Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration

DATE OF JUDGEMENT – 20th December 1979

COURT – Supreme Court of India

JUDGES – Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer

CITATION – 1980 AIR 1579

PARTIES – Sunil Batra (Petitioner)

Union of India (Respondent)

Subject: The validity of criminalizing suicide as being violative of Articles 14 and 21.

FACTS – The Petitioner Sunil Batra was found guilty of the offence fo murder and was awarded capital punishment int the year 1977 as a class B prisoner eligible for certain amenities. After the death penalty was levied on him, he was locked up in a single cell without other human connections other than as necessary. He filed an appeal in the HC due to the same which was dismissed. The petitioner then wrote a letter to the SC stating the brutal treatment of the Police on another prisoner – Prem Chand. The Court took up the same as a PIL under Article 32 and concerned officials were served with a notice. Based on the findings of the Officials responsible to look into the conditions of Tihar Jail, issues were framed regarding the treatment of Prisoners in jail and their Fundamental Rights.

Whether Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code punishing the act of attempt to suicide is violative of Article 14, 21 of the Constitution?


Petitioner – The Petitioner did not seek the release of the prisoner but sought for a dynamic role of judicial remedies for a prisoner. The concept of solitary confinement (Section 30 Prisoners Act) and the arbitrary powers given to the police in handling the prisoners was

questioned with respect to their rights under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. The usage of bar fetters (Section 59 Prisoners Act) on prisoners inside the jail was also being questioned as against the liberty of the prisoner.

Defendant – The defendants contended that the legislation – Prisoners Act, the sections of which were being questioned as being unconstitutional, were made for “Prisoners”, which is an essential institution in the enforcement of criminal law. The Sections as provided are in nature of promoting such a law where the usage of certain practices are necessary for the “safe custody of prisoners”. Since there are certain dangerous and unsafe prisoners who need to be treated in a harsher manner as compared to the Court sanctioned punishment in order to maintain peace and law, the same is necessary. Such determination of the prisoners is not arbitrary but is based on the individual behavior of the prisoner. the legislative policy is clear and definite, discretion vested in a body of administrators or officers to make selective application of the law does not infringe Article 14. Since there is always presumption as to constitutionality of statues, the Act and its provisions have been argued as being intra-vires to the Constitution and in promotion of criminal justice and peace.


The Supreme Court explained the powers of the High court under article 226 and Supreme court under article 32 of the Constitution and observed that the courts have wide powers under these articles including powers to issue any of the writs. In this respect, the court referred its judgment and statutory law of other states also. The court further observed that it has the inherent power and responsibility to intervene and protect the prisoner against mayhem crude or subtle and may use Habeas Corpus for enforcing in-prison humanism and forbiddance of harsher restraints and heavier severities than the sentence carries. Court by referring to Prisons act and rules and Punjab prison manual observed that the court understands these provisions to cover the ground of reception of grievance from prisoners and issuance of orders thereon after prompt inquiry. The district magistrate said that in this capacity he is a judicial officer and not an executive head and must function independently of the prison executive. To make prisoner’s right in correctional institutions viable this Court directed the district magistrate concerned to inspect the jails in his district once every week, receive complaints from individual prisoners, and enquire into them immediately. Court, in conclusion, held that Prem Chand has been tortured illegally and the Superintendent cannot absolve himself from responsibility even though he may not directly be a party.

The supreme court directed the Superintendent to ensure that no corporal punishment or personal violence on Prem Chand shall be inflicted. No irons shall be forced on the person of Prem Chand in vindictive spirit. Some directions were also given to the state such as to prepare a Hindi prison’s handbook etc. Thus, the petition was allowed and directed a writ to issue, including all mandates and further order that a copy of the judgment be sent for suitable action to the Ministry of Home Affairs and to all the state governments since prison justice has pervasive relevance.