Kehar Singh case is also known as the Indira Gandhi murder case, the present case bases its arguments on the essential structure of the constitution on the rights of the accused. In the case of Kehar Singh v. State, the facts suggest that Kehar Singh was indicted for homicide and connivance for the death of the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, and he was condemned to death.
The case talks about the validity of the constitutional rights of the accused under Article 21 of the Constitution to have access to fair, just, and open trial, and it also analyzes the power vested with the High Court to direct trial of a case or place other than the usual seat of the sessions court.
The author has attempted to provide a case summary of the case for the readers. Since the case is important from the point of view of competition exams, the author has tried to list all the necessary facts, the main issues involved, and the judgment of the court so that readers have the required knowledge about this case.
Case Name: Kehar Singh and Others v. State (Delhi Admn.) 1988
Appellant: Kehar Singh and Others
Respondent: State (Delhi Administration)
Citation No: 1988 SCC (3609)
II. Factual Background of the Case
- In June 1984 Operation Blue Star was formed was an aim to enter the Golden Temple Complex in Amritsar and flush out the terrorist. The operation led to huge chaos at the Golden temple which resulted in damage to Akal Takht (the sacred tomb at the temple).
- This raged religious sentiment of the Sikh Community who started to express their resentment towards the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi. This initiated rage was so because the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in order to detain the terrorists had ordered the Indian army to enter into the sacred Golden Temple. It was apprehended that the terrorists had taken refuge in the temple in order to escape the police so the operation was named “Operation Blue Star 1954”.
- In 1984 October, Indira Gandhi did an interview with Irish television, accompanied by her staff including head constable Narayan Singh, Rameshwar Dayal, Assistant sub-Inspector Nathuram, attendant, and R K Dhawan special assistant. Also, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh had their scheduled duty on the gate of the building where Beant Singh fired 5 rounds and Satwant Singh 25 gunshots at Indira Gandhi. It was planned revenge of both of them against her. However, the post mortem report revealed that her death was caused due to hemorrhage and shock.
- Both the assassins were arrested by the police at the Indo-Tibetan border where Beant Singh lost his life and Satwant Singh suffered injuries.
- Now, the uncle of Beant Singh’s wife, Kehar Singh was a religious fanatic who influenced Beant Singh to take murder revenge citing it to be a message of the tenth guru of the Sikhs. He along with Balbir Singh and Satwant Singh was indicted for an offense under section 120-B, 109, 34, 302 of the Indian Penal Code and section 27, 54, 59 of the Arms Act and a charge sheet was filed against the accused.
III. Issues Raised
- Since the open public trial is one of the rights of an accused, whether the conduct of sessions trial in the Tihar Jail will amount to a valid trial?
- Whether the High Court is vested with the power to direct trial of a case or place other than the usual seat of sessions court?
- How far valid is the court restriction on the access to open public trial of the accused?
IV. Contention of Parties
Arguments of the Appellant
- On the appellant’s behalf, it was contended that as per Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, to have a speedy, open, and public trial is one of the significant constitutional guarantees of a fair and just trial for an accused. In the present case, trial of the accused was held in Tihar jail which has infringed this guarantee and the accused have been deprived to have a fair and open trial as provided under Section 327 of CrPC. The High Court does not have the power to direct the trial of a criminal case at a place other than the normal seats of the Sessions court.
- The fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution need not to be at the mercy of the court and that there shouldn’t be any discrimination in regard to the matter of public access to judicial proceedings. The principle of the first come first should be followed, no matter what.
- In spite of the prayer of the accused made during the sessions trial about the copies of statements of witnesses who have been examined by the prosecution and were also examined before the Thakkar commission, it was not made available. For that matter, any report wasn’t made available to them.
- The High Court has misconstrued the provision under Section 6 of the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952.
- Because the confession of Satwant Singh was not recorded in the prescribed manner enshrined under Section 164 of the Criminal Code is inadmissible in evidence and can’t be used for conviction of the accused.
- There is no evidence that Beant Singh and his wife were deliberately taken by Kehar Singh to expose them to provocative bhajans. Also, there’s no substantive evidence from Bimla Khalsa’s testimony who said that Beant Singh took Amrit on 14 October 1954 at the instance of Kehar Singh. The fingerprints found on the gun of the accused Satwant Singh weren’t tested in comparison and the two bullets recovered from the body of the Prime Minister were not examined for traces of blood or tissues. The post mortem examination of the body ought to have been proper and complete.
- Balbir Singh, another accused contended that his arrest at Najafgarh bus stand was a make-believe arrangement to catch him.
Arguments of Respondents
- On behalf of the Respondents, it was contended that the court in an appeal as per provisions under Article 136 of the Indian Constitution isn’t accepted to interfere with the concurrent findings of the facts arrived.
- There is no question of infringement of any rights guaranteed under Article 21 of the constitution.
- The premises of the Tihar Jail where the trial of the accused was held wasn’t that part where the prisoners were being kept but it was the office block where there was an approach and the trial was conducted as if it was being held in an ordinary place.
- If the confession of Satwant Singh was not recorded in the prescribed form, it is just a mere irregularity that can be easily cured by applying Section 463 of the code on taking evidence that the statement was duly recorded and that it hasn’t injured the accused in his defence on merits.
- The High court has the power and authority to issue notification under Section 8(6) of the criminal code.
V. Decision Held
The matter reached before a 3-judge Supreme Court’s bench which consisted of Oza G.L., Ray B.C., Shetty K.J. who has given below outlined observations:
- The incidence of the present case took away a famous leader and administrator who were serving the country for 40 years. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India was unarmed when she was attacked and because of the nature of the duty of the accused, there was confidence instilled in them for the safety of the Prime Minister.
- In accordance with Section 194 of CrPC, the sessions judge of the division by special order is supposed to allot cases to the High Court and as per Section 9 of the code, the High Court was having the authority to direct trial, if deemed necessary to place the trial fit. Therefore, the conduct of the trial in Tihar Jail on the order of the High Court was valid.
- Upon analysis of Section 6 of the Commission of Enquiry Act, there are two restrictions to be given by the witness. The two restrictions are self-incrimination and Estoppel.
- There is no doubt that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi died as a result of gunshot injuries given by Satwant Singh and Beant Singh by their carbine and service revolver respectively. Hence, it was a criminal conspiracy of the accused to murder the Prime Minister.
- Besides the evidence gathered through direct witness, the other evidence was also in corroboration with the post mortem report of the body; therefore, the appeal of Satwant Singh was dismissed.
- The findings of the trial court and the High Court were proved to be against the accused Satwant Singh and the same was upheld by the Apex Court. The charge of criminal conspiracy against Kehar Singh along with Satwant Singh was proved to be true without any reasonable doubt.
- It was observed to be one of the rarest cases in which the extreme death penalty to the accused was called off.
The rule of law which was under scrutiny by the Hon’ble Supreme Court was of the proof as to the criminal conspiracy to murder. To conclude, it can be said that the Supreme Court in the present case delivered justice by establishing the provisions of the constitution and validity of rights guaranteed under the constitution along with the witness testimony. It is however undisputed that the present case was a concern for the whole society and the verdict was precisely delivered by the court.
 Section 327 of Code of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.
 Article 136 of the Indian Constitution, 1950.
 Section 194 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
 Section 9 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.