The Supreme Court, in a judgment delivered yesterday, commuted death sentence awarded to a murder accused.

The court observed that, though the crime shocked the collective conscience of the society and fall in the category of rarest of rare cases, there is a possibility of the accused being reformed.

The court reiterated that, while sentencing, the Court is not required to apply only the ‘crime test’ but also the ‘criminal test’. It also referred to the judgment in case of Rajendra Pralhadrao Wasnik v. State of Maharashtra [(2019) 12 SCC 460] to reiterate that past conduct does not necessarily have to be taken into consideration while imposing death penalty.

A Three Judge Bench of Justice B.R Gavai, Justice B.V Nagarathna and Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra observed that “the present case is not a case wherein it can be held that imposition of death penalty is the only alternative. Another reason that weighs with us is that from the evidence of the witnesses, it is clear that the role attributed to all the accused persons has been similar. The evidence of witnesses would show 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".

As per the Prison Conduct Report submitted by the Superintendent, District Jail, Baghpat, appellant Madan is currently 64 years old. He has been in prison for 18 years 3 months. During this entire duration, he has no history of any kind of prison offence. The Report further shows that he has not been involved in any form of quarrels or fights in prison. The Report shows that he has cordial relations with other prisoners in his barrack and follows the prison rules. The Report shows that he spends his time engaging in constructive activities, such as playing games and reading books”, added the Bench.

Senior Advocate Anand Grover appeared for the Appellants, whereas Senior Advocate Brijender Chahar appeared for the Respondents.

The brief facts of the case were that an FIR was lodged on a written report given by informant Lokendra. According to the FIR, one Vimla Devi, who was the mother of Ram Kishan, cousin of Lokendra, was a candidate in the election for Gram Pradhan; whereas the wife of one Arshad was the opposing candidate. When Vimla Devi came to be elected as Gram Pradhan along with Lokendra, who also came to be elected as a member of the Gram Panchayat, appellant (Madan) and his family members bore a grudge. When cousins of Lokendra had reached the house of Rashid, the appellant, armed with licensed guns, rifles and country-made pistols came from behind and started firing indiscriminately. The accused persons thereafter entered the house of Up-Pradhan Rizwan and fired shots. When taken to hospital, Rizwan, Rihan and Masooq Ali succumbed to their injuries and died on the way. The Investigating Officer then recorded the statement of other witnesses after which he inspected the place of the incident and the dead bodies were sent for post-mortem examination.

After completing the investigation, chargesheet came to be submitted against the arrested accused persons along with absconding ones in the court of jurisdictional Magistrate. Charges were framed against appellants Madan and Sudesh Pal and other accused persons, namely, Kunwar Pal and Ishwar for offences punishable under Sections 148 and 449, Section 302 read with Section 149, Section 307 read with Section 149, Section 323 read with Section 149 of IPC by the trial court; whereas, an additional charge for offence punishable under Section 25 of the Arms Act, 1959 was framed against accused Ishwar. Subsequently, accused Kunwar Pal absconded and the trial commenced against appellant Madan and co-accused Ishwar for the charge under Section 25 of the Arms Act, 1959. The Trial court observing the offences committed by the appellants to have been falling in the ambit of the rarest of the rare case, imposed sentence of capital punishment to the appellants for the offence punishable under Section 302 read with Section 149 of IPC, while it sentenced accused Ishwar to imprisonment for life for the same.

The High Court while commuting the sentence of appellant Sudesh Pal from capital punishment to imprisonment for life, confirmed the conviction against appellant Madan and accused Ishwar. The High Court further confirmed the Death Reference insofar as appellant Madan is concerned; whereas insofar as appellant Sudesh Pal is concerned, the sentence of capital punishment imposed on him was converted to life imprisonment.

After considering the submission, the Bench found that in the present case, the appellants along with other accused came behind the innocent persons and exhorted and started firing indiscriminately, firstly, in front of the house of Rashid.

As a result of which two persons namely Satendra and Sunil fell down and died on the spot. When Masooq Ali, after hearing the sound of firing, came out from his house, the accused persons shot fire at him also”, added the Bench.

The Bench pointed that six deaths were caused on account of brutal firing by the appellants and other accused persons, and from the evidence of the witnesses, the Bench found that the role attributed to all the accused persons has been similar, and the evidence of witnesses would show 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 had 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, based on the sane 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”, added the Bench.

The Bench therefore noted from a perusal of the judgment of the High Court 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.

The Apex Court therefore concluded that the High Court was not justified in imposing death penalty on appellant Madan while converting the death penalty imposed upon Sudesh Pal to life imprisonment.

Hence the Apex Court converted the death penalty into life imprisonment i.e. actual imprisonment for a period of 20 years without remission.

Cause Title: Madan v. State of Uttar Pradesh [Neutral Citation: 2023 INSC 990]

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