1982 AIR 1325                          1983 SCR  (1) 145

 1982 SCC  (3) 24          1982 SCALE  (1)713


 E             1983 SC1155           (3,4,5,6,8,9,12,13,23,27,28,29

 RF           1989 SC 653            (17)

 E&D        1989 SC1335           (10)

 R             1989 SC2299           (2,3)

 RF           1991 SC 345            (6,11)


     (A) Death    Penalty, whether  constitutionally valid  ?- Right to  live, whether the provisions of section 302, Penal Code, offends  Article 19  of  the  Constitution-Distinction between "Public  order" and  "Law and Order"-Whether section 302, Penal Code, violates Article 21, the basic structure of the Constitution  and  Article  6(1)  of  the  International Covenant on  Civil and            Political Rights  as adopted  by the General Assembly of the United Nations and reiterated in the Stockholm Declaration. 

    (B) Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, section 354(3)-If section 302,  Penal Code,  is  constitutional,  whether   the sentencing procedure  provided in section 354(3) of the Code of  Criminal   Procedure,  1973            (Act    II   of      1974)   is unconstitutional on the ground that it invests with unguided and untrammelled  discretion and allows death sentence to be arbitrarily or   freakishly imposed  on a person found guilty of murder  or any other capital offence punishable under the Indian Penal  Code with   death or,  in the  alternative with imprisonment for life.

     (C) Powers  of the  Supreme Court to lay down standards or norms restricting the area of imposition of death penalty to a narrow category of murders. 


     Upholding the  constitutionality of  section 302, Penal Code, and  section 354 (3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure Code. the Court.

     HELD: Per majority.

     Sarkaria, J.  [On behalf  of  Chandrachud,            C.J.,     A.C.  Gupta, N.L. Untwalia, JJ. and on his own behalf].

     The right to life is not one of the rights mentioned in Article 19  (1) of  the Constitution and the six fundamental freedoms guaranteed  under Article  19(1) are  not  absolute rights. The  condition precedent  for the  applicability  of Article 19  is that  the activity  which  the  impugned   law prohibits and  penalises, must  be within the purview of and protection of Article 19 (1). [173 E, 174 A, B-C]    State of  Bombay v.  R.M.D. Chamarbaugwala,  [1957] SCR 874  @ 920;  Fatechand   Himmatlal  and   Ors.  v.  State  of Maharashtra, [1977]  2 SCR  828 @  840; A.K.  Gopalan v. The State of Madras, [1950] 1 SCR 88, followed.

     2. The  Indian Penal  Code, particularly  those of its provisions which  cannot  be  justified           on  the  ground  of unreasonableness with  reference to  any  of  the  specified heads, such as "public order" in clauses (2), (3) and (4) is not a  law  imposing  restrictions  on any  of the  rights conferred by  Article 19  (1). There  are  several  offences under the  Penal Code,   such as,  theft, cheating,  ordinary assault, which do not violate or affect "public order", but only "law  and order". These offences  injure only specific individuals as distinguished from the public at large. It is now settled  that "public  order" means"even tempo  of the life of   the community".  That being so, even all murders do not disturb or affect "public order". Some murders may be of purely private significance and the injury or harm resulting therefrom   affects    only   specific   individuals,     and, consequently, such  murders may      not be covered by  "public order" within  the contemplation of clauses (2), (3) and (4) of Article  19. Such  murders do not lead to public disorder but to   disorder simpliciter. Yet, no rational being can say that punishment          of such  murderers is not in   the  general public  interest.  It  may  be   noted  that  general  public interest is not specified as a head in clauses (2) to (4) on which restriction  on the  rights mentioned in clause (i) of the Article may be justified.                                                              [181 D-H, 182 A-B]

     The real  distinction between  the areas  of  "law   and order" and  "public order"  lies not merely in the nature or quality of  the act,  but in  the degree and extent. Violent crimes similar   in  nature,  but  committed  in  different contexts and  circumstances might cause different reactions. A murder  committed in         given circumstances may cause only a slight tremor,  the wave  length of  which does         not  extend beyond the  parameters of  law         and  order.  Another  murder committed in different context and circumstances may unleash a tidal  wave of such intensity, gravity and magnitude, that its impact  throws out of  gear  the  even  flow  of  life. Nonetheless, the fact remains that for such murders which do not affect  "public order",  even  the  provision  for   life imprisonment in         section  302,   Indian  Penal  Code,  as  an alternative  punishment,  would   not  be  justifiable  under clauses (2),  (3) and (4) as a reasonable restriction in the interest  of  "public  order".    Such  a construction  must, therefore, be  avoided. Thus  construed, Article  19 will be attracted only to such laws, the  provisions of  which are capable of  being tested under clauses (2) to (5) of Article 19. [182 B-E]     R.S. Cooper v. Union of India, [1970] 3 SCR 530; Maneka Gandhi v.  Union of India, [1978] 2 SCR 621; Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia's case,  [1966]1 SCR  709; Hardhan  Saha and  Anr.  v. State of West Bengal, [1975] 1 SCR 778@ 784, followed.

     3. From  the decided  cases of the Supreme Court, it is clear that  the test  of direct  and indirect effect was not scrapped. Indeed  there is no dispute that the test of "pith and substance"  of the   subject-matter and  of direct and of incidental effect  of legislation  is a   very useful test to determine the  question of  legislative competence, i.e., in ascertaining whether an Act falls under one Entry while incidentally  encroaching upon another Entry. Even for determining the  validity of  a legislation on the ground of infringement of   fundamental rights,  the subject matter and the object of the legislation are not altogether irrelevant. For instance, if the subject matter of  the  legislation directly covers any of the fundamental freedoms mentioned in Article 19  (1). It  must pass    the test  of reasonableness under the  relevant head  in clauses  (2)  to  (6)  of   that Article. If  the legislation does not directly deal with any of the   rights in  Article 19 (1), that may not conclude the enquiry. It  will have   to be ascertained further whether by its direct and immediate operation, the impugned legislation abridges any  of the  rights enumerated  in Article  19 (1). [189 B-D]

     The mere  fact  that  the   impugned  law  incidentally, remotely or  collaterally has  the effect  of  abridging  or abrogating those  rights, will  not satisfy the test. If the answer to  the above  queries be  in  the  affirmative,  the impugned law  in order  to be  valid must  pass the  test of reasonableness under  Article 19.  But if  the impact of the law on any of  the rights under clause (1) of Article 19 is merely incidental,  indirect, remote  or collateral  and  is dependent upon  factors which may or may not come into play, the anvil  of Article  19 will    not be available for judging its validity. [190 A-C]

     R.C. Cooper v. Union of India, [1970] 3 SCR 530; Maneka Gandhi v.  Union of  India, [1978]  2 SCR  621; Subrahmanyam Chattiar's case,  [1940] FCR  188; Ram          Singh  v.  State  of Delhi, [1951]  SCR 451;           Express Newspapers (P) Ltd. and Anr v. The  Union of  India & Ors., [1959] SCR 12; Minnesota Ex. Rel. Olson, [1930] 283 U.S. 697 @ 698; Sakal Papers (P) Ltd. and Ors.  v. The  Union of  India, [1962]  3 SCR 842; Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar and Ors. v. State of Maharashtra and Anr., [1966] 3  SCR 744;  Bennett Coleman's case, AIR 1973 SC 106, referred to.

     4. Section   299 defines "culpable homicide" and section 300 defines  culpable homicide   amounting to murder. Section 302 prescribes death or imprisonment for life as penalty for murder. It  cannot, reasonably  or rationally,   be contended that any  of the  rights mentioned  in Article 19 (1) of the Constitution confers  the freedom  to commit  murder or, for the matter  of that,  the  freedom  to     commit  any  offence whatsoever. Therefore, penal laws, that is to say laws which define offences  and prescribe punishment for the commission of offences  do not  attract the  application of  Article 19 (1). It   cannot be said that the object of the penal laws is generally such as not to involve any violation of the rights conferred by  Article 19  (1) because  after the decision of this Court in the Bank Nationalisation case the theory, that the object  and form of the State action alone determine the extent of  protection that  may be  claimed by an individual and that  the effect  of the State action on the fundamental right of  the individual  is irrelevant, stands discredited. But the            point of the matter is that, in pith and substance, penal laws  do not  deal with  the subject-matter  of rights enshrined in  Article 19  (1). That  again is not enough for the purpose  of deciding  upon the  applicability of Article 19, because  even if  a law  does  not,  in  its  pith     and substance, deal with any of the fundamental rights conferred by Article  19 (1),  if the  direct and inevitable effect of the law  is such  as to   abridge or  abrogate any  of  those rights, Article  19 (1) shall have to be attracted. It would then become necessary to test the validity of  even a  penal law  on the  touchstone  of that Article. On  this latter  aspect of  the matter, it is clear that the  deprivation of freedom consequent upon an order of conviction and sentence is  not  a  direct  and  inevitable consequence of the penal law but is merely incidental to the order of  conviction and  sentence which may or may not come into play,  that is  to say, which may or may not be passed. Section 302  of the  Penal Code, therefore, does not have to stand the  test of  Article 19 (1) of the Constitution. [190 C-H, 191 A-B]

     The onus  of satisfying the requirements of Article 19, assuming that  the  Article  applies.  lies  on the  person challenging its validity. There  is initial  presumption in favour of  the constitutionality of the state and the burden of rebutting  that presumption  is thrown  on the  party who challenges the constitutionality on  the ground  of Article 19.  Behind   the  view  that  there is  a  presumption  of constitutionality of  a statute  and the  onus to  rebut the same lies  on those  who challenge  the legislation,  is the rationale of judicial restraint, a recognition of the limits of  judicial   review,    a  respect  for the  boundaries  of legislative  and   judicial  functions,     and  the  judicial responsibility to  guard the  trespass from  one side or the other. The  primary function  of the  courts is to interpret and apply  the laws  according to the will of those who made them and  not to  transgress into  the legislative domain of policy-making. Even where the burden is on the State to show that the  restriction imposed  by the  impugned  statute  is reasonable and in public interest, the extent and the manner of discharge  of  the  burden  necessarily  depends  on         the subject-matter   of   the  legislation,     the  nature  of the inquiry, and the scope and limits of judicial review.  [192 C-D, 193 A, C-D, 194 D-E]   Saghir Ahmad  v. State  of Uttar  Pradesh, [1955] 1 SCR 707; Khyerbari Tea Co. v. State of Assam & Ors., A.I.R. 1964 SC 925;            B. Banerjee  v. Anita  Pan, [1975] 2 SCR 774 @ 787; Pathumma v.  State of  Kerala, [1978]  2 SCR  537; Dennis v. United States,  341 US 494, 525:  95 L.Ed.  1137: 71 S. Ct. 857; Gregg  v. Georgia,          428 US 153: 49 L.Ed. 2nd 859; State of Madras  v. V.G. Rao, [1952] SCR 597 @ 607; Jagmohan Singh v. State of U.P., [1973] 2 SCR 541, referred to. 

     5. Statistical  attempts to assess the true penological value of  capital punishment  remain inconclusive.  Firstly, statistics of  deterred  potential  murderers  are  hard  to obtain. Secondly,  the approach adopted by the Abolitionists is over simplified  at  the  cost  of    other  relevant  but imponderable factors, the appreciation of which is essential to assess  the true penological value of capital punishment. The number  of such  factors is  infinitude, their charactervariable,  duration   transient and   abstract formulation difficult. Conditions  change from  country to   country  and time to time. Due to the inconsistancy of social conditions, it is  not scientifically possible to assess with any degree of accuracy, as to whether the variation in the incidence of capital crime  is attributable to the presence or absence of death penalty  in the  penal law  of that  country for  such crimes.                     [215 E-H, 216 A]

     6. To sum up, the question whether or not death penalty serves any  penological purpose        is a difficult, complex and intractable issue.  It has  evoked strong,  divergent views. For the purpose of  testing the  constitutionality  of the impugned provision as to death penalty in section 302, Penal Code, on  the ground  of  reasonableness  in  the  light  of Articles 19  and 21 of the Constitution, it is not necessary to express any categorical opinion, one way or the other, as to which  of these  two  antithetical  views,  held  by  the Abolitionists  and   Retentionists,  is     correct.   It    is sufficient to say that the very fact that persons of reason, learning and  light are   rationally and deeply  divided  in their opinion  on this   issue, is a ground among others, for rejecting the  petitioners' argument that retention of death penalty in  the impugned  provision, is          totally  devoid  of reason and  purpose. If,  notwithstanding the  view  of         the Abolitionists to  the contrary, a  very  large  segment  of people the  world over, including sociologists, legislators, jurists, judges    and administrators  still firmly  believe in the worth  and            necessity  of  capital   punishment  for  the protection of  society, if  in the perspective of prevailing crime  conditions  in  India,  contemporary  public  opinion channelised   through   the   people's  representatives        in Parliament,  has  repeatedly  in  the  last  three  decades, rejected all  attempts, including  the one made recently, to abolish or  specifically restrict the area of death penalty, if  death  penalty is  still a  recognised legal sanction for murder or  some types  of murder  in most  of the  civilised countries in  the  world,  if  the  framers  of  the  Indian Constitution were  fully aware  of the   existence  of  death penalty as  punishment for  murder, under  the Indian  Penal Code, if  the 35th  Report and subsequent Reports of the Law Commission  suggesting  retention  of   death  penalty,  and recommending revision of the Criminal Procedure Code and the insertion of  the new  sections 235  (2) and 354 (3) in that Code  providing  for  pre-sentence  hearing  and  sentencing procedure on  conviction for murder another capital offences were before  the Parliament  and presumably considered by it when in 1972-73 it took up revision of the Code of 1898, and replaced it  by the  Code of  Criminal Procedure,  1973,  it cannot be  said that  the provision  of death  penalty as an alternative punishment for murder,  in section  302,  Penal Code, is unreasonable and not in public interest. Therefore, the impugned  provision in section 302, violates neither the letter nor the ethos of Article 19. [221 B-H, 222 A]

     7. (i)  Neither the new interpretative dimensions given to Articles 19 and 21 by the Supreme Court in Maneka Gandhi, [1978] 2  SCR 621, and Charles Sobraj v. The Superintendent, Central Jail,  Tihar, New  Delhi, [1979]  1 SCR 512, nor the acceptance by  India of           the International Covenant on Civil and Political  Rights, makes  any change  in the  prevailing standards of  decency and  human dignity.  The International Covenant does  not  outlaw  capital  punishment      for  murder altogether. [225 C-E]

     (ii) In  accordance with  the interpretative  principle indicated by  the Supreme Court in Maneka's case, Article 21 will read  as "No  person shall be deprived  of his life or personal  liberty   except  according  to  fair,  just    and reasonable procedure  established by  valid law"  or in        its converse positive  form as  "A person may be deprived of his life or  personal liberty  in accordance with fair, just and reasonable procedure  established by valid law." Article 21, thus, clearly brings     out  the  implication,  that  the  Founding  Fathers recognised the right of the State to deprive a person of his life or  personal liberty  in accordance with fair, just and reasonable procedure  established by  valid law.  In view of the constitutional  provisions-Entries 1  and 2  in List III Concurrent List of Seventh Schedule Articles 72 (1) (c), 161 and 134-it  cannot be  said that death penalty under section 302, Penal  Code, per  se or  because of  its  execution  by hanging,  constitutes  an  unreasonable,  cruel         or  unusual punishment. By reason of the same constitutional postulates, it cannot  be said  that the  framers  of  the  Constitution considered death  sentence  for         murder           or  the  prescribed traditional mode  of its execution as a degrading punishment which would  defile "the  dignity of  the individual" within the contemplation  of the  Preamble to  the Constitution. On parity of  reasoning, it  cannot be  said that death penalty for the offence of  murder violates  the basic structure of the Constitution. [222 E-H, 223 A-B, F-H]

     (iii)  Clauses   (1)  and        (2)  of  Article  6  of   the International Covenant           on Civil and Political Rights do not abolish or  prohibit the  imposition of death penalty in all circumstances. All that they require is that, firstly, death penalty shall  not be  arbitrarily inflicted;  secondly,  it shall be  imposed only for most serious crimes in accordance with a  law which shall not be an ex post facto legislation. 

Thus, the  requirements of  these clauses  are substantially the same  as the  guarantees or  prohibitions  contained  in Articles 20  and 21 of our Constitution. India's commitment, therefore, does           not go beyond  what  is  provided  in the Constitution and  the Indian  Penal Code  and  the  Criminal Procedure Code.         The Penal  Code prescribes death penalty as an alternative punishment only for heinous crimes which are not more  than seven  in number.  Section  354        (3)  of  the Criminal Procedure  Code, 1973 in keeping with the spirit of the International  Covenant, has further restricted the area of death penalty. India's penal laws, including the impugned provisions and their  application,  are  thus   entirely  in accord with its international commitment. [224 G-H, 225 A-C]

     8. The  procedure provided           in Criminal  Procedure Code for imposing  capital punishment  for murder  and some other capital crimes              under the   Penal  Code  cannot,  by            any reckoning, be said to be unfair, unreasonable or unjust. Nor can it   be said that this sentencing discretion, with which the Courts  are invested, amounts to delegation of its power of legislation by Parliament. The impugned provisions do not violate Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.            [238 B, G-H, 239 A-B]

     Section 235 (2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure makes not  only   explicit  what  according  to  the   decision  in Jagmohan's case         was implicit in the scheme of the Code, but also bifurcates            the trial by providing two hearings, one at the preconviction  stage and  another  at  the           pre-sentence stage. And,  section 354 (3) of the Code marks a significant shift in  the legislative  policy underlying the Code, 1898, as in  force immediately  before April 1, 1974, according to which  both   the  alternative sentences   of   death   or  imprisonment for  life provided         for murder  and for certain other capital  offences under  the Penal  Code, were  normal sentences. Now, according to this changed legislative policy which is  patent on  the face of section 354 (3), the normal punishment for           murder and  six other capital offences under the Penal Code is imprisonment for life (or imprisonment for a term of years) and death penalty is an exception. [229 F- G, A-B]

     Although sub-section  (2) of  section 235  of the   Code does not  contain a  specific provision   as to   evidence and provides only for hearing of the accused as to sentence, yet it is  implicit in  this provision that if a request is made in that  behalf by either the prosecution or the accused, or by  both,  the Judge  should  give  the  party or  parties concerned an  opportunity of  producing evidence or material relating to  the various  factors bearing on the question of  sentence. [230 E-F] Jagmohan Singh  v. State  of U.P., [1973] 2  SCR 541, reiterated.      Santa Singh  v. State  of Punjab,    AIR  1973  SC  2385, referred to.

     9. The  expression "special  reasons" in the context of section 354   (3)  obviously  means  "exceptional  reasons" founded on  the exceptionally  grave  circumstances  of      the particular case relating to crime as well as criminal. Thus, the legislative policy now writ large and clear on the face of section 354 (3) is that on conviction of murder and other capital offences  punishable in           the alternative  with death under the  Penal Code, the extreme penalty should be imposed only in extreme cases. [236 C-D]  Balwant Singh  v. State  of Punjab,  [1976] 2  SCR 684, referred to.

     10.  Section  235    (2)  of  the  Code  provides  for  a

bifurcated trial and specifically gives the accused person a

right of  pre-sentence hearing, at which stage, he can bring

on record  material or            evidence, which          may not be strictly

relevant to  or connected  with the  particular crime  under

inquiry, but nevertheless have, consistently with the policy

underlined in  section 354  (3), a  bearing on the choice of

sentence. The  present legislative  policy discernible            from

section 235(2) read with  section 354(3)  is that in fixing

the degree  of punishment  or making  the choice of sentence

for various offences, including one under section 302, Penal

Code,  the   Court  should  not            confine  its  consideration

"principally" or  "merely" to  the  circumstances  connected

with the  particular crime,  but also give due consideration

to the circumstances of the criminal. [237 C-E]

     11. The  Supreme Court  should not venture to formulate

rigid standards            in an   area in which  the  Legislature  so

warily treads.  Only broad  guidelines consistent  with         the

policy indicated  by the  Legislature can  be laid down. But

this much can be said that in order to qualify for inclusion

in the   category of  "aggravating circumstances"  which     may

form the  basis of  "special  reasons" in  section  354(3),

circumstances found  on the facts of a particular case, must

evidence aggravation  of an abnormal or special degree. [243

E-F, 254 B-C]

     Gurbakash Singh  Sibbia and  Ors. v.  State of  Punjab,

[1980] 3 SCR p. 383, applied.

     Hyman and Anr. v. Rose, [1912] AC 623, referred to.

     12. Sections  354 (3)  and 235  (2) and  other  related

provisions of the Code of 1973 make it clear that for making

the choice of punishment or for ascertaining

the existence  or  absence  of "special  reasons"  in  that

context, the Court must pay due regard both to the crime and

the criminal. What is the relative weight to be given to the

aggravating and mitigating factors, depends on the facts and

circumstances of  the particular  case. More often than not,

these two aspects are so intertwined that it is difficult to

give a  separate treatment  to each  of         them.  This  is  so

because "style is the   man." In  many cases,  the extremely

cruel or  beastly manner  of the  commission  of  murder  is

itself a demonstrated index of the depraved character of the

perpetrator. That  is why,  it is  not desirable to consider

the circumstances  of the crime and the circumstances of the

criminal in  two separate  water-tight           compartments.  In  a

sense, to  kill is to be cruel and therefore all murders are

cruel.   But   such  cruelty   may  vary            in  its  degree  of

culpability. And it is only when the culpability assumes the

proportion of  extreme depravity  that "special reasons" can

legitimately be said to exist.

                                                              [251 G-H, 252 A-C]

     Rajendra Prasad  v. State  of U.P. [1979] 3 SCR p. 78,

Bishnu Deo  Shaw v.  State of  West Bengal,  [1979] 3 SCR p.

355, overruled.

     13. There    are numerous  other circumstances justifying

the  passing   of  the   lighter  sentence,   as  there  are

countervailing circumstances  of  aggravation.         "We  cannot

obviously feed into a judicial computer all such situations

since they  are astrological  imponderables in          an imperfect

and undulating            society." Nonetheless, it  cannot  be   over

emphasised that         the scope and concept of mitigating factors

in the   area of            death penalty must receive  a liberal            and

expansive construction           by the  courts in  accord  with            the

sentencing policy  writ large  in section  354 (3).  Judges

should never  be blood-thirsty.           Hanging  of  murderers         has

never been  too good  for them.        Facts and  figures,  albeit

incomplete, furnished  by the  Union of         India, show that in

the past,  Courts have inflicted the  extreme penalty            with

extreme infrequency-a  fact which attests to the caution and

compassion which  they have  always brought  to bear  on the

exercise of  their  sentencing discretion  in   so  grave  a

matter. It  is, therefore,  imperative to  voice the concern

that Courts,  aided by the  broad  illustrative  guidelines

indicated by  the Supreme  Court, will discharge the onerous

function with  evermore scrupulous  care and humane concern,

directed along the highroad  of legislative policy outlined

in section  354 (3),  viz., that  for persons  convicted  of

murder life  imprisonment is  the rule and death sentence an

exception. A  real and abiding concern          for the  dignity of

human life  postulates resistance  to taking  a life through

law's instrumentality. That ought Lot to be done save in the

rarest  of   rare  cases  when the  alternative  option  is

unquestionably foreclosed. [255 E-H, 256 A-C]

     Per Bhagwati J. (Dissenting)

     1:1. Ordinarily,  on the  principle of  stare  decisis,

Judges would  hold themselves  bound by the view taken in an

earlier case  and resist  any attempt  at reconsideration of

the  same   issue.  But,   for    several            weighty  and  given

considerations, the  Court can depart from this precedential

rule in any particular case.

                                                                           [258 A-B]

     1:2. The rule of adherence to precedence is not a rigid

and inflexible  rule of law, but  it is  a rule of practice

adopted by the Courts for the purpose of ensuring uniformity

and stability  in  the    law.  Otherwise           there  will  be  no

certainty and  predictability in  the law,  leading to chaos

and confusion and in the process

destroying the rule of law, and  increasing the  labour of

judges. But  this rule   of adherence to precedents; though a

necessary tool "in the legal smithy," is  only  a  useful

servant and  can not  be allowed  to turn  into a  tyrannous

master. If  the rule  of stare decisis were followed blindly

and mechanically,  it would dwarf and stultify the growth of

the law            and affect  its capacity  to adjust  itself to    the

changing needs of the society. [258 B-C, D,E,F]

     1:3 There    are certain issues which transcend technical

considerations of  stare decisis  and if  such an  issue  is

brought before            the Court,  it would  be  nothing  short  of

abdication of  its constitutional  duty for  the  Court  to

refuse to  consider such  issue by  taking refuge  under the

doctrine of stare decisis. The Court may refuse to entertain

such an            issue like  the constitutional  validity  of  death

penalty because          it is     satisfied that the previous decision

is correct  but it  cannot decline  to consider it  on   the

ground that  it is  barred  by   the  rule  of  adherence  to

precedents. [259 E-G]

     In the  present case,  there are  two other supervening

circumstances which justify, may compel, re-consideration of

the  decision    in  Jagmohan's            case.   The   first  is    the

introduction of            the new Code of Criminal Procedure in 1973,

which by section 354, sub-section (3) has made life sentence

the rule,  in case  of offences punishable with death or in

the alternative            imprisonment  for  life  and  provided          for

imposition of  sentence of  death only           in exceptional cases

for special reasons. The second and the still more important

circumstance which  has supervened  since  the       decision  in

Jagmohan's case         is the  new dimension of Articles 14 and 21

unfolded by  the Supreme  Court in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of

India (1978)  2 SCR  663. This new dimension of Articles 14

and 21 renders the death penalty provided in section 302 of

the Indian  Penal Code            read with section 354(3) of the Code

of Criminal  Procedure vulnerable  to attack on a ground not

available at  the time when Jagmohan's       case  was  decided.

Furthermore, since  Jagmohan's case  was decided,  India has

ratified two  international instruments          on Human Rights and

particularly  the   International  Covenant   on  civil and

political rights.

                                                              [259 G-H, 260 A-D]

     Jagmohan v. State of U.P. A.I.R. 1973 SC 947, dissented


     State of Washington v. Dawson and Company 264 U.S. 646;

68 L. Edn. 219 dissenting judgment quoted with approval.

     Maneka Gandhi  v. Union  of India,           [1978] 2  SCR 663


     2:1. The  constitutional validity     of the death penalty

provided as  an alternative punishment in section 302 of the

Indian Penal  Code read         with section 354 sub-section (3) of

the Code  of Criminal  Procedure cannot       be sustained. Death

penalty does  not serve           any social  purpose or            advance any

constitutional  value   and   is   totally   arbitrary      and

unreasonable so          as be   violative of Articles 14, 19, and 21

of the Constitution, [256 F, 257 E]

     Jagmohan Singh  v. State  of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1973 SC

947. not followed.

     2:2 The  culture and  ethos of  the nation as gathered

from its  history, its     tradition and  its literature  would

clearly   be      relevant   factors    in    adjudging     the

constitutionality of  death penalty  and so would the ideals

and values  embodied in the Constitution which lays down the

basic frame-work  of the  social and  political structure of

the country,  and which sets out the objectives and goals to

be pursued  by the  people in  a common      endeavour to secure

happiness and  welfare of  every member    of the  society. So

also standards or norms  set by International organisations

and bodies  have relevance in determining the constitutional

validity  of   death  penalty     and  equally   important  in

construing  and           applying  the  equivocal  formulae  of          the

Constitution would  be the "wealth of non-legal learning and

experience that           encircles and  illuminates"  the  topic  of

death penalty. [261 B-E]

     2:3. The  objective of  the United Nations has been and

that is  the standard  set by  the world  body that  capital

punishment  should  be           abolished  in  all  countries.    This

normative standard  set by the world body must be taken into

account in  determining whether       the death  penalty  can  be

regarded as  arbitrary, excessive  and unreasonable so as to

be constitutionally invalid. [268 B-C]

     2:4. The Constitution of India is a unique document. It

is not   a mere            pedantic legal text but it embodies certain

human values,  cherished principles, and spiritual norms and

recognises and            upholds the  dignity of            man. It accepts the

individual as the focal point of all development and regards

his material,  moral and  spiritual development as the chief

concern of  its various            provisions. It   does not  treat the

individual as  a cog  in the  mighty all-powerful machine of

the State but places him at the centre of the constitutional

scheme            and  focuses  on  the  fullest   development  of          his

personality.  The   several  provisions              enacted   in   the

constitutions for the purpose of ensuring the dignity of the

individual  and              providing  for  his  material,  moral and

spiritual development  would be        meaningless and ineffectual

unless there  is rule  of law  to invest  them with life and


                                                                  [268 C-D, G-H]

     2:5. The rule of law permeates the entire fabric of the

Constitution and indeed forms one of its basic features. The

rule  of   law    excludes  arbitrariness;  its  postulate  is

'intelligence  without  passion'  and  'reason            freed  from

desire'. Wherever  we find arbitrariness or unreasonableness

there is  denial of the rule of law. "Law" in the context of

the rule  of law,  does not  mean any  law  enacted  by        the

legislative authority,   howsoever arbitrary  or despotic  it

may be.           Otherwise even          under a  dictatorship it  would  be

possible to say that there is rule of law, because every law

made by          the dictator  howsoever arbitrary  and unreasonable

has to  be obeyed  and every  action  has  to  be  taken  in

conformity with          such law. In such a case too even where the

political set  up is dictatorial, it is law that governs the

relationship between  men and  men and     between men  and the

State. But  still it  is not  a rule of law as understood in

modern jurisprudence  because in  jurisprudential terms, the

law itself  in such  a case  being  an   emanation  from         the

absolute will of the dictator, it is in effect and substance

the rule  of man  and not  of law  which prevails  in such a

situation. What is a necessary element of the rule of law is

that the  law must  not be  arbitrary and  irrational and it

must satisfy  the test   of reason and the democratic form of

polity seeks to ensure this element by making the framers of

the law accountable to the people. [269 A-E]

     2:6. The  rule of     law has            much greater vitality under

our Constitution  than it  has in  other countries  like the

United Kingdom            which has   no  constitutionally  enacted

Fundamental Rights.  The rule  of law has really three basic

and fundamental        assumptions; one is that law making must be

essentially  in    the  hands  of  a  democratically  elected

legislature, subject of course to any power in the executive

in an  emergent situation  to promulgate ordinance effective

for a short duration while the legislation is not in session

as also to enact  delegated legislation  in accordance with

the guidelines laid down  by the  legislature; the other is

that,  even   in  the  hands  of  a  democratically  elected

legislature, there  should  not            be  unfettered            legislative

power; and  lastly there must be an independent judiciary to

protect            the  citizen  against    excesses  of  executive           and

legislative power and we have in our country all these three

elements essential  to the  rule of  law. It  is  plain   and

indisputable that  under  our  Constitution  law  cannot  be

arbitrary or  irrational and  if it  is, it would be clearly

invalid, whether  under Article           14 or Article 19 or Article

21, whichever be applicable. [275 E-H. 276 A-B]

     Minerva Mill's  case [1981]  1 SCR 206; Maneka Gandhi's

case [1978]  2 SCR  621; Airport  Authority of           India's case

[1979] 3 SCR 1014; A.K. Gopalan's case [1950] 3 SCR 88; F.C.

Mullen's case [1981] 2 SCR 516 referred to.

     2:7.  The     Constitution  does  not            in  so   many  terms

prohibit capital  punishment. In  fact, it  recognises death

sentence as  one of  the penalties  which may  be imposed by

law. Apart  from Article  21, Clause  (C) of Article 72 also

recognises the possibility of    a sentence  of death  being

imposed on  a person  convicted of an offence inasmuch as it

provides that the President shall have the power to suspend,

remit or commute the sentence of any person who is convicted

of  an   offence            and  sentenced           to  death.  Therefore,            the

imposition of death sentence for conviction of an offence is

not in   all cases  forbidden by            the Constitution.  But that

does not  mean that  the  infliction  of  death            penalty  is

blessed by the Constitution or that it has the imprimatur or

seal of approval of  the Constitution.            The Constitution is

not a  transient document  but it  is meant  to endure for a

long time  to come and during its life, situations may arise

where death  penalty may  be found to serve a social purpose

and its prescription may  not be  liable to  be regarded as

arbitrary  or    unreasonable  and  therefore  to  meet         such

situations, the Constitution had  to make  a provision          and

this it   did in  Article 21  and clause (c) of Article 72 so

that, even  where death penalty is prescribed by any law and

it is  otherwise not  unconstitutional, it must still comply

with the  requirement of  Article 21 and it would be subject

to the   clemency power         of the President under clause (c) of

Article 72. [276 D-H, 277 A-B]

     2:8. From    the  legislative  history  of  the  relevant

provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal

Procedure, it  is clear that in our country there has been a

gradual shift  against the imposition of death penalty. Life

sentence is  now the  rule and            it is  only  in     exceptional

cases, for  special reasons,  that  death  sentence  can  be

imposed. The  legislature has however not indicated what are

the special reasons for which departure can be made from the

normal            rule   and  death  penalty  may          be  inflicted.   The

legislature has            not given any guidance as to what are those

exceptional cases in which, deviating from the normal

rule, death  sentence may  be imposed. This is left entirely

to the   unguided discretion  of the  court, a feature, which

has lethal  consequences so  far as the constitutionality of

death penalty is concerned. [277 C-D, 278 E-G]

     Rajendra Prasad  v. State  of U.P. [1979] 3 S.C.R. 646,

referred to.

     2:9. The  problem of  constitutional validity  of death

penalty cannot            be appreciated            in  its   proper            perspective

without an  adequate understanding  of the  true  nature  of

death penalty and what it involves in terms of human anguish

and  suffering.   In  the  first  place,  death    penalty  is

irrevocable; it cannot be  recalled.  It  extinguishes the

flame of  life for  ever and  is plainly  destructive of the

right to  life, the  most precious  right of  all,  a  right

without which enjoyment of no other rights is possible. If a

person is sentenced to imprisonment, even if it be for life,

and subsequently  it is            found that  he was innocent and was

wrongly convicted,  he can  be           set  free.  Of    course,            the

imprisonment that he has suffered till then cannot be undone

and the time he has spent in the prison cannot be given back

to him  in specie  but he  can come  back and be restored to

normal life  with his  honour vindicated,  if  he  is  found

innocent. But  that is   not possible where a person has been

wrongly convicted  and sentenced  to death  and put  out  of

existence in  pursuance of  the sentence  of death.  In          his

case, even  if any  mistake is  subsequently discovered,  it

will be too late, in every way and for every purpose it will

be too  late, for  he cannot  be brought  back to  life. The

execution of  the sentence  of death  in such  a case  makes

miscarriage of justice irrevocable. [281 F-H, 282 A-D]

     2:10.  Howsoever   careful may   be   the   procedural

safeguards, erected  by the  law before death penalty can be

imposed,  it  is  impossible  to  eliminate  the  chance  of

judicial error.  No possible judicial safeguards can prevent

conviction of  the  innocent.  It  is  indeed  a  very    live

possibility and it is     not at   all unlikely that so long as

death penalty  remains a  constitutionaly valid alternative,

the Court or the State acting through the instrumentality of

the Court  may have  on         its  conscience  the  blood  of  an

innocent man. [283 D-E. G-H]

     2:11. Judicial  error in  imposition of  death  penalty

would indeed  be a  crime beyond  punishment.  This  is      the

drastic nature              of  death   penalty,    terrifying   in   its

consequences,  which   has  to           be  taken  into account  in

determining its           constitutional validity.  Death penalty  is

barbaric and inhuman in its effect, mental and physical upon

the condemned man and is positively cruel. Its psychological

effect on  the prisoner in the Death Row is disastrous. [284


     Furman v. Georgia 408 US 238; In Re Kemmler 136 US 436;

In Re Medley 134 US 160; quoted with approval.

     2:12.  Penological    goals  also  do  not   justify  the

imposition of  death penalty  for the offence of murder. The

prevailing standards  of human decency are also incompatible

with death  penalty. The  standards of           human  decency          with

reference to  which the proportionality of the punishment to

the offence  is required  to be            judged vary from society to

society depending on the cultural and spiritual

tradition of the society, its history and philosophy and its

sense of moral and ethical values. [302 A-B]

     Moreover, it  is difficult to see how death penalty can

be regarded  as proportionate  to the offence of murder when

legislatively it  has been ordained that life sentence shall

be the  rule and it is only in exceptional cases for special

reasons that  death penalty  may be  imposed. It  is obvious

from the provision enacted in section 354 (3) of the Code of

Criminal Procedure  that  death         sentence  is  legislatively

regarded as  disproportionate and excessive in most cases of

murder and  it is  only in  exceptional cases that it can at

all be contended that death sentence is proportionate to the

offence of  murder.  But,  then           the  legislature  does not

indicate as  to what  are those           exceptional cases  in which

death sentence           may be            regarded  as  proportionate  to          the

offence and,  therefore, reasonble  and just.  Death penalty

cannot be  regarded  as          proportionate to  the  offence  of

murder, merely          because the  murder is           brutal, heinous  or

shocking. The  nature and  magnitude of       the offence  or the

motive and  purposes underlying       it or the manner and extent

of  its     commission  cannot   have  any  relevance  to        the

proportionality of death penalty to the offence. [304 H, 305

A-D, 306 D-E]

     2:13 The  historical course through which death penalty

has passed  in the last 150 years shows that the theory that

death  penalty acts  as  a  greater  deterrent  than  life

imprisonment is          wholly unfounded.  Even the various studies

carried            out  clearly  establish  beyond  doubt            that  death

penalty does  not have            any special  deterrent effect  which

life sentence  does not            possess and that in any event there

is no  evidence at all to suggest that death penalty has any

such special deterrent effect. [316 A, 321 G-H]

     2:14. Death  penalty as  provided under  section 302 of

the Indian  Penal Code read with section 354 sub-section (3)

of the   Code of            Criminal Procedure, 1973 does not sub-serve

any legitimate end of  punishment,  since  by            killing  the

murderer it  totally rejects  the reformation purpose and it

has no  additional deterrent effect which life sentence does

not possess  and  it  is  therefore  not  justified  by    the

deterrence  theory  of            punishment.  Though  retribution  or

denunciation  is  regarded  by            some  as  a  proper  end  of

punishment, it cannot have  any  legitimate  place  in  an

enlightened  philosophy            of  punishment.  Therefore,  death

penalty has  no            rational  penological  purpose           and  it  is

arbitrary and  irrational and hence violative of Articles 14

and 21 of the Constitution.

                                                                           [340 D-F]

     2:15. On  a plain    reading of section 302 of the Indian

Penal Code  which  provides  death  penalty  as        alternative

punishment of  murder it is clear that it leaves it entirely

to the   discretion of  the Court  whether  to  impose  death

sentence or  to award  only life  imprisonment to an accused

convicted of the offence of murder. Section 302 does not lay

down any  standards or principles to guide the discretion of

the Court  in the matter of imposition of death penalty. The

critical choice between physical  liquidation and life long

incarceration is  left to the discretion of the Court and no

legislative light is shed as to how this


deadly discretion is to be exercised. The court is left free

to navigate  in an  unchartered sea  without any  compass or

directional guidance. [341 A-C]

     2:16.  Actually   section      354   (3)  of  the  Criminal

Procedure  Code           makes            the  exercise  of  discretion   more

difficult and uncertain. It is left to the Judge to grope in

the dark for himself and in the exercise of his unguided and

unfettered discretion  decide what reasons may be considered

as 'special  reasons' justifying  award of death penalty and

whether in a given case any such special reasons exist which

should persuade the Court to depart from the normal rule and

inflict   death  penalty            on  the  accused.  There  being  no

legislative policy  or    principle  to  guide  the  Court  in

exercising its   discretion in  this delicate  and  sensitive

area of            life and  death, the  exercise of discretion of the

Court is  bound to vary from judge to judge. What may appear

as special reasons to one judge may not so appear to another

and the decision in a given case whether to impose the death

sentence  or   to  let    off  the  offender  only  with   life

imprisonment would,  to a  large extent,  depend upon who is

the judge  called upon            to make the decision. The reason for

his uncertainty            in  the  sentencing  process  is  two-fold.

Firstly, the  nature of  the sentencing process is such that

it involves  a highly  delicate task  calling for skills and

talents very  much different  from those ordinarily expected

of lawyers.  Even  if  considerations  relevant           to  capital

sentencing were         provided by  the legislature, it would be a

difficult exercise  for the  judges  to  decide            whether  to

impose the  death penalty or to award the life sentence. But

without any  such guidelines  given by           the legislature, the

task of the judges  becomes much  more     arbitrary  and the

sentencing decision  is            bound to  vary  with   each  judge.

Secondly, when           unguided discretion  is conferred  upon         the

Court to  choose between  life and  death,  by          providing  a

totally vague  and indefinite criterion of 'special reasons'

without            laying   down any  principles or  guidelines for

determining  what   should  be           considered  to be  'special

reasons', the  choice is  bound           to  be  influenced  by            the

subjective philosophy  of the  judge called upon to pass the

sentence and  on his value system and social philosophy will

depend whether          the accused  shall live or die. No doubt the

judge will  have to  give 'special  reasons' if  he opts  in

favour of  inflicting the  death penalty,  but that does not

eliminate arbitrariness           and caprice,  firstly because there

being no guidelines provided by the legislature, the reasons

which may  appeal to  one judge as 'special reasons' may not

appeal to  another, and secondly, because reasons can always

be found  for a            conclusion  that  the  judge  instinctively

wishes to   reach  and   the  judge   can  bona   fide  and

conscientiously find  such reasons  to be 'special reasons'.

It is  now recognised  on all hands that judicial conscience

is not   a fixed conscience; it varies from  judge to judge

depending   upon   his attitudes   and   approaches, his

predilections and prejudices, his habits of mind and thought

and in  short all  that goes  with  the  expression  "social

philosophy". Further, the various decisions in which special

reasons have been given singly and cumulatively indicate not

merely that  there is  an enormous  potential  of  arbitrary

award of  death penalty         by the High Court  and the Supreme

Court but  that, in  fact, death  sentence have been awarded

arbitrarily and freakishly.

                                                       [341 G, E-H, 342 E-H.

343 A-B, 353 E-F]

     2:17. But     where the discretion granted to the Court is

to choose  between life          and death  without any standards or

guide-lines provided by the legislature,

the death  penalty does          become arbitrary  and unreasonable.

The death penalty is qualitatively different from a sentence

of imprisonment.  Whether a  sentence of imprisonment is for

two yeaes or five years or for life, it is qualitatively the

same, namely,  a sentence  of imprisonment,  but  the  death

penalty is  totally of    different. It is irreversible; it is

beyond recall or reparation; it extinguishes life. It is the

choice between life and death which the court is required to

make and  this is  left to  its sole  discretion unaided and

unguided by  any  legislative  yardstick  to  determine         the

choice. [356 G-H. 357 A-B]

     2:18. The only yardstick which may be said to have been

provided by  the legislature  is that life sentence shall be

the rule  and it  is only  in exceptional  cases for special

reasons that  death penalty  may be  awarded, but  it is  no

where indicated          by the legislature as to what  should  be

regarded as 'special reasons' justifying imposition of death

penalty. The  awesome and fearful discretion whether to kill

a man  or to  let him  live is   vested in  the Court and the

Court is called upon to exercise this discretion guided only

by its    own perception           of what            may be regarded as 'special

reasons' without  any light  shed by  the legislature. It is

difficult  to  appreciate  how  a  law  which  confers such

unguided discretion  on the  Court without  any standards or

guidelines on  so vital an issue as the choice between life

and death  can be regarded as constitutionally valid. [357B-


     2:19.  Death   penalty  in     its  actual  operation  is

discriminatory, for  it strikes  mostly against the poor and

deprived sections  of the  community and  the rich  and       the

affluent usually escape from its clutches. This circumstance

also adds  to the  arbitrary and  capricious nature  of           the

death penalty  and  renders  it           unconstitutional  as  being

violative of Articles 14 and 21. [366G-H]

     3:1. When   a law  is challenged  on the  ground that it

imposes restrictions on the freedom guaranteed by one or the

other sub-clause  of  clause  (1)  of  Article   19  and            the

restrictions are  shown to  exist  by  the  petitioner, the

burden of estabilshing that the restrictions fall within any

of  the    permissive  clauses   (2)  to  (6)  which  may  be

applicable, must  rest upon  the State. The State would have

to produce  material  for  satisfying  the  Court  that            the

restrictions imposed  by the  impugned         law  fall  with  the

appropriate permissive clause from out of clauses (2) to (6)

of Article  19 Of course there may be cases where the nature

of the legislation and the restrictions imposed by it may be

such that  the Court  may, without more, even in the absence

of any  positive material  produced by           the State,  conclude

that the  restrictions fall within the permissible category,

as for   example, where          a law  is enacted by the legislature

for giving  effect to  one of  the Directive  Principles  of

State Policy and prima facie, the restrictions imposed by it

do not  appear to  be arbitrary           or excessive. Where such is

the position,  the burden  would again shift and it would be

for  the  petitioner  to  show   that  the  restrictions  are

arbitrary or  excessive and  go beyond          what is required in

public interest. But once it is shown by the petitioner that

the impugned  law imposes restrictions which infringe one or

the other sub-clause of clause (1) of Article 19, the burden

of showing  that such  restrictions are           reasonable and fall

within the  permissible category  must be  on the  State and

this burden  the State may discharge  either  by  producing

socio economic           data before the Court or on consideration of

the provisions in the impugned

law read in the light of the constitutional goals set out in

the Directive  Principles of  State Policy.  The test  to be

applied            for   the  purpose   of  determining   whether           the

restrictions imposed  by the  impugned law are reasonable or

not  cannot   be  cast  in  a  rigid  formula  of  universal

application. The  nature of  the right alleged to have been

infringed,  the   underlying  purpose  of  the restrictions

imposed, the  extent and  urgency of  the evil           sought to be

remedied, the  value of human life. the disproportion of the

imposition, the            social philosophy  of the  Constitution and

the prevailing  conditions at  the time would all enter into

the judicial verdict. And in evaluating such elusive factors

and forming  his own conception of what is reasonable in all

the circumstances of a given case, it is inevitable that the

social philosophy  and the  scale of  values  of  the  judge

participating in  the decision  would play  a very important

part. [293 G-H, 294 A-G]

     State of  Madras v.  V.J. Row  [1952] SCR 597.  Shagir

Ahmed v. State of U.P. [1955] 1 SCR 707 followed.

     Khyerbari Tea  Co. v.  State of Assam [1964] 5 SCR 975;

B. Banerjee  v. Anita  Pan [1975]  2 SCR  774;           Ram  Krishna

Dalmia v.  S.R. Tandolkar  & Ors.  [1959] SCR  279; State of

Bombay v.  R.M.D. Chamarbaugwala [1957] SCR 874; Mohd. Hanif

v.  State   of     Bihar   [1959]  SCR   629;   discussed  and


     Pathumma v.  State of  Kerala [1978] 2 SCR 537 referred


     3:2. The  position in regard to onus of proof in a case

where the  challenge is under Article 21 is much clearer and

much more  free from or doubt or debate than in a case where

the complaint  is of  violation of clause (1) of Article 19.

Wherever  there         is  deprivation  of  life,  i.e.  not        only

physical existence,  but also  use of  any faculty  or  limb

through which life is enjoyed and basic human dignity, or of

any aspect  of personal liberty, the burden must rest on the

State  to   establish  by  producing  adequate            material  or

otherwise that the procedure prescribed for such deprivation

is not   arbitrary but  is reasonable,  fair and            just. Where

therefore a law authorises deprivation of the right to life,

the reasonableness,  fairness and  justness of the procedure

prescribed by it for such deprivation must be established by

the State.  The burden            must lie upon the State to show that

death penalty is not arbitrary and unreasonable and serves a

legitimate  social   purpose,  despite the  possibility  of

judicial error   in convicting and sentencing an innocent man

and the            brutality and  pain, mental  as well  as  physical,

which death  sentence invariably inflicts upon the condemned

prisoner. The  State must  place the  necesary          material  on

record for the purpose of discharging this burden which lies

upon it and if  it fails  to show  by     presenting  adequate

evidence before the Court or otherwise that death penalty is

not arbitrary  and unreasonable        and does serve a legitimate

social   purpose,  the  imposition  of  death  penalty  under

section 302  of the  Indian Penal Code read with section 354

sub-section (3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure would have

to be  struck down as violative of the protection of Article

21. [295 A-C, 296 D-E]

     3:3.  There   is  a   presumption     in   favour  of  the

constitutionality of  a statute  and the  burden of  showing

that  it  is  arbitrary    or  discriminatory  lies  upon the

petitioner, because it must be presumed that the legislature

understands and

correctly appreciates  the needs of its own people, that its

laws are  directed to  problems made  manifest by experience

and that  its discriminations are based on adequate grounds.

It  would   be   a   wise  rule   to  adopt  to   presume          the

constitutionality of  a statute  unless it  is shown  to  be

invalid. But  this rule   is  not  a  rigid  inexorable     rule

applicable at  all times  and in  all situations.  There may

conceivably be            cases where  having regard to the nature and

character of  the legislation.  the importance           of the right

affected and  the gravity  the injury  caused by  it and the

moral and  social issue           involved in  the determination, the

Court may  refuse to  proceed on the basis of presumption of

constitutionality and demand from the State justification of

the legislation with a view to establishing that it is not

arbitrary or discriminatory. [296 G-H, 298 C-E]

     The burden rests on the State to establish by producing

material before the Court or authorities, that death penalty

has greater  deterrent effect than life sentence in order to

justify its  imposition under the law. If the State fails to

discharge this  burden which  rests upon it, the Court would

have to            hold that  death penalty has not been shown to have

greater deterrent  effect and  it does not therefore serve a

rational legislative purpose. [315 F-H]





     CRIMINAL APPELLATE        JURISDICTION: Criminal        Appeal            No.

273 of 1979.

     Appeal by   special leave  from the           Judgment and  Order

dated the  14th August,          1978 of  the Punjab  & Haryana High

Court in Criminal Appeal No. 234 of 1978)

WRIT PETITIONS NOS. 564, 165, 179, 168, 434, 89, 754, 756 &

                                    976 of 1979.

     (Under Article 32 of the Constitution of India)


     Special Leave Petition (Criminal) No. 1732 of 1979

     R.K. Jain,     R.P. Singh, Shiv Kumar Sharma Suman, Kapoor

and Sukumar Sahu for the Petitioner in W.P. 564/79.

     Dr. Y.S. Chitale, Mukul Mudgal and A.K. Ganguli for the

Petitioner in W.P. No. 165 of 1979.

     Vimal Dave and Miss Kailash Mehta for the Petitioner in

W.P. 179 of 1979.

     WP. Nos. 168 & 89 of 1979; Jail Petitions.

     H.K. Puri, A.C. for the Appellant in Crl. Appeal.

     S.S. Khanduja  and Lalit Kumar Gupta for the Petitioner

in W.P. No. 434 of 1979.

     L.N. Gupta for the Petitioner in S.L.P.

     L.M. Singhvi  and S.K.  Jain for  the Petitioner in WP.


     Harbans Singh for the Petitioner in W.P. 756/79

     N.D. Garg   for Mr.            S.K. Bisaria  and T.L. Garg for the

Petitioner in WP. 976 of 1979.

     Soli J.  Sorabjee, Sol.  Genl. in        WP. 564           & 165- U.R.

Lalit, in  WP. 564;  for U.O.I.,  R.N. Sachthey, for U.O.I.,

Gujarat, Haryana  States, M.L. Shroff for Gujarat, Haryana &

Maharashtra, Miss  A. Subhashini,  and Mr.  K.N. Bhatt,       for

U.O.I. for  Respondent No.  1 in WPs. 554, 179, R. 2 in WPs.

434 & 754, R.1 in WP. 165, R. 3 in WP. 756, R. 2 in WPs. 564

 & 165. R in 168 & 89, RR 1 & 2 in WP. 756 and RR 1 and 3 in

WP. 754 of 1979.

     D.P. Singh   Chauhan, Addl.           Advocate General,  U.P. and

O.P. Rana for R. 2 in WP. 179.

     R.S. Sodhi   and Hardev  Singh for            R. 1  in WP.  434  &

Respondent in Crl. A. 273 of 1979.

     R.S. Sodhi for Respondent No. 3 in WP. 434/79.

     R.L. Kohli    and R.C.  Kohli for  the compalinant in WP.


     D.P. Mukherjee for the Intervener No. 1.

     Dr. LM Singhvi for the Intervener No. 2. Intervener No.

3 in person.

     V.J. Francis for the intervener No. 4.

     R.K. Garg and R.K. Jain for the intervener No. 5.


1. Andhra  Pradesh     :     P. Ramachandra Reddy, Advocate

General A.P.  Rao                                                  and G.



2. Gujarat               :     D.V. Patel, (Maharashtra)

3. Maharashtra                       :     R.N. Sachthey, (Gujarat) M.N.

Shroff Gujarat &                                             Maharashtra

4. Jammu &            :     Altaf Ahmed


5. Madhya                                   :              S.K.  Gambhir


6. Punjab               :          R.S. Sodhi and Hardev Singh

7. Orissa                 :      G.B. Patnaik, Advocate General

and R.K. Mehta

8. Tamil Nadu       :          A.V. Rangam

9. West            Bengal                           :             Sukumar Ghosh  and G.S.


     The following Judgments were delivered:

     SARKARIA, J.  This reference  to the Constitution Bench

raises a  question in  regard to the constitutional validity

of death  penalty for  murder provided in Section 302, Penal

Code, and  the sentencing  procedure embodied in sub-section

(3) of Section 354 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

     The reference has arisen in these circumstances:

     Bachan Singh,  appellant in  Criminal Appeal No. 273 of

1979, was  tried and  convicted and sentenced to death under

Section 302,  Indian Penal  Code for  the  murders  of          Desa

Singh, Durga  Bai and  Veeran Bai by the Sessions Judge. The

High Court  confirmed his  death sentence  and dismissed his


     Bachan Singh's  appeal by special leave,  came up          for

hearing before a Bench of this Court (consisting of Sarkaria

and Kailasam,  JJ.). The  only question for consideration in

the appeal  was, whether the facts found by the Courts below

would be  "special reasons"  for awarding the death sentence

as required  under Section  354(3) of  the Code        of Criminal

Procedure 1973.

     Shri H.K. Puri, appearing as Amicus Curiae on behalf of

the appellant,  Bachan Singh,  in Criminal Appeal No. 273 of

1979 contended that   in view of the  ratio of Rajendra Prasad v.

State of  U.P.,(1) the   Courts below  were not          competent to

impose the extreme penalty of death on the appellant. It was

submitted that            neither the  circumstance that the appellant

was previously            convicted for  murder  and  committed  these

murder after  he had  served out  the life  sentence in         the

earlier case,  not the  fact that  these three  murders were

extremely  heinous   and  inhuman,  constitutes       a  "special

reason" for  imposing the  death sentence within the meaning

of Section  354(3) of  the Code           of Criminal Procedure 1973.

Reliance for  this argument  was placed        on Rajendra  Prasad

(ibid) which  according to  the counsel,  was on  facts very

similar, if not identical, to that case.

     Kailasam, J.  was of  opinion that the majority view in

Rajendra Prasad taken by V.R. Krishna Iyer, J, who spoke for

himself and  D.A. Desai, J., was contrary to the judgment of

the Constitution  Bench in  Jagmohan Singh v. State of Uttar

Pradesh(2), inter alia, on these aspects:

     (i) In  Rajendra Prasad, V.R. Krishna Iyer, J. observed :

              "The   main  focus  of            our  judgment            is  on    this

     poignant gap in 'human rights jurisprudence' within the

     limits  of       the  Penal   Code,  impregnated   by            the

     Constitution. To  put it pithily, a world order voicing

     the worth   of  the  human            person,            a  cultural  legacy

     charged with  compassion, an  interpretative liberation

     from  colonial  callousness  to  life  and    liberty,  a

     concern for  social justice  as setting  the sights  of

     individual justice, interest with the inherited text of

     the Penal    Code to            yield the  goals desiderated by the

     Preamble and Articles 14, 19 and 21."

              According to  Kailasam, J.,  the challenge  to the

     award of  the death  sentence as  violative of Articles

     19, 14  and 21,  was repelled by the Constitution Bench

     in Jagmohan's case.

              (ii) In  Jagmohan's case,  the Constitution  Bench


              "The impossibility  of laying down standards          (in

     the matter  of sentencing)            is  at   the  very  core  of

     criminal law as administered in India which invests the

     judges with a

     very wide discretion in the matter of fixing the degree

     of punishment and that this discretion in the matter of

     sentence  in   liable  to      be  corrected by  superior

     Courts... The  exercise of   judicial discretion on well

     recognised principles  is, in  the final  analysis, the

     safest possible safeguard for the accused."

     In Rajendra Prasad, the majority decision characterised

the  above   observations  in   Jagmohan   as:            "incidental

observations  without concentration  on   the             sentencing

criteria", and   said that  they are  not the  ratio  of  the

decision, adding. "Judgments are not Bible for every line to

be venerated."

     (iii) In Rajendra Prasad, the plurality observed:

              "It is  constitutionally permissible    to  swing  a

     criminal  out   of    corporeal  existence  only  if the

     security of  State and  society, public  order and  the

     interests of  the general    public compel that course as

     provided in Article 19(2) to (6)."

This view  again, according to Kailasam, J., is inconsistent

with  the  law  laid  down  by  the  Constitution  Bench  in

Jagmohan, wherein  it was  held that  deprivation of life is

constitutionally permissible  if that  is done  according to

"procedure established by law".

     (iv) In  Rajendra     Prasad,            the  majority  has  further


              "The only correct approach is to read into Section

     302. I.P.C.  and Section  354(3) Cr.  P.C.,  the  human

     rights  and  humane  trends  in  the  Constitution.  So

     examined,  the  rights  to  life  and  the   fundamental

     freedoms is  deprived when          he is    hanged to death, his

     dignity  is   defiled  when  his  neck  is      noosed            and


     Against the  above, Kailasam,  J. commented : 'The only

change after  the Constitution            Bench delivered its judgment

is the introduction of Section 354(3) which requires special

reasons to  be given  if the  Court is   to award  the  death

sentence. If  without the  restriction of stating sufficient

reasons death  sentence could  be  constitutionally  awarded

under the  I.P.C. and  Cr.  P.C.  as  it  stood    before            the

amendment, it  is difficult  to perceive  how  by  requiring

special reasons to

be given  the  amended          section would be  unconstitutional

unless the  "sentencing sector            is made most restrictive and

least vagarious".

     (v) In Rajendra Prasad, the majority has held that:

              "Such extraordinary grounds alone constitutionally

     qualify as    special reasons  as leave  on option to the

     Court but    to execute the offender if State and society

     are to  survive. One  stroke of murder hardly qualifies

     for this  drastic requirement,  however,  gruesome         the

     killing or     pathetic the situation, unless the inherent

     testimony coming from that act is irresistible that the

     murderous appetite           of the  convict is  too chronic and

     deadly that ordered life in a given locality or society

     or in  prison itself would be gone if this man were now

     or later to be at large. If he is an irredeemable, like

     a bloodthirsty  tiger, he     has to  quit his terrestrial


     According to  Kailasam, J.,  what is  extracted  above,

runs directly  counter to  and cannot be reconciled with the

following observations in Jagmohan's case:

              "But some  (murders) at  least are  diabolical  in

     conception and cruel in execution. In some others where

     the victim is a person of high standing in the country,

     society is    liable to be recked to its very foundation.

     Such murders  cannot be  simply wished  away by finding

     alibis in       the social  maladjustment of  the  murderer.

     Prevalence of  such crimes            speaks, in  the opinion  of

     many, for   the inevitability  of death penalty not only

     by way  of   deterrence  but  as  a            token  of  emphatic

     disapproval by the society A very responsible body (Law

     Commission)  has   come   to   the   conclusion   after

     considering  all      the   relevant  factors.   On   the

     conclusions thus offered to us, it will be difficult to

     hold that capital punishment as such is unreasonable or

     not required in the public interest."

              (vi) Kailasam,  J. was further of the opinion that

     it is equally beyond the functions of a Court to evolve

     "working rules for imposition of death sentence bearing

     the markings  of  enlightened  flexibility  and  social

     sensibility" or to make law "by cross-fertilisation

     from  sociology,  history,   cultural  anthropology           and

     current national  perils and  developmental goals           and,

     above all,   constitutional currents". This function, in

     his view,     belongs only  to Parliament.  The Court must

     administer the law as it stands.

     (vii) The      learned Judge has further expressed that the

     view taken  by V.R. Krishna Iyer, J. in Rajendra Prasad

     that "  'special reasons'     necessary for imposing death

     penalty must  relate not  to the  crime as such, but to

     the criminal"  is not warranted by the law as it stands


     Without expressing            his  own  opinion  on  the  various

questions raised  in that case including the one with regard

to the   scope, amplification  and application of Section 354

(3) of   the Code  of Criminal Procedure, 1974, Sarkaria, J.,

in agreement  with Kailasam, J., directed the records of the

case to be submitted  to the Hon'ble the Chief Justice, for

constituting  a   large  Bench "to  resolve     the  doubts,

difficulties and  inconsistencies pointed  out by  Kailasam,


     In the  meanwhile, several persons convicted of murders

and sentenced  to death,  filed writ petitions (namely, Writ

Petitions 564,  165, 179, 434, 89, 754, 756 and 976 of 1979)

under Article  32 of  the Constitution directly challenging

the constitutional validity of the death penalty provided in

Section 302  of the  Indian Penal  Code for  the offence  of

murder, and the sentencing procedure provided in Section 354

(3) of   the Code  of Criminal  Procedure, 1974. That is how,

the matter  has now come up before this larger Bench of five


     At the  outset, Shri  R.K.     Garg  submitted  with            some

vehemance  and         persistence,  that  Jagmohan's          case  needs

reconsideration by  a larger Bench if not by the Full Court.

Reconsideration          of   Jagmohan,           according  to  the  learned

counsel, is  necessitated because  of subsequent  events and

changes in  law.  Firstly,  it     is  pointed  out  that    when

Jagmohan was  decided in  1972,       the  then  extant  Code  of

Criminal Procedure,  1898 left           the choice between death and

life imprisonment  as punishment  for murder entirely to the

discretion of the Court. This position has since undergone a

complete change        and under  Section 354          (3) of  the Code of

Criminal Procedure,  1973, death  sentence has       ceased to be

the normal penalty for murder. Secondly,

it is  argued, the  seven-Judge decision  of this  Court  in

Maneka           Gandhi v.  Union  of    India(1)  has  given  a new

interpretative dimension  of the  provisions of Articles 21,

19 and 14 and their inter-relationship,  and according  to

this new interpretation every law of punitive detention both

in its procedural and substantive aspects must pass the test

of all    the three  Articles. It is stressed that an argument

founded on  this expansive  interpretation of these Articles

was not            available when Jagmohan was decided. Thirdly, it is

submitted that            India has since acceded to the international

Covenant of  Civil  and            Political  Rights  adopted  by the

General Assembly  of the  United Nations,  which  came      into

force in  December 16,           1976. By  virtue of  this  Covenant.

India and  the other  47 countries  who are  a party  to it,

stand committed         to a  policy for  abolition of   the  'death


     Dr. L.M.  Singhvi submitted  that the question of death

penalty cannot            be  foreclosed for  ever  on  the  abstract

doctrine of  stare decisis  by a  previous decision  of this

Court. It  is emphasised that the very nature of the problem

is such that it  must be the subject of review from time to

time so            as to   be in  tune with  the evolving standards of

decency in a maturing society.

     The  learned   Solicitor-General,   Shri   Soli  Sorabji

opposed the request of Shri Garg for referring the matter to

a larger  Bench           because  such a  course  would  only mean

avoidable delay in disposal of the matter. At the same time,

the  learned   counsel made   it  clear   that  since   the

constitutionality of  the death            penalty for  murder was now

sought to  be challenged  on additional         arguments based  on

subsequent events  and changes        in law, he  would  have  no

objection on  the  ground  of  stare  decisis,  to  a  fresh

consideration of the whole problem by this very Bench.

     In view  of the  concession made  by Shri Sorabji,  we

proceeded to hear the counsel for the parties at length, and

to deal afresh with the constitutional questions concerning

death penalty raised in these writ petitions.

     We  have   heard  the  arguments  of  Shri          R.K.  Garg.

appearing for  the writ-petitioners  in           Writ  Petition No.

564/79 for  more than three weeks and also those of Dr. L.M.

Singhvi, Dr. Chitaley and

S/Shri   Mukhoty,   Dave          and   R.K.  Jain,   appearing   for

interveners or for the other writ-petitioners.

     We have  also heard the arguments of Shri Soli Sorabji,

Solicitor-General, appearing for the Union of India and Shri

Patel appearing          for the  State of Maharashtra and the other

counsel appearing for the respondents.

     The principal  questions that  fall to be considered in

this case are:

     (I)  Whether death penalty provided for the offence of

              murder   in    Section   302,    Penal   Code   is


     (II) If the  answer to the foregoing question be in the

              negative,   whether   the   sentencing   procedure

              provided  in   Section            354  (3)  of  the  Code  of

              Criminal  Procedure,            1973  (Act  2  of  1974)  is

              unconstitutional on the ground that it invests the

              Court with  unguided and  untrammelled  discretion

              and allows  death sentence  to be  arbitrarily  or

              freakishly imposed  on a  person found  guilty  of

              murder or  any other            capital offence  punishable

              under the  Indian Penal Code with death or, in the

              alternative, with imprisonment for life.

     We will  first take up Question No. (I) relating to the

constitutional validity of Section 302, Penal Code.

Question No. (I):

     Before dealing  with the contentions canvassed, it will

be useful  to have a short survey of the legislative history

of the   provisions  of   the  Penal  Code  which          permit            the

imposition of death penalty for certain offences.

     The Indian  Penal Code  was drafted by the First Indian

Law Commission         presided over  by Mr.  Macaulay.  The  draft

underwent  further  revision  at  the  hands  of  well-known

jurists, like Sir Barnes Peacock, and was completed in 1850.

The Indian Penal Code was

passed by  the then  Legislature on  October 6, 1860 and was

enacted as Act No XLV of 1860.

     Section 53  of the Penal Code enumerates punishments to

which offenders          are liable  under the  provisions  of   this

Code. Clause  Firstly of the Section mentions 'Death' as one

of such punishments. Regarding 'death' as a punishment, the

authors of  the Code say: "We are convinced that it ought to

be very            sparingly inflicted,  and we  propose to  employ it

only in cases where  either murder  or the  highest offence

against the  State has been committed."  Accordingly, under

the Code,  death is  the punishment that must be awarded for

murder by  a person  under sentence of imprisonment for life

(Section 303). This apart, the Penal Code prescribes 'death'

as an  alternative punishment  to which the offenders may be

sentenced, for the following seven offences:

     (1)  Waging war  against the  Government of  India. (s.


     (2)  Abetting mutiny actually committed. (s. 132)

     (3)  Giving or fabricating false evidence upon which an

              innocent person suffers death. (s. 194)

     (4)  Murder which  may be            punished with  death or life

              imprisonment. (s. 302)

     (5)  Abetment of  suicide of  a  minor  or  insane,  or

              intoxicated person. (s. 305)

     (6)  Dacoity accompanied with murder. (s. 396)

     (7)  Attempt to  murder by            a person  under sentence of

              imprisonment for life if hurt is caused. (s. 307)

     In the  instant cases,  the impugned  provision of the

Indian Penal  Code  is Section            302  which  says:  "Whoever

commits murder shall be punished with death, or imprisonment

for  life,   and  also      be  liable  to    fine."   The  related

provisions are contained in  Sections 299  and 300. Section

299  defines   'culpable  homicide'.   Section 300  defines

'murder'. Its material part runs as follows:

     "Except in   the cases  hereinafter            excepted,  culpable

homicide is  murder, if the act by which the death is caused

is done with the intention of causing death, or

     Secondly-If it  is done  with the     intention of causing

such bodily  injury as  the offender  knows to            be likely to

cause death of the person to whom the harm is caused, or

     Thirdly-If it  is done  with the  intention of  causing

bodily injury  to any  person and the bodily injury intended

to be  inflicted is  sufficient in  the ordinary  course  of

nature to cause death, or

     Fourthly-If the person committing the act knows that it

is so imminently dangerous that it must, in all probability,

cause death,  or such  bodily injury  as is  likely to cause

death,  and   commits,            such  act  without  any            excuse            for

incurring the  risk of   causing            death  or  such  injury  as


     The first contention of Shri Garg is that the provision

of death  penalty in Section 302, Penal Code offends Article

19 of  the Constitution.  It is   submitted that the right to

live is   basic to  the enjoyment  of all  the  six  freedoms

guaranteed in  clauses (a)  to (e) and (g) of Article 19 (1)

of the   Constitution and  death penalty         puts an  end to all

these freedoms:          that since  death penalty  serves no social

purpose and its value as a deterrent remains unproven and it

defiles the dignity of the individual so solemnly vouchsafed

in the   Preamble of the Constitution, its imposition must be

regarded as an 'unreasonable restriction' amounting to total

prohibition, on            the six  freedoms guaranteed  in Article 19


     Article 19, as in force today, reads as under:

     "19 (1).  All citizens shall have the right-

             (a)   to freedom of speech and expression;

             (b)   to assemble peaceably and without arms;

             (c)   to form associations or unions;

             (d)   to move  freely throughout  the territory  of


              (e)  to reside  and settle  in  any  part  of     the

                   territory of India;

              (f)  .....................;

              (g)  to practice  any profession,  or to  carry on

                   any occupation, trade or business.

(2)  Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause  (1) shall affect

     the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State

     from making  any law,  in so  far as  such law  imposes

     reasonable restrictions  on the  exercise of  the right

     conferred by  the said  sub-clause in  the interests of

     the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of

     the State,    friendly  relations  with  foreign  States,

     public order,  decency or   morality, or  in relation to

     contempt of  court,  defamation  or  incitement  to  an


(3)  Nothing in sub-clause (b) of the  said  clause  shall

     affect the   operation of  any existing law in so far as

     it imposes,  or prevent  the State  from making any law

     imposing, in  the    interests  of  the  sovereignty and

     integrity     of   India  or    public order,   reasonable

     restrictions on  the exercise of the right conferred by

     the said sub-clause.

(4)  Nothing in sub-clause (c) of the  said  clause  shall

     affect the   operation of  any existing law in so far as

     it imposes,  or prevent  the State  from making any law

     imposing, in  the    interests  of  the  sovereignty and

     integrity     of   India  or    public  order  or  morality,

     reasonable restrictions  on the  exercise of  the right

     conferred by the said sub-clause.

(5)  Nothing in sub-clauses (d)  and (e) of the said clause

     shall affect  the operation  of any  existing law in so

     far as  it imposes,  or prevents  the State from making

     any  law      imposing,  reasonable  restrictions  on          the

     exercise of  any of  the rights  conferred by  the said

     sub-clauses either  in the  interests  of    the  general

     public or     for the protection of  the interests of any

     Scheduled Tribe.

(6)  Nothing in sub-clause (g) of the  said  clause  shall

     affect the   operation of  any existing law in so far as

     it imposes,  or prevents  the State from making any law

     imposing, in  the    interests  of  the  general  public,

     reasonable restrictions  on the  exercise of  the right

     con     ferred by     the  said  sub-clause,  and  in particular,

     nothing  in  the  said  sub-clause,  shall     affect  the

     operation of  any existing  law in so far as it relates

     to, or  prevent the  State from making any law relating


     (i)  the  professional   or  technical   qualifications

              necessary  for   practising  any   profession   or

              carrying on any occupation, trade or business, or

     (ii) the carying  on by  the State, or by a corporation

              owned or  controlled by  the State,  of any trade,

              business, industry  or  service,  whether  to the

              exclusion, complete  or partial,  of  citizens  or


     It will  be seen  that the     first part  of the  Article

declares the  rights in clause (1)  comprising of  six sub-

clauses namely,          (a) to  (e) and (g). The second part of the

Article in  its five clauses (2) to (6) specifies the limits

upto which  the abridgement of the rights declared in one or

more of           the sub-clauses  of clause  (1), may  be permitted.

Broadly speaking,  Article 19  is intended  to protect            the

rights to  the freedoms           specifically enumerated  in the six

sub-clauses of clause (1)  against State action, other than

in the   legitimate exercise  of its  power to regulate these

rights in the public interest relating to heads specified in

clauses (2)  to (6). The six fundamental freedoms guaranteed

under Article  19 (1) are not absolute rights. Firstly, they

are  subject   to  inherent  restraints  stemming  from         the

reciprocal obligation of one member of a civil society to so

use his rights as  not to infringe or injure similar rights

of another.  This is  on the  principle  sic  utere  tuo  ut

alienum non laedas. Secondly, under clauses (2) to (6) these

rights have  been expressly made subject to the power of the

State to  impose reasonable  restrictions,  which  may         even

extend to prohibition, on the exercise of those rights.

     The power, if properly exercised, is itself a safeguard

of the   freedoms guaranteed in clause (1). The conferment of

this  power   is  founded  on  the  fundamental         truth   that

uncontrolled  liberty   entirely   freed   from   restraint,

degenerates into  a licence,  leading to  anarchy and chaos;

that libertine pursuit of liberty, absolutely free, and free

for  all,  may   mean  liberticide  for  all.  "Liberty    has,

therefore," as Justice Patanjali  Sastri put it, "to be limited in order to

be effectively possessed."

     It     is  important  to  note  that   whereas          Article  21

expressly deals with the right to life and personal liberty,

Article 19  does not.  The right  to life  is not one of the

rights mentioned in Article 19 (1).

     The first      point under Question (1) to be considered is

whether Article           19 is    at all    applicable for  judging            the

validity of  the impugned  provision in           Section 302,  Penal


     As rightly    pointed  out  by  Shri  Soli  Sorabji,   the

condition precedent  for the  applicability of Article 19 is

that the  activity which  the  impugned          law  prohibits and

penalises, must           be within  the purview           and  protection  of

Article 19 (1). Thus considered, can any one say that he has

a legal right or fundamental freedom under Article 19 (1) to

practise the  profession of  a hired  assassin or  to   form

associations or            unions or  engage in  a conspiracy with the

object of committing murders or dacoities. The argument that

the provisions of the Penal Code, prescribing death sentence

as an  alternative penalty  for murder           have to be tested on

the ground  of Article 19, appears to proceed on the fallacy

that the  freedoms guaranteed by Article 19 (1) are absolute

freedoms and  they  cannot  be          curtailed  by  law  imposing

reasonable  restrictions,   which  may           amount             to   total

prohibition.  Such  an  argument  was  advanced      before            the

Constitution  Bench   in  The  State  of  Bombay  v.  R.M.D.

Chamarbaugwala.(1) In  that case the constitutional validity

of certain  provisions of  the Bombay  Lotteries  and  Prize

Competition Control  Act, 1952, as amended by Bombay Act No.

XXX of  1952, was challenged on the ground, inter alia, that

it infringes the fundamental rights of the promoters of such

competitions under  Article 19           (1) (g),  to carry  on their

trade or  business and            that the restrictions imposed by the

said  Act   cannot  possibly   be  supported  as  reasonable

restrictions  in   the     interest   of  the   general  public

permissible under  Article 19 (b). It was contended that the

words "trade"  or "business" or "commerce" in sub-clause (g)

of Article  19 (a)  should be read in their widest amplitude

as any  activity which  is undertaken  or carried  on with a

view to            earning profit since there is nothing in Article 19

(1) (g)  which may  qualify or            cut down  the meaning of the

critical words; that there is no justification for excluding

from the meaning of those  words activities  which may  be looked  upon  with

disfavour by  the State            or the Court as injurious to public

morality or  public interest.  Speaking for the Constitution

Bench, S.R.  Das, C.J.   repelled this  contention, in  these


              "On this  argument it            will follow  that  criminal

     activities undertaken  and carried            on with  a view  to

     earning profit  will be protected as fundamental rights

     until they    are restricted by law. Thus there will be a

     guaranteed right  to carry on a business of hiring out

     goondas to commit assault          or even  murder, or  house-

     breaking, or  selling obscene  pictures, of trafficking

     in women  and so  on until            the law curbs or stops such

     activities.  This       appears  to  us  to  be  completely

     unrealistic and  incongruous. We  have  no          doubt  that

     there  are     certain  activities  which  can  under  no

     circumstance  be  regarded          as  trade  or   business  or

     commerce although          the usual  forms and instruments are

     employed therein. To exclude those activities from the

     meaning of those words is not to cut down their meaning

     at all  but to  say only  that they  are not within the

     true meaning of those words."

This approach  to the  problem still  holds the           field.   The

observations  in   Chamarbaugwala,  extracted        above, were

recently quoted           with approval by V.R. Krishna Iyer.,  J.,

while delivering  the judgment          of the   Bench in  Fatehchand

Himmatlal & Ors. v. State of Maharashtra(1).

     In A.K. Gopalan v. The State of Madras (2), all the six

learned Judges            constituting the  Bench held  that  punitive

detention  or   imprisonment  awarded  as  punishment  after

conviction for  an offence  under the  Indian Penal  Code is

outside the  scope of  Article 19,  although this conclusion

was reached  by them  by adopting  more     or  less  different

approaches to the problem.

     It was  contended on  behalf of A.K. Gopalan that since

the preventive detention order           results in the detention of

the detenu in a cell, his rights specified in clauses (a) to

(e) and (g) of Article 19 (1) have been infringed.

     Kania, C  J. rejected  this argument,  inter  alia,  on

these grounds:

     (i)  Argument would  have been  equally applicable to a

              case of  punitive detention,  and  its  acceptance

              would lead  to absurd           results. "In  spite of    the

              saving clauses  (2) to (6), permitting abridgement

              of the  rights connected with each other, punitive

              detention under  several  sections  of  the  Penal

              Code, e.g.  for theft,  cheating, forgery and even

              ordinary assault,  will be  illegal, (because  the

              reasonable restrictions in the interest of "public

              order" mentioned  in clauses           (2) to   (4)  of  the

              Article would not cover  these offences  and many

              other crimes under the  Penal Code  which  injure

              specific  individuals     and  do   not  affect  the

              community or           the public  at large).   Unless  such

              conclusion necessarily  follows from            the article,

              it is    obvious that  such construction  should  be

              avoided. In my opinion, such result is clearly not

              the outcome of the Constitution."

              (The underlined  words within          brackets supplied.)

              (At page 100 of the Report)

     (ii) Judged by  the test  of direct and indirect effect

              on the  rights referred  to in article 19 (1), the

              Penal Code  is not  a law imposing restrictions on

              these rights. The test is that "the legislation to

              be examined  must be directly in respect of one of

              the rights  mentioned in the sub-clauses. If there

              is a     legislation directly attempting to control a

              citizen's freedom  of speech or expression or his

              right to  assemble  peaceably          and  without  arms,

              etc., the  question whether  that  legislation  is

              saved by  the relevant saving clause of Article 19

              will arise.  If, however,  the legislation  is not

              directly in  respect of any of these subjects, but

              as a result of the operation of other legislation,

              for     instance,   for    punitive   or     preventive

              detention, his  right  under  any  of these  sub-

              clauses  is      abridged,  the question   of   the

              application of Article 19 does not arise. The true

              approach is only to consider the directness of the

              legislation and not what will be the result of the

              detention otherwise  valid, on  the  mode  of          the

              detenu's life." (Pages 100-101).

     (iii)"The contents   and subject-matter  of articles  19

              and 21  are thus  not the  same..."   (Page  105).

              "Article 19  (5) cannot apply to a substantive law

              depriving a citizen of personal liberty." "Article

              19 (1)  does not  purport to  cover all aspects of

              liberty or  of personal  liberty. Personal liberty

              would primarily mean liberty of the physical body.

              The rights  given under  article  19  (1)  do  not

              directly come            under  that  description.  In    that

              Article only    certain phases of liberty are dealt

              with".  (Page   106)   "In  my opinion  therefore,

              Article 19  should be read as a separate complete

              Article". (Page 107).

     Patanjali     Sastri,    J.,  also,   opined  "that  lawful

deprivation of personal liberty  on conviction and sentence

for committing            a crime,  or by a lawful order of preventive

detention is  "not within  the purview of Article 19 at all,

but is   dealt with  by the  succeeding Articles           20 and 21."

(Page 192).  In tune  with Kania,  C.J., the  learned  Judge

observed: "A  construction which  would bring within Article

19 imprisonment        in punishment            of a  crime committed  or in

prevention of  a crime            threatened would, as it seems to me,

make  a             reductio  ad   absurdum  of  that  provision.  If

imprisonment were  to be  regarded as a 'restriction' of the

right mentioned in article 19 (1) (d), it would equally be a

restriction on the rights mentioned by the other sub-clauses

of clause (1), with the result that all penal laws providing

for imprisonment  as a           mode of punishment would have to run

the gauntlet  of clauses  (2) to  (6) before  their validity

could be accepted. For instance, the law which imprisons for

theft would  on that view, fall to be justified under clause

(2) as   a law  sanctioning restriction of freedom of speech

and expression." (Page 192).

     "Article 19  confers the  rights therein specified only

on the  citizens of  India, while  article  21     extends            the

protection of  life and personal  liberty  to   all  persons

citizens and  non-citizens alike.  Thus, the two Articles do

not operate in a coterminous field." (Page 193).

     "(Personal liberty)  was used  in Article 21 as a sense

which excludes the freedoms dealt in Article 19 ....."

     Rejecting the  argument of           the Attorney  General,           the

learned Judge  held that clauses (4) to (7) of Article 22 do

not form a complete Code and  that "the  language of  Article  21  is  perfectly

general            and  covers  deprivation  of  personal           liberty  or

incarceration, both  for punitive  and preventive  reasons."

(Page 207).

     Mahajan, J.,  however, adopted a different approach. In

his judgment,  "an examination         of the provisions of Article

22 clearly  suggests that the intention was to make it self-

contained as  regards the  law of  preventive detention       and

that the  validity of  a law  on the  subject of  preventive

detention cannot  be examined  or controlled  either by      the

provisions of  Article 21  or by  the provisions  of Article

19(5)." (Page 229).

     Mukerjee,  J.  explained  the  relative  scope  of  the

Articles in  this group,  thus: "To me it seems that Article

19 of  the Constitution gives a list of individual liberties

and prescribes            in the   various clauses            the restraints that

may be placed upon them by law so that they may not conflict

with public  welfare or general morality. On the other hand,

Articles 20,  21 and  22 are  primarily concerned with penal

enactments or  other laws  under which        personal  safety  or

liberty of  persons could  be taken away in the interests of

the society  and they  set down          the limits within which the

State control  should be exercised. In my opinion, the group

of articles 20 to 22 embody the entire protection guaranteed

by the  Constitution in relation to deprivation of life and

personal liberty  both with regard to substantive as well as

to procedural law." (Page 255).

     "The only    proper way of avoiding these anomalies is to

interpret  the  two  provisions            (articles  19    and  21)  as

applying to  different subjects.  It is   also unnecessary to

enter into  a discussion  on the  question...as            to  whether

article 22 by itself is a self-contained Code with regard to

the law of Preventive Detention." (Page 257).

     S.R. Das,     J., also,  rejected the   argument  that           the

whole of  the Indian Penal Code is a law imposing reasonable

restriction on  the rights conferred by Article 19 (1), with

these observations (at Page 303) :

              "To say  that every  crime undermines the security

     of the  State and,   therefore,  every  section  of the

     Indian Penal  Code, irrespective  of whether it has any

     reference to  speech or expression, is a law within the

     meaning of this  clause  is  wholly  unconvincing and

     betrays only a vain and forlorn

     attempt to find an explanation for meeting the argument

     that any  conviction by a Court of law must necessarily

     infringe article  19 (1)  (a). There  can be no getting

     away from  the fact  that a  detention as a result of a

     conviction impairs the freedom  of speech         for  beyond

     what is  permissible under            clause (2)  of article   19.

     Likewise, a detention on lawful conviction impairs each

     of the  other personal  rights mentioned in sub-clauses

     (3) to  (6). The  argument that  every section  of  the

     Indian Penal  Code irrespective  of whether  it has any

     reference to  any of  the rights  referred to  in    sub-

     clauses (b) to (e) and (g) is a law imposing reasonable

     restriction on  those several  rights has    not even the

     merit of  plausibility. There  can be  no doubt  that a

     detention    as   a    result   of  lawful  conviction  must

     necessarily  impair  the  fundamental  personal  rights

     guaranteed            by  article  19  (1)  far  beyond  what  is

     permissible under  clauses (2)  to (6)  of that article

     and yet nobody can think of questioning the validity of

     the detention  or of  the section    of the   Indian Penal

     Code under which the sentence was passed."

     (ii) Das,       J. then  gave an additional reason as to why

     validity of  punitive detention  or of  the sections of

     the Penal    Code under  which the  sentence was  passed,

     cannot be   challenged on the ground of article 19, thus


              "Because the freedom of  his person           having been

     lawfully taken  away, the convict ceases to be entitled

     to exercise .. any of the .. rights protected by clause

     (1) of article 19."

     (iii) The       learned Judge  also held  that            "article  19

     protects some  of the  important attributes of personal

     liberty  as   independent    rights   and  the  expression

     'personal liberty'    has been  used in  article 21  as a

     compendious term  including within         its meaning all the

     varieties of  rights which   go to   make up the personal

     liberties of men." (Page 299).

     Fazal Ali,     J. dissented  from  the  majority.  In  his

opinion: "It  cannot be said that articles 19, 20, 21 and 22

do not  to some           extent overlap            each other.  The case            of a

person who is convicted of an offence will  come under  article 20  and 21  and also under article 22  so far  as his  arrest and       detention in custody

before trial  are concerned.  Preventive detention, which is

dealt with  in article   22, also  amounts to  deprivation of

personal liberty  which is  referred to            in article  19   (1)

(d)." (Page 148).

     Fazal Ali,     J. held  that since  preventive  detention,

unlike punitive            detention,  directly  infringes  the  right

under Article 19(1)(d), it must pass the test of clause (5).

According to the learned Judge, only those laws are required

to be  tested on  the anvil  of Article  19  which  directly

restrict any  of the  rights guaranteed           in  Article  19(1).

Applying this  test (of  direct and  indirect effect) to the

provisions of  the Indian  Penal  Code,           the  learned  Judge

pointed out that the Code "does not primarily or necessarily

impose restrictions  on the  freedom of         movement, and it is

not correct to say that it is a law imposing restrictions on

the right  to move  freely. Its  primary object is to punish

crime and  not to  restrict  movement.          The  punishment         may

consist in  imprisonment  or  a           pecuniary  penalty.  If  it

consists in  a pecuniary  penalty, it  obviously involves no

restriction on movement, but if it consists in imprisonment,

there is  a  restriction  on  movement.           This  restraint  is

imposed not  under a  law imposing  restrictions on movement

but under a law defining crime and making it punishable. The

punishment is  correlated with           the violation  of some other

person's right  and not with the right of movement possessed

by the  offender himself.  In  my  opinion,  therefore,           the

Indian Penal  Code does         not come  within the  ambit of          the

words  "law  imposing  restriction  on            the  right  to    move


                                                                (Pages 145-146).

     In applying  the above  test, which  was  the  same  as

adopted by  Kania, C.J.,  Fazal Ali, J. reached a conclusion

contrary to  that reached  by  the  Chief  Justice,  on            the

following reasoning ;

              "Punitive   detention   is   however   essentially

     different     from   preventive  detention.  A  person  is

     punitively detained  only after  trial for committing a

     crime and   after his  guilt has  been established  in a

     competent court  of justice.  A person so convicted can

     take his  case to     the State  High Court  and sometimes

     bring it  to this       Court also; and he can in the course

     of the  proceedings connected  with his  trial take all

     pleas available  to him  including the  plea of want of

     jurisdiction of  the Court    of trial and the invalidity

     of the law      under which  he has been prosecuted. The final judgment

     in the  criminal trial  will thus       constitute a serious

     obstacle in  his way if he chooses to assert even after

     his conviction  that his  right under  article 19(1)(d)

     has been  violated. But  a person  who is  preventively

     detained has  not to  face such  an  obstacle  whatever

     other obstacle may be in his way."

                                                                          (Page 146)

     We have  copiously extracted from the judgments in A.K.

Gopalan's  case,   to  show   that  all    the     propositions

propounded, arguments  and reasons  employed  or  approaches

adopted by  the learned Judges in that case, in reaching the

conclusion that the Indian Penal Code, particularly those of

its provisions   which do  not have  a direct  impact on         the

rights conferred  by Article  19(1), is not a   law imposing

restrictions on those rights,   have not  been overruled  or

rendered bad  by the subsequent pronouncements of this Court

in Bank            Nationalizaton(1) case           or in Maneka Gandhi's case.

For instance,  the proposition laid down  by  Kania,  C.J.,

Fazal Ali,  Patanjali Sastri,  and S.R.   Das, J.J.  that the

Indian Penal Code particularly those of its provisions which

cannot be  justified on            the ground  on reasonableness         with

reference to  any of  the specified  heads, such  as "public

order" in  clauses (2), (3) and  (4), is not a law imposing

restrictions on any of the  rights  conferred by  Article

19(1),   still      holds  the  field.  Indeed,  the  reasoning,

explicit, or  implicit in  the     judgments  of  Kania,  C.J.,

Patanjali Sastri  and S.R.  Das JJ. that such a construction

which treats every section of the Indian Penal Code as a law

imposing 'restriction'  on the rights in Article 19(1), will

lead  to   absurdity  is  unassailable.  There  are  several

offences under            the Penal  Code, such  as  theft,  cheating,

ordinary assault,  which do  not violate  or effect  'public

order,' 'but only law and order'. These offences injure only

specific individuals  as distinguished  from the  public  at

large. It  is by now settled that 'public order' means 'even

tempo of the life of the community.' That being so, even all

murders do  not          disturb  or  affect  'public  order'.     Some

murders may be of purely private significance and the injury

or  harm   resulting   therefrom   affects   only   specific

individuals and,  consequently,           such  murders            may  not  be

covered           by  "public  order"  within  the  contemplation  of

clauses (2),  (3) and (4) of article 19. Such murders do not

lead to public disorder but to disorder simpliciter. Yet, no

rational being can say

     (1) [1970] 3 SCR 530.

that punishment of such murders is not in the general public

interest. It  may be  noted that  general public interest is

not specified  as a  head in  clauses (2)  to (4)  on  which

restriction on  the rights  mentioned in  clause (1)  of the

Article may be justified.

     It is  true, as was pointed out by Hidayatullah, J. (as

he then            was) in  Dr. Ram  Manohar Lohia's(1)  case, and  in

several other  decisions that  followed it,  that  the  real

distinction between the areas of 'law and order' and 'public

order' lies  not merely in the nature or quality of the act,

but in   the degree  and extent.          Violent crimes            similar  in

nature,              but     committed   in             different   contexts   and

circumstances might  cause  different  reactions.  A  murder

committed in  given circumstances  may cause  only a  slight

tremor, the  wave length of which does not extent beyond the

parameters of  law and          order. Another            murder committed  in

different context and circumstances may unleash a tidal wave

of such intensity, gravity  and magnitude,  that its impact

throws out  of gear  the even  flow of life. Nonetheless the

fact remains  that for such murders  which  do         not  affect

"public order",            even the provision for life imprisonment in

Section            302,    Indian  Penal   Code,  as   as   alternative

punishment, would  not be justifiable under clauses (2), (3)

and (4) as a  reasonable restriction  in  the   interest  of

'Public Order'. Such a construction  must,  therefore,  be

avoided. Thus  construed, Article  19 will be attracted only

to such laws, the  provisions of which are capable of being

tested under clauses (2) to (5) of Article 19.

     This proposition  was  recently  (1975)  reiterated  in

Hardhan Saha  & Anr.  v. State           of West Bengal(2). In accord

with this  line of  reasoning  in  A.K.   Gopalan's  case,  a

Constitution Bench  of this  Court in  Hardhan           Saha's  case

restated the  principle for  the applicability of Article 19

by  drawing  a distinction  between  a           law  of  preventive

detention and  a law  providing punishment for commission of

crimes, thus :

              "Constitution has  conferred rights  under Article

     19 and also adopted preventive detention to prevent the

     greater evil  of elements imperilling the security, the

     safety of     a State and the welfare of the nation. It is

     not possible  to think  that a  person who is detained

     will yet be free to move

     (1) [1966] 1 S.C.R. 709.

     (2) [1975] 1 S.C.R. 778 at p. 784.


     for assemble  or form association or unions or have the

     right to  reside in  any part  of      India  or  have the

     freedom of speech or  expression. Suppose         a person is

     convicted of an offence of cheating and prosecuted (and

     imprisoned) after trial, it is not open to say that the

     imprisonment should be tested with reference to Article

     19 for its reasonableness. A law which attracts Article

     19 therefore must be such as is capable of being tested

     to be reasonable under clauses (2) to 5 of Article 19."

                            (emphasis and parenthesis supplied.)

     The last  sentence which  has been           underlined  by            us,

appears           to   lend  implicit   approval  to   the  rule     of

construction adopted  by the  majority of the learned Judges

in A.K.  Gopalan's case,  whereby  they         excluded  from           the

purview of Article 19 certain provisions of the Indian Penal

Code providing            punishment for           certain offences which could

not be  tested on  the specific grounds-embodied in clauses

(2) to   (5) of   that Article. This proposition enunciated in

A.K. Gopalan's case is only a product of the application of

the basic  canon that  a construction  which would  lead  to

absurdity, should be eschewed.

     In R.C.  Cooper v.   Union of  India (popularly known as

Bank Nationalization  case), the  majority adopted  the two-

fold  test  for   determining  as  to  when  a  law  violated

fundamental rights, namely: "(1) It is not the object of the

authority making  the law  impairing the right of a citizen,

nor the form of action that determines the protection he can

claim. (2)  It is  the effect  of the  law and of the action

upon the  right which  attract the jurisdiction of the Court

to grant  relief. The  direct operation            of the act upon the

rights forms the real test."

     In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (ibid), Bhagwati, J.

explained the scope of the same test by saying that a law or

and order  made thereunder will be hit by article 19, if the

direct and inevitable consequence of such law or order is to

abridge or  take away  any  one         or  more  of  the  freedoms

guaranteed by  Article 19(1). If the effect and operation of

the statute by itself, upon a person's fundamental rights is

remote or  dependent upon "factors which may or may not come

into play",  then such  statute is  not ultra-vires  on  the

ground of  its being  violative of  that fundamental  right.

Bhagwati J.      described this proposition  as  "the   doctrine  of

intended and  real effect" while Chandrachud, J. (as he then

was) called  it "the  test of proximate effect and operation

of the statute."

     The question  is, whether  R.C. Cooper  & Maneka Gandhi

have given  a complete          go-by to  the 'test  of  direct  and

indirect effect,  sometimes described  as  form        and  object

test' or  'pith and  substance rule',  which was  adopted by

Kania, C.J. and Fazal Ali, J. in A.K. Gopalan's case. In our

opinion, the  answer to           this  question  cannot            be  in  the

affirmative. In the first  place, there  is nothing much in

the name.  As  Varadachariar,  J.  put            it  in     Subrahmanyan

Chettiar's(1)  case,   such  rules  of    interpretation were

evolved only  as a matter of reasonableness and common sense

and out of the necessity of satisfactorily solving conflicts

from  the   inevitable  overlapping   of  subjects   in  any

distribution of powers. By  the same  yardstick  of  common

sense, the  'pith and substance rule' was applied to resolve

the question  of the  constitutionality of a law assailed on

the ground of its being violative of a fundamental right.

     Secondly, a survey of the decisions of this Court since

A.K. Gopalan,  shows that  the criterion of directness which

is the   essence of  the test  of direct and indirect effect,

has never  been totally           abandoned. Only  the  mode  of        its

application has            been modified            and its scope amplified  by

judicial activism  to maintain its efficacy for solving new

constitutional problems          in tune  with evolving            concepts of

rights and obligations in a strident democracy.

     The test  of direct and indirect effect adopted in A.K.

Gopalan was approved by the Full Court in Ram Singh v. State

of Delhi.(2)  Therein,  Patanjali  Sastri,  J.      quoted with

approval the  passages (i) and (ii) (which we have extracted

earlier) from  the judgment of Kania, C. J. Although Mahajan

and Bose,  JJ. differed on the merits, there was no dissent

on this point among all the learned Judges.

     The first      decision, which, though purporting to follow

Kania, C.  J's. enunciation  in A.K.  Gopalan, imperceptibly

added another  dimension to  the  test          of  directness, was

Express Newspapers  (Private) Ltd.  & Anr.  v. The  Union of

India & Ors.(3) In that case, the cons-

     (1) [1940] FCR 188.

     (2) [1951] SCR 451.

     (3) [1959] SCR 12.

titutional validity  of the  Working Journalists (Conditions

of Service)  and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955, and the

legality of  the decision  of the  Wage           Board,            constituted

thereunder, were challenged. The impugned Act, which had for

its object  the regulation  of the  conditions of service of

working journalists  and other persons employed in newspaper

establishments, provided,  inter alia, for the payment  of

gratuity to  a working journalist who had been in continuous

service for  a certain  period. It  also regulated  hours of

work and  leave and  provided for retrenchment compensation.

Section 9  (1) laid  down the principles that the Wage Board

was to  follow in  fixing the  rates  of  wages of  working


     One of  the contentions of the petitioners in that case

was that  impugned Act          violated  their fundamental  rights

under Articles 19 (1)   (a), 19  (1) (g),  14 and  32 of the

Constitution and  that the decision of the Wage Board fixing

the rates  and scales  of wages          which imposed           too heavy  a

financial burden on the industry and spelled its total ruin,

was illegal  and void.  It  was  contended  by            the  learned

Attorney General  in  that  case  that since  the  impugned

legislation was            not a   direct legislation on the subject of

freedom of  speech and expression. Art. 19 (1)(a) would have

no application,            the test  being not the effect or result of

legislation  but  its  subject-matter.   In  support  of  his

contention, he relied upon the observations on this point of

Kania, C. J. in A. K. Gopalan. It was further urged that the

object of  the impugned         Act was  only to  regulate  certain

conditions of  service  of  working  journalists  and  other

persons employed  in the newspaper establishments and not to

take away  or abridge  the freedom  of speech  or expression

enjoyed by  the petitioners and, therefore, the impugned Act

could not  come within the prohibition of Article 19 (1) (a)

read with Article 32 of the Constitution.

     On the  other hand, the petitioners took their stand on

a passage  in the  decision of the Supreme  Court of United

States in Minnesota Ex Rel. Olson,(1) which was as under :

              "With respect to these contentions it is enough to

     say that  in passing  upon constitutional questions the

     Court has    regard to  substance and not to mere matters

     of    form,  and  that,   in  accordance  with  familiar

     principles, the statute must be tested by its operation

     and effect."

     (1) [1930] 283 US 697 at p. 708.

It was   further submitted  that in all such cases, the Court

has to  look behind  the names,         forms  and  appearances  to

discover the  true character  and nature of the legislation.

Thus considered, proceeded the argument, the Act by laying a

direct and  preferential burden          on the press, would tend to

curtail the  circulation, narrow  the scope of dissemination

of information and fetter the petitioners' freedom to choose

the means  of exercising  their rights of free speech (which

includes the freedom of the press). It was further submitted

that those  newspaper employers who were marginally situated

may not           be able  to bear  the strain  and have to disappear

after closing down their establishments.

     N.H. Bhagwati,  J. who delivered the unanimous Judgment

of the   Constitution Bench,  after noting that the object of

the impugned  legislation is to provide for the amelioration

of the   conditions of the workmen in the newspaper industry,

overruled this contention of the employers, thus:

              "That, however  would be a consequence which would

     be extraneous  and not  within the contemplation of the

     legislature. It  could therefore  hardly be  urged that

     the possible  effect of the impact of these measures in

     conceivable cases  would  vitiate  the  legislation  as

     such. All      the consequences  which have been visualized

     in the behalf by the petitioners, viz., the tendency to

     curtail circulation  and thereby  narrow the  scope  of

     dissemination   of     information,   fetters   on    the

     petitioners' freedom  to choose the means of exercising

     the right,    likelihood of the independence of the press

     being undermined  by having to seek government aid; the

     imposition of  penalty on   the  petitioners'  right  to

     choose the  instruments for  exercising the  freedom or

     compelling them  to seek alternative media, etc., would

     be remote  and depend upon various factors which may or

     may not come into play. Unless these were the direct or

     inevitable consequences  of the measures enacted in the

     impugned Act,  it would  not be possible to strike down

     the legislation  as having   that effect and operation."

     (emphasis added)

The learned  Judge further  observed that  the impugned    Act

could be  "legitimately characterised  as  a  measure  which

affects the  press", but  its "intention  or  the  proximate

effect and  operation" was  not such  as would         take away or

abridge the right of freedom of speech and

expression guaranteed  in Article  19 (1) (a), therefore, it

could not  be held  invalid on that  ground.  The  impugned

decision of  the Wage  Board, however,        was held to be ultra

vires the  Act and  contrary to            the principles of  natural


     It may  be observed  at this  place that  the manner in

which the  test of direct and indirect effect was applied by

N.H. Bhagwati,            J., was  not very different from the mode in

which Fazal  Ali, J.  applied it  to punitive  detention  as

punishment after  conviction for an offence under the Indian

Penal Code.  N.H. Bhagwati,  J., did  not discard  the            test

adopted by Kania, C.J., in A.K. Gopalan, in its entirety; he

merely extended   the application   of  the  criterion  of

directness to  the operation  and  effect  of  the  impugned


     Again, in     Sakal Papers (P) Ltd. & Ors. v. The Union of

India(1) this  Court, while  considering the  constitutional

validity of  the Newspaper  (Price and           Page) Act,  1956 and

Daily Newspaper         (Price and Page) Order, 1960, held that the

"direct and immediate" effect of the impugned Order would be

to restrain  a newspaper from publishing any number of pages

for carrying  its news and views, which it has a fundamental

right under Article 19 (1) (a) and, therefore, the Order was

violative of  the right  of  the  newspapers  guaranteed  by

Article 19  (1) (a),  and as  such, invalid.  In this  case,

also, the  emphasis had shifted from the object and subject-

matter of  the impugned        State   action  to  its   direct  and

immediate effect.

     In    Naresh              Shridhar  Mirajkar  &           Ors.  v.  State  of

Maharashtra &  Anr.,(2) an order prohibiting the publication

of the evidence of a witness in a defamation case, passed by

a learned Judge (Tarkunde, J.) of the Bombay High Court, was

impugned on  the ground       that it  violated the    petitioners'

right to free speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19

(1) (a).  Gajendragadkar, C.J.,            (Wanchoo, Mudholkar,  Sikri

and Ramaswami,        JJ., concurring)  repelled  this  contention

with these illuminating observations:

              "The argument          that the impugned order affects the

     fundamental rights            of the petitioners under Article 19

     (1), is  based on      a complete  misconception about      the

     true nature and

     (1) [1962] 3 SCR 842.

     (2) [1966] 3 SCR 744.

     character   of   judicial  process    and   of   judicial

     decisions. When  a Judge  deals  with  matters  brought

     before him for  his  adjudication,  he  first  decides

     questions of  fact on  which the  parties are at issue,

     and then  applies the  relevant law  to the said facts.

     Whether the  findings of fact recorded by the Judge are

     right or wrong, and whether the conclusion of law drawn

     by him  suffers from  any infirmity,  can be considered

     and decided  if the  party aggrieved by the decision of

     the Judge    takes the  matter up  before  the  appellate

     Court. But   it is     singularly inappropriate  to  assume

     that a  judicial decision      pronounced  by           a  Judge  of

     competent jurisdiction  in or  in    relation  to  matter

     brought before  him for  adjudication  can           affect  the

     fundamental rights            of the  citizens under Article  19

     (1). What    the judicial  decision purports            to do is to

     decide the  controversy  between  the  parties  brought

     before the  court and  nothing more.  If this basic and

     essential aspect  of the  judicial process   is borne in

     mind, it  would be  plain   that  the  judicial  verdict

     pronounced by  court in  or in  relation  to  a  matter

     brought before  it for  its decision  cannot be said to

     affect the fundamental rights of citizens under Article

     19 (1)."

     "It is  well-settled that       in examining the validity of

legislation,  it  is  legitimate  to  consider      whether           the

impugned legislation is a legislation directly in respect of

the  subject  covered  by  any particular  article  of  the

Constitution, or  touches the said article only incidentally

or indirectly'.'

     "If the  test of  direct effect  and  object  which  is

sometimes described  as the pith and substance test, is thus

applied in considering the validity of legislation, it would

not be  inappropriate to  apply the  same test           to  judicial

decisions like   the one            with which  we are concerned in the

present proceedings.  As  we  have  already  indicated,        the

impugned order          was  directly  concerned  with            giving  such

protection to  the witness as was thought to be necessary in

order to  obtain true evidence in the case with a view to do

justice between           the parties.  If, incidentally, as a result

of this-order,   the petitioners were not able to report what

they heard  in court,  that  cannot  be            said  to  make            the

impugned order invalid under Article 19 (1) (a)."

     We have  already mentioned        briefly  how  the  test  of

directness was developed and reached its culmination in Bank

Nationalization's case and Maneka Gandhi's case.

     From the above conspectus, it is clear that the test of

direct and  indirect effect  was not scrapped. Indeed, there

is no  dispute that  the test of 'pith and substance' of the

subject-matter and  of direct  and of  incidental effect  of

legislation is    a very useful test to determine the question

of legislative   competence i.e.,  in ascertaining whether an

Act falls  under one  Entry while  incidentally            encroaching

upon another  Entry. Even  for determining the validity of a

legislation on  the ground  of infringement  of          fundamental

rights, the subject-matter and the object of the legislation

are not altogether irrelevant. For instance, if the subject-

matter of   the  legilation  directly     covers  any  of the

fundamental freedoms  mentioned in  Article 19      (1), it must

pass the  test of  reasonableness under the relevant head in

clauses (2)  to (6) of that Article. If the legislation does

not directly  deal with any of the rights in Article 19 (1),

that may  not conclude           the enquiry.  It  will     have  to  be

ascertained further  whether by        its  direct  and  immediate

operation, the impugned legislation  abridges          any  of the

rights enumerated in Article 19 (1).

     In Bennett  Coleman,(1) Mathew,  J. in  his  dissenting

judgment referred  with approval to the test as expounded in

Express Newspapers.  He further observed that "the 'pith and

substance' test, though not strictly appropriate, must serve

a useful  purpose in  the process  of deciding            whether           the

provisions in question which work some interference with the

freedom of speech, are essentially regulatory in character".

              From a  survey  of  the  cases  noticed  above,  a

     comprehensive test           which can be formulated, may be re-

     stated as under:

              Does the  impugned law, in its pith and substance,

     whatever may  be its  form and object, deal with any of

     the fundamental  rights conferred by Article 19 (1)? If

     it does,  does it       abridge or  abrogate  any  of  those

     rights? And  even if  it does  not,  in  its  pith        and

     substance, deal  with any  of  the  fundamental  rights

     conferred by Article 19(1), is the

     Direct and  inevitable effect  of the impugned law such

     as to abridge or abrogate any of those rights?

The mere  fact that  the impugned law incidentally, remotely

or collaterally has the  effect of  abridging or abrogating

those rights,  will not  satisfy the  test. If the answer to

the above queries be in the affirmative, the impugned law in

order to  be valid,  must pass the test  of  reasonableness

under Article 19. But if the impact of the law on any of the

rights under  clause (1) of Article 19 is merely incidental,

indirect, remote or collateral and is dependent upon factors

which may or may not come into play, the anvil of Article 19

will not be available for judging its validity.


Harjinder Singh,
Apr 18, 2015, 6:53 PM