Citation – AIR 1980 SC 898


In this celebrated and landmark case, the Appellant, Bachchan Singh was convicted for the murders of Desa Singh, Durga Bai, and Veeran Bai and sentenced to death under section 302 of the Indian penal code, 1860 by the Session judge. The   High Court confirmed the decision of the Session Court and rejected the appeal. Then, Bachchan Singh appealed to Supreme Court by Special leave, which was heard before the five judges bench of Hon’ble Supreme Court. 

Issues raised:

1. Whether section 302 of the Indian penal code, 1860 is constitutional or not? 

2. Whether the sentencing procedure provided in section 354(3) of the code of criminal procedure is unconstitutional on the ground that it gives the court an unlimited discretion and allows death sentence to be arbitrarily imposed on a person found guilty of murder or any other capital offence punishable under IPC with death? 

3. Whether Article 19 of the constitution is applicable for judging the validity of the questioned or impugned provision in section 302 of IPC?

4. Whether the challenged or impugned provision of 302 of IPC contravenes Article 21 of the constitution?       


1. The Supreme court with the majority of 4:1 upheld the constitutional validity of section 302 of the IPC, 1860.

2. As to the second issue, the court upheld the constitutional validity of the procedure in  354(3) of CrPC, 1973. The court said that a sentence of death is the extreme penalty of law, and there should be a special reason to support the death sentence. Accordingly, Sub- section (3) of section 354 of the CrPC provides that “When the conviction is for an offence punishable with death or, in the alternative with imprisonment for a term of years or imprisonment for life, the judgement shall state the reasons for the sentence awarded and, in the case of sentence of death, the special reason for such sentence”. 

3. Regarding the third issue, the court held that the provision of section 302 of IPC, 1860 violates neither the letter nor the ethos of Article 19 of the constitution. 

4. While deciding the fourth issue, the court said that article 21 of the constitution portrays the implications and intentions of the founding fathers that they recognized the rights of the state to regulate law and order in the state and impose the death penalty on a person as per the procedure established by valid law (fair, just, and reasonable). And finally, the court held that Article 21 is not contrary to the provision of section 302 of IPC.   

Personal comment  

In this case, the Supreme court laid down the doctrine of  “Rarest of the Rarest ” after reviewing the landmark case of Jagmohan Singh v State of Uttar Pradesh, where for the first time the constitutionality of death penalty was questioned.  This present case specifically lays down that the death penalty must be restricted and given in the rarest of the rarest cases. According to the court, “A real and abiding concern for the dignity of human life and postulates resistence to talking a life through law’s instrumentality. That ought not to be done except in rarest of rare cases where the alternative opinion is unquestionably foreclosed.”

By – Jyoti

This analysis was reviewed by Mohd. Altmash, the Convenor of IJOSLCA

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