Ori HC | In cases where guilt is based only on circumstantial evidence; suspicion, however, grave may be, cannot be a substitute for a proof

Orissa High Court: A Division Bench of S. Panda and S. K. Panigrahi, JJ. set aside the impugned conviction order and allowed the appeal.

The facts of the case are such that one Rama Dharua’s (informant) niece Ghulikhai @ Nidra Majhi was missing and on searching the village and inquiring he failed to trace the whereabouts of their niece. The informant then reported the same to the police and an FIR was registered. On one night his son-in-law one Dullabha Majhi confided him that one Dama Pradhani (appellant) of his village had confessed before him that he had committed the murder of the deceased and concealed the dead body. During the course of investigation, the Investigating Officer proceeded to the village and took the appellant into his custody who allegedly confessed to have committed the crime by strangulating the deceased and having concealed the dead body in Gadiajore Nala. Upon arrival at the Gadiajore Nala, the body was immediately recovered. Inquest was conducted. The body of the deceased along with a lungi that was found tied around her neck was sent for post mortem examination. The appellant was also sent for medical examination where a sample of his semen was seized. The appellant was then arrested and forwarded to the court. Based on various witnesses presented before Trial Court the appellant was convicted for commission of offences punishable under Sections 302/201 of Penal Code, 1860 i.e. IPC and sentenced to undergo imprisonment for life and to pay a fine of Rs 2, 000/-and in default further to undergo R.I. for a period of six months under Section 302 of IPC and to undergo R.I. for two years and to pay a fine of Rs 1, 000. Upon further default, to undergo R.I. for three months under Section 201 of the IPC Aggrieved by the said order, present appeal was filed.

Counsel for the appellants Mr B.S. Das, D. Marandi, L.C. Behera and S. Sahoo submitted that there is no eye witness to the occurrence and the case of prosecution is solely based on circumstantial evidence. It was further submitted that although the extra-judicial confession has led to the discovery of the dead body, however, the prosecution has failed to adduce cogent and trustworthy evidence to prove the circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt.

Counsel for the respondents Mr S. K. Zafarulla submitted that the report of the Medical Officer reveals that the deceased suffered homicidal death due to strangulation by means of lungi. It was further submitted that the witnesses and evidence presented clearly states culpability of the accused.

The Court summarized four circumstances indicating the culpability of the appellant, namely

  1. Extra judicial confession made by the accused
  2. Recovery of dead body of deceased
  3. Evidence and statements of various witnesses
  4. Motive

The Court relied on judgment Sahadevan v. State of Tamil Nadu, (2012) 6 SCC 403 wherein it was held that

“14. It is a settled principle of criminal jurisprudence that extra-judicial confession is a weak piece of evidence. Wherever the court, upon due appreciation of the entire prosecution evidence, intends to base a conviction on an extra-judicial confession, it must ensure that the same inspires confidence and is corroborated by other prosecution evidence. If, however, the extra-judicial confession suffers from material discrepancies or inherent improbabilities and does not appear to be cogent as per the prosecution version, it may be difficult for the court to base a conviction on such a confession. In such circumstances, the court would be fully justified in ruling such evidence out of consideration.”

 The Court further relied on judgment Jaffar Hussain Dastagir v. State of Maharashtra (1969) 2 SCC 872 and observed that even if it can be accepted that the statement of the appellant led to the discovery of the body of the deceased and hence might be admissible, it is important to note that only that part of the statement which led to the discovery of the body of the deceased can be admitted. Every other information presented in the statement which are inculpatory and confessional including the confession of allegedly committing the offence, the alleged usage of the lungi to commit said offence, the existence of the love affair have to be completely barred and cannot be relied upon under any circumstances.

The Court observed that In the instant case there are no eye-witness to the occurrence and prosecution case solely rests on the circumstantial evidence. The Court relied on judgment Ramreddy Rajesh Khanna Reddy v. State of Andhra Pradesh (2006) 10 SCC 172 wherein it was held that:

“26. It is now well-settled that with a view to base a conviction on circumstantial evidence, the prosecution must establish all the pieces of incriminating circumstances by reliable and clinching evidence and the circumstances so proved must form such a chain of events as would permit no conclusion other than one of guilt of the accused. The circumstances cannot be on any other hypothesis. It is also well-settled that suspicion, however, grave may be, cannot be a substitute for a proof and the courts shall take utmost precaution in finding an accused guilty only on the basis of the circumstantial evidence.”

The Court held “in the absence of eye-witnesses and the weak chain of circumstantial evidence, the order of conviction and sentence impugned herein are liable to be set aside.”

In view of the above, appeal was allowed.[Dama Pradhani v. State of Orissa, 2021 SCC OnLine Ori 309, decided on 12-04-2021]


Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

One comment

  • Case of Dama Pradhani V. State of Orissa, CRLA No.36 of 2011, decided on 12-04-2021:

    The judgment of the trial court must have discussed in detail the role of the son-in-law of the informant/complainant (Dullabha Majhi) confiding him about the confession alleged made before him by Dama Pradhani (appellant) of his village stating that he had committed the murder of the deceased and concealed the dead body.
    The trial court must also have examined and discussed in detail the confession of the accused/appellant said to have made before the Investigating Officer during the course of investigation, having committed the the crime by strangulating the deceased and having concealed the dead body in Gadiajore Nala.

    Upon arrival at the Gadiajore Nala, the body was immediately recovered. Inquest was conducted. The body of the deceased along with a lungi that was found tied around her neck was sent for post mortem examination. The appellant was also sent for medical examination where a sample of his semen was seized. The appellant was then arrested and forwarded to the court.

    The order of conviction passed by the Trial Court after examining the witnesses and analyzing the evidence, awarding the punishments U/s.302/201 of IPC sentencing to undergo life imprisonment and to pay fine etc. was contested by filing an appeal by the convicted.

    The counsel for the appellant advanced its argument mainly based on the aspect that there is no eye witness to the occurrence and that the prosecution based on circumstantial evidence. The counsel while accepting the fact that the extra-judicial confession of the accused/appellant led to the discovery of the dead body, has again blamed only the prosecution for its failure in adducing cogent and trustworthy evidence to the prove the circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt.

    The respondent counsel has however placed before the high court the fact that the deceased suffered homicidal death due to strangulation by means of lungi. It was also submitted that the witnesses and evidence presented clearly states culpability of the accused.

    The Court summarized four circumstances indicating the culpability of the appellant, namely
    Extra judicial confession made by the accused; Recovery of dead body of deceased; Evidence and statements of various witnesses; and Motive in considering the appeal.

    The Court relied on the judgment of Supeme Court in the case Sahadevan v. State of Tamil Nadu, (2012) 6 SCC 403 wherein it was opined that it is a settled principle of criminal jurisprudence that extra-judicial confession is a weak piece of evidence. It was further opined that wherever the court, upon due appreciation of the prosecution evidence, intends to base a conviction on an extra-judicial confession, it must ensure that the same inspires confidence and is corroborated by other prosecution evidence. It was finally held that if the extra-judicial confession suffers from material discrepancies or inherent improbabilities and does not appear to be cogent as per the prosecution version, it may be difficult for the court to base a conviction on such a confession and that the court would be fully justified in ruling such evidence out of consideration in such circumstances.

    The Court further relied on the judgments in the case of Jaffar Hussain Dastagir v. State of Maharashtra (1969) 2 SCC 872 and the case of Ramreddy Rajesh Khanna Reddy v. State of Andhra Pradesh (2006) 10 SCC 172 with regard to the conviction in a case based on circumstantial evidence and the failure of the prosecution in establishing all the pieces of incriminating cirumstances by reliable and clinching evidence, forming such a chain of events as would permit no conclusion other than the guilt of the accused.
    The Court by following the settled law that even a suspicion cannot be a substitute for a proof and that the courts shall take utmost precaution in finding an accused guilty only on the basis of the circumstantial evidence has finally held that in the absence of eye-witnesses and the weak chain of circumstantial evidence, the order of conviction and sentence impugned are liable to be set aside.

    The aspect what prompts the thinkers for joining the discussion is that the failure of prosecution in submitting an undaunted circumstantial evidence to prove the guilt of the accused is secondary to the main aspect that justice is required to be bestowed upon the sufferer, though posthumous. The efforts of the trial court involving a lengthy process of examining witnesses and recording evidence to form the basis in arriving at the decision appear to have been not given due recognition and importance. What remains to be achieved finally through the course of enquiry and examination is that the offenders of such a grave offence must be identified and dragged to undergo the rigor of sentence for having committed such ghastly offense of strangulating an innocent girl to death and in the court of achieving this object, the court should look through the presentations made by investigating agencies and the prosecution by making all efforts in establishing the chain of circumstances in the absence of EYE WITNESS. It is next to impossibility in expecting any Eye Witness present at the time of committing the offence by the offender, except the presence of the offender himself. The life of a human being is so valuable that in the process of finding out the offender who had voluntarily committed the crime of taking away the life of another human being in a most cruel manner, the courts ought to have adopted such an approach that the investigating agencies and prosecution are its arms and the convicted appellant would only have the privilege of proving his innocence by totally breaking the chain of circumstantial evidence.
    It is, however, found to be a case of an unfortunate girl of this country whose life is still not dealt with in a respectful manner as we are very often boasting these days about the grace and dignity which the Indian Women deserve by referring to the names of deities and goddesses. The verdict is not satisfactory as it could not render justice to an unfortunate female soul, who was strangulated to death by a cruel element with a motive and intention and which is not supposed to be regarded as HUMAN.

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.