case laws

Rarest Of The Rare Doctrine & Mercy Petitions

Rarest Of The Rare Doctrine & Mercy Petitions

Rarest Of The Rare Doctrine is the concept where Judges can understand the cases where the Death punishment is very important. We will also understand here the concept of Mercy Petitions. Let us see Rarest Of The Rare Doctrine & Mercy Petitions with some basic concepts and with some landmark judgment in which the Honourable Supreme Court defined the Rarest Of The Rare Doctrine.


• Hanging and shooting are the two methods of the death penalty in India. According to the Criminal Procedure Code, hanging is the method of execution in the civilian court system. The Army Act, of 1950, however, lists both hanging and shooting as official methods of execution in the military court-martial system. According to a study by National Law University in Delhi, 755 people have been hanged in independent India until now.

Data for death penalties in India varies from one source to another. According to a 1967 law commission report, at least 1,400 prisoners were executed in just 10 years, between 1954 and 1963. A 2016 study conducted by the National Law University (NLU) in Delhi put this number at 755. The discrepancy in the figures arises mainly due to the lack of official figures and very little data available in the public domain on death sentences in India.


Crimes punishable by death in India include aggravated murder, other offences resulting in death, terrorism-related crimes resulting in death, terrorism-related cases not resulting in death, rape not resulting in death, kidnapping not resulting in death, drug trafficking not resulting in death, treason, espionage and military offenses not resulting in death.

The judgments in the Bachan Singh vs the State of Punjab play a crucial role in deciding whether any crime deserves the death penalty or not. For example, under the Indian Arms Act, 1959, using, carrying, manufacturing, selling, transferring, or testing prohibited arms or ammunition had a mandatory death sentence in case of casualty. But a Supreme Court order in February 2012 had ruled this provision “unconstitutional in light of the judgments in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab and Mithu v. the State of Punjab”.

BACHAN SINGH CASE SUMMARY In which the court defined the Rarest Of The Rare Doctrine.

This Case is a landmark judgment given BLS judges Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court. In this case, Supreme Court announced important limitations on the death penalty by setting the “rarest of the rare” doctrine. The Appellant Bachan Singh was convicted for his wife’s murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment. After undergoing the term of imprisonment ( i.e after his release) was convicted and sentenced to death under Section 302, Indian Penal Code for the murders of Desa Singh, Durga Bai, and Veeran Bai.

The High Court confirmed his death sentence given by the sessions judge and dismissed his appeal. Later SC declared that for awarding “Death Sentence”, “Special Reasons” must be there and this case is “rarest of the rare” (Rarest Of The Rare Doctrine) and upheld the constitutional validity of the death sentence as required in section 354(3) of CrPC, 1973.


Education Capital punishment has been part of the Indian Penal Code since 1898. In 2018, the Supreme Court of India accorded the death penalty to 162 people – the highest number in the last twenty years. India is also one of the only fifty-eight countries in the world that haven’t entirely abolished or introduced a moratorium on capital punishment law. Since the establishment of the Indian Constitution, a number of challenges to the constitutionality of the death sentence have arisen through Supreme Court petitions.

The matter was seen as ‘settled in the landmark judgment of Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab (1980), which held that the death penalty is indeed constitutional. However, the judgment also promulgated the “Rarest Of The Rare Doctrine”, holding that the death penalty should only be accorded in exceptional or rare cases/Rarest Of The Rare Doctrine.

Rarest Of The Rare Doctrine & Mercy Petitions

                                                               Rarest Of The Rare Doctrine & Mercy Petitions


For a convict to file a mercy petition, his/her death sentence must be confirmed by a high court first. Education The law says: “The death sentence convict has an option to appeal to the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court either refuses to hear the appeal or upholds the death sentence, then the convict or his relatives can submit a mercy petition to the President of India (Articles 72) or the Governor of the State (161).”

Grounds to seek mercy appeal range from physical fitness, age, the law was too harsh, or the convict being the sole breadwinner of the family. According to Article 72 of the Constitution, the power to pardon- the philosophy of which is “every civilized country recognizes and provides for the pardoning power as an act of grace and humanity in course of law” – lies with the President.

The Article also states that he/she can grant pardons, reprieves respites or remissions of punishment, or suspend, remit or commute the convict. The mercy petition is reviewed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which consults the state involved, before going to the President. President Ram Nath Kovind, who came to power in July 2017, has rejected at least two mercy petitions- that of Jagat Rai, who burnt alive seven people, five of them children, and the most recent being 2012 gang-rape convict Akshay.

The powers of the governor of state are very similar to that of the President. According to Article 161, the governor can “grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence against any law relating to a matter to which the executive power of the state extends”.


While the debate on the abolition of the death penalty goes on, the delay in the execution of death row convicts coupled with long years of solitary confinement leads to immense psychological trauma for them. The prolonged detention of death row convicts in prison is not just inhuman but also against the canons of justice.

It is small wonder that the courts tend to take a lenient view and reduce the sentence when such cases of prolonged years of detention come before them. In India, 102 convicts were awarded the death sentence in 2019, raising the total number of death row prisoners to 378. Death row convicts have suffered imprisonment of up to 25 years. It goes to the credit of former President Pranab Mukherjee that during his term, he disposed of 34 mercy petitions that had been pending for years…

While 30 were rejected, four were given reprieves. While the fact that he rejected 30 mercy petitions can be debated, what is important here is that his Education dealt with the petitions swiftly. A time frame needs to be fixed for the President to dispose of mercy petitions. The lack of accountability of various officials in the government and the courts has adversely affected our criminal justice system. Delays in investigations, court hearings, and administrative steps to be taken after the final verdict need to be inquired into, and responsibility fixed.


India is only one of 58 countries that have the death penalty on their statute book and has used it in the recent past. The delay in carrying out the death penalty is one of the reasons to review India’s position on capital punishment. The debate on the efficacy of the death penalty in reducing crime has been going on for several decades. A few years ago, the issue of abolishing capital punishment was raised in the Rajya Sabha but was rejected by a voice vote.

Abolishing the death penalty will ease, not enhance, the tax-payers’ burden. The annual cost of maintaining a prisoner is about 30,000. The hangman is paid more, and we also save on the protracted litigation that death cases involve. Article 21 of the constitution gives the people the right to life and the right to personal liberty. The law commission in its 262nd report has said that capital punishment fails to achieve any constitutionally valid penological goals.

The death penalty unfairly targets the poor and marginalized. Those without capital get the punishment. Penurious prisoners on legal aid get it the most, while others with private lawyers remain untouched. The death penalty is impossible to administer fairly or rationally. The Supreme Court has repeatedly admitted that it has arbitrarily imposed this most extreme punishment.

Executions occurred in 5.2 cases for every 1 lakh murder. Such a selection cannot but be freakish. It depends overwhelmingly on the adjudicator’s personal beliefs. Judges opposed to it never gave a death sentence; those in favour doled it out. Abolitionist Presidents (S. Radhakrishnan and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam) refused to reject mercy petitions, while others, differently inclined, readily denied clemency. Should the killing of a human being depend on the philosophy of a particular individual?


No doubt, convicts like those of heinous crimes like the Nirbhaya Gang Rape Case do not deserve to be freed without any harsh punishment because the Rarest Of The Rare Doctrine is fully applied in this case. Martin Luther King Jr. has once remarked “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars”. Also, the death penalty is pointless, as it has not succeeded in deterring crime.

People continue to murder each other despite knowing that the death penalty is in effect and people do not think of the consequences when they commit a murder. Furthermore, we find that the death penalty is quite expensive and it can be a great burden on the state as well as the taxpayers. Finally, we find that the death penalty is being administered in an imperfect system where an innocent person can be(and several have been)sent to their death through executions.

Click to comment

Most Popular

To Top