The appellants including Vikram Singh were tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana, for the offences of ‘kidnapping for ransom’, punishable under Section 364A and ‘murder’, punishable under Section 302 and of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. This was on account of the appellants’ kidnapping and murdering a 16-year-old boy and demanding a ransom of 50 lacs from his father. Following this, they filed a writ petition before the High Court challenging the constitutional validity of Section 364A and praying for a mandamus striking down the same. Further, they contested that the provision wouldn’t apply to individuals demanding ransom from private individuals and that its primary purpose was to apply against terrorist activities. When dismissed, they file an appeal to the Supreme Court of India, praying for the same.
1. Whether the offence charged and punishment prescribed under Section 364A be withdrawn if the ransom was made against a private individual and not against the Government, any foreign State, or international intergovernmental organization?
2. Whether Section 364A of IPC is ultra vires the Constitution of India on account of limiting the discretion of Courts overprescribing punishment?
A bench of three judges held on the first issue in the contention that Section 364A was broad enough to apply to private individuals and rejected the arguments made by the appellants that it applied exclusively to offences involving terrorist acts committed against the government, any foreign state or international intergovernmental organization. The court stated that though amended, the legislature chose not to delete the phrase “any other person” from it, and here, the principle ejusdem generis, arguing the similarity of the phrase to the words preceding it, does not apply. This was also reasoned on the grounds of the matter being held invalid in multiple prior appeals, thus calling for no further action as long as the prior appeal stands rejected.
On the second issue in contention, the appellants had cited the precedent of Mithu Singh v. State of Punjab (1983) 2 SCC 277 wherein Section 303 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860; was struck down stating that the mandatory death penalty was unconstitutional. The Court responded to this stating that firstly, the aforementioned case doesn’t stand similar to the facts and circumstances of this case and hence wouldn’t hold good. Also, Section 302 prescribed death as punishment whereas Section 364A established the discretion of the Courts in prescribing death or life imprisonment. Secondly, the court held that prescribing punishments is a function of the legislature and the legislature is presumed to be supremely competent of the same. Courts do have the jurisdiction to interfere when the punishment prescribed is outrageously disproportionate to the offence or so inhuman or brutal that the same cannot be accepted by any standard of decency. However, it was held that in this scenario they don’t apply due to the nature of the offence. Hence, Section 364A was held to be constitutionally valid by the Court.
The Hon’ble Court held that Section 364A was applicable to the offence when committed against private individuals. The provision was also held to be constitutionally valid. Hence, this appeal was dismissed.