Sunday 6 October 2019

Whether court should award death sentence in case of rape or murder of child?

 On a detailed examination of precedents, it appears to us that it
would be totally imprudent to lay down an absolute principle of law that no
death sentence can be awarded in a case where conviction is based on
circumstantial evidence. Such a standard would be ripe for abuse by
seasoned criminals who always make sure to destroy direct evidence.
Further in many cases of rape and murder of children, the victims owing to
their tender age can put up no resistence. In such cases it is extremely
likely that there would be no ocular evidence. It cannot, therefore, be said
that in every such case nothwthstanding that the prosecution has proved
the case beyond reasonable doubt, the Court must not award capital
punishment for the mere reason that the offender has not been seen
committing the crime by an eye-witness. Such a reasoning, if applied
uniformally and mechanically will have devastating effects on the society
which is a dominant stakeholder in the administration of our criminal justice

CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 1523-1524 OF 2019

Ravishankar @ Baba Vishwakarma Vs The State of Madhya Pradesh 
Dated:DATED : 03.10.2019
Citation: (2019) 9 SCC 689

Delay condoned. Leave granted.
2. Hovering between life and death, the appellant assails the judgment
dated 6th December, 2016 passed by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh at
Jabalpur whereby the death reference made by the IIIrd Additional
Sessions Judge, Gadarwara, District Narsinghpur (M.P.) has been
confirmed and the appellant’s criminal appeal has been dismissed.
3. The appellant was tried for having committed offences under
Sections 363, 366, 376(2)(i), 376(2)(n), 376(2)(j), 376(2)(m), 376-A, 302
and 201 of the Indian Penal Code (for short IPC) and alternatively under
the corresponding provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual
Offences Act, 2012 (for short ‘POCSO Act’). Through judgment and order
dated 19th July 2016, the Trial Court held the appellant guilty of kidnapping
a 13 year-old girl, committing rape on her, killing her by throttling and
thereafter destroying the evidence by throwing her half naked body in a dry
well. These crimes were held as being ‘rarest of the rare’ and the appellant
was sentenced to death under Section 376-A of the Indian Penal Code,
1860 (I.P.C.). In terms of Section 366 of the Code of Criminal Procedure,
1973 (Cr.P.C.), the Trial Court made a reference to the High Court for
confirmation of the death sentence. The appellant also filed criminal appeal
challenging this judgment and order passed by the Trial Court. The High
Court on 6th December 2016, through a common order, both dismissed his
appeal and confirmed the Trial Court’s death reference giving rise to this
special leave petition.
4. At the outset, it must be mentioned that when the appellant’s special
leave petition came up for hearing before a Three Judge Bench of this
Court on 10th January, 2018, the following order was passed:
“Mr. Arjun Garg, learned counsel for the State prays for two
weeks’ time to argue the matter on the conversion of sentence
from death to life, as we are not inclined to interfere with the
xxx xxx xxx”
5. Thus, the limited issue which survives for our consideration is
whether or not the appellant deserves to be imposed with the extreme
sentence of death penalty?
6. As noted by this Court in Bhupinder Sharma v. State of Himachal
Pradesh1, that the mandate of not disclosing identities of the victims of
sexual offences under Section 228A of I.P.C. ought to be observed in spirit
even by this Court:
“2. We do not propose to mention name of the victim. Section
228-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (in short the "IPC") makes
disclosure of identity of victim of certain offences punishable.
Printing or publishing name of any matter which may make
known the identity of any person against whom an offence under
Sections 376, 376-A, 376-B, 376-C or 376-D is alleged or found
to have been committed can be punished. True it is the
restriction does not relate to printing or publication of judgment
by High Court or Supreme Court. But keeping in view the social
object of preventing social victimization or ostracisms of the
victim of a sexual offence for which Section 228-A has been
enacted, it would be appropriate that in the judgments, be it of
High Court or lower Court, the name of the victim should not be
indicated. We have chosen to describe her as ' victim' in the
We are thus not disclosing the victim’s name and instead are
referring to her as the “deceased” throughout this judgment.
1 (2003) 8 SCC 551

Relevant Facts:
7. The necessary facts are to the following effect: P.W.3 (Purushottam
Kaurav – grandfather of the deceased), resident of village Baglai filed a
report at the Police Station at Gotitoria on 22nd May, 2015 at about 4.00
p.m. giving information of the disappearance of his 13 year old
granddaughter. The deceased and her 11 year old brother Harinarayan
were children of the informant’s younger son, Satyaprakash and had been
staying with their mother at the latter’s parental home in the neighbouring
village, Chargaon, for the last four months. The deceased visited the
informant’s home in village Baglai with her mother at around 10 a.m. the
previous day. The deceased did a few household chores while her mother
cooked food for the family. Later, she went out to play with her friend who
lived in the neighbourhood. Upon returning back she told her mother that
she was not feeling good and requested that they should return back to
her maternal uncle’s home in Chargaon. Her mother assured her that they
would return later that afternoon and both of them went to sleep. Upon
waking up at 3.00 p.m., the mother discovered that the deceased was not
around. The mother made unsuccessful enquiries in the neighbourhood
and later asked the deceased’s 11 year old brother to go and enquire
whether she had gone to Chargaon on her own. The brother came back in
the evening without any news of the victim. Thinking that their daughter
might have gone to her paternal aunt’s home in the nearby village of
Aadegaon, both parents slept. Next morning enquiries were made at

Aadegaon but it was informed that the deceased had not gone there either.
Worried, the mother herself left for her parental home at around 9-10 a.m.
and informed her brother Vishram that the victim was missing. Vishram
and the deceased’s mother set out on a wide search in the neighbourhoods
of Chargaon with little result. Whilst returning back to Baglai, the mother
identified the deceased’s salwar and one chappal on the embankment of
the water-channel which divided the villages of Baglai and Chargaon. Upon
reaching her matrimonial home in Baglai, the mother informed her fatherin-
law about her daughter’s disappearance who then approached the
police. P.W.3 thereafter narrated facts of deceased’s disappearance and
gave description of his grand daughter who was studying in Class 6 at that
time. The Police, accordingly, registered a crime case under Section 363,
8. Subsequently the police took P.W.3 to the spot where the salwar and
the chappal were recovered. Upon a local search of the area with some
villagers and relatives, the semi-nude body of the deceased was
discovered lying in a supine position in a dry well. The dead body was
taken out of the well and it was duly identified by her grandfather, P.W.3. A
spot map of the place of occurrence was drawn, and Seizure Panchnama
of black colour salwar and one Chappal of the deceased was also
9. P.W.20 (Harsha Singh, Senior Scientific Officer) advised the police

on handling the body of the deceased and later inspected the decomposing
dead body at 9:45 p.m. at the Government Hospital, Chichli. After noticing
various injuries including ligature marks on the neck, she gave a report that
death of the deceased was homicidal. P.W.12 (Dr. Kinshu Jaiswal)
conducted postmortem of the body next morning at 9 a.m. Examining the
decayed state of the body, P.W. 12 estimated time of death 48-72 hours
before. She noted various injuries on the body including a ruptured hymen,
congested trachea and pale lungs. Vaginal slides were prepared and sent
for inspection. Hyoid bone, femur bone and three jars of the viscera
(containing pieces of stomach, small intestine, heart, lungs, liver, spleen,
kidney as well as separate salt solution sample) were also sent for
examination. Importantly, it was noticed that the skull and vertebrae were
intact. The vaginal slides, salwar and fiber chappal of the deceased were
sent to Forensic Science Laboratory, Sagar (FSL, Sagar) for DNA profiling,
whereas the sealed container(s) with different parts of the deceased’s body
were sent to the Medico-legal Institute, Bhopal for chemical testing.
Subsequently, the dead body of the deceased was handed over to the
family for last rites and statements of some witnesses were recorded under
Section 164 of Cr.P.C. before a Judicial Magistrate.
10. During the course of investigation, blood samples of various
suspects were taken for DNA analysis. As part of the first batch, blood
samples of Hargovind Kaurav, Nandi alias Anand Vanshkar and Baba alias
Ashok Kaurav were taken and sent to FSL, Sagar for DNA matching on 14th

June, 2015. Later on 22nd June, 2015 samples of the appellant (Baba alias
Ravishankar Vishwakarma), Roopram alias Ruppu Kaurav and Manoj alias
Halke Yadav was similarly sent for DNA analysis. After confirmation by the
FSL stating that only the DNA extracted from the appellant matched with
that on the vaginal slide of the deceased, the appellant was arrested on
20th July, 2015. Charge sheets were filed against him by the investigating
agency on 18th September, 2015.
Trial Court’s Analysis:
11. The Trial Court formulated various questions for consideration
including determination of the age of the deceased, factum of kidnapping
by accused, commission of rape, causing death by throttling and
destruction of evidence by dumping the dead body by the appellant.
12. With a view to bring home the appellant’s guilt, the prosecution
examined as many as 24 witnesses, whereas none were examined by the
appellant in defence. A brief summarisation of the testimonies of important
witnesses and evidences has been made hereunder.
13. P.W.1 (Sukhram Kotwar) who was posted as Gram Kotwar at Baglai,
admitted to accompanying the grand father of the deceased (P.W.3) to the
police station to lodge a missing report of the deceased. He also found
location of the deceased’s body and was a witness to seizure of the slipper,
panchnama and later to the collection of three blood samples and arrest of
the appellant by the police.
14. P.W. 2 (Shobhabai — mother of the deceased) stated in her
deposition that she knew the appellant, for she had borrowed money from
his family in the past. She claimed to be living in her parental home in
village Chargaon, which was separated by a water channel from her
matrimonial village of Baglai, since the past few months for treatment of an
eye injury. She had returned to her in-laws’ house on the morning of 21st
May, 2015 with the deceased. When she reached home, the wife and
daughter of the accused came and asked her to repay the borrowed
money. After some time her daughter (the deceased) told her that she was
going to play with her friend Priyanka at her house. The deceased came
back from her friend’s house and told P.W.2 that she was not feeling good
and requested that she be taken back to her maternal uncle’s house in
Chargaon. At about 3.00 p.m., the witness found that her daughter was not
there at their home. Her husband enquired from Priyanka’s house but
came to know that deceased was not there. P.W.2, thereafter, called her
son and sent him to her parental home at Chargaon about 5.00 p.m. Her
son came back home and informed that the deceased was not found in
Chargaon also. She again sent her son to Chargaon to look out for her
properly. It was, however, confirmed that the deceased had not gone to
Chargaon and she could not be found anywhere till 6.00 p.m. Thinking that
the deceased might have gone to her parental aunt’s house in Aadegaon,
P.W.2 and her husband slept for the night. The next morning P.W.2 got a
telephonic call made to Satyaprakash’s sister in Aadegaon but failed to
trace the deceased there as well. A search was made on the motorcycle at
the houses of various relatives and while P.W.2 was returning to Baglai
from her parental home along with her nephew, Dharmendra, she spotted
and identified the salwar and slipper of the deceased which were lying on
the roadside on the embankment of the water channel separating Baglai
from Chargaon. P.W.2 then informed her father-in-law, P.W.3, and then the
matter was reported to the Police. The Police thereafter started looking for
her daughter and then she got to know that the dead body of her daughter
was located inside the well of one Darshan Kaurav. P.W.2 did not suspect
anyone at that time. In cross-examination she admitted that she had told
the police that one Abhishek alias Pillu of the village used to offer paan
masala to the deceased and that police had also gone to Baba alias
Ashok’s house for his interrogation and for conducting Narco test but he
fled the next day from the village.
15. P.W.3 (Purushottam Kaurav) — grandfather of the deceased-victim
has deposed regarding lodging of the missing report with the Police and
also stated that he identified the dead body of his granddaughter upon
recovery from a dry well. He too admitted that a person named Baba alias
Ashok was called by the Police but he had fled and that some more
persons were also interrogated by the Police.
16. P.W.4 (Satyaprakash), the father of the deceased, narrated the
efforts put in by him and other relatives for the search of his daughter and
how during that search the dead body was found in the dry well
constructed in the field of Darshan Kaurav.
17. P.W.5 (Sharda) who is well acquainted with the appellant as well as
the family of the deceased is also a crucial prosecution witness. He
deposed that on the fateful day at about 3.00 p.m. he, along with his wife
Aalop Bai, was going on a bicycle when both of them spotted the appellant
with the deceased who was wearing a black frock and black pant ‘near the
peepal tree, near the field of Natthu Patel’. He has further stated that his
statement was recorded by the Police two days after the incident and that
“it is true that the Police had committed assault with me also. It is true that
Police had stated that they would arrest the rascal and they committed an
assault so I had stated out of nervousness.” In the very next breath, he,
however, denied that the police had assaulted and were forcing him to give
false testimony before the Court.
18. P.W.6 (Itta alias Kichchu) has stated that about a year prior to the
incident while he had gone to defecate near a reservoir after disposing of
some cowdung, he had seen the appellant feeding biscuits to the
deceased at the water channel near the shrubs. He told this fact to P.W.7
(Nimma Jeeji), who was harvesting sugarcane in the field of one Shatrughn
Patel. In his cross-examination, he admitted that his statement was
recorded one and a half months’ after the incident by the Police.
19. P.W.7 (Nimma Bai) endorsed the statement of P.W.6 to the extent
that about one year before the occurrence, P.W.6 had told her that the
appellant was feeding biscuits to the deceased. She has admitted in her
cross-examination that she herself had not seen the appellant feeding
biscuits to the deceased.
20. P.W.10 (Kuldeep Kaurav, a teacher in the Government Middle
School, Chargaon) produced school records to prove that the deceased
was admitted in 6th standard on 16th June, 2014 and as per the date of her
birth she was hardly 13 years old.
21. P.W.13 (Rajesh Kaurav) who was Patwari, testified that he prepared
spot map of the place of incident and that afterwards he took signatures of
people present in the vicinity and dispatched them to the Station House
Officer. In cross-examination, he admitted that details of the well were not
mentioned in the spot map, but volunteered that the well was abandoned
and had shrubs growing in it and the grass/crops growing outside had
hampered the well’s visibility from the Baglai-Chargaon road which was
situated 20 feet away.
22. P.W.14 (Hargovind Kaurav) was the cousin of the deceased who
admitted to seeing the deceased’s body in a dry well in a supine position.
He stated that the well was not visible from the road and volunteered that
he was witness to the appellant’s statement(s) before the police and also
witnessed seizure of the second slipper from a nearby water channel later.
23. P.W.15 (Prakashchand Mehra) is son of the Kotwar of Chargaon and
testified that the spot map and panchnama were prepared before him,
blood samples of three suspects (including appellant) were taken in his
presence and the missing slipper was seized by the police with him. In
cross-examination, however, he admitted that he was not present during
interrogation of the appellant by the police.
24. P.W.17 (Sanjay Kumar Nagvanshi) was the Tehsildar at Gadarwara
in August, 2015. He stated that he got conducted identification proceedings
to match the slipper recovered through the appellant to ensure that it
belonged to the deceased. He testified to procuring similar looking black
slippers from his staff members and mixing them with the slipper received
from the police station. Although both P.W.2 and P.W.3 were called by him,
he testified that only P.W.2 came into his office and identified the
deceased’s slipper correctly.
25. P.W.18 (M.D. Yadav) was posted as Assistant Sub-Inspector at
police station Chichli and was the police officer who lodged the missing
report on the basis of information given by P.W.3 on the afternoon of 22nd
May, 2015. He also testified to seizing the slipper and salwar presented by
26. P.W.19 (C.M. Shukla) was posted as S.H.O. who got prepared spot
map and was also present during identification proceedings of the
deceased’s body. Upon being confronted during cross-examination as to
why the time of disappearance was recored as 10.00 p.m. in the
Roznamcha, he explained that it was a mistake.
27. P.W.21 (Krishnakant Kaurav) was posted as a Gram Rozgar
Sahayak in Gram Panchayat Chargaon and testified to witnessing
interrogation of the appellant, especially his disclosure of location of the
missing slipper and recovery of the same.
28. P.W.22 (Niyazul Khan) was the Inspector who got blood sample of
the appellant extracted at the Government Hospital, Chichli and prepared
seizure memo of sealed vials containing blood of the appellant and two
others, and forwarded them to FSL Sagar. The Trial Court refused
permission to the Defence Counsel to ask questions relating to the FIR,
postmortem report and Roznamcha holding that questions relating to
investigation only conducted by the witness could be asked from him.
29. P.W.23 (D.V.S. Sagar) was posted as Station House Officer at Police
Station Chichli and testified to recording memorandum statement of
accused in presence of P.W.15 and P.W.20, on which basis he seized the
missing black fibre slipper of right leg from near the shrubs under a tree
near the spot of incident in Darshan Kaurav’s field.
30. P.W.24 (Rajkumar Dixit) was the Head Constable who seized sealed
viscera jars and vaginal slides which were produced by Head Constable
Chetram. He admitted to not checking the sealed parcels himself and
stated that he safely locked them in a locker at the police station.
31. Over and above the above-mentioned oral testimonies, we may now
refer to the medico-scientific evidence led by the prosecution to connect
the appellant with the crime.
32. P.W.8 (Dr. R.R. Chaudhary), a Senior Scientific Officer from FSL,
Sagar has deposed that on 4th June, 2015 he examined three exhibits;
Slide marked as Ex. A , Salwar marked as Ex. B and Chappal marked as
Ex. C which belonged to the deceased. In the course of examination,
human sperms were found on the slide (Ex. ‘A’) of the deceased, however,
only human blood was found on the salwar (Ex. ‘B’). No blood or semen
was found on the slipper (Ex. ‘C’). The blood group of the blood stained on
the salwar could not be detected as a lot of dirt was stuck on it.
33. P.W.9 (Dr. C.S. Jain) was posted as Forensic Expert-Analysis at
Medico-Legal Institute, Bhopal on 12th June, 2015 when three viscera jars
(Exs. ‘D’, ‘E’ and ‘F’) comprising different parts of the body of deceased
were received with their seals intact. However, when opened these viscera
samples were discovered in a condition unfit for examination as the liquid
had turned stinky and dusty, and the tissues had decayed. After comparing
the postmortem report, evaluation of time and the sequence of the events
as also the report of the State Forensic Science Laboratory, P.W.9 opined
as follows, which could not be discredited at all in his cross-examination:
“12. Opinion :- After the analysis of facts described in the
documents which have been examined on the basis of my
subject knowledge, articles of books and experience gained from
the 10984 post mortems conducted by me for continuously more
than 33 years I am of the opinion that:-
1. The deceased died due to throttling.
2. Sexual intercourse was performed with the deceased
before her death which amounted to rape on considering the
3. The deceased was dragged before her death and injuries
indicating the struggle were also present.
4. The slides and salwar of the deceased were kept for D.N.A.
examination. I did not know their result up to the preparation of
the report otherwise other opinion could also be expressed. It
would be appropriate to enclose the said report in the case after
obtaining it immediately. If the person/s performing sexual
intercourse with the deceased are known then the D.N.A of their
sperms should be matched with the D.N.A. of the sperms
present in the vaginal slides because if they matched then it
would be scientifically confirmed that the sexual intercourse was
performed by them. In this regard my report is ExP-11 which is in
5 pages. The A to A part on it bears my signature.”
34. P.W.11 (Dr. Pankaj Srivastava) was posted as Scientific Officer at
the DNA Unit of FSL, Sagar during the period, 24th June, 2015 to 20th July,
2015 and he submitted the DNA test report which shows that the DNA
extracted from the appellant’s blood matched with DNA from the vaginal
smear slide and salwar of the deceased. It has been specifically been
recorded that bodily fluids of the other five suspects were not found present
in the source vaginal slide or salwar of the victim. The witness was
subjected to an extremely lengthy cross-examination but nothing that could
distract the conclusion he has drawn in the report referred to above. His
opinion is extracted hereunder:
1. Male D.N.A. profile was found on the source vaginal smear
slide and salwar of the deceased …...
2. The body fluids of suspect Hargovind Kaurav, suspect
Nandi @ Anand and suspect Baba @ Ashok were not found
present in the source vaginal slide and salwar of the deceased
3. The body fluids of suspect Roopram and suspect Manoj
were not found present in the source vaginal slide and salwar of
the deceased ……...
4. The D.N.A. profile matching with that of the suspect Baba
@ Ravishankar was found present in the source vaginal slide
and salwar of the deceased ……...
2. The opinion given by me in regard to the suspect
Hargovind Kaurav, Nandi @ Anand Kaurav and Baba @ Ashok is
ExP-15 which is in 3 pages and the A to A part on it bears my
signature. The opinion given by me in regard to the suspect
Baba @ Ravishankar, Roopram @ Ruppu Kaurav and Manoj @
Halke Yadav is ExP-16 which is in 2 pages and the A to A part on
it bears my signature.”
35. P.W.12 (Dr. Kinshuk Jaiswal), who was posted as Medical Officer at
Government Hospital Chichli on 23rd May, 2015, at at 9.00 a.m. conducted
postmortem on the dead body of the deceased. She has stated that the
putrefaction of the body had started and foul smelling odour was present.
She estimated time of death at 48-72 hours before or possibly earlier
depending upon environmental conditions. She also found chara (fodder)
inside the hair of the deceased and deposed that two vaginal slides of the
deceased were sent for examination. What she noticed in the postmortem
examination was as follows:
“Abrasions present in the whole left portion of the body of the
deceased. Extending from lateral aspect of left arm to left
forearm 15 cm x 3.5 cm irregular in shape. Left thigh lateral 8 cm
x 3 cm. Left leg (lateral) 7.5 cm x 2.5 cm irregular shape. Left
buttock 15 cm x 4.5 cm irregular. Neck swollen. Contusions
present on anterior aspect of neck both sides. Contusions
present over right axillary area 5 cm x 2.5 cm over left
supraclavicular area (6 cm x 2 cm), left arm (5 cm x 2.5 cm), left
scapular area (8 cm x 2.5 cm). Contusion present over right thigh
medical aspect (10 cm x 2.5 cm). Perineal area swollen and
edematous. Pubic hair absent. Hymen ruptured. Two vaginal
slides prepared and send + for biochemical examination. Feaces
passed. Contusion present over left foot (dorsally) 3.5 cm x 1.5
cm and contusion present over right palm (palmar aspect) of size
2 cm x 1.5 cm. ….(sic.)”
36. P.W.16 (Dr. Kshipra Kaurav) was posted as Medical Officer at
Government Hospital, Chichli on 8th July, 2015 when she was asked to take
the blood sample of the appellant which she kept in a vial, sealed it and
handed it over to the SHO who prepared the seizure memorandum Ex. P-
5. She has volunteered in her cross-examination that the blood samples of
two more persons were also taken prior to that of the appellant on the
same day and that photographs of all the persons whose blood samples
were taken were duly attested. She further volunteered that the
identification Form Ex. P-9 along with photographs of the appellant were
also attested by her.
37. Essentially, this is a case of circumstantial evidence which is
supported by occular and medico-scientific evidence. The prosecution has
effectively proved that deceased was `last seen’ with the appellant and on
earlier occasions too was seen being enticed by the appellant. DNA
evidence using the established STR technique has proved that appellant
committed sexual intercourse with the deceased. Deceased has been
proven to be a minor using school records. Various injuries on her body

along with signs of struggle proved that such crime was committed in a
barbaric manner. Death has been established as being homicidal and
caused by throttling, and has been estimated during the time when the
deceased was seen with the appellant. A slipper have been recovered
through the appellant which has later been identified as belonging to the
deceased, giving finality to the circumstantial chain. The appellant has
been unable to offer any alibi and his defence merely rests on deflecting
guilt on to the family of the deceased, which is without a shred of evidence.
Further, no effective challenge has been made against any medical or DNA
reports. There can thus be no second opinion against the guilt of the
appellant and his consequential conviction.
38. The findings of kidnapping, rape, resultant death and destruction of
evidence have hence been proven beyond reasonable doubt, as evidenced
by concurrent findings of the Courts below. Even this Court on 10th
January, 2018 has confirmed the conviction of the appellant keeping in
view the fact that DNA typing carries high probative value for scientific
evidence, is often more reliable than ocular evidence. It goes without
saying that in (i) Pantangi Balarama Venkata Ganesh vs. State of
Andhra Pradesh2 and (ii) Dharam Deo Yadav vs. State of Uttar
Pradesh3, this Court has unequivocally held that DNA test, even if not
infallible, is nearly an accurate scientific evidence which can be a strong
2(2009) 14 SCC 607
3(2014) 5 SCC 509
foundation for the findings in a criminal case.
Sentencing :
39. The core issue that we are left with to decide is the nature of
punishment to be awarded to the appellant. The Trial Court awarded death
sentence after drawing a balance-sheet weighing `mitigating’
circumstances against `aggravating’ circumstances. It noted that lack of
criminal antecedents and a large number of dependants were outweighed
by appellant’s mature (40-50) age, heinousness of offence, adverse
reaction of society, pre-planned manner of crime, injuries on body of
deceased and lack of regret during trial. The High Court noted that there
was bleeding due to sexual intercourse and that there was no possibility of
reform owing to the appellant’s denial of his crimes. Accordingly, it held
that awarding death penalty was justified.
40. The question as to why and in what circumstances should the
extreme sentence of death be awarded has been pondered upon by this
Court since many a decades. The Constitution Bench of this Court in
Bachan Singh vs. State of Punjab4 evolved the principle of life
imprisonment as the ‘rule’ and death penalty as an ‘exception’. It further
mandated consideration of the probability of reform or rehabilitation of the
criminal. It, thus, formed the genesis of the ‘rarest of the rare’ doctrine for
awarding the sentence of death.
4 (1980) 2 SCC 684
41. This was further developed in Machhi Singh and others vs. State
of Punjab5 where this Court held that as part of the `rarest of rare’ test, the
Court should address itself as to whether; (i) there is something uncommon
about the crime which renders sentence of imprisonment for life
inadequate and calls for a death sentence; (ii) the circumstances are such
that there is no alternative but to impose death sentence even after
according maximum weightage to the mitigating circumstances which
speak in favour of the offender. Further, this Court ruled that :
“(i) The extreme penalty of death need not be inflicted except in
gravest cases of extreme culpability.
(ii) Before opting for the death penalty the circumstances of the
‘offender’ also require to be taken into consideration along with
the circumstances of the ‘crime’.
(iii) Life imprisonment is the rule and death sentence is an
exception. In other words death sentence must be imposed only
when life imprisonment appears to be an altogether inadequate
punishment having regard to the relevant circumstances of the
crime, and provided, and only provided, the option to impose
sentence of imprisonment for life cannot be conscientiously
exercised having regard to the nature and circumstances of the
crime and all the relevant circumstances.
(iv) A balance sheet of aggravating and mitigating circumstances
has to be drawn up and in doing so the mitigating circumstances
have to be accorded full weightage and a just balance has to be
struck between the aggravating and the mitigating circumstances
before the option is exercised.”
42. There have been an umpteen number of judgments where this Court
has steadily restricted the circumstances for award of death penalty and
has increased the burden of showing special reasons before mandating
death penalty, as mandated under Section 354(3) of the Cr.P.C.
5 (1983) 3 SCC 470
43. This exercise of drawing a balance sheet of aggravating and
mitigating circumstances whilst keeping in mind the peculiarity of facts and
circumstances of each case has nevertheless been very tedious. It has
resulted in a lack of unanimity of standard amongst different Benches
resulting in differential standards for award of capital punishment.
44. Many protagonists of abolishment of death penalty have been
passionately urging this Court to not award death in cases of circumstantial
proof claiming an inherent weakness in cases without ocular evidence.
They highlight an ever-remaining possibility of reform and rehabilitation and
ask this Court to be cognizant of social, economic and educational
conditions of the accused.
45. Simultaneously, however, a parallel line of thought has strongly
advocated that death be imposed to maintain proportionality of sentencing
and to further the therories of deterence effect and societal retribution.
These people contend that sentencing should be society-centric instead of
being judge-centric and make use of a cost-benefit analysis to contend that
the miniscule possibility of putting to death an innocent man is more than
justified in the face of the alternative of endangering the life of many more
by setting a convict free after spending 14-20 years in imprisonment. This
possibility, they further state, is already well safeguarded against by a
`beyond reasonable doubt’ standard at the stage of conviction.
46. Ostensibly to tackle such a conundrum between awarding death or
mere 14-20 years of imprisonment, in Swamy Shraddananda @ Murali
Manohar Mishra Vs. State of Karnataka6, a three-Judge Bench of this
Court evolved a hybrid special category of sentence and ruled that the
Court could commute the death sentence and substitue it with life
imprisonment with the direction that the convict would not be released from
prison for the rest of his life. After acknowledging that “the truth of the
matter is that the question of death penalty is not free from the subjective
element and the confirmation of death sentence or its commutation by this
Court depends a good deal on the personal predilection of the Judges
constituting the Bench”, this Court went on to hold as follows:
“92. The matter may be looked at from a slightly different angle.
The issue of sentencing has two aspects. A sentence may be
excessive and unduly harsh or it may be highly
disproportionately inadequate. When an appellant comes to this
Court carrying a death sentence awarded by the trial court and
confirmed by the High Court, this Court may find, as in the
present appeal, that the case just falls short of the rarest of the
rare category and may feel somewhat reluctant in endorsing the
death sentence. But at the same time, having regard to the
nature of the crime, the Court may strongly feel that a sentence
of life imprisonment subject to remission normally works out to a
term of 14 years would be grossly disproportionate and
inadequate. What then should the Court do? If the Court's option
is limited only to two punishments, one a sentence of
imprisonment, for all intents and purposes, of not more than 14
years and the other death, the Court may feel tempted and find
itself nudged into endorsing the death penalty. Such a course
would indeed be disastrous. A far more just, reasonable and
proper course would be to expand the options and to take over
what, as a matter of fact, lawfully belongs to the Court i.e. the
vast hiatus between 14 years' imprisonment and death. It needs
to be emphasised that the Court would take recourse to the
expanded option primarily because in the facts of the case, the
sentence of 14 years' imprisonment would amount to no
punishment at all.
6 (2008) 13 SCC 767
93. Further, the formalisation of a special category of sentence,
though for an extremely few number of cases, shall have the
great advantage of having the death penalty on the statute book
but to actually use it as little as possible, really in the rarest of
rare cases. This would only be a reassertion of the Constitution
Bench decision in Bachan Singh [(1980) 2 SCC 684 : 1980 SCC
(Cri) 580 : AIR 1980 SC 898] besides being in accord with the
modern trends in penology.
94. In the light of the discussions made above we are clearly of
the view that there is a good and strong basis for the Court to
substitute a death sentence by life imprisonment or by a term in
excess of fourteen years and further to direct that the convict
must not be released from the prison for the rest of his life or for
the actual term as specified in the order, as the case may be.”
47. The special sentencing theory evolved in Swamy Shraddananda
(supra) has got the seal of approval of the Constitution Bench of this Court
in Union of India vs. Sriharan alias Murugan and others7, laying down
as follows:
“105. We, therefore, reiterate that the power derived from the
Penal Code for any modified punishment within the punishment
provided for in the Penal Code for such specified offences can
only be exercised by the High Court and in the event of further
appeal only by the Supreme Court and not by any other court in
this country. To put it differently, the power to impose a modified
punishment providing for any specific term of incarceration or till
the end of the convict's life as an alternate to death penalty, can
be exercised only by the High Court and the Supreme Court and
not by any other inferior court.
106. Viewed in that respect, we state that the ratio laid down in
Swamy Shraddananda (2) [Swamy Shraddananda (2) v. State of
Karnataka, (2008) 13 SCC 767 : (2009) 3 SCC (Cri) 113] that a
special category of sentence; instead of death; for a term
exceeding 14 years and put that category beyond application of
remission is well founded and we answer the said question in the
affirmative. We are, therefore, not in agreement with the opinion
expressed by this Court in Sangeet v. State of Haryana [Sangeet
v. State of Haryana, (2013) 2 SCC 452 : (2013) 2 SCC (Cri) 611]
7 (2016) 7 SCC 1
that the deprival of remission power of the appropriate
Government by awarding sentences of 20 or 25 years or without
any remission as not permissible is not in consonance with the
law and we specifically overrule the same.”
48. Regardless of the suggestive middle path this Court has, when the
occasion demanded, confirmed death sentences in many horrenduous,
barberic and superlative crimes especially which involve kidnapping, rape
and cold blooded murder of tender age children.
49. In Mukesh and another vs. State (NCT of Delhi) and others8,
faced with an instance of gang rape and brutal murder, this Court found
that aggravating circumstances like diabolic nature of the crime,
brazenness and coldness with which such acts were committed and the
inhuman extent to which the accused could go to satisfy their lust, would
outweigh mitigating circumstances.
50. In Vasanta Sampat Dupare vs. State of Maharashtra9, a little child
was raped and brutally murdered. The death penalty was confirmed by this
Court. Thereafter, a review petition was heard in open court and the death
penalty was reconfirmed regardless of the convict having completed a
bachelors preparatory programme, having kept an unblemished jail record
and acquiring some other reformative qualifications during the course of
trial. This Court was of the view that the extreme depravity and barberic
manner in which the crime was committed and the fact that the victim was
8 (2017) 6 SCC 1
9 (2017) 6 SCC 631
a helpless child of 4 years clearly outweighed the mitigating circumstances
in that case.
51. In Khushwinder Singh vs. State of Punjab10, this Court affirmed
the death sentence of the accused who had killed six innocent persons
including two minors by kidnapping, drugging them with sleeping pills and
then pushing them into a canal.
52. In Manoharan Vs. Inspector of Police11, a three-Judge Bench (by
majority) affirmed the death sentence of the accused who along with his
co-accused was found guilty of gangraping a 10 years’ old minor girl and
committing her brutal murder along with her 7 years’ old brother by
throwing them into a canal and causing their death by drowning.
53. Equally, there are several other instances including the recent
instance in Rajindra Pralhadrao Wasnik v. State of Maharashtra in
Review Petition(Crl.) Nos. 306-307/2013 where this Court commuted
death sentence even in the case of rape and murder of tender age children
like 3-4 year olds after taking notice of the peculiar facts and circumstances
of that case as well as the factor that the convictions were founded upon
circumstancial evidence and though DNA Test was held but its report was
withheld and not produced by the prosecution for the reasons best known
to it.
10 (2019) 4 SCC 415
11(2019) SCConline SC 951
54. On a detailed examination of precedents, it appears to us that it
would be totally imprudent to lay down an absolute principle of law that no
death sentence can be awarded in a case where conviction is based on
circumstantial evidence. Such a standard would be ripe for abuse by
seasoned criminals who always make sure to destroy direct evidence.
Further in many cases of rape and murder of children, the victims owing to
their tender age can put up no resistence. In such cases it is extremely
likely that there would be no ocular evidence. It cannot, therefore, be said
that in every such case nothwthstanding that the prosecution has proved
the case beyond reasonable doubt, the Court must not award capital
punishment for the mere reason that the offender has not been seen
committing the crime by an eye-witness. Such a reasoning, if applied
uniformally and mechanically will have devastating effects on the society
which is a dominant stakeholder in the administration of our criminal justice
55. Further, another nascent evolution in the theory of death sentencing
can be distilled. This Court has increasingly become cognizant of `residual
doubt’ in many recent cases which effectively create a higher standard of
proof over and above the `beyond reasonable doubt’ standard used at the
stage of conviction, as a safeguard against routine capital sentencing,
keeping in mind the irreversibility of death.
56. In Rameshbhai Chandubhai Rathod vs. State of Gujarat,12 this
12 (2011) 2 SCC 764

Court noted that reliance on merely ‘plausible’ evidences to prove a
circumstantial chain and award death penalty would be “in defiance of any
reasoning which brings a case within the category of the “rarest of rare
cases”.” Further, various discrepancies in other important links in the
circumstantial chain as well as lack of any cogent reason by the High Court
for not accepting the retraction of the confession statement of the accused
was noted. Acting upon such various gaps in the prosecution evidence as
well as in light of other mitigating circumstances, like the possibility that
there were others involved in the crime, this Court refused to confirm the
sentence of death despite upholding conviction.
57. Such imposition of a higher standard of proof for purposes of death
sentencing over and above ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ necessary for
criminal conviction is similar to the “residual doubt” metric adopted by this
Court in Ashok Debbarma vs. State of Tripura13 wherein it was noted
“in our criminal justice system, for recording guilt of the
accused, it is not necessary that the prosecution should prove
the case with absolute or mathematical certainty, but only
beyond reasonable doubt. Criminal Courts, while examining
whether any doubt is beyond reasonable doubt, may carry in
their mind, some "residual doubt", even though the Courts are
convinced of the accused persons' guilt beyond reasonable
58. Ashok Debbarma (supra) drew a distinction between a ‘residual
doubt’, which is any remaining or lingering doubt about the defendant’s
13 (2014) 4 SCC 747

guilt which might remain at the sentencing stage despite satisfaction of the
‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard during conviction, and reasonable
doubts which as defined in Krishan v. State (2003) 7 SCC 56 are “actual and substantive,
and not merely imaginary, trivial or merely possible”. These ‘residual
doubts’ although not relevant for conviction, would tilt towards mitigating
circumstance to be taken note of whilst considering whether the case falls
under the ‘rarest of rare’ category.
59. This theory is also recognised in other jurisdictions like the United
States, where some state courts like the Supreme Court of Tennessey in
State vs. McKinney 74 S.W.3d 291 (Tenn. 2002) have explained that residual doubt of guilt is a valid
non-statutory mitigating circumstance during the sentencing stage and
have allowed for new evidence during sentencing proceedings related to
defendant’s character, background history, physical condition etc.
60. The above cited principles have been minutely observed by us,
taking into consideration the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case
in hand. At the outset, we would highlight that the High Court while
confirming death has observed that the girl was found bleeding due to
forcible sexual intercourse — which fact, however, is not supported by
medical evidence. However, such erroneous finding has no impact on
conviction under Section 376A of the I.P.C. for a bare perusal of the section
shows that only the factum of death of the victim during the offence of rape is required, and such death need not be with any guilty intention or be a
natural consequence of the act of rape only. It is worded broadly enough to
include death by any act committed by the accused if done
contemporaneously with the crime of rape. Any other interpretation would
defeat the object of ensuring safety of women and would perpetuate the
earlier loophole of the rapists claiming lack of intention to cause death to
seek a reduced charge under Section 304 of I.P.C. as noted in the Report
of the Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law, headed by Justice
J.S. Verma, former Chief Justice of India:
“22. While we believe that enhanced penalties in a substantial
number of sexual assault cases can be adjudged on the basis of
the law laid down in the aforesaid cases, certain situations
warrant a specific treatment. We believe that where the offence
of sexual assault, particularly ‘gang rapes’, is accompanied by
such brutality and violence that it leads to death or a Persistent
Vegetative State (or ‘PVS’ in medical terminology), punishment
must be severe – with the minimum punishment being life
imprisonment. While we appreciate the argument that where
such offences result in death, the case may also be tried under
Section 302 of the IPC as a ‘rarest of the rare’ case, we must
acknowledge that many such cases may actually fall within the
ambit of Section 304 (Part II) since the ‘intention to kill’ may
often not be established. In the case of violence resulting in
Persistent Vegetative State is concerned, we are reminded of
the moving story of Aruna Shanbagh, the young nurse who was
brutally raped and lived the rest of her life (i.e. almost 36 years)
in a Persistent Vegetative State.
23. In our opinion, such situations must be treated differently
because the concerted effort to rape and to inflict violence may
disclose an intention deserving an enhanced punishment. We
have therefore recommended that a specific provision, namely,
Section 376 (3) should be inserted in the Indian Penal Code to
deal with the offence of “rape followed by death or resulting in a
Persistent Vegetative State”.”
61. In the present case, there are some residual doubts in our mind. A
crucial witness for constructing the last seen theory, P.W.5 is partly
inconsistent in cross-examination and quickly jumps from one statement to
the other. Two other witnesses, P.W.6 and P.W.7 had seen the appellant
feeding biscuits to the deceased one year before the incident and their long
delay in reporting the same fails to inspire confidence. The mother of the
deceased has deposed that the wife and daughter of the appellant came to
her house and demanded the return of the money which she had borrowed
from them but failed to mention that she suspected the appellant of
commiting the crime initially. Ligature marks on the neck evidencing
throttling were noted by P.W.20 and P.W.12 and in the postmortem report,
but find no mention in the panchnama prepared by the police. Viscera
samples sent for chemical testing were spoilt and hence remained
unexamined. Although nails’ scrappings of the accused were collected, no
report has been produced to show that DNA of the deceased was present.
Another initial suspect, Baba alias Ashok Kaurav absconded during
investigation, hence, gave rise to the possibility of involvment of more than
one person. All these factors of course have no impact in formation of the
chain of evidence and are wholly insufficient to create reasonable doubt to
earn acquittal.
62. We are cognizant of the fact that use of such ‘residual doubt’ as a
mitigating factor would effectively raise the standard of proof for imposing
the death sentence, the benefit of which would be availed of not by the
innocent only. However, it would be a misconception to make a cost-benefit

comparison between cost to society owing to acquittal of one guilty versus
loss of life of a perceived innocent. This is because the alternative to death
does not necessarily imply setting the convict free.
63. As noted by the United States Supreme Court in Herrera v.
Collins,16 “it is an unalterable fact that our judicial system, like the human
beings who administer it, is fallible.” However, death being irrevocable,
there lies a greater degree of responsibility on the Court for an indepth
scruitiny of the entire material on record. Still further, qualitatively, the
penalty imposed by awarding death is much different than in incarceration,
both for the convict and for the state. Hence, a corresponding distinction in
requisite standards of proof by taking note of ‘residual doubt’ during
sentencing would not be unwarranted.
64. We are thus of the considered view that the present case falls short
of the ‘rarest of rare’ cases where the death sentence alone deserves to be
awarded to the appellant. It appears to us in the light of all the cumulative
circumstances that the cause of justice will be effectively served by
invoking the concept of special sentencing theory as evolved by this Court
in Swamy Shraddananda (supra) and approved in Sriharan case
65.For the reasons aforesaid, the appeals are allowed in part to the extent
that the death penalty as awarded by the courts below is set aside and is
16 506 U.S. 390 (1993)
substituted with the imprisonment for life with a direction that no remission
shall be granted to the appellant and he shall remain in prison for the rest
of his life.
…………………………… J.
DATED : 03.10.2019

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