The rich and famous are in trouble again. Recently, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the matter of Jaswinder Singh (Dead) v. Navjot Singh Sidhu, decided by the Bench of Justice A.M Khanwilkar and Justice Sanjay Kishan Paul on 19-05-2022 has found Navjot Singh Sidhu as guilty in the road rage incident that took place in 1988 in Patiala where an FIR dated 27.12.1988 was registered under Section 304 and 34 of Indian Penal Code, 1860.
The facts of the case are that one Mr. Gurnam Singh and Jaswinder Singh were travelling on the night of 27.12.1988, when a dispute arose on the right of way between the Accused Navjot Singh Sidhu and late Gurnam Singh. The Accused stopped the vehicle of Gurnam Singh who was 65 years old then and gave him a beating with his fist. The said beating resulted in Gurnam Singh collapsing and when the Informant and some passers-by took him to the hospital, he was declared already dead.
The Accused was an international cricketer. He was big built and obviously very strong. The blows given by the fist resulted in injuries to which the Deceased finally succumbed and was brought dead to the hospital.
Despite the gravity of this offence in the charge-sheet dated 06.03.1989 that was filed on 14.07.1989 under Section 304 of IPC the charge-sheet exonerated the Accused Sidhu but framed Respondent No. 2. However, when the matter came up before the Sessions Court, the Court exercised its powers and after recording the statement of the Informant, Jaswinder Singh, summoned Sidhu to stand trial. The Informant had also filed a private complaint under Sections 302/324 and 323 read with Section 34 of the IPC. For quick reference of the readers, the relevant Sections are reproduced below:
In the FIR:
Section 304, IPC
“Punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder—
Whoever commits culpable homicide not amounting to murder, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine, if the act by which the death is caused is done with the intention of causing death, or of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death;
or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, or with fine, or with both, if the act is done with the knowledge that it is likely to cause death, but without any intention to cause death, or to cause such bodily injury as is likely to cause death.”
Section 34, IPC
“Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention—When a criminal act is done by several persons in furtherance of the common intention of all, each of such persons is liable for that act in the same manner as if it were done by him alone.”
In the Private Complaint:
Section 302, IPC
Punishment for murder—
“Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”
Section 323, IPC
“Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt—
Whoever, except in the case provided for by section 334, voluntarily causes hurt, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term
which may extend to one year, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.”
Section 324, IPC:
“Voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means—
Whoever, except in the case provided for by section 334, voluntarily causes hurt by means of any instrument for shooting, stabbing or cutting, or any instrument which, used as a weapon of offence, is likely to cause death, or by means of fire or any heated substance, or by means of any poison or any corrosive substance, or by means of any explosive substance or by means of any substance which it is deleterious to the human body to inhale, to swallow, or to receive into the blood, or by means of any animal, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.”
The Trial Court acquitted both the Accused in 1999 and held that death was not caused by subdural hemorrhage but due to cardiac arrest because of which he (Deceased) fell and received two abrasions leading to subdural hemorrhage. The State and the Complainant moved separate Appeals in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana. The High Court after hearing the Appeals found both the Accused guilty. However, the High Court opined that the Accused was not guilty of causing the death of Gurnam Singh and that the Accused has caused voluntary hurt which is punishable under Section 323 of the IPC. The High Court sentenced a fine of Rupees 1000/- vide Order dated 06.12.2006 and observed that since the incident was 30 years old and there was no enmity between the parties and no weapons were used.
The Complainant- Informant filed a Review Application but were not satisfied with the outcome and finally three criminal appeals were filed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court by the two Accused and the Informant.
The Supreme Court while hearing the matter observed “that Respondent No.1 was held not guilty of causing the death of Gurnam Singh, and the only conclusion which was found acceptable was of the Respondent No.1 causing voluntary hurt to Gurnam Singh which is punishable under Section 323 of the IPC. It was noticed that Respondent No.1 was an international cricketer and a celebrity at the time of the incident and at times there was an endeavour to turn a blind eye to the violations of law committed by celebrities. On the question of sentence, a fine of Rs.1,000/- alone was imposed vide order dated 06.12.2006, since the incident was 30 years old at the time, there was no enmity between the parties and no weapon was used. Respondent No.1 was held not guilty of causing the death of Gurnam Singh, and the only conclusion which was found acceptable was of the Respondent No.1 causing voluntary hurt to Gurnam Singh which is punishable under Section 323 of the IPC. It was noticed that Respondent No.1 was an international cricketer and a celebrity at the time of the incident and at times there was an endeavour to turn a blind eye to the violations of law committed by celebrities. On the question of sentence, a fine of Rs.1,000/- alone was imposed vide order dated 06.12.2006, since the incident was 30 years old at the time, there was no enmity between the parties and no weapon was used.”
“Next we turn to the aspect of review, which persuaded us to issue the notice, i.e., qua the sentence imposed – a fine of Rs.1,000/-. No doubt the conviction is under Section 323 of the IPC relating to causing hurt, which reads as under: “323. Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt.—Whoever, except in the case provided for by section 334, voluntarily causes hurt, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.”
The Supreme Court observed whether in the given factual scenario, grave error can be said to have been committed on the issue of sentence by not punishing with imprisonment of any term whatsoever and held that some material aspects which were required to be taken note of appear to have been somehow missed out at the stage of sentencing, such as the physical fitness of respondent No.1 as he was an international cricketer, who was tall and well-built and aware of the force of a blow that even his hand would carry. The blow was not inflicted on a person identically physically placed but a 65 year old person, more than double his age. Respondent No.1 cannot say that he did not know the effect of the blow or plead ignorance on this aspect. In the given circumstances, tempers may have been lost but then the consequences of the loss of temper must be borne. In fact, this Court to some extent had been indulgent in ultimately holding respondent No.1 guilty of an offence of simple hurt under Section 323 of the IPC. The question is whether even on sentence, mere passage of time can result in a fine of Rs.1,000/- being an adequate sentence where a person has lost his life by reason of the severity of blow inflicted by respondent No.1 with his hands.
The Court further observed that in criminal jurisprudence with the passage of time has laid emphasis on victimology, which fundamentally is a perception of a trial from the viewpoint of the criminal as well as the victim. Both are viewed in the social context and, thus, victim’s rights have to be equally protected. Among the factors to be taken note of are the “defenseless and unprotected state of victim” appropriate in the facts of the present case.
Thus, a disproportionately light punishment humiliates and frustrates a victim of crime when the offender goes unpunished or is let off with a relatively minor punishment as the system pays no attention to the injured’s feelings. Indifference to the rights of the victim of crime is fast eroding the faith of the society in general and the victim of crime in particular in the criminal justice system.
The Court expressed its dissatisfaction on the way the investigation proceeded initially, how the Court had to intervene to see that the relevant people are charged, the manner of leading of evidence, the hesitancy of doctors all of which weighed in this Court opining that a case beyond reasonable doubt could be only of one under Section 323 of the IPC.
The Court opined that indulgence was not required to be shown at the stage of sentence by only imposing a sentence of fine and letting the Respondent go without any imposition of sentence. The result of the aforesaid is that the review applications/petitions are allowed to the aforesaid extent and in addition to the fine imposed we consider it appropriate to impose a sentence of imprisonment for a period of one-year rigorous imprisonment to be undergone by Respondent No.1. Rigorous imprisonment means imprisonment with hard labor.
The Court finally gave justice to Deceased late Gurnam Singh after a period of 34 years. It is still questionable as to whether the Accused should have been given only one year of imprisonment or should have got a heavier punishment. The Accused no doubt will endeavor to use every trick in the book to try and get out of this rigorous imprisonment by using health grounds. Today, the Accused is 59 years of age. A classic case of justice delayed…
Sushila Ram Varma
The Indian Lawyer & Allied Services