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Kartar Singh Vs State of Punjab – Case Analysis

Introduction

Kartar Singh vs The State of Punjab is primarily a case of free fight between two parties, causing severe injuries on both sides, amounting to the death of one of the participants (Darshan Singh). Following the death of Darshan Singh, twelve persons (including Kartar Singh) were booked for the offence of committing murder, attempt to murder and unlawful assembly. After the deep examination of the evidence and witnesses, the Hon’ble Sessions court held the charges against three of the accused, i.e. Kartar Singh, Hamela and Dayaram, under Sections 302, 307 and 149 of the Indian Penal Code,1860; while the rest of them were given the benefit of the doubt due to unavailability of sufficient evidence against them.

Unsatisfied with the Sessions court verdict, one of the accused (Kartar Singh) moved to the Hon’ble High Court of Punjab to appeal against the judgement of the sessions court. The High Court dismissed the appeal as the judges did not see any force in it. Hence the charges framed by the sessions court continued to remain as it is.

Later the appellant moved to the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. However, the appeal against the High court’s decision was dismissed here also, but a change in charges was made. Earlier, the charges framed under Section 302, Section 307 read with Section 149 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 were now converted into one under Section 302, Section 307 read with Section 34 of Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Facts of Kartar Singh vs State of Punjab Case

  • In the Court of- Hon’ble Supreme court of India
  • Case name- Kartar Singh vs The State of Punjab
  • Citation- (1926) 32 AWR 16, (1962) 2 SCR 395
  • Case year- 26th April 1961
  • Bench – J.R. Mudholkar, K. Subba Rao, Raghubar Dayal, JJ.
  • Appellant – Kartar Singh
  • Respondent – State of Punjab
  • Advocates appeared for the appellant – J.N. Kaushal, Senior Advocate (Naunit Lal, Advocate with him)
  • Advocates appeared for the respondent – B.K. Khanna, R.H. Dhebar, D. Gupta, Advocates

[1]One fine morning Darshan Singh and Nand Lal were sitting on a well when they saw Kartar Singh, Hamela , Dayaram and a few more people coming towards them. It is said that Kartar Singh and others were going to plough a plot of land in dispute. They were stopped by Nand Lal and Darshan Singh sitting on the nearby well. As mentioned by Dayaram, Nand Lal challenged them and remarked that he wouldn’t let him (Dayaram) escape. This provoked the members of both parties and initiated a free fight. Both the parties caused several physical injuries to each other. The injuries were so intense that they resulted in the death of Darshan Singh.

Kartar Singh, Hamela and Dayaram were booked for committing murder, attempt to murder and unlawful assembly. The Sessions court gave the verdict for their conviction under Sections 302, 307, and 149 of IPC,1860. The appellant (Kartar Singh) then moved to the High Court of Punjab and then to the Supreme court of India, appealing against the judgement of the sessions court. However, both of them dismissed the appeal one after the other. But, the Supreme Court held that the conviction under Sections 302, 307 read with Section 149 of IPC, 1860 can be converted into one under Section 302, 307 read with Section 34 of IPC,1860.

Sections Involved in Kartar Singh Vs State of Punjab Case

Section 302, IPC (1860)

Punishment for murder- Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death or [imprisonment for life], and shall also be liable to fine.[2]

Section 307, IPC (1860)

Attempt to murder- Whoever does any act with such intention or knowledge, and under such circumstances that, if he by that act caused death, he would be guilty of murder, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine; and if hurt is caused to any person by such act, the offender shall be liable either to [imprisonment for life] or to such punishment as is hereinbefore mentioned.[3]

Section 149, IPC (1860)

Every member of unlawful assembly guilty of the offence committed in prosecution of common object- If an offence is committed by any member of an unlawful assembly in prosecution of the common object of that assembly, or such as the members of that assembly knew to be likely to be committed in prosecution of that object, every person who, at the time of the committing of that offence, is a member of the same assembly, is guilty of that offence.[4]

Section 34, IPC (1860)

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.[5]

Fundamental differences between Section 34 And Section 149 of IPC (1860)[6]

  1. Common intention frames the primary liability under Section 34, while under Section 149 the liability arises out of the common object.
  2. Under Section 34, the scope of common intention remains undefined. In contrast, Section 149 clarifies the scope of the common object and is limited to unlawful objects, as mentioned in Section 141 of IPC (1860).
  3. Under Section 34, active participation in criminal activity is a pre-requisite; but mere membership of an unlawful gathering is sufficient to convict a person under Section 149.
  4. Section 34 is applicable when two or more persons commit a criminal act, But Section 149 is only enforceable when five or more persons have been involved.
  5. Section 34 talks only about joint liability and has nothing to do with criminal activity. Therefore, it is always read along with some other Section(s) of criminal activity, whereas Section 149 creates a specific criminal offence of unlawful assembly.

Judgements of Kartar Singh Vs State of Punjab Case

Hon’ble Sessions Court

In this case, the learned judges had enough evidence to conclude that Darshan Singh was murdered in the free fight between both parties. The only substantive question before the court was to determine the actual participants of the event. The court was not sure about whether only some of the accused were involved in the fight or all twelve of the accused participated in it. After recording the statements of Kartar Singh, Hamela and Dayaram, it was proven that they actively participated in the fight. However, it could not be established that the other nine accused were also the participants of the fight. One of the eye-witnesses told the court about the involvement of nine to ten people in the fight, but he was unable to name them. Hence, the remaining accused were given the benefit of the doubt. And three of them were convicted under Sections 302, 307 read with Section 149 of IPC (1860).

Hon’ble High Court of Punjab

The accused (now appellant) appealed to the High Court against the sessions court’s decision. Two major substantive questions were argued. First, if there existed no evidence of involvement of five or more people in the act, the session court cannot record a conviction under Sections 302 with section 149 of IPC (1860). Second, the other party initiated the fight by making a provoking comment against one of the members of the appellant’s side. The injuries caused to the other party was merely an act of self-defence.

The honourable bench of High Court replied to the first argument as – The sessions court found enough evidence from the witnesses that nine or ten people were involved in the fight. They were acquitted only due to a lack of evidence for their active participation in the fight. Thereby given the benefit of doubt. However, their presence on the spot of the fight is not questionable. It is a well-established fact that around ten people were present in or around the crime scene. Therefore, the conviction under Sections 302 & 307 can be read with Section 149 of IPC (1860). [7]

In response to the second issue raised before the Hon’ble High Court, the court found that the Right to private defence does not arise in a free fight. In such fights, it does not matter as to who initiated the fight.[8] Right to self-defence only arises in matters of sudden attack. But in this case, Kartar Singh went with them armed. Hence, it could be apprehended that it was not a sudden attack on an individual(s). Therefore, the Right to private defence cannot be exercised.

Thus, the appeal against the judgement of Sessions court was dismissed by the HC.

Hon’ble Supreme court of India

The appellants appealed against the High court’s judgement before the Supreme Court of India. After careful examination of the judgements and reasonings by the Hon’ble High Court of Punjab & the Sessions Court, the bench of three judges rejected the appeal saying that they find no force in the appeal. However, the bench argued over the definition and meaning of ‘common-objective’ and ‘common-intention’ in reference to Sections 149 and 34 of IPC (1860). Thus, a change in charges was made as follows – the conviction under Sections 302 & 307, which was read along with Section 149 of IPC (1860) was now converted to be read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal code, 1860. Following this, Kartar Singh, Hamela and Dayaram were convicted and punished accordingly.

Conclusion

The case of Kartar Singh vs State of Punjab highlighted the primary difference between ‘common-objective’ and ‘common-intention’ of an act. The court also clarified the usage of the right to self-defence and its scope. The court made a bold statement that a lack of evidence for your active participation in an act might give you the ‘benefit of the doubt’, but your presence cannot be unseen by the court if sufficient witnesses point towards it. The judgment was backed up with various references of case laws and statutes. It seems that none of the questions from the appellant was left unanswered. In fact, a very firm counter-argument has been made in this case for all the arguments. Hence, clarifying various legal aspects for the coming cases in future. All three of the accused were very rightly convicted with the punishments. Thus the judgement of Kartar Singh vs State of Punjab case prevented people from misusing the right to private defence to cover up their wrongful acts.

[1]  (1926) 32 AWR 16, (1962) 2 SCR 395

[2] Bare acts of Indian Penal code 1860

[3] Bare acts of Indian Penal code 1860

[4] Bare acts of Indian Penal code 1860

[5] Bare acts of Indian Penal code 1860

[6] Chittarmal, Moti vs State of Rajasthan (2003,SC)

Devi Lal And Anr.  Vs  State of Rajasthan (1971,SC)

Nanak Chand vs State of Punjab (1955,SC)

[7] Dalip Singh vs State of Punjab (1959, SC)

[8] Gore Lal vs State of Uttar Pradesh (1953, SC)

This article has been written by Gyanendra Akrisht Tripathi, B.A. LL.B. Student at Christ University.

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