The Supreme Court has held an Indian Army man guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder (Exception 4 to Section 300 of IPC) who was convicted for killing his colleague by firing one bullet via rifle under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The two-Judge Bench comprising Justice Abhay S. Oka and Justice Sanjay Karol observed, “By ordinary standards, this itself is a cruel act. The appellant fired only one bullet which proved to be fatal. He did not fire more bullets though available. He did not run away and he helped others to take the deceased to a hospital. If we assign a meaning to the word ‘cruel’ used in exception 4 which is used in common parlance, in no case exception 4 can be applied. Therefore, in our view, exception 4 to Section 300 was applicable in this case. Therefore, the appellant is guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.”

The Bench said that in a disciplined force like Army, the seniority has all the importance and therefore, there is every possibility that the dispute over seniority resulted in the appellant doing the act in a heat of passion.

Advocate Abhimanyu Tewari appeared for the appellant while Senior Advocate R. Bala and Advocate Arvind Kumar Sharma appeared for the respondents.

Brief Facts -

In 2004, the appellant and deceased were posted for duty and were part of the guard headed by the Guard Commander. It was alleged that at night, the deceased brought a bottle of country liquor and both consumed the same. Thereafter, there was an altercation between them on the issue of inter-se seniority which led to heated arguments as a result of which the appellant snatched a rifle from the deceased’s hands and fired one bullet at him.

The appellant, however, accompanied others in taking the deceased to a hospital where he was declared dead and hence the appellant got arrested on the same day. The appellant who was Lance Naik in the Indian Army was convicted by the Court Martial for the offence of murder and he was sentenced to undergo imprisonment for life. Then the High Court transferred the matter to the Armed Forces Tribunal which confirmed his conviction.

The Supreme Court in view of the facts and circumstances of the case noted, “It appears that in the heat of passion, the appellant snatched a rifle held by the deceased and fired only one bullet. If there was any pre meditation on the part of the appellant or if he had any intention to kill the deceased, he would have fired more bullets at the deceased.”

The Court said that the appellant snatched the rifle from the hands of the deceased and fired one bullet at him which means that his act was done with the intention of causing such bodily injury to the deceased as was likely to cause death.

“… the first part of Section 304 of IPC will apply in this case. Under the first part of Section 304 of IPC, an accused can be punished with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 10 years”, added the Court.

The Court further noted that the conduct of the appellant will be a mitigating factor for determining the sentence.

“It is not in dispute that the appellant has undergone incarceration for a period of 9 years and approximately 3 months. Taking an overall view of the evidence on record, the sentence already undergone by the appellant will be an appropriate sentence in the facts of the case", also said the Court.

The Court, therefore, sentenced the appellant to undergo imprisonment for the term which he had already undergone and cancelled his bail bonds.

Accordingly, the Apex Court partly allowed the appeal and altered the conviction of the appellant from Section 302 IPC to the one under Part 1 of Section 304 IPC.

Cause Title- No.15138812Y L/Nk Gursewak Singh v. Union of India & Anr. (Neutral Citation: 2023 INSC 648)

Click here to read/download the Judgment