This Article is written by Vaidaihi Dixit, a student in 2nd year of B.A., LL.B studying at Lovely Professional University, Phagwara.

India is a country that believes in the reformative theory of law. The death penalty is the highest punishment given to anyone convicted. This isn’t a common phenomenon in India. In India, there were 144 death sentences awarded in 2021. In Indian cases like Nirbhaya Rape, the court imposed the death penalty for the most serious crimes, capital punishment, as this case fell in the category of rarest of the rare. Executions for such crimes are done by hanging. It’s important to note that it’s a rare phenomenon in India. The Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure describe the death penalty. Since its introduction, the death penalty has been used in India, but its application has decreased over time. Section 302 of IPC deals with death, life imprisonment and fine murder.

Murder on the provocation, private defence, the duty of public service or death caused in the sudden fight are exceptions of this section. In this case, the principle of rarest of rare cases came up for consideration and elaboration. This was the case of extreme cruelty.

In this case, Machhi Singh and other accuses killed many people of a family in a night in family conflict. This is the case in which the court framed some guidelines for the rarest of rare cases.


The Machhi Singh v State of Punjab is a case that plays important role in the judicial system of India. Machhi Singh v State of Punjab was delivered three years after Bachan Singh’s case.

In this case, Supreme Court laid down a broad outline of the conditions when a death sentence should be imposed. In this case, the court set out the specific criteria for surveying when a case falls under the class of rarest of rarest.

Justice Thakkar pronouncing for the court held that five categories of cases may be considered as rarest of rare cases having it coming extreme penalty. They are :

  1. Manner of commission of murder : When the murder is committed in a very violent manner to provoke intense and extreme indignation in the community.
  2. The motive for commission of murder : When the murder is committed for a motive which evinces total evil and meanness.
  3. The magnitude of the crime : When the crimes of an immense proportion, like the murders of a family or a large number of people in a particular caste are committed.


The Machhi Singh case was a series of family disputes that escalated into violence in Punjab.

Seventeen lives were lost in the course of a series of events that emerged quickly in five different villages situated in the vicinity of each other. The 17 people who lost their lives and three who sustained injuries were related to one Amar Singh and his sister Piaro Bai. The occurrence of the proceedings culminating in the appeal before this court took place at the village Alahi Baksh Badla on August 12, 1977. Four members of the Amar Singh became targets of the attackers and died in the course of the murderous attack. The four victims include a wife and three sons of Amar Singh. As luck would have it, Amar Singh and his 10years old daughter Mohindo escaped the murderous assault and survived to tell the story of the murder in court. Both Appellant Machhi Singh and Mohinder Singh were armed with rifles. Their three companions were armed with kirpans. Appellant Machhi fired a shot on his wife who was lying on the cot. At the same time, Mohinder fired a shot on the son lying on a cot, and Machhi fired a shot on other sons. Nine nine persons intruded in the house of one Kahar Singh at Sowaya Pai with deadly weapons. They killed two inmates of the house and injured the third one by gunshot. They forcefully entered Bishan Singh’s house and killed him and smt. Paro and her child by firing rifle shot. Mohinder Singh was shot by rifle shot at the village of Kamrewala. He was the brother of Amar Singh. On the night of 12 and 13 five miscreants armed with deadly weapons were able to enter the house of one Ujagar Singh at the village Dandi Khur. They attacked inmates and killed his sister and four close cousins.


The Doctrine of Rarest of Rare was established in the case of Bacchan v.

state of Punjab.In this case, the Supreme Court tried to cut out a doctrine for crimes culpable with death. By the majority of 4 to 1, the constitutionality of death penalty was upheld by the Supreme Court and a principle was laid down that death penalty must be surrounded only in the rarest of rare cases. The Ratio Decidendi of Bacchan Singh is that the death sentence is constitutional if it is a substitute for the crime of murder. This means that death penalty can only be imposed on “rarest cases” when an alternative option is excluded.

Later, in the case of Macchi Singh v. State of Punjab, the court tried to lay down criteria for assessing whether a crime fell into the category of “rarest of rare.” In the case of Santosh Kumar Bariyar v. State of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court ruled that, “The rarest of rare dictum serves as a guideline in enforcing Section 354(3) and establishes the policy that life imprisonment is the rule and death punishment is an exception.” Section 303 of the Indian Penal Code mandated death penalty for all offenders serving a life sentence. This section was struck down as being held unconstitutional. The year 2008 accounted for the case of Prajeet Kumar Singh v. State of Bihar, wherein the court ruled exactly on what would constitute a “rarest of rare case.” The Court held that a death sentence would be awarded only, “when a murder is committed in an extremely brutal, grotesque, diabolical, revolting or dastardly manner so as to arouse intense and extreme indignation of the community.


The circumstances of the case do convey that this case is an emotionless murder. The committed was a very wicked character. The court validates the view of the session court and the high court of Punjab and Haryana that the extreme punishment of death mandates to be imposed on Machhi Singh and 3 others. The death penalty was finalized by the court.

The benefit of reasonable doubt was given to Mahinder Singh because there was no evidence that his rifle was in possession of him. As for Kashmir Singh, he is concerned that his death sentence was imposed on him by a session court and was confirmed by the high court by the high court for a reason he died while sleeping. In all the appellants, the sentence of imprisonment for life and other sentence must be confirmed.


The author humbly submits the following recommendations in order to regulate and mitigate the debates revolving around the Doctrine of Rarest of Rare:

  1. Standardised guidelines should be laid down : A uniform guideline should be laid down that encompasses the ground under which cases can be identified as rarest of rare. This can help to clear the fog that has been formed which has led to confusion in the mind of many jurists.
  2. Once the death penalty has been announced, it should not be postponed:

According to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Triveni Bai v. State of Gujarat[18], the execution procedure must be postponed for justifiable reasons to allow the accused to receive a fair trial. However, it is advised that when the death penalty is announced, there should be no delay. This does not imply that the accused should not have the option to appeal, but rather that this option should only be available for a limited time.

  1. The constitutional bench must carefully consider all relevant factors before deciding to impose the death penalty and make sure that the decision is not made in a hurry.
  2. The choice must be made with proper diligence and reason: While determining whether to impose the death sentence, it is important to keep in mind that even if the accused did a violent crime, if there is any likelihood that the accused won’t cause future harm to society, the accused should not get the death penalty
  3. The punishment must be appropriate in light of the offence: The severity of the crime for which the death sentence is being applied must be taken into consideration. Petty offences shouldn’t warrant the imposition of the death penalty. In order to serve as a deterrent and prevent potential offenders from committing such a horrible crime, it must be related to the seriousness of the conduct.



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