The Supreme Court today, in the three-decade-old road rage case involving Navjot Singh Sidhu, enhanced the sentence of imprisonment to one-year rigorous imprisonment, in addition to a fine of Rs. 1,000.

A two-judge Bench of Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice SK Kaul delivered its verdict on the Review Petition filed by the complainant (dead) represented through his legal representative.

The Bench held that criminal jurisprudence with the passage of time has laid emphasis on victimology which fundamentally is a perception of the trial from the viewpoint of the criminal as well as the victim. Both are viewed in the social context, and thus, victims' rights have to be equally protected.

In this case, a dispute had arisen on the right of way between the accused and the deceased and Respondent No. 1 (Navjot Singh Sidhu) came out of his vehicle, pulled out the deceased from his vehicle and inflicted fist blows after which the deceased (Gurnam Singh) was declared dead.

A chargesheet dated 06.03.1989 was filed on 14.07.1989 under Section 304 of the IPC against respondent No.2, exonerating respondent No.1. The informant also filed a private complaint against both the accused for commission of offences under Sections 302/324/323 read with Section 34 of IPC.

Both the cases were consolidated and on 20.08.1994 charges under Section 304 Part I were framed against both the accused arising from the FIR. While in the complaint, charges were framed under Section 302 of the IPC against respondent No.1 and under Section 302/34 of the IPC against respondent No.2. Charges under Section 323/34 of the IPC were framed against both the accused of causing hurt to the Informant.

The Trial Court had acquitted both the accused holding that the cause of death was not due to subdural haemorrhage but because of cardiac arrest.

On appeal, the High Court convicted respondent No.1 under Section 304 Part II of the IPC based on the testimony of the doctors, PW-1 and PW-2. As per their testimony, the cause of death was a cardiac failure and all that they had stated was that the cardiac condition of the deceased was very weak.

For Respondent No. 2, he was held guilty under Section 304 Part II read with Section 34 of the IPC as well as Section 323 of the IPC.

Aggrieved, appeals were filed before the Supreme Court by the two accused and informant.

The case against respondent No.2 was held not to have been proved and the mere presence of respondent No.2 with respondent No.1 was not sufficient to result in a conviction based on common intention. Even for the offence under Section 323 of the IPC, respondent No.2 was held not guilty.

Respondent No.1 was held not guilty of causing the death of Gurnam Singh, and the only conclusion which was found acceptable was that respondent No.1 causing voluntary hurt to Gurnam Singh which is punishable under Section 323 of the IPC.

On the question of sentence, a fine of Rs.1,000/- alone was imposed by the Apex Court vide order dated 06.12.2006, since the incident was 30 years old at the time, there was no enmity between the parties and no weapon was used.

  • Scope of Review Application

A Review Application was then filed before the Supreme Court by the complainant of which notice was issued on 11.09.2018 limited to the question of enlargement of sentence qua Respondent No. 1.

Senior Counsel Mr. Luthra for the complainant had argued before the Apex Court that the delay of 34 years cannot be a ground to acquit the accused when the delay was not attributable to the complainants or the victims.

While Senior Counsel Dr. Singhvi had argued that re-assessing the merits of the case in terms of the charge against the Respondent would be subversive of the basic foundations of the criminal justice system.

The Bench in this context held that it is disinclined to enlarge the notice to something more than the aspect of sentencing, thus held –

"The evidence has been analysed in detail to come to a conclusion as to what is the nature of injury. It has been taken into account that only one blow with bare hands as inflicted by respondent No.1 had landed on the head of the deceased. The finding is that apparently in the fist fight, other blows may have been attempted but did not fall on the material part of the body. Aspects such as lack of post enmity, lack of any weapon used except bare hands and the result of a spontaneous fight over a right of way were also taken into account."

Hence, the Bench unequivocally rejected the argument for expanding the scope of the review application.

  • Enhancement of Sentence

The Bench noted that the conviction is under Section 323 IPC relating to causing death.

*Section 323 IPC reads as - Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt.—Whoever, except in the case provided for by section 334, voluntarily causes hurt, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.*

The Court further noted that some material aspects which were required to be taken note of appearing to have been somehow missed out at the stage of sentencing, such as the physical fitness of respondent No.1 as he was an international cricketer, who was tall and well-built and aware of the force of a blow that even his hand would carry. The blow was not inflicted on a person identically physically placed but on a 65-year-old person, more than double his age.

"The hand can also be a weapon by itself where say a oxer, a wrestler or a cricketer or an extremely physically fit person inflicts the same. This may be understood where a blow may be given either by a physically fit person or to a more aged person. Insofar as the injury caused is concerned, this Court has accepted the plea of a single blow by hand being given on the head of the deceased. In our view, it is this significance which is an error apparent on the face of the record needing some remedial action," the Court opined.

The Court held that there was a need of maintaining a reasonable proportion between the seriousness of the crime and proportion.

In this context, the Court noted, "While a disproportionately severe sentence ought not to be passed, simultaneously it also does not clothe the law courts to award a sentence which would be manifestly inadequate, having due regard to the nature of the offence, since an inadequate sentence would fail to produce a deterrent effect on the society at large. Punishments are awarded not because of the fact that it has to be an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth, rather having its due impact on the society; while undue harshness is not required but inadequate punishment may lead to sufferance of the community at large."

The Court also held that the punishment to be awarded for a crime must not be irrelevant but it should conform to and be consistent with the atrocity and brutality with which the crime has been committed.

"The sentencing philosophy for an offence has a social goal that the sentence has to be based on the principle that the accused must realise that the crime committed by him has not only created a dent in his life but also a concavity in the social fabric," the Bench held.

The Court also added that when a 25-year-old man, who was an international cricketer, assaults a man more than twice his age and inflicts, even with his bare hands, a severe blow on his (victim's) head, the unintended consequence of harm would still be properly attributable to him as it was reasonably foreseeable.

The Court also held that merely because a long period has lapsed by the time the appeal was decided cannot be a ground to award the punishment which was disproportionate and inadequate.

Thus, the Court with the aforesaid findings held that the review petitions are allowed and in addition to the fine imposed we consider it appropriate to impose a sentence of imprisonment for a period of one-year rigorous imprisonment to be undergone by respondent No.1.

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