Supreme Court: While exercising its criminal appellate jurisdiction, the full bench of B.R. Gavai*, Vikram Nath and Sanjay Karol, J.J., stated that omission on part of the prosecution to explain injuries on the accused indicated that they had suppressed the genesis of the occurrence and therefore assumed greater importance where the evidence considered was of interested witnesses or where the case of defence chalks down another probability with that of the prosecution. Accordingly acquitted the appellants from charges imposed by the Trial Court and affirmed by the Chhattisgarh High Court on grounds that:
Prosecution had not explained injuries on the accused.
Delay in filing the First Information Report (‘FIR’).
Evidence consisted of interested witnesses.
All the grounds persists especially when a case of rivalry was pre-existing between the parties.
In the matter at hand, the petitioner assailed the judgement passed by the division bench of Chhattisgarh High Court wherein the appeals were dismissed, and the order passed by the Second Additional Sessions Judge, Baloda Bazar, District Raipur, Chhattisgarh which had convicted the appellants along with other accused under Section 302 of Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC’) and other offences was confirmed who had sentenced him to undergo life imprisonment.
The incident took place in the year 2006, when the family members went to see a doctor after the assault who had refused to treat them without lodging a report at the police station. On the basis of the FIR and the investigation conducted by the Investigating Officer (‘IO’), chargesheet was filed against the 12 accused who were convicted by the Trial Court which was upheld by the division bench of the High Court and further challenged before the Supreme Court. During the pendency of the appeal, some of the accused had either passed away or had been released upon the completion of their sentence.
The Court noted that the death of the deceased was homicidal and the injuries on prosecution witnesses were not disputed by the appellants. However, the man who went to report the FIR of the murder was not an eyewitness to the incident but was rather informed by the son that his father had been murdered.
The Court also noted that the accused in his statement under Section 313 Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 had stated that he had received grievous injuries upon being attacked by the respondent. He had gone to the police station from where he was sent to the hospital. The IO had confirmed that he had grievous injuries on his head, finger and leg, the explanation of which was not provided by the prosecution.
The Bench had noted from the evidence of prosecution witnesses that the incident had taken place in two parts wherein the first was in regard to the assault of the respondent and the second part was with regard to assault of the deceased. It was opined that considering the nature of injuries that the accused had suffered, made it difficult for him to take part in the second instance wherein the deceased was killed, and his family members were assaulted.
The case of Lakshmi Singh v. State of Bihar, (1976) 4 SCC 394 had stated that the omission on the part of the prosecution to explain injuries on the accused would assume greater importance where the evidence consists of interested or inimical witnesses or where the defence gives a version which competes in probability with that of the prosecution one.
The Court was of the view that non-explanation of injuries of the accused indicated that the prosecution had supressed the genesis of occurrence which resulted into the theory that the persons denying the presence of injuries on the accused were lying and their evidence was unreliable. It was stated that the case presented by the defence explained the injuries which was sufficient enough to cast probable doubt on the prosecution’s case.
The Court took note of the fact that there was a previous enmity between the two families on account of election of Sarpanch which could act as a double-edged sword. It can be used to establish motive but also opens up the possibility of false implication. Moreover, the Court noted that there was a delay of about 4-5 hours in lodging the FIR and the reason for the same was not explained by the prosecution, therefore, it was fit to give the benefit of doubt to the accused.
The Court further observed that there was neither any mention of accused 8-10 in the intimation report nor in the spot panchnama. The said delay casted a serious doubt on the genuineness of the prosecution’s case. The case of Ramesh Baburao Devaskar v. State of Maharashtra, (2007) 13 SCC 501 assisted the Court in emphasising on the fact that when there is a pre-existing enmity amongst the parties, immediate lodging of FIR provides credibility to the prosecution’s case.
The Bench, with respect to the issue of evidence of interested witnesses stated that when evidence was partly reliable, it was the responsibility of the Courts to separate the chaff from the grain and seek further corroboration from reliable testimony and accordingly granted the benefit of doubt to accused 8-10 by stating that “Taking into consideration the delay in lodging the FIR, with the circumstance of their names not being mentioned in the contemporaneous documents, the possibility of the said accused being falsely implicated cannot be ruled out.”
With the above observation, the Court set side the judgement passed by the division bench of Chhattisgarh High Court and the Trial Court and accordingly acquitted the appellants from the murder charges.
[Nand Lal v State of Chhattisgarh, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 262, decided on 14-03-2023]
Judgment by Justice B.R. Gavai
Advocates who appeared in this case :
For the appellant- Advocate Renjith B. Marar, Advocate on Record Renjith. B, Advocate Lakshmi N. Kaimal, Advocate Santhosh M. J., Advocate Arun Poomulli, Advocate Abhijith Sreekumar, Advocate Davesh Kumar Sharma, Advocate Ashu Jain, Advocate Shailendra Tiwary, Advocate on Record Vikas Upadhyay, Advocate Ankita Kashyap;
For the respondent- Advocate on Record Sumeer Sodhi, Advocate Dhruv Wadhwa.