Supreme Court: In a brutal case involving indiscriminate firing, resulting in the death of six innocent people a brutal act of indiscriminate firing, resulting in the death of six innocent people, the 3-judge bench of BR Gavai, BV Nagarathna and Prashant Kumar Mishra, JJ has found the case to be falling under the rarest of the rare category but has taken a middle path as far as the sentence is concerned and has commuted the deaths sentence imposed upon the accused into life imprisonment i.e. actual imprisonment for a period of 20 years without remission. This period includes the period already undergone. The Court made clear that the case of accused would not be considered for pre-mature release unless he completes the actual sentence of 20 years.
The Chilling Crime
In the case dating back to 2003, the appellants along with other accused came behind the innocent persons and exhorted and started firing indiscriminately, due to village election rivalry. Six deaths were caused on account of brutal firing by the appellants and other accused persons. Four innocent persons were shot from behind. Two of them succumbed on the spot and two, who received serious injuries, tried to rush to the house of Up-Pradhan to protect themselves. One of them, along with the Up-Pradhan and one another who tried to help him, was shot dead. One innocent person, after hearing the sound of firing, came out and he was also brutally shot.
All this led to the conclusion that the act of the appellants and the other accused was certainly the one which shocked the collective conscience of the society and fall in the category of rarest of rare cases. The Court observed,
“The entire village and the people residing in the surrounding areas must have been shocked by such heinous and gruesome act. Not only that, one of the eye witnesses was also murdered during the pendency of the trial. The terror of the appellants and other accused persons was of such a high magnitude that even the witnesses who had received grievous injuries did not support the prosecution case and were required to be declared hostile.”
Death Penalty or Life Imprisonment?
Applying the well settled position of law that, while sentencing, the Court is not required to apply only the ‘crime test’ but also the ‘criminal test’, the Court took note of the Prison Conduct Report on the 64 years old accused who has been in prison for 18 years 3 months. The report showed that during this entire duration, he has no history of any kind of prison offence and that he has not been involved in any form of quarrels or fights in prison. He also has cordial relations with other prisoners in his barrack and follows the prison rules and spends his time engaging in constructive activities, such as playing games and reading books. He has also voluntarily taken up tasks in prison to keep himself occupied and helps younger prisoners to lead a better life in prison.
Not only this, the Court also took note of the aspect that the role attributed to all the accused persons has been similar. The evidence of witnesses showed that the role attributed is that all the accused persons including both the appellants herein had fired shots and indiscriminately indulged in the said firing.
“The trial court imposed capital sentence on appellants Madan and Sudesh Pal. However, insofar as accused Ishwar is concerned, though the evidence against him is on similar lines, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. The High Court, on the basis of the same evidence, though confirmed the death penalty insofar as appellant Madan is concerned, partly allowed the appeal of Sudesh Pal and sentenced him to undergo life imprisonment. A perusal of the judgment of the Allahabad High Court revealed that the only distinction drawn by the High Court between the cases of Sudesh Pal and Madan is the additional factor that Madan was already awarded life imprisonment in another case.”
Taking into consideration all these factors, the Court found that the present case is not a case wherein it can be held that imposition of death penalty is the only alternative. The Court noted that the High Court was not justified in imposing death penalty on the appellant Madan while converting the death penalty imposed upon Sudesh Pal to life imprisonment.
“If the judgment of the High Court is maintained, it would lead to an anomalous situation. Whereas appellant Sudesh Pal would be entitled for consideration of his case for remission and pre-mature release on completion of a particular number of years in accordance with the relevant rules, appellant Madan will have to face death penalty.”
Further, the Court noted that there might be certain cases wherein the Court may feel that the case just falls short of the rarest of the rare category and may feel somewhat reluctant in endorsing the death sentence. But at the same time, having regard to the nature of the crime, the Court may strongly feel that a sentence of life imprisonment subject to remission which normally works out to a term of 14 years would be grossly disproportionate and inadequate.
“The Court cannot be limited only to two punishments, one a sentence of imprisonment, for all intents and purposes, of not more than 14 years and the other death. It has been held that a far more just, reasonable and proper course would be to expand the options and to take over what, as a matter of fact, lawfully belongs to the Court i.e. the vast hiatus between 14 years’ imprisonment and death. It has been held that the Court would be entitled to substitute a death sentence by life imprisonment or by a term in excess of fourteen years and further to direct that the convict must not be released from the prison for the rest of his life or for the actual term as specified in the order.”
The Court was, hence, of the considered view that the present case would fall in the middle path and that the interest of justice would be met by converting death penalty into life imprisonment i.e. actual imprisonment for a period of 20 years without remission.
[Madan v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 1473, decided on 09.11.2023]
Judgment Authored by Justice BR Gavai
Advocates who appeared in this case :
For Appellant(s) Ms. Sunita Sharma, AOR Mr. Himashu Mehra, Adv. Mr. Hanom Singh, Adv. Mr. Anand Grover, Sr. Adv. Mr. Aarif Ali, adv. Ms. Harini Raghupathy, Adv. Mr. Mohd. Irshad Hanif, AOR Mr. Pankaj Tiwari, Adv. Mr. Rohin Bhatt, Adv. Mr. Paras Nath, Adv. Mr.Mujahid Ahmad, Adv. Mohd. Ehatsham Rao, adv. Ms. Shreya Rastogi, Adv. Mrs. Shamim Irshad, Adv.
For Respondent(s) Mr. Brijinder Chahar, Sr. Adv. Dr. Vijendra Singh, AOR Mr. Vishwa Pal Singh, Adv. Mr. Deepak Goel, Adv. Ms. Apoorva Singh, Adv. Mr. Vinod Dixit, Adv. Ms. Alka Goyal, Adv. Mr. Shashank Gusain, Adv.