TT, New Delhi, April 16: A person who under sudden provocation picks up a weapon and causes fatal injuries cannot be convicted of murder if it's not premeditated and "not a cruel act", the Supreme Court has ruled.
It has reduced the life sentence of Surain Singh, awarded by a sessions court and upheld by Punjab and Haryana High Court, to 10 years using the benefit of Exception 4 under the penal code's Section 300, dealing with culpable homicide.
"The weapon used in the fight... is ' kirpan' which is used by 'Amritdhari Sikhs' as a spiritual tool. In the present case, the kirpan used by the appellant-accused (Surain) was a small kirpan," the bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and R.K. Agrawal said in their recent ruling.
Exception 4 - one of the exceptions when culpable homicide is not murder - can be invoked if death is caused (a) without premeditation (b) in a sudden fight (c) without the offender having taken undue advantage or acted in a cruel or unusual manner and (d) when the fight was with the person killed, the court said.
"Where, on a sudden quarrel, a person in the heat of the moment picks up a weapon which is handy and causes injuries, one of which proves fatal, he would be entitled to the benefit of this exception provided he has not acted cruelly," the bench said.
"It cannot be said that the appellant-accused had any intention of causing the death of the deceased.... The incident took place out of grave and sudden provocation. The act of the appellant-accused was not a cruel act and the accused did not take undue advantage of the deceased."
A sessions court had in March 1998 convicted Surain of murdering Harbans Singh and Santa Singh during a scuffle at a judicial magistrate's court in Faridkot in February 1995. The scuffle had arisen out of a property dispute, which the magistrate was hearing.
On an appeal from Surain, the high court acquitted him of Santa's murder but upheld the life term for the murder of Harbans, prompting him to appeal before the apex court.
According to the apex court, the scuffle had begun after Surain objected to the presence of one Bhajan Singh among the rival group led by Amrik Singh in the court, which triggered a fight between the two groups.
"It takes two to make a fight. Heat of passion requires that there must be no time for the passions to cool down and in this case, the parties had worked themselves into a fury on account of the verbal altercation in the beginning," the apex court ruled.