Police Officers beat a man to death 20 years before offence under S. 324 IPC became non-compoundable. SC refuses to compound such “offence against humanity”

Supreme Court: In a case relating to brutal custodial violence dating back to 1985, the bench of Ashok Bhushan* and Ajay Rastogi, JJ has held that

“The custodial violence on the deceased which led to the death is abhorrent and not acceptable in the civilized society. The offence committed by the accused is crime not against the deceased alone but was against humanity and clear violations of rights guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.”

Background

In the year 1985, the deceased was brutally assaulted in the Police Station when he went there along with the informant to register a case. As per the facts of the case, when in-charge of the Police Station saw the deceased, he threatened him and said on the next time, he would cause fracture of the hands and legs of the son of the deceased by assaulting him as the later had filed a case against him before the Legal Aid.

When the deceased replied that on being assaulted, his wife and son had filed the case before the Legal Aid and that he did not know anything in that respect, in-charge of the Police Station as well as the Senior Inspector, mercilessly assaulted the deceased with sticks, leaving him unable to walk. The informant, who was the prime witness to the case, was also assaulted and was not allowed to help the deceased and later, when the Police Officers forcefully took the deceased to the hospital, he was kept chained to a chair for the entire night.

Next day, the sweeper had cleaned the blood and stool from the Veranda of the Police Station where the deceased was mercilessly beaten. The deceased succumbed to his injuries after he was taken to the hospital.

Analysis

On the guilt of the accused

The Court took note of the following factors and affirmed the guilt of the accused Police Officers:

  • In spite of Varandah of the Police Station washed in the morning by the sweeper, the scientific officer, who visited the police station found the blood stains in the Varandah.
  • The evidence of PW.1 i.e. the informant could not have been discarded merely because he was an agnate of the deceased. In the long cross-examination, PW.1 could not be shaken.
  • Wooden lathi and batten are the weapons which are usely possessed by the police and the submission cannot be accepted that the injuries cannot be caused by wooden lathi and batten which may cause death. It depends on the manner of use of the wooden lathi and batten.

On whether the offence committed in the present case is compoundable or not

It was submitted before the Court that on the date when the offences took place, i.e. 04.5.1985, offences under Section 324 IPC were compoundable which subsequently have been made non-compoundable. Further, both the appellants were now more than 75 years of age and acting under the order of this Court dated 17.12.2020, the appellants had deposited amount for compensation  to be paid to the legal heirs. Hence, it was the offences be compounded.

In the present case, the accused was already convicted for offence under Section 324 IPC. By Cr.P.C. (Amendment) Act, 2005, offence under Section 324 IPC has been made non-compoundable offence. Prior to the aforesaid amendment, offence under Section 324 was compoundable.

The Court, hence, agreed that on the date when offence was committed, i.e., 04/05.05.1985, the offence under Section 324 IPC was compoundable. It was, however, of the opinion that the offence under Section 324 in the facts of the present case can be compounded only with permission of the Court.

Sub-Section (5) of Section 320 provides that “no composition for the offence shall be allowed without the leave of the Court.”

Thus, the composition of the offence in the facts of the present case is not permissible only on the agreement on the request of the appellant which may be also accepted by the legal heirs of the deceased but composition is permissible only by the leave of the Court.

The grant of leave as contemplated by sub-section (5) of Section 320 is not automatic nor it has to be mechanical on receipt of request by the appellant which may be agreed by the victim. The statutory requirement, makes it a clear duty of the Court to look into the nature of the offence and the evidence and to satisfy itself whether permission should be or should not be granted. The administration of criminal justice requires prosecution of all offenders by the State.

“The prosecution by the State is the policy of law because all the offences are against the society. The offenders have to bring to the Courts and punish for their offences to maintain peace and order in the society. It is the duty of the prosecution to ensure that no offender goes scot-free without being punished for an offence.”

The Court, hence, clarified that the nature of offence, and its affect on society are relevant considerations while granting leave by the Court of compounding the offence. The offences which affect the public in general and create fear in the public in general are serious offences, nature of which offence may be relevant consideration for Court to grant or refuse the leave.

“When we look into the conclusion recorded by the trial court and the High Court after marshalling the evidence on record, it is established that both the accused have mercilessly beaten the deceased in the premises of the Police Station. Eleven injuries were caused on the body of the deceased by the accused. As per the evidence of PW-1, which has been believed by the Courts below, the victim was beaten mercilessly so that he passed on, stool, Urine and started bleeding.”

Hence, present is a case where this Court is not to grant leave for compounding the offences under Section 324 IPC as prayed by the counsel for the appellants. The present is a case where the accused who were police officers, one of them being in-charge of Station and other Senior Inspector have themselves brutally beaten the deceased, who died the same night. Their offences cannot be compounded by the Court in exercise of Section 320(2) read with subsection (5).

“The Police of State is protector of law and order. The people look forward to the Police to protect their life and property. People go to the Police Station with the hope that their person and property will be protected by the police and injustice and offence committed on them shall be redressed and the guilty be punished. When the protector of people and society himself instead of protecting the people adopts brutality and inhumanly beat the person who comes to the police station, it is a matter of great public concern. The beating of a person in the Police Station is the concern for all and causes a sense of fear in the entire society.”

Sentencing and compensation

Looking to the facts that both the appellants are more than 75 years of age now, the Court reduced the sentence awarded for conviction under Section 324 IPC to six months instead of one year and a compensation of Rs.3.5 Lakhs each be paid to the legal heir of the deceased in addition to the compensation awarded by the High Court.

[Pravat Chandra Mohanty v. State of Odisha, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 81, decided on 11.02.2021]


*Judgment by: Justice Ashok Bhushan

Appearances before the Court by

For appellants – Senior counsels R. Basant and Yasobant Das,

For State of Odisha – Advocate Ravi Prakash Mehrotra

For the legal representatives of the deceased – Advocate Priyanka Vora

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