances and sometimes even at the instance of the accused but it was contended and rightly so that all this delay upto the final judicial process is taken care of while the judgment is finally pronounced and it could not be doubted that in number of cases considering the time that has elapsed from the date of the offence till the final decision has weighed with the courts and lesser sentence awarded only on this account.

As early as in 1944, the Federal Court in Piare Dusadh and others v. The King Emperor, [1944] Federal Court Reports 61 observed:

“It is true that death sentences were imposed in these cases several months ago, that the appellants have been lying ever since under the threat of execution, and that the long delay has been caused very largely by the time taken in proceedings over legal points in respect of the constitution of the courts before which they were tried and of the valid- ity of the sentences themselves. We do not doubt that this court has power, where there has been inordinate delay in executing death sentences in cases which come before it, to allow the appeal in so far as death sentence is concerned and subsitute a sentence of transportation for life on account of the time factor alone, however right the death sentence was at the time when it was originally im- posed.”
Similarly in State of Uttar Pradesh v. Lalla Singh and others, [1978] 1 SCC 142; Sadhu Singh v. State of U.P., AIR 1978 SC 1506; State of U.P. v. Sahai, AIR 1981 SC 1442 and Joseph Peter v. State of Goa. Daman & Diu, [1977] 3 SCR 771 while finally deciding the matter the courts have taken notice of the delay that has occurred in the judicial proc- ess.

It was contended that Article 21 contemplates not only a fair procedure but also expeditious procedure and in this context it was contended that observations be made so that judicial process also is concluded as expeditiously as possible. Learned Attorney General has filed compilation of rules of various High Courts and it is not disputed that practically in all the High Courts, a confirmation case where the sentence of death is awarded by the Sessions Court and the case is pending in the High Court for confirmation time bound programme is provided in the rules and it could be said that except on some rare occasion the High Court has disposed of a confirmation case between six months to one year and therefore it could not be said that there is no procedure provided for expeditious disposal of these cases. At the Sessions level also the normal procedure of the Sessions trial is that it is taken up day to day although after coming into force of the Code of Criminal Procedure in 1973 where the number of offences triable by the Sessions Court have been increased but there is sometimes a slight departure from the normal rule which is the cause to some extent for some slackness in the Ses- sions trial but attempt is always made and it is expected that Sessions case where offences alleged is one which is punishable with death should be given top priority and normally it Is given top priority and it is expected that the trials must continue day to day unless it is concluded. Although it is well-known that sometimes it is at the in- stance of the advocates appearing for defence also that this normal rule is given a go-bye but ordinarily it is expected that these cases must be tried expeditiously and disposed of.

Even in this Court although there does not appear to be a specific rule but normally these matters are given top priority. Although it was contended that this reference before us–a Bench of five-Judges, was listed for heating after a long interval of time. We do not know why this reference could not, be listed except what is generally well-known the difficulty of providing a Bench of five Judges but ordinarily it is expected that even in this Court the matters where the capital punishment is involved will be given top priority and shall be heard of and disposed of as expeditiously as possible but it could not be doubted that so long as the matter is pending in any Court before final adjudication even the person who has been condemned or who has been sentenced to death has a ray of hope. It therefore could not be contended that he suffers that mental torture which a person suffers when he knows that he is to be hanged but waits for the Dooms-Day. The delay therefore which could be considered while considering the question of commutation of sentence of death into one of life imprisonment could only be from the date the judgment by the apex court is pronounced i.e. when the judicial process has come to an end.

After the matter is finally decided judicially, it is open to the person to approach the President or the Gover- nor, as the case may be, with a mercy petition. Some-times person or at his instance or at the instance of some of his relatives, mercy petition and review petitions are filed repeatedly causing undue delay in execution of the sentence. It was therefore contended that when such delay is caused at the instance of the person himself he shall not be entitled to gain any benefit out of such delay. It is no doubt true that sometimes such petitions are filed but a legitimate remedy if available in law, a person is entitled to seek it and it would therefore be proper that if there has been undue and prolonged delay that alone will be a matter at- tracting the jurisdiction of this Court, to consider the question of the execution of the sentence. While considering the question of delay after the final verdict is pronounced, the time spent on petitions for review-and repeated mercy petitions at the instance of the convicted person himself however shall not be considered. The only delay which would be material for consideration will be the delays in disposal of the mercy petitions or delay occurring at the instance of the Executive. So far as the scope of the authority of the President and the Governor while exercising jurisdiction under Article 72 and Article 16 1 are concerned the question is not at all relevant so far as the case in hand is concerned. But it must be observed that when such petitions under Article 72 or 161 are received by the authorities concerned it is expected that these petitions shall be disposed of expedi- tiously.

It was also contended that when capital punishment is awarded the sentence awarded is only sentence of death but not sentence of death plus imprisonment and therefore if a condemned prisoner has to live in jail for long in substance it amounts to punishment which is sentence of death and imprisonment for some time and this according to the learned counsel will amount to double jeopardy which is contrary to Article 20 and the imprisonment cannot be justified in law. Section 366 of the Code of Criminal Procedure provides:

“366. Sentence of death to be submitted by Court of Session for confirmation–(1) When the Court of Session passes a sentence of death, the proceedings shall be submitted to the High Court, and the sentence shall not be executed unless it is confirmed by the High Court.
(2) The Court passing the sentence shall commit the convicted person to jail custody under a warrant.”
This no doubt authorises the Court of Sessions to commit a person sentenced to death to jail custody under a warrant. But this Section does not contemplate how long he has to be in jail. Clause (1) of Section 366 provides that when the Court of Sessions passes a sentence of death the proceedings shall be submitted to the High Court and the sentence shall not be executed unless it is confirmed by the High Court. It is therefore apparent that sub-clause (2) provided for committing the convicted person to jail awaiting the confir- mation of the sentence by the High Court. It is also clear that when a person is committed to jail awaiting the execu- tion of the sentence of death, it is not imprisonment but the prisoner has to be kept secured till the sentence awarded by the court is executed and it appears that it is with that purpose in view that sub-clause (2) of Section 366 simply provided for committing the convicted person to jail custody under a warrant.

The question about solitary confinement or keeping the condemned prisoner alone under strict guard as provided in various jail manuals was considered by this Court in Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, [1979] 1 SCR 392 and consid- ering the question of solitary confinment it was observed:

“In our opinion sub-s. (2) of S. 30 does not empower the jail authorities in the garb of confining a prisoner under sentence of death, in a cell apart from all other prisoners, to impose solitary confinement on him. Even jail discipline inhibits solitary confinment as a measure of jail punishment. It completely negatives any suggestion that because a pris- oner is under sentence of death therefore and by reason of that consideration alone, the jail authorities can impose upon him addition- al and separate punishment of solitary con- finement. They have no power to add to the punishment imposed by the Court which addi- tional punishment could have been imposed by the Court itself but has in fact been not so imposed. Upon a true construction, sub-s. (2) S.30 does not empower a prison authority to impose solitary confinment upon a prisoner under sentence of death.”
In the same judgment, it was further observed:

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“What then is the nature of confinement of a prisoner who is awarded capital sentence by the Sessions Judge and no other punishment from the time of sentence till the sentence becomes automatically executable? Section 366(2) of the Cr.P.C. enable the Court to commit the convicted person who is awarded capital punishment to jail custody under a warrant. It is implicit in the warrant that the prisoner is neither awarded simple nor rigorous imprisonment. The purpose behind enacting sub-s. (2) of S.366 is to make avail- able the prisoner when the sentence is re- quired to be executed. He is to be kept in jail custody. But this custody is something different from custody of a convict suffering simple or rigorous imprisonment. He is being kept in jail custody for making him available for execution of the sent-
ence as and when that situation arises. After the sentence becomes executable he may be kept in cell apart from other prisoners with a day and night watch. But even here, unless special circumstances exist, he must be within the sight and sound of other prisoners and be able to take food in their company.
If the prisoner under sentence of death is held in jail custody, punitive deten- tion cannot be imposed upon him by jail au- thorities except for prison offences. When a prisoner is committed under a warrant for jail custody under s. 366(2) Cr. P.C. and if he is detained in solitary confinement which is a punishment prescribed by s. 73 IPC, it will amount to imposing punishment for the same offence more than once which would be viola- tive of Article 20(2). But as the prisoner is not to be kept in solitary confinement and the custody in which he is to be kept under s. 30(2) as interpreted by us would preclude detention in solitary confinement, there is no chance of imposing second punishment upon him and therefore, S. 30(2) is not violative of Article 20.”
It is therefore clear that the prisoner who is sentenced to death and is kept in jail custody under a warrant under Section 366(2) he is neither serving rigorous imprisonment nor simple imprisonment. In substance he is in jail so that he is kept safe and protected with the purpose that he may be available for execution of the sentence which has been awarded and in this view the aspect of solitary confinement has already been dealt with in the above noted case but it must be said that the life of the condemned prisoner in jail awaiting execution of sentence must be such which is not like a prisoner suffering the sentence but it is also essen- tial that he must be kept safe as the purpose of the jail custody is to make him available for execution after the sentence is finally confirmed.

It was contended that the delay in execution of the sentence will entitle a prisoner to approach this Court as his right under Article 21 is being infringed. It is well- settled now that a judgment of court can never be challenged under Article 14 or 21 and therefore the judgment of the court awarding the sentence of death is not open to chal- lenge as violating Article 14 or Article 21 as has been laid down by this Court in Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar and Ors. v. State of Maharashtra and Anr., [1966] 3 SCR 744 and also in A.R. Antulay v.R.S. Nayak and another, [1988] 2 SCC 602 the only jurisdiction which could be sought to be exercised by a prisoner for infringement of his rights can be to challenge the subsequent events after the final judicial verdict is pronounced and it is because of this that on the ground of long or inordinate delay a condemned prisoner could approach this Court and that is what has consistently been held by this Court. But it will not be open to this Court in exercise of jurisdiction under Article 32 to go behind or to examine the final verdict reached by a competent court convicting and sentencing the condemned prisoner and even while considering the circum- stances in order to reach a conclusion as to whether the inordinate delay coupled with subsequent circumstances could be held to be sufficient for coming to a conclusion that execution of the sentence of death will not be just and proper. The nature of the offence circumstances in which the offence was committed will have to be taken as found by the competent court while finally passing the verdict. It may also be open to the court to examine or consider any circum- stances after the final verdict was pronounced if it is considered relevant. The question of improvement in the conduct of the prisoner after the final verdict also cannot be considered for coming to the conclusion whether the sentence could be altered on that ground also. So far as our conclusions are concerned we had delivered our Order on October 11, 1988 and we had reserved the rea- sons to be given later. Accordingly in the light of the discussions above our conclusion is as recorded in our Order dated October 11, 1988, reproduced below:

“Undue long delay in execution of the sentence of death will entitle the condemned person to approach this Court under Article 32 but this Court will only examine the nature of delay caused and circumstances ensued after sentence was finally confirmed by the judicial process and will have no jurisdiction to re-open the conclusions reached by the Court while finally maintaining the sentence of death. This Court, however, may consider the question of inordi- nate delay in the light of all circumstances of the case to decide whether the execution of sentence should be carried out or should be altered into imprisonment for life. No fixed period of delay could be held to make the sentence of death inexecutable and to this extent the decision in Vatheeswaran’s case cannot be said to lay down the correct law and therefore to that extent stands overruled.”
K. JAGANNATHA SHETTY, J- In Bachan Singh v. State of punlab, [1980] 2 SCC 684, this Court pronounced that the provision of death penalty as an alternative punishment for murder, under sec.302 IPC is valid and constitutional. Sarkaria, J. who spoke for the majority view held that the provisions relating to imposition of death sentence and the procedure prescribed thereof would ensure fairness and reasonableness within the scope of Article 21. It was also observed that by no stretch of imagination it can be said that death penalty under sec. 302 either per se or because of execution by hanging constitutes an unreasonable, cruel or unusual punishment- Nor the mode of its execution has a degrading punishment which would defile the “dignity of the individual’ within the preamble to the Constitution. The learned Judge, however, cautioned (at 751):

“A real and abiding concern for the dignity of human life postulates resistance to taking a life through law’s instrumentali- ty. That ought not to be done save in the rarest of rare cases when the alternative option is unquestionable foreclosed.” (Empha- sis supplied) Bachan Singh case has thus narrowly tailored the sen-
tencing discretion of courts as to death sentence. Death sentence cannot be given if there is any mitigating circum- stance in favour of the accused. All circumstances of the case should be aggravating. It is in the gravest of grave crimes or in the rarest of rare cases, the death sentence may be awarded. There is no offence in the penal code carry- ing mandatory death penalty. Section 303 IPC carrying the mandatory punishment has been declared unconstitutional in Mithu v. State of Punjab, [1983] 2 SCC 277. So much so, the death sentence is now awarded only in miniscule number of cases.

All the accused in these cases belong to that limited and exceptional category. The trial court convicted them under sec. 302 IPC and sentenced them to death. The High Court confirmed their conviction and sentence. This Court dismissed their special leave petitions or appeals and subsequent review petitions. Their mercy petitions to the President and/or the Governor were also rejected. They have now moved writ petitions under Article 32 of the Constitu- tion. They are not seeking to overturn the death sentence on the ground that the Court has illegally inflicted it. Obvi- ously, that they can not do. The judgment of the court has become final. Under Article 141, it shall be binding on all Courts. Under Article 142, it shall be enforceable through- out the territory of India. Under Article 144 all authori- ties, civil and judicial, in the territory of India shall act in aid of this Court. The judicial verdict pronounced by court in relation to a matter cannot be challenged on the ground that it violates one’s fundamental right. The judgment of a court cannot be said to affect the fundamental rights of citizens (See Naresh Sridhar Mirajkar’s case, 1963 (3) SCR

744).

The petitioners, however, contend that this Court must set aside the death penalty and substitute a sentence of life imprisonment in view of the prolonged delay in the execution. The dehumanising factor prolonged delay with the mental torture in solitary confinement in jail, according to them, has rendered the execution unconstitutional under Article 21. There are also some other subsidiary contentions to which I will presently refer.

We have earlier dismissed all but one petition giving our unanimous conclusion stating therein that we would give our reasons later. Here are my own reasons in support of that conclusion:

The question whether prolonged delay renders death sentence inexecutable and entitles the accused to demand the alternate sentence of life imprisonment has arisen amid the diversity of judicial decisions in (i) T.V. Vaitheeswaran v. State of Tamil Nadu, [1983] 2 SCR 348; (ii) Sher Singh v. State of Punjab, [1983] 2 SCR 582; and (iii) Javed Ahmed Abdul Hamid Pawala v. State of Maharashtra, [1985] 2 SCR 8. Vaitheeswarn case was decided by a two Judge Bench, where Chinnappa Reddy, J. said (at 359):

“We find no impediment in holding that the dehumanising factor of prolonged delay in the execution of a sentence of death has the constitutional implication of depriv- ing a person of his life in an unjust, unfair and unreasonable way as to offend the consti- tutional guarantee that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. The appropriate relief in such a case is to vacate the sentence of death.”
There then the learned Judge said (at 360):

“Making all reasonable allowance for the time necessary for appeal and considera- tion of reprieve, we think that delay exceed- ing two years in the execution of a sentence of death should be considered sufficient to entitle the person under sentence of death to invoke Article 21 and demand the quashing of the sentence of death.”
Sher Singh case was decided by a three Judge Bench.
Chandrachud, CJ., who spoke for the Bench while disagreeing with above view in Vaitheeswaran, said (at 595):

“The substitution of the death sentence by a sentence of life imprisonment cannot follow by the application of the two years’ formula, as a matter of “quod erat demonstrandum.”
Then followed the decision in Javed Ahmad case. There Chinnappa Reddy, J. raised a question whether a three Judge Bench would overrule the decision of a two Judge Bench merely because three is larger than two? The learned Judge said:

“The court sits in division of two and three Judges for the sake of convenience and it may be inappropriate for a Division Bench of three Judges to purport to over-rule the decision of a Division Bench of two Judges. Vide Young v. Bristol Aeroplane Co. Ltd. It may be otherwise where a full Bench does so. We do not, however, desire to embark upon this question in this case. In the present case. we are satisfied that an overall view of all the circumstances appears to us to entitle the petitioner to invoke the protec- tion of Article 21 of the Constitution. We accordingly quash the sentence of death and substitute in its place the sentence of im- prisonment for life.”
The question posed in Javed Ahmad case relates to the practice and procedure of this Court. It presents little problem and could be conveniently disposed of without much controversy. At the time of flaming the Constitution, Mr. B.N. Rau, after his return from United States reported to the President of the Constitution Assembly as follows:

“Again Justice, Frankfurter was very emphatic that any jurisdiction, exercisable by the Supreme Court, should be exercised by the full Court. His view is that the highest Court of appeal in the land should not sit in divi- sions. Every Judge, except of course such judges as may be disqualified by personal interest or otherwise from hearing particular cases, should share the responsi- bility for every decision of the Court.” (The Framing of India’s Constitution Vol. III by S. Shiva Rao p. 219).
This was a very good suggestion. But unfortunately that suggestion was not accepted and the principle which was dear to Justice Frankfurter was not incorporated in out Constitu- tion. The result iS that each Judge does not share the responsibility for every decision of this Court. For a proper working arrangement in the Court, we have framed Rules under Article 145 of the Constitution confer- ring power on the Chief Justice to constitute benches for disposal of cases. Order VII Rule (1) of the Supreme Court Rules 1966 provides that every cause, appeal or matter shall be heard by a Bench consisting of not less than two judges nominated by the Chief Justice. But this rule is subject to the requirement under Article 145(3) of the Constitution. Article 145(3) requires a minimum number of five judges for deciding any case involving substantial question of law as to interpretation of the Constitution. In any event, the Supreme Court has to sit in benches with judges distributed as the Chief Justice desires:

In this context, Order VII Rule 2 of the Supreme Court Rules also needs to be noted. It provides:

“Where in the course of the hearing of any cause, appeal or other proceeding, the bench considers that the matter should be dealt with by a larger bench, it shall refer the matter to the Chief Justice, who shall thereupon constitute such a bench for the hearing of it.”
This is undoubtedly a salutory Rule, but it appears to have only a limited operation. It apparently governs the procedure of a smaller bench when it disagrees with the decision of a larger bench. The bench in the course of hearing of any matter considers that the matter should be dealt with by a larger bench, it shall refer the matter to the Chief Justice. The Chief Justice shall then consitute a larger bench for disposal of the matter. This exercise seems to be unnecessary when a larger bench considers that a decision of a smaller bench is incorrect unless a constitu- tional question arises. The practice over the years has been that a larger bench straightaway considers the correctness of and if necessary overrules the view of a smaller bench. This practice has been held to be a crystallised rule of law in a recent decision by a special bench of seven learned judges. In A.R. Antulay v.R.S. Nayak, AIR 1988 SC 1531, Sabyasachi Mukharji, J., speaking for the majority said:

“The principle that the size of the bench whether it is comprised of two or three or more judges–does not matter, was enunciat- ed in Young v. Bristol Aeroplace Ltd. (supra) and followed by Justice Chinnappa Reddy in Javed Ahmad A bdul Hamid Pawla v. State of Maharashtra, [1985] 2 SCR 8 where it has been held that a Division Bench of two judges, has not been followed by our courts.
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“The law laid down by this Court is some what different. There is a hierarchy within the court itself here where larger benches over- rule smaller benches. See Mattulal v. Radhey Lal, [1975] 1 SCR 127: AIR 1974 SC 1596; Union of India v. K.S. Subramanian [1977] 1 SCR 87 at 92: AIR 1976 SC 2433 at 2437 and State of U.P.v. Ram Chandra Trivedi, [1977] 1 SCR 462 at 473: AIR 1976 SC 2547 at 2555. This is the practice followed by this Court and now in is a crystallised rule of law.”
The answer to the question posed in Javed Ahmad case thus stands concluded and it is now not open to any one to contend that a bench of two judges cannot be overruled by a bench of three judges. We must regard this as a final seal to the controversy.

Before grappling with the crucial issue that has been raised in these petitions, it would be convenient to dispose of what may be regarded as peripheral submissions. Mr. R.K. Jain, learned counsel who led the arguments on behalf of the petitioners referred to us in detail the consideration of justice, morality and usefulness of capital punishment. The counsel also referred to us the opinion expressed by eminent persons like Shri Arvindo (Tales of Prison Life) with regard to torment in the prison life. He also invited our attention to the dissenting opinion of Bhagwati, J., in Bachan Singh where learned Judge observed that the execution “serves no social purpose.” The learned counsel made an impassioned appeal to save the life of these condemned persons by sub- stituting life imprisonment on the ground of inordinate delay in execution. I can really appreciate the compassion- ate feeling with which the counsel made his submission. The “self” in him came out with every word he uttered. He seems to belong to a faith where ‘non-violence’ to every life is a must. Not that we are different underneath the rotes. As said by Justice Brennan, white dealing with his opinion in Furman v. Georgia. (408 U.S. 238) “I am not, that we are each not, a human being with personal views and moral sensioilties and religious scruples. But it is to say that above all, 1 am a Judge”. (The Oliver wendell Homes Lecture, delivered in September 5, 1986). We are flesh-and-blood mortals with normal human traits. Indeed, like all others, we too have some inborn aversions and acquired attractions. But it is not for us while presiding over courts to decide what pun- ishment or philosophy is good for our people. While examin- ing constitutional questions, we must never forget Mar- shall’s mighty phrase “that it is a constitution that we are expounding”. We are oath bound to protect the Constitution. We are duty bound to safeguard the life and liberties of persons. We must enforce the constitutional commands, no matter what the problem. In other issues of constitutional considerations, we must understand the aspirations and convictions of men and women of our time. And we should not be swayed by our own convictions. We must never allow our individuality t0 overshadow or supersede the philosophy of the Constitution.

These are various philosophical ideologies and underpin- nings about the purposes of punishment. It includes among others deterfence, retribution, protecting persons, punish- ing guilty and acquitting the innocent. Among these objec- tives deterfence and retribution are prominent. Retribution is often confused with revenge, but there are distinct differences. Retribution embodies the concept that an of- fender should receive what he rightfully deserves. Deter- fence has a two fold object. The first object relates to specific deterrence. It will deter the individual from committing the same or other offences in the future. The second object is as to general deterrence. It will convince or deter others that “crime does not pay”) (See Crime and Punishment’ by Harry E. Allen & Ors. at 735). The Law Commission of India summarised these aspects as to the capital sentence (35th report para 265( 18)):

“The fact remains however, that whenever there is a serious crime. the society feels a sense of disapprobation. If there is any element of retribution in the law, as administered now, it is not the instinct of the man of jungle but rather a refined evolu- tion of that instinct the feeling prevails in the public is a fact of which notice is to be taken. The law does not encourage it, or exploit it for any undesirable ends. Rather, by reserving the death penalty for murder, and thus visiting this gravest crime with the gravest punishment the law helps the element of retribution merge into the element of deterrence.”
Sarkaria, J., after referring to this report speaking for the majority in Bachan Singh, [19801 2 SCC 684 at 721 recognises:

“Retribution and deterrence are not two divergent ends of capital punishment. They are convergent goals which ultimately merge into one.”
The punishments are provided in order to deter crimes. The punishments are imposed to make the threat credible. Threats and imposition of punishments are obviously necessary to deter crimes. As a venerated British Historian, Arthur Bryant writes “The sole justification for the death penalty is not to punish murderers but to prevent murder.” Professor Earnest Van Den Haag states:

“The murderer learns through his punishment that his fellow men have found him unworthy of living, that because he has mur- dered, he is being expelled from the community of the living. This degradation is self-in- flicted. By murdering, the murderer has so dehumanised himself that he cannot remain among the living. The social recognition of his self-degradation is the punitive essence of execution.” (See Harward Law Review: 1986 Vol. 99 p. 1699).
Of course, one cannot have any empirical data to prove that capital punishment can be deterrent greater than life imprisonment. It may be that most killers as the Professor Jack Greenberg states “do not engage in anything like a cost-benefit analysis. They are impulsive and they kill impulsively.” The paradigm of this kind of murderers cannot be properly accounted for. However, many classic experiments on the effects of corporal punishments on dogs, monkeys, pigeons and other animals have been conducted in psychology laboratories. Graeme Newman in his book “Just and Painful” (at 127) refers to such experiments. The learned author states that corporal punishment works and it has been so successful that some animals have starved themselves to death rather than eat the forbidden food. This position with the human beings is said to be not different. Indeed, it cannot be different as we could see from day to day life. As between life and death one lives life. It is the love of life with sensuous joy of companionship that moves the race and not so much the ideals. One views the death with trepidation. In fact, every living being dreads death and it cannot be an exception with those on death row. They like all others want to live and live as long as they can. Because, the life has its own attraction, no matter in what form and condition. The death has no such attraction and cannot have any, since it is the most mysterious of all in this world.

The criminal law always keeps pace with the development of society. It reflects as Chief Justice Warren said: “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society”. (Trop.. v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 101 (1958). We have much to learn from history of every country. The punishment which meets the unanimous approval in one generation, may rank as the most reprehensible form of cruelty in the next. Take for instance, the punishment of whipping. A search of historical records of 16th century England shows that men and women were whipped unmercifully for trivial offences as peddling, being drunk on a Sunday, and participating in a riot.

Many other instances of ferocious whippings of men and women, both for political and other offences, besprinkle and blacken English historical records. Rarely did any shred of excuse for human frailty seem to enter into the souls of those sitting in judgment. In the days of Charles the Sec- ond, however, the Duke of York did interpose in one such case–he saved Lady Sophia Lindsay from being publicly whipped through the streets of Edinburgh for the crime of assisting at the escape of the Earl of Argyle, her own father-in-law.

In the early eighteen hundreds the Australian penal settlements were the scene of floggings of so severe a nature as to rival, for sheer savagery, the worst that were inflicted in England during the sixteenth century, or in the southern State of America during the days of slavery. In the United States of America whipping was a favorite seven- teenth-century punishment for various offences, and both male and female culprits came under the lash. Of all the civilized, nations, Russia may be considered to be the one which not only used the whip unmercifully, but also as the nation which continued to use it longer by far and for a greater variety of crimes than did any other. Next to Rus- sia, for sheer love of whipping, comes China, and little less formidable than the Russian known is the Chinese rod of split bamboo. The sharp edges of the bamboo cut into the flesh, inflicting terrible lacera-

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tions. Little wonder that deaths, as a result of these floggings, have been frequent, and that those who escape this fate are often so terribly mutilated that they remain crippled for the rest of their lives (The History of corpo- ral Punishment–by G.R. Scott (1948) pages 39 to

56).

Take the history of punishment of death in England. In 1810 Sir Samuel Romilly who asked the Parliament to abolish the death penalty for some of crimes said “there is probably no other country in the world in which so many and so great a variety of human actions are punishable with loss of life as in England”. (A History of English Criminal Law By L. Radzinowicz V(1) p(1).

The beginning of the nineteenth century was a period of indiscriminate imposition of capital punishment in England for numerous widely differing offences. There were two hundred or more such offences. There were several legisla- tions providing punishment of death in the reign of George IV. All felonies except petty larceny and mayhem were theo- retically punishable with death. From 1827 to 1841 several legislations were passed abolishing the punishment of death in a variety of cases. Burning continued till 1790 to be the punishment inflicted on women for treason, high or petty. (Which latter included not only the murder by a wife of her husband, and the murder of a master or mistress by a servant but also several offences against the coin). Burning in such cases was abolished by 30 Geo, 3, c. 48. In practice, women were strangled before they were burnt; this, however, de- pended on the executioner. In one notorious case a woman was actually burnt alive for murdering her husband, the execu- tioner being afraid to strangle her because he was caught by the fire. In the reign of George II, an act was passed which was intended to make the punishment for murder more severe than the punishment for other capital crimes. This was 25 Geo. 2, c. 37, which provided that a person convicted of murder should be executed on the next day but one after his sentence (unless he was tried on a Friday, in which case he was to be hanged on the Monday). He was to be fed on bread and water in the interval and his body, after death, was either to be dissected or to be hung in chains. The judge, however, had power to respite or to remit these special severities. Under this act murderers were usually anato- mized, but sometimes gibbeted. By the 2 & 3 Will 4, c. 7 s. 16 (for the regulation of schools of anatomy), it was enact- ed that the bodies of murderers should no longer be anato- mized, but that the sentence should direct that they should either be hung in chains or a buried in the prison. Several persons were gibbeted under this act.

These provisions distinguish English law in a marked manner from the continental laws down to the end of the last cen- tury. In most parts of the continent breaking on the wheel, burning in some cases quartering alive and tearing with red-hot pincers, were in use, as well as simpler forms of death. (History of the Criminal Law of England by Stephen Ch. XIII p. 477-478).

Through out the reign of Henry the Eighth, there were no fewer than two thousand executions a year. As the stress on the value of property increased, the net was widened. Not alone murderers and traitors; but robbers, coiners, heretics and witches were sent to their death. The shooting of a rabbit; the forgery of a birth certificate; the theft of a pocket-handkerchief; the adoption of a disguise; the damag- ing of a public property were also included in the list of death sentence. In 1814 a man was hanged at Chelmsford for cutting down a cherry tree.

The public hangings in England continued until well into the nineteenth century. There were public executions with a large number of people watching. On January 22, 1829, Willi- an Burke was hanged at Edinburgh, and the crowd was great beyond all former precedent. The last person to be hanged publicly in England was Michael Marett, who was executed at Newgate on May 26, 1868. As time went past, the list of death sentence crimes was rapidly reduced and in 1950, it was confined for four crimes only, to wit; (1) murder, (2) treason, (3) piracy with violence, and (4) setting fire to arsenals and dockyards. Later this was also abolished. (See. G.R. Scott, The History of Capital Punishment, 38-66 (1950). What happened in the United States? It will be noticed that in the United States, the accused has a constitutional right to be tried by a Jury, as provided under 6th Amend- ment. The accused has a right not to be subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment” as mandated under 8th Amendment. In Furman, some Judges took the view that death sentence was unacceptable to the evolving standards of decency of the American people. But the American people rejected that view. Since then 35 States have re-enacted laws providing for the death sentence for murder of suitably altering the provi- sions to comply with Furman.

What do we have here? The representatives of our people are cognizant of the contemporary social needs. The legisla- tive amendments brought about from time to time are indica- tive of their awareness. Sub-sec. (5) of sec. 367 of the Code of the Criminal Procedure, 1898 as it stood prior to its amendment by Act 25 of 1955 provided:

“If the accused is convicted of an offence punishable with death, and the court sentences to any punishment other than death, the court shall in its judgment state the reasons why sentence of death was not passed.” This provision laid down that if an accused was convict-
ed of an offence punishable with death, the imposition of death sentence was the rule and the awarding of a lesser sentence was an exception. The court had to state the rea- sons for not passing the sentence of death. There was a change by the amending Act 26 of 1955 which came into force with effect from January 1, 1956. The above sub-section was deleted and it was left to the discretion of the court in each case to pass a sentence of death or life imprisonment. In 1973 there was again a reshaping of the provision regard- ing the death penalty. In the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, sec. 354(3) was inserted in these terms:

“When the conviction is for an offence punishable with death, or in the alternative with the 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.”
It is now obligatory for the court to state reasons for the sentence awarded for the offence of murder. The court cannot award death sentence without giving special reasons. As earlier noticed that death sentence Could be awarded only in exceptional cases and not in the usual run of murders. We have got just six offences carrying death penalty and that too as an alternate sentence (Sections 120B, 121, 132, 302,307 and 396 IPC).

This is the need and notion of the present day society. Tomorrow’s society and the atmosphere in which they live may be quite different. They may not have rapist murderers like Ranga and Billa. They may not have any merciless killing and bride-burning- They may have more respect for each other life. They may be free from criminalisation of politics and elimination of political leaders by muscle power. There then the penal law cannot remain isolated and untouched. It will be profoundly influenced by philosophy prevailing. Time may reach for the representatives of people to consider that death penalty even as an alternate sentence for murder is uncalled for and unnecessary. There is nothing in our Constitution to preclude them from deleting that alternate sentence. The crusade against capital punish- ment may,, therefore, go on elsewhere and not in this Court. Let me now turn to the pivotal question which I have referred at the beginning of the judgment. The question is whether the sentence of life imprisonment should be substi- tuted on account of time factor alone, however, right and valid and death sentence was at the time when it was award- ed. The arguments for the petitioners primarily rested on the common area of agreement in Vaitheeswaran and Sher Singh cases on the implication of Article 21. The accepted princi- ple according to counsel, is that prolonged delay in execu- tion would be “unjust, unfair and unreasonable”. It would be inhuman and dehumanising to keep the condemned person for a long period. It offends the constitutional safeguards under Article 21.

Article 21 of the Constitution mandates the state that no person shah be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law. The scope and content of this Article has been the subject matter of intensive examination in the recent decisions of this Court.I do not want to add to the length of this judg- ment by recapitulating all those decisions in detail. I may only highlight some of the observations which are relevant to the present case. In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, [1978] 1 SCC 248 this Court gave a new dimension to Article

21. The seven Judge bench held that a statute which merely prescribes some kind of procedure for depriving a person of his life or personal liberty cannot meet the requirements of Article 21. Bhagwati, J., as he then was, while explaining the nature and requirement of procedure under Article 21 observed (at 283):

“We must reiterate here what was pointed out by the majority in E.P. Rayappa v. State of Tamil Nadu, [1974] 3. SCR 348: [1974] 4 SCC (L & S) 165, namely, that from a posi- tivistic point of view, equally is antithetic to arbitrariness. In fact equality and arbi- trariness are sworn enemies; one belongs to the rule of law in a republic, while the other, to the whim and caprice of an absolute monarch. Where an act is arbitrary, it is implicit in it that it is unequal both accord- ing to political logic and constitutional law and is, therefore, violative of Article 14”. Article 14 strikes at arbitrariness in State action and ensures fairness and equality of treatment. The principle of reasonableness, which legally as well as philosophically, is an essential element of equality or non-arbi- trariness pervades Article 14 like a brooding omni-presence and the procedure contemplated by Article 21 must answer the test of reasona- bleness in order to be in conformity .with Article 14. It must be “right and just and fair” and not “arbitrary, fanciful or oppres- sive”, otherwise, it would be no procedure at all and the requirement of Article 21 would not be satisfied.”
If one prefers to go yet further back, the procedural fairness in the defence of liberties was insisted upon even in 1952. The State of West Bengal v. Anwar Ali, [1952] SCR 284 Bose, J., remarked (at 367):

“The question with which I charge myself, is, can fair-minded, reasonable, unbiased and resolute men, who are not swayed by emotion or prejudice, regard this with equa- nimity and call it reasonable, just and fair, regard it as that’ equal treatment and protection in the defence of liberties which is expected of a sovereign democratic repub- lic in the conditions which obtain in India today? I have but one answer to that. On that short and simple ground I would decide this case and hold the Act bad.” In Bachan Singh case, Sarkaria, J., affirming this view said (at 730):

“No person shall be deprived of his life br personal liberty except according to fair, just and reasonable procedure estab- lished by valid law.”
In Mithu v. State of Punjab, [1983] 2 SCC 277 Chandra-
chud. C.J., said (at 284):

” …. that the last word on the question of justice and fairness does not rest with the legislature. Just as reasonableness of restrictions under clauses (2) to (6) of Article 19 is the for the courts to determine, so is it for the courts to decide whether the procedure prescribed by a law for depriving a person of his life or liberty is fair, just and reasonable.”
In Sher Singh v. State of Punjab, [1983] 2 SCC 582 Chandrachud, C.J. again explained (at 593):

“The horizons of Article 21 are ever widening and the final word on its conspectus shall never have been said. So long as life lasts, so long shall it be the duty and endea- vour of this Court to give to the provisions of our Constitution a meaning which will prevent human suffering and degradation. Therefore, Article 21 is as much relevant at the stage of execution of the death sentence as it is in the interregnum between the impo- sition of that sentence and its execution. The essence of the matter is that all procedure no matter the stage, must be fair, just and reasonable.”
Article 21 thus received a creative connotation. It demands that any procedure which takes away the life and liberty of persons must be reasonable, just and fair. The procedural fairness is required to be observed at every stage and till the last breath of the life.

In Vaitheeswaran the court thought that the delay of two years would make it unreasonable under Article 21 to execute death sentence. The court did not attach importance to the cause of delay. The Cause of delay was immaterial. The accused himself may be responsible for the delay. The court said that the appropriate relief would be to vacate the death sentence and substitute life imprisonment instead. The learned counsel for the petitioners argued that if two years period of delay set out in Vaitheeswaran does not present favourably, we may fix any other period but we should not disturb the basis of the decision. He invited our attention to a number of authorities where courts have awarded life imprisonment on the ground of delay in disposal of cases.

In Vivian Rodrick v. The State of West Bengal, [1971] 1 SCR 468 six years delay was considered sufficient for impos- ing a lesser sentence of imprisonment for life. In State of U.P. v. Paras Nath Singh & Ors., [1973] 3 SCC 647, the Court, while reversing the order of acquittal awarded life imprisonment on the ground that the accused was under sen- tence of death till he was acquitted by the High Court. Similar was the view taken in State of Bihar v. Pashupati Singh, [1974] 3 SCC 376; State of U.P. v. Suresh, [1981] 3 SCC 635 at 643 and State of U.P. v. Sahai, [1982] 1 SCC 352. In State of U.P.v. Suresh, the accused was given life imprisonment in view of the fact that seven years had elapsed after the date of murder. In Ram Adhar v. State of U.P., [1979] 3 SCC 774 at 777, the delay of six years from the date of occurrence was held sufficient to commute the sentence of death to life impris- onment. The court also observed that the accused was not responsible in any manner for the lapse of time that has occurred.

In Nethi Sreeramulu v. State of A. P., [1974] 3 SCC 3 14 the Court while disposing of the appeal in 1973 commuted the sentence of death given in 1971 to life imprisonment. In State of U.P.v. Lalla Singh & Ors., [1978] 1 SCC 142 six years delay from the date of judgment of the trial court was a consideration for not giving the death sentence. In Sadhu Singh v. State of U.P., [1978] 4 SCC 428 about three years and seven months during which the accused was under spectre of death sentence, was one of the relevant factors to reduce the sentence to life imprisonment.

There are equally other decisions where in spite of the delay in disposal of the case, the Court has awarded the death sentence. In Nachhittar Singh v. State of Punjab, [1975] 3 SCC 266, the court refused to consider the question of delay as a mitigating circumstances. In Maghar Sing v. State of Punjab, [19751 4 SCC 234, the court said that delay does not appear to be good ground to commute to life impris- onment in view of the pre-planned, cold-blooded and dastard- ly murder committed by the accused. In Lajar Mashi v. State of U.P., [1976] 1 SCC 806, the court while confirming the death sentence observed (at 809):

“The value of such delay as a miti- gating factor depends upon the features of a particular case. It cannot be divorced from the diabolical circumstances of the crime itself, which, in the instant case fully justify the award of capital sentence for the murder of the deceased. We, therefore, uphold the award of the capital sentence to the appellant and dismiss his appeal.”
All these decisions are of little use to determine the constitutionality of execution of the death sentence on the relevance of delay. These decisions relate to the sentencing discretion of courts with which we are not concerned. We are concerned with the right of the accused to demand life imprisonment after the final verdict of death sentence with every justification to impose it.

The demand for life imprisonment herein as solely based on the ground of prolonged delay in the execution. The delay which is sought tO be relied upon by the accused consists of two parts. The first part covers the time taken in the judicial proceed- ings. It is the time that the parties have spent for trial, appeal, further appeal and review. The second part takes into fold the time utilized by the executive in the exercise of its prerogative clemency.

I start with the first part of the delay. In Vaitheeswa- ran this part of the delay was expressly taken into consid- eration. It was observed that the period of two years as prolonged detention would include the time necessary for appeal from the sentence of death and consideration of reprieve. In Sher Singh, this period has not been accepted as good measure. The court said that the fixation of time limit of two years did not accord with the common experience of time normally consumed by the litigative process and the proceedings before the Government.

Mr. Parasaran, learned Attorney General has altogether a different approach and in my opinion very rightly. He argued that the time spent by the courts in judicial proceedings was intended to ensure a fair trial to the accused and cannot be relied upon by the same accused to impeach the execution of the death sentence. The relevant provisions in the Indian Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, the Evidence Act and the Rules made by the High Courts and the Supreme Court governing the trial, appeal, execution of sentence, etc., were all highlighted. According to learned Attorney, these provisions are meant to examine the guilt or innocence of the accused and to have an appropriate sentence commensurate with the gravity of the crime. They constitute reasonable procedure, established by law. I entirely agree. The time taken in the judicial pro- ceedings by way of trial and appeal was for the benefit of the accused. It was intended to ensure a fair trial to the accused and to avoid hurry-up justice. The time is spent in the public interest for proper administration of justice. If there is inordinate delay in disposal of the case, the trial court while sentencing or the appellate court while dispos- ing of the appeal may consider the delay and the cause thereof along with other circumstances. The court before sentencing is bound to hear the parties and take into ac- count every circumstance for and against the accused. If the court awards death sentence, notwithstanding the delay in disposal of the case, there cannot be a second look at the sentence save by way of review. There cannot be a second trial on the validity of sentence based on Article 21. The execution which is impugned is execution of a judgment and not apart from judgment. If the judgment with the sentence awarded is valid and binding, it falls to be executed in accordance with law since it is a part of the procedure established by law. Therefore, if the delay in disposal of the case is not a mitigating circumstance for lesser sentence, it would be, in my opinion, wholly inappro- priate to fall back upon the same delay to impeach the execution.

If the delay in passing the sentence render the execu- tion unconstitutional, the delay subsequent thereof cannot also render it unconstitutional. Much less any fixed period of delay could be held to make the sentence inexecutable. It would be arbitrary to fix any period of limitation for execution on the ground that it would be a denial of fair- ness in procedure under Article 21. With respect, I, am unable to agree with the view taken in Vatheeswaram case on this aspect.

Under Article 72 of the Constitution, the President shall have the power to “grant pardons, deprives, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted in an offence”. Under Article 161 of the Constitution, similar is the power of the Governor to give relief to any person convicted of any offence against any law relating to a matter to which the executive power of the State extends. The time taken by the executive for disposal of mercy petitions may depend upon the nature of the case and the scope of enquiry to be made. It may also depend upon the number of mercy petitions sub- mitted by or on behalf of the accused. The Court, therefore, cannot prescribe a time limit for .disposal Of even for mercy petitions.

It is, however, necessary to point out that Article 21 is relevant at all stages. This Court has emphasized that “the speedy trial in criminal cases though not a specific fundamental right, is implicit in the broad sweep and con- tent of Article 21”. (See: Hussainara Khatoon v. The State of Bihar, [1979] 3 SCR 169 and 1980 (1) SCC 81. Speedy trial is a part of one’s fundamental right to life and liberty. (See Kadra Pahadiya v. State of Bihar, [1981] 3 SCC 671 and 1983 2 SCC 104. This principle, in my opinion, is no less important for disposal of mercy petition. It has been uni- versally recognised that a condemned person has to suffer a degree of mental torture even though there is no physical mistreatment and no primitive torture. He may be provided with amenities of ordinary inmates in the prison as stated in Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, [1978] 4 SCC 491, but nobody could succeed in giving him peace of mind.

Chita Chinta Dwayoormadhya, Chinta tatra gariyasi, Chita Dahati Nirjivam, Chinta dahati Sajeevakam.

As between funeral fire and mental worry, it is the latter which is more devastating, for, funeral fire bums only the dead body while the mental worry burns the living One. This mental torment may become acute when the judicial verdict is finally set against the accused. Earlier to it, there was every reason for him to hope for acquittal. That hope is extinguished after the final verdict. If, therefore, there is inordinate delay in execution, the condemned pris- oner is entitled to come to the court requesting to examine whether, it is just and fair to allow the sentence of death to be executed.

What should be done by the Court is the next point for consideration. It is necessary to emphasise that the juris- diction of the Court at this stage is extremely limited. If the Court wants to have a look at the grievance as to delay, it is needless to state, that there should not be any delay either in listing or in disposal of the matter. The person who complains about the delay in the execution should not be put to further delay. The matter, therefore, must be expedi- tiously and on top priority basis, disposed of. The Court while examining the matter, for the reasons already stated, cannot take into account the time utilised in the judicial proceedings up to the final verdict. The Court also cannot take into consideration the time taken for disposal of any petition filed by or on behalf of the accused either under Article 226 or under Article 32 of the Constitution after the final judgment affirming the conviction and sentence. The Court may only consider whether there was undue long delay in disposing of mercy petition; whether the State was guilty of dilatory conduct and whether the delay was for no reason at all. The inordinate delay, may be a significant factor, but that by itself cannot render the execution unconstitutional. Nor it can be divorced from the dastardly and diabolical circumstances of the crime itself. The Court has still to consider as observed in Sher Singh case (at 596):

“The nature of the offence, the diverse circumstances attendant upon it, its impact upon the contemporary society and the question whether the motivation and pattern of the crime are such as are likely to lead to its repetition, if the death sentence is vacated, are matters which must enter into the verdict as to whether the sentence should be vacated for the reason that its execution is delayed.”

The last contention urged for the petitioners that the accused should not be executed if he was since improved is unavailable since it seeks to substitute a new procedure which the Code does not provide for.

We have already considered all these cases in the light of these principles and disposed them of by our earlier unanimous order.

N .P.V.

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