BALWANT SINGH v. UNION OF INDIA

WRIT PETITION (CRIMINAL) NO. 261 of 2020

DATE OF JUDGEMENT: 3.5.23

PETITIONER: BALWANT SINGH

RESPONDENT: UNION OF INDIA

BENCH: B.R GAVAI, VIKRAM NATH, SANJAY KAROL

FACTS[1]

This case revolves around the bomb blast that happened in Punjab, which led to the assassination of Chief Minister of Punjab Shri Beant Singh, and the deaths of 16 other individuals. The offenders, Balwant Singh, Jagtar Singh Tara, Navjot Singh, Nasib Singh, Shamsher Singh, Jagtar Singh Hawara, Gurmeet Singh and, Lakhwinder Singh were put on trial.

The petitioner was arrested on 14.01.96 and 23.01.96 recorded his judicial confession and admitted his involvement in the crime.

On 22.01.04, Jagtar Singh Tara, Jagtar Singh Hawara, and Paramjit Singh Bheora escaped from jail, and the incident is known as the Burail Jailbreak.

27.07.07- Additional Session Judge, Chandigarh vide in Session Case No. 2-A of 1995 held the accused liable and awarded the death penalty with 10-year rigorous imprisonment.

The individuals have been found guilty of committing crimes outlined in Sections 102-B, 302, and 307 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, as well as under Sections 3(b), 4(b), and 5(b) read along with Section 6 of the Explosive Substances Act, 1908.[2]

CBI had filed Murder Reference no. 6 of 2007 before the Hon’ble HC of Punjab & Haryana at Chandigarh for confirmation of the death sentence awarded.

Jagtar Singh Hawara challenged the judgement dated 27.07.07 by filing Criminal Appeal no. 731-DB of 2007.

12.10.10- The HC affirmed the Murder Reference no.6 of 2007 qua Jagtar Singh Hawara substituted the same for imprisonment of life.

In 2015, Jagtar Singh Tara was caught in Thailand, and on 17.03.18, thecourt sentenced him to life imprisonment by holding him guilty of murder, criminal conspiracy, and explosives act.

On March 25, 2012, a mercy petition was submitted to the esteemed President of India by the Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee, acting on behalf of Balwant Singh, under Article 72 of the constitution. Subsequently, the plea was transmitted to the Ministry of Home Affairs for further consideration.

The petitioner filed an application dated 14.03.16 under Section 3 of the RTI Act,2005. He had spent the previous 20 years in prison.

(Judicial Division) informed that the petition was under consideration.

Kamaldeep Kaur Rajaona, sister of the petitioner, through an RTI application dated 15.12.16 sought information on the prescribed time limit for the disposal of the mercy petition as there were no updates and 4 years had passed.

In the middle of 2019, on the event of commemoration of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the central government announced that 8 Sikh prisoners would be given special remission under Article 161 and that the death sentence of a prisoner would be commuted to life imprisonment under Article 72. A letter dated 27.09.19 was also issued by Shri Arun Sobti, Deputy Secretary (PR&ATC), Govt. of India, M/o Home Affairs addressed to the Chief Secretary, Government of various States including the State of Punjab and the Advisor to the Administrator, Chandigarh Administration wherein the same has been issued with the approval of competent authority.

The mercy petition has remained unresolved for over 8 years, and no decision has been reached regarding the letter dated September 27, 2019.

The Petitioner submitted that this is an infringement of fundamental rights (Article 21) and filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court in 2020.

The court issued orders on December 4, 2020, and May 2, 2022, directing the prompt resolution of the petitioner’s mercy petition.

ISSUES RAISED[3]

The excessive delay spanning over 8 years in finalizing the mercy petition submitted on March 25, 2012, constitutes a violation of the fundamental right (Article 21) to a speedy resolution.

CONTENTION[4]

FROM PETITIONER

  1. Mr Mukul Rohtagi, the experienced senior counsel representing the petitioner, argued that given the passage of 10 years without any resolution on the mercy petition, the President should convert the death penalty into life imprisonment.
  2. He cited the letter dated September 27, 2019, emphasising the need for relevant departments to undertake appropriate actions in this context.
  3. The learned senior counsel also underscored the interrelation between various branches of the state about the commutation of the petitioner’s death sentence.
  4. To fortify his stance, Mr Rohtagi drew upon three legal precedents:
  5. Shatrughan Chauhan and another. v. Union of India & Ors.;[5]
  6. V. Sriharan v. Union of India & Ors.;[6]
  7. Navneet Kaur v. State (NCT of Delhi) and another.

FROM RESPONDENT

  1. Mr K.M. Natraj, the knowledgeable Additional Solicitor General, argued that the petitioner himself did not submit the mercy petition. The attached mercy petition dated March 25, 2012, is on behalf of the Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), as detailed in the (2014) 3 SCC 1, (2014) 4 SCC 242, and (2014) 7 SCC 264 rulings, all carried out under Article 72 of the constitution.

  2. The learned ASG also clarified that the letter dated September 27, 2019, merely requested the state government to propose the commutation of the death sentence to life imprisonment.
  3. The learned ASG objected, stating that the appeals filed by the co-accused are still underway. The consideration of the mercy petition should await the conclusion of these appeals, as their outcome could be pertinent to the final judgment. The requests are as follows:
  4.  Appeal by accused Lakhwinder Singh, Criminal Appeal Pending accused No. 1464/2011.
  5. Appeal by accused Jagtar Singh Hawara, Criminal Appeal Pending accused No. 1013/2013.
  6. Appeal by CBI, Criminal Appeal Pending accused No. 2277/2011.

The learned ASG contended that there had been no undue delay in examining the mercy petition. The process was initiated following the letter dated September 27, 2019, and the court has issued two subsequent orders, dated December 4, 2020, and May 2, 2022, directing the proceedings.

Lastly, the learned ASG highlighted that the petitioner had not expressed remorse for his involvement in the grave offence and used disrespectful language in front of the High Court, which, given his behaviour, negates any justification for clemency.

For the above-mentioned points, reliance has been placed on the following judgements:

  • Kusumbala Tarun Das v. Union of India;[7]
  • Harbans Singh v. State of U.P.; [8]

RATIONALE[9]

On May 3, 2023, a bench comprising B.R. Gavai, Vikram Nath, and Sanjay Karol concluded the writ petition by dismissing the assertion of undue delay in addressing the mercy petition. The court based its decision because the petitioner did not personally submit the mercy petition and declined to commute the death penalty.

The court concluded that the consideration of the mercy petition may be deferred as the security, law and order of the nation cannot be compromised. The court also justified that the executive should take a call on such a sensitive issue.

The court does not issue any further directions and disposes of the writ petition.

DEFECTS OF LAW

The question arose in the SC regarding the delay of more than 8 years in deciding on the mercy petition dated 25.03.12, and the proposal letter dated 27.09.19, which lead to the commutation of the death sentence into life imprisonment.

The SC stated that the process started after the letter dated 27.09.19, and the court also issued directions dated 4.12.20 and 2.5.22, for deciding the mercy petition.

INFERENCE

The verdict pertains to the pending mercy petition before the President of India in the assassination case involving Punjab Chief Minister Shri Beant Singh. The petitioner sought to convert a death sentence into life imprisonment, citing a prolonged delay of over eight years in resolving the mercy petition and referencing a letter dated September 27, 2019.

After thoroughly examining the arguments presented by both parties, the court declined to commute the death sentence. The court provided several justifications for its decision and entrusted the remaining aspects of the case to the executive branch for further consideration.

BY: TRIPTI BANSAL

COLLEGE: DHARMASHASTA NATIONAL LAW UNIVERSITY, JABALPUR, MADHYA PRADESH


[1] RUPESH KUMAR, balwant_singh_writ, diary no.18597/20 paperbook  3, (2023), https://images.assettype.com/barandbench/2020-12.

[2] explosives substances act, 1908, § 3(b), 4(b), 5(b) & 6 (India).

[3] vikram nath, Balwant Singh vs Union Of India on 3 May,2023, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/133380552/.

[4] vikram nath, Balwant Singh vs Union Of India on 3 May,2023, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/133380552/.

[5] Shatrughan Chauhan and anr. v. Union of India& Ors,2014 3 scc 1.

[6] V. Sriharan alias Murugan v. Union of India & Ors,2014 4 scc 242.

[7] Kusumbala Tarun Das v. Union of India, 2011 6 glr 536.

[8] Harbans Singh v. State of U.P, 1982 scc 849.

[9]ridhi, beant singh assasination case, scc online.com (july. 16,2023, 10:23 pm), https://www.scc online.com/blog/post/2023/05/05/beant-singh-asssasination-case-supreme-court-refuses-to-commute-death-penalty//ngh v.uoi.