Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: The Division Bench of Sadhana S. Jadhav and N.J. Jamadar, JJ., while addressing the present matter, expressed that:

Where the prosecution succeeds in discharging its primary burden and brings evidence on record which indicates that the facts, thereby proved, rest within the special knowledge of the accused, Section 106 of the Evidence Act comes into play.

Suspicion, however strong, cannot take the place of proof.

Factual Matrix

Accused-Appellant has challenged the decision of the Additional Sessions Judge, wherein he was convicted for the offence punishable under Section 302 of the Penal Code, 1860 for having committed the murder of his wife Sunita (the deceased).

The accused harassed and ill-treated the deceased on suspecting fidelity of the deceased. The deceased and accused shifted to Beghar Vasti wherein they erected a temporary shed adjacent to the house of the first informant. Later the accused and deceased desired to erect a shed with a thatched roof.

To erect the shed with a thatched roof, both the accused and deceased went to the field in order to collect a wooden log. The first informant also went to the fieLd to graze the goats, wherein he saw that the deceased was lying near a mango tree and her clothes were stained with blood. However, first informant did not find the accused in the vicinity of the said spot. Thus, he suspected that the accused to have done so, after which he lodged a report.

 During the investigation, it was found that the deceased was carrying six months pregnancy and the said occurrence resulted in the death of quick unborn child as well. The accused came to be arrested.

Additional Sessions Judge framed charge against the accused of the offences punishable under Sections 302 and 316 of the IPC.

After the trial, offence for Section 316 IPC was not established against the accused, though he came to be convicted under Section 302 IPC.

Aggrieved with the above, present appeal was preferred.

Analysis and Decision

Bench noted that the fact that the accused did not offer any explanation regarding the circumstances in which he parted the company with the deceased and how the deceased sustained those fatal injuries weighed with the Additional Sessions, Judge.

In the context of the marital relationship between the deceased and the accused and the indisputable fact that they were residing at Khatgun along with the first informant, the “last seen theory” constitutes the linchpin of the prosecution case. 

Court added that the fact that the deceased was found beneath the mango tree in the said field, within a couple of hours of the accused and the deceased having left the house, can also be said to have been proved beyond the shadow of doubt.

Further, since there has been ample evidence to indicate that the first informant found the deceased lying in a motionless state with fatal injuries and when she raised alarm, the prosecution witnesses, Dharam Pawar (PW-6) and Sushila Pawar (PW-9) went to the scene of occurrence and found the deceased lying beneath the mango tree.

Adding to the above, Court also stated that in any event, the interval of time between the accused and the deceased leaving together their home and the deceased having been found dead in the field ‘Kolki’, did not exceed three hours.

It is trite law that the ‘last seen’ theory comes into play when the time gap between the point of time when the accused and the deceased were last seen alive and when the deceased is found dead, is so small that the possibility of any person other than the accused being the perpetrator of the offence, is inconceivable.

In view of the above law and facts of the case, Court held that the prosecution succeeded in establishing that the accused and the deceased were “last seen together”.

Nature of the death

The nature of the injuries found on the person of the deceased and the attendant circumstances are of determinative significance. Bench stated that the injuries found on the person of the deceased were on accessible and elective parts i.e. wrist and neck.

It is true that the accused did not endeavour to offer an explanation as regards the circumstances in which the deceased suffered the aforesaid injuries, when confronted with the incriminating material.

The question that triggers in the above circumstances is whether the failure to offer the explanation is sufficient to fasten the liability on the accused?

In the circumstances of the present case, in the absence of any positive evidence, motive to eliminate the deceased cannot be attributed to the accused on the premise that, before the accused and the deceased shifted to Khatgaun, their marital life was afflicted with discord.

Accused having changed the clothes with a view to conceal the fact that the clothes which he wore at the time of occurrence were stained with blood, is not of conclusive tendency and incriminating nature. Admittedly, the accused was found in an injured condition. Wounds were found on both the wrists and neck of the accused.

Adding to the above, Court expressed that the accused had visible injuries, on his person, when he was apprehended. The presence of bloodstains on the clothes of the accused, which he wore on the day of occurrence, therefore, cannot be construed as an incriminating circumstance.

Though prosecution made an endeavour to draw home the point that the accused had self-inflicted the above-stated injuries overcome by the feeling of guilt. Bench found it hazardous to draw an inference that the said attempt on the part of the accused to cause injuries to himself was due to the fact that the accused was overcome by the guilt, as held by the Additional Sessions Judge.

What emerges from the above discussion?

From all the above discussion, Court observed that there has been clear evidence of ‘last seen’ and the death of the deceased within a couple of hours of the deceased and the accused having been last seen together.

The wounds found on the person of the deceased especially the situs, elective parts, and nature were suggestive of suicidal infliction.

As the fundamental fact of the deceased having met a homicidal death itself is in the corridor of uncertainty.

In Court’s opinion, the circumstance of ‘last seen’, and the failure of the accused to offer a plausible explanation, on their own, were not sufficient to sustain the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.

Section 106 of the Evidence Act does not relieve the prosecution of its general or  primary burden of establishing the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.

 Supreme Court’s decision in Sawal Das v. State of Bihar, (1974) 4 SCC 193 was also referred for the above purpose.

Propositions that emerged from the above discussion:

  • If an accused is last seen with the deceased, he must offer an explanation as to how and when he parted company with the deceased.
  • The failure of the accused to offer a reasonable explanation in discharge of the said burden provides an additional link in the chain of circumstances proved against the accused.

In the present matter, homicidal nature of the death was not established and the prosecution case rested upon the circumstance of “last seen” to a great extent.

With regard to the legal position in respect to sustaining the guilt on the only circumstances of “last seen”, Court referred to the decision of Supreme Court in Dharam Deo v. State of U.P., (2007) 3 SCC 755.

Hence, Bench held that circumstance of ‘last seen’, in the totality of circumstances, cannot sustain the burden of establishing the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt, especially when the fact of homicidal death is in the realm of uncertainty.

High Court concluded its decision by referring to the decision in Navaneethakrishnan v. State, (2018) 16 SCC 161, wherein the legal position in the context of sustaining conviction on the basis of circumstantial evidence was expounded.

Conviction under Section 302 IPC could not sustained in view of the above discussion. [Krishna Mahadev Chavan v. State of  Maharashtra, 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 191, decided on 12-02-2021]


Advocates who represented the parties:

Aashish Satpute, Advocate appointed by Court for appellant.

S.R. Agarkar, APP for respondent-State.

Hot Off The PressNews

Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) conducted a study in 2004 into the factors causing stress in forces and suggest remedial measures.

The Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad did a similar study in 2012 for Border Security Force (BSF) and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

BPR&D has also undertaken a research study on “Comparative Analysis of Attrition and Suicide Cases in CAPFs and Corrective Measures” through the Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA) in September, 2020.

Since ‘Police’ is a State subject as per the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India, the personnel matters of State police are handled by State Governments themselves. State Governments are expected to take appropriate steps for welfare of State Police personnel.

Some of the measures taken to check such incidents and to improve working conditions of CAPFs/ARs personnel are given below:-

  1. Transparent policies pertaining to transfer and leave of CAPFs and AR personnel. The hospitalization period due to injuries while on duty is treated as on duty. Choice posting is considered to the extent possible after the personnel served in hard area.
  2. Regular interaction of officers with troops to find out and redress their grievances.
  3. Ensuring adequate rest and relief by regulating the duty hours.
  4. Improving living conditions for troops, providing adequate recreational/entertainment, sports, communication facilities etc. Crèche facility is also provided at various establishments (where feasible) to facilitate the female employees.
  5. Facility of retention of government accommodation at the place of last posting(for keeping the family) while posted in North-Eastern (NE) States, Jammu & Kashmir(J&K) and Left-Wing Extremism (LWE) affected areas (except State Capitals)
  6. Providing better medical facilities, organizing talks with specialists to address their personal and psychological concerns and organizing Meditation & Yoga routinely for better stress management.
  7. Adequately compensating the troops deployed in difficult areas.
  8. Other welfare measures like facility of Central Police Canteen (CPC), scholarship for wards etc.
  9. Air travel to a non-entitled class of personnel in J&K. Also Air courier service has been provided to CAPF personnel deployed in NE States, J&K as a welfare measure.
  10. Designating retired CAPF personnel as ex-CAPF personnel for better identity and community recognition.
  11. Promotions are released regularly to eligible personnel as and when the vacancies arise. Financial benefits under Modified Assured Career Progression (MACP) are given in case promotion does not take place for want of vacancies on completion of 10, 20 & 30 years of service.

Regarding State police forces, the Central Government has been persuading the States for implementation of various policy reforms, including those relating to appropriate pay, working hours and promotional prospects of Constables, provision of housing and manpower & basic facilities in police stations.

Under the scheme of Assistance to States for Modernisation of Police, implementation of police reforms is also being incentivized,  which inter alia include police reforms like “Outsourcing of peripheral and non-policing activities”, “computerization of police stations” and “Replacement of orderly system by system”  to reduce the burden on State police personnel.


Ministry of Home Affairs

[Press Release dt. 10-02-2021]

[Source: PIB]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: Dinesh Kumar Singh-I, J., while discussing abetment of suicide, stated that:

“…if some act either of omission or commission results in instigation to the victim to commit suicide, that act would also be treated to be an abetment.”

Factual Background of a Woman Subjected to Torture in demand of Dowry

Informant stated that his daughter was married with accused-applicant 1 in accordance with the Hindu rites and as per demands, dowry was provided. At the time of marriage, the applicant 1 (husband), applicant 2, Om Prakash Mishra (father-in-law), applicant 3, Rakesh Mishra, (brother-in-law) started demanding four-wheeler as additional dowry because of which ‘Bidai’ of his daughter could be done.

After a lot of persuasion, the Gauna was performed and when her daughter (deceased) went to her matrimonial home, all the accused-applicants started making taunts that marriage was performed for very cheap, further it was made clear to the deceased that unless the amount asked for is fulfilled, it would be difficult for her to live in matrimonial home peacefully.

Mental and Physical Harassment

Victim was harassed mentally and physically on various occasions, she was pressurized to give her jewellery to which she refused and was beaten up by banging her head against the wall and subjected to filthy language and threat of divorce.

Victim’s husband used to increase the volume of the T.V and close the door of the house so that screaming or weeping of the deceased would not go out, even the family members of the accused-applicant 1 used to call the victim and harass her on the phone.

Accused-Applicant 1 later, dropped the deceased near the house of the informant retaining the jewellery at his home and further filed for divorce.

Suicide

Later it was stated that, since the informant’s daughter used stay disturbed mentally because of the case having been filed against her and having received notices from the Court, she used to say that despite having been tortured, she could not get any case registered against the persons of her sasural and was passing time with her child in her parents’ home and even then, she was not being allowed to remain peacefully and in these circumstances after getting fed-up, on 23-10-2017 she committed suicide by hanging herself by a stole from the ceiling fan, for which the accused- applicants are responsible.

Analysis of the Bench

The above-stated circumstances could be treated to have been driven the deceased to commit suicide which could have taken to fall in the category of abetting the commission of suicide by the deceased.

Court expressed that:

Merely because the deceased died at the parent’s house, is being hammered as the main argument on the part of the applicant, to be the reason why abetment to commit suicide should not be taken to be established in this case even prima-facie.

Bench relied upon the Supreme Court’s decision in Guru Charan Singh v. State of Punjab, (2020) 10 SCC 200, wherein it was held that in order to give finding of abetment under Section 107, which is necessary to sustain the conviction of abetment of suicide under Section 306 IPC, it must be established that the accused instigated a person either by an act of omission or commission or by persistent cruelty or harassment.

Circumstances or atmosphere in the matrimonial home without the instigation of suicide being established in someway are not enough to sustain the conviction on abetment of suicide.

 Conclusion

In the instant case, Court noted that it came on record that various litigations had been thrust upon the deceased from the side of the accused-applicants which might have generated a situation in which deceased found no way out but to commit suicide.

Bench stated that it may tour out to be not finally proved that the applicants were involved in the commission of this offence but in proceedings under Section 482 CrPC:

this Court cannot give finding in this regard as the evidence, which is likely to be recorded before the trial court, the said evidence would be appreciated by the said court then only finding can be returned on this point.

While dismissing the application, Court held that if the applicants appear and surrender before the Court below within 30 days and apply for bail, then the bail application would be considered and decided in view of the law laid down by this Court in Amrawati v. State of U.P.,2004 (57) ALR 290, as well as a judgment passed by Supreme Court in Lal Kamlendra Pratap Singh v State of U.P., (2009) 4 SCC 437.

In case, the applicants do not appear before the Court below within 30 days period, coercive action shall be taken against them. [Kranti Mishra v. State of U.P., 2021 SCC OnLine All 81, decided on 22-01-2021]


Advocates for the parties:

Counsel for Applicant: Shailesh Kumar Shukla, Rajiv Lochan Shukla

Counsel for Opposite Party: G.A., Akhilesh Kumar

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: The Division Bench of Dipankar Datta, CJ and G.S. Kulkarni, J., while addressing the several questions on reporting by electronic media, expressed that:

“The duty of the press/media to have news items printed/telecast based on true and correct version relating to incidents worth reporting accurately and without any distortion/embellishment as well as without taking sides, cannot, therefore, be overemphasized.”

Genesis of the Several Public Interest Litigations

In the instant matter, several PIL’s cropped from the unnatural death of the actor Sushant Singh Rajput on June 14, 2020.

Insensitive and Disparaging Comments by News Channels

On June 20, 2020, a complaint was lodged against one of the prominent news channels before the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting seeking action for insensitive and disparaging comments against the Indian Army and the coverage of the death of the actor, stated to be in defiance with the Programme Code.

Further, it was said that no action against the media channel was taken in regard to the complaint made.

Media Trials

Since the time of death of the actor, several prominent media channels have been literally conducting ‘media trials’ and ‘parallel investigation’ by conducting and broadcasting debates, rendering opinions, exposing the material witnesses, examining and cross-examining the witnesses, chasing the officials of CBI who were investigating the case.

Petitioners added that the above-stated telecast and broadcast are available in the public domain.

Sensationalization and Scandalize the death of the Actor

It is said that the prominent news channels in their attempt to sensationalize the issues have gone as far as displaying the CDR records which is a vital piece of evidence, thereby resulting in the several threat calls and messages sent to the alleged accused.

The petitioners say that to scandalize and sensationalize the death of the actor, irresponsible reporting to implicate one of the prominent ministers of the State of Maharashtra and have been making derogatory, false and distasteful remarks against several ministers.

Further, it was also pointed that the news anchors and reporters were examining and cross-examining all the proposed witnesses exposing the probable evidence to the public which could be examined only by the investigating agency or by the competent courts during the course of the trial.

Press Council of India

PCI had also issued a statement wherein it was stated that the coverage of the alleged suicide of the actor by many media outlets was in contravention of the norms of journalistic conduct.

Undermining the concept of free and fair trial

Petitioners submitted that the freedom of the media, especially of the TV channels, cannot be allowed to super stretch to a point where, by outpouring reprobate information, begins to clog and cloud the pellucid comprehension of ‘facts/news’ in the people’s minds and impinges upon free and fair investigation.

Fundamental Question

Whether the media under the garb of reporting news, can serve their own opinions as facts/news?

Petitioner observed that media works to create or induce opinions by narrating and reporting opinionated and tailored facts as news, which is beyond the scope, power and privilege accorded to the proverbial fourth pillar and a blatant abuse and misuse thereof.

Petitioners assert that media is plagued with the affliction of disproportionate reporting, which may be seen from the undue coverage given to inconsequential and mindless matters, unrelated to the greater good of the people of the country, as opposed to issues of national and international importance which the people are grappling with such as the COVID 19 crisis, mass joblessness, economic downfall, starvation, medical and healthcare structural problems, farmers issues, domestic violence, etc.

Adding to the above, petitioners stated that it is not the media’s domain to prove someone guilty a definitely no question of calling out someone guilty or innocent until the investigation and trial is complete.

Petitioners referred to the Supreme Court decision in Manu Sharma v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2010) 6 SCC 1, wherein the Supreme Court has commented on the danger of serious risk of prejudice if the media exercises unrestricted and unregulated freedom, and stated that people at the helm of affairs should ensure that trial by media does not hamper fair investigation by the investigating agency and more importantly does not prejudice the right of defence of the accused in any manner whatsoever.

Petitioners refer to the decision of the Supreme Court in R.K. Anand v. Delhi High Court, reported in (2009) 8 SCC 106, where the Supreme Court observed that it would be a sad day for the court to employ the media for setting its own house in order and the media too would not relish the role of being the snoopers of the court.

Observation

Contention that media houses have crossed the ‘Lakshman Rekha’

Bench opined that the petitions filed aimed at redressal of genuine public harm or public injury and involve substantial public interest.

Hence, the Court overruled the objections of the media houses to the maintainability of the writ petitions.

Important Legal Questions before the Court

  1. What does the expression “administration of justice in any other manner” in Section 2(c)(iii) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 connote, and whether trial by media/pre-judgment while a police investigation is in progress could lead to interference with/obstruction to “administration of justice”, thereby constituting criminal contempt under the aforesaid section?
  2. Is it necessary to construe “judicial proceedings” in Section 3 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 to have commenced with the registration of an FIR? Also, is it at all necessary to read Section 3 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 in the manner the petitioner in PIL (St.) 2339 of 2020 urges us to read?
  3. Whether media trial in respect of matters pending investigation of a criminal complaint, fall within the restrictions as contained in the Programme Code as postulated under Section 5 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 and the rules framed thereunder?
  4. Whether the regime of self-regulation adopted by the news channels would have any sanctity within the statutory framework?
  5. While emphasizing on the need to strike the right balance between freedom of speech and expression and fair investigation/right to fair trial, to what extent, if at all, should press/media reporting be regulated if the same interferes with or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, “administration of justice”?

Further, the Court also proposes to address the following incidental questions:

  1. Are the guidelines for reporting cases of deaths by suicide sufficient? If insufficient, should further guidelines be laid down for reporting cases of deaths by suicide?
  2. Has the media coverage complained of in these writ petitions interfered with/obstructed and/or tends to interfere with/obstruct “administration of justice”, and thus amounts to criminal contempt within the meaning of section 2(c)(iii) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971? and whether criticism of Mumbai Police by the electronic media is fair?
  3. Is the accusation that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, being the Nodal Ministry, has abdicated its statutory functions [under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act and the rules framed thereunder read with the Policy Guidelines of 2011 and the license executed with the broadcaster] of deciding complaints received in respect of offending programmes, by forwarding the same to private bodies like the News Broadcasting Authority (NBA) and the News Broadcasters Federation (NBF), justified?
  4. Should an order be made, on facts and in the circumstances, postponing reporting of events by the media in respect of investigation by the CBI into the FIR registered by it pursuant to the complaint of the actor’s father? Also, is it necessary for the Court to suggest measures for regulating media coverage of incidents such as the one under consideration to address the concerns expressed in these writ petitions?

Analysis

  • Investigative Journalism

The controversy in the instant matter raises questions of contemporary importance touching upon the right of the press/media to express views freely, the right of the deceased to be treated with respect and dignity after death, the need to ensure investigation of the crime to proceed on the right track without being unduly prejudiced by media reports based on “investigative journalism”, and the right of the accused to a free and fair trial as well as the right to not be prejudged by the media.

“Right guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution is not merely a right of speech and expression but a right to freedom of speech and expression.”

 In Supreme Court’s decision of Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) (P) Ltd. v. Union of India, (1985) 1 SCC 641 the need to protect the ‘Freedom of Press’ was highlighted, which is the heart of social and political intercourse.

Further, the Court referred to in LIC v. Manubhai D. Shah (Prof.), (1992) 3 SCC 637, wherein the flavour of the right to freedom of free speech and expression was brought out by the Supreme Court.

 “What resonates in our ears now is whether the right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) is the most abused right in recent times?”

 To the above stated, Court answered in negative and expressed that “it is a reminder of what has at times been the unsavoury past of the press/media in India crossing the proverbial ‘Lakshman Rekha’.”

Rule of Law

There can be no two opinions that in a society governed by the rule of law, no price is too high to maintain the purity of administration of justice; and, as a Constitutional court, we have the power, nay the duty, to protect not only the Fundamental Rights of the citizens as well as the press/media in the judicious exercise of our jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution but also to secure that the stream of administration of justice flows unsullied and unpolluted, uninfluenced by extraneous considerations.

 Supreme Court’s decision in Harijai Singh, In Re., (1996) 6 SCC 466 held that:

“10. But it has to be remembered that this freedom of press is not absolute, unlimited and unfettered at all times and in all circumstances as giving unrestricted freedom of speech and expression would amount to an uncontrolled licence. If it were wholly free even from reasonable restraints it would lead to disorder and anarchy. The freedom is not to be misunderstood as to be a press free to disregard its duty to be responsible. In fact, the element of responsibility must be present in the conscience of the journalists.”

PCI Guidelines

Electronic media should also be guided by the contents of the guidelines of the PCI on reporting of death cases by suicide for two reasons: first, the said guidelines have a statutory flavour and similar such binding guidelines on reporting cases of death by suicide are non-existent for the electronic media; and secondly, the absence of such guidelines could lead to the dignity of the dead being breached with impunity.

The death of the actor was followed by such crude, indecent and distasteful news reporting by a few of the TV channels that we do not consider it worthy of being referred to here and be a part of this judgment.

Court’s Ruling

“No report/discussion/debate/ interview should be presented by the press/media which could harm the interests of the accused being investigated or a witness in the case or any such person who may be relevant for any investigation, with a view to satiate the thirst of stealing a march over competitors in the field of reporting.”

High Court opined that the press/media ought to avoid/regulate certain reports/discussions/debates/interviews in respect of and/or touching upon any on-going inquiry/investigation into a criminal offence.

Hence, Bench directed the press/ media to exercise restraint and refrain from printing/displaying any news item and/or initiating any discussion/debate/interview of nature, as indicated hereunder:

  1. In relation to death by suicide, depicting the deceased as one having a weak character or intruding in any manner on the privacy of the deceased;
  2. That causes prejudice to an ongoing inquiry/investigation by:

(i)  Referring to the character of the accused/victim and creating an atmosphere of prejudice for both;

(ii)  Holding interviews with the victim, the witnesses and/or any of their family members and displaying it on screen;

(iii)  Analyzing versions of witnesses, whose evidence could be vital at the stage of trial;

(iv)  Publishing a confession allegedly made to a police officer by an accused and trying to make the public believe that the same is a piece of evidence which is admissible before a Court and there is no reason for the Court not to act upon it, without letting the public know the nitty-gritty of the Evidence Act, 1872;

(v)  Printing photographs of an accused and thereby facilitating his identification;

(vi)  Criticizing the investigative agency based on half-baked information without proper research;

(vii)  Pronouncing on the merits of the case, including pre-judging the guilt or innocence qua an accused or an individual not yet wanted in a case, as the case may be;

(viii)  Recreating/reconstructing a crime scene and depicting how the accused committed the crime;

(ix)  Predicting the proposed/future course of action including steps that ought to be taken in a particular direction to complete the investigation; and

(x)  Leaking sensitive and confidential information from materials collected by the investigating agency;

  1. Acting in any manner so as to violate the provisions of the Programme Code as prescribed under section 5 of the CTVN Act read with rule 6 of the CTVN Rules and thereby inviting contempt of court; and
  2. Indulging in character assassination of any individual and thereby mar his reputation.

Role of Media Houses

Bench advised media houses to inform, guide and advise the guest speakers to refrain from making public utterances which are likely to interfere with and/or obstruct the administration of justice and thereby attract contempt.

The role of the anchor, in such cases, is also important. It is for him/her to apply his/her mind and avoid the programme from drifting beyond the permissible limits. Muting the speaker if he flies off or shows the tendency of flying off at a tangent could be one of several ways to avoid embarrassment as well as contempt.

Investigative Agencies

Court also reminded the investigative agencies that they are entitled to maintain secrecy in the course of the investigation and are under no obligation to divulge materials thus collected.

Further, the Court added that:

If indeed there is leakage or disclosure of materials, which has the potential of stifling a proper investigation, it could pave the way for such information being laid before the competent court having powers to punish for cri6minal contempt under Section 2(c) of the CoC Act and in an appropriate case, for being dealt with in accordance with law.

Appointment of an Officer as a Link between the Investigator and Media Houses

Agreeing with Mr Datar’s suggestion Court observed that:

Mumbai Police, as well as the other investigating agencies, may consider the desirability of appointing an officer who could be the link between the investigator and the media houses for holding periodic briefings in sensitive cases or incidents that are likely to affect the public at large and to provide credible information to the extent such officer considers fit and proper to disclose and answer queries as received from the journalists/reporters but he must, at all times, take care to ensure that secret and confidential information/material collected during the investigation, the disclosure whereof could affect the administration of justice, is not divulged.

In case an officer as stated above would be appointed, he would be expected to bear in mind the Supreme Court’s decision in Rajendran Chingaraveluv. R.K. Mishra, (2010) 1 SCC 457.

“Every journalist/reporter has an overriding duty to the society of educating the masses with fair, accurate, trustworthy and responsible reports relating to reportable events/incidents and above all to the standards of his/her profession. Thus, the temptation to sensationalize should be resisted.”

Therefore, in light of the above discussions, the Court disposed of the PIL’s filed.[Nilesh Navalakha v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 56, decided on 18-01-2021]


Advocates for the Parties:

Mr. Devadatt Kamat, Senior Advocate a/w Mr. Rajesh Inamdar with Mr.Shashwat Anand, Mr. Pankaj Kandhari, Ms. Smita Pandey, Mr.Amit Pai, Mr. Vishal Jagwani, Kevin Gala, Siddharth Naik, Pinky Chainani, Mr. Ankur Azad, Mr. Sarveshwari Prasad, Mr. Rahat Bansal, Mr. Faiz Ahmad. i/b Mr. Pankaj Kandhari for Petitioners.

Mr. Anil Singh, Additional Solicitor General a/w Mr. Sandesh Patil, Mr.Aditya Thakkar, Mr.Amogh Singh, Ms. Apurva Gute, Mr. Chintan, Mr. Mayur Prashant Rane, Mr. Sumedh Sahakari, Mr. D. P. Singh, Ms.Reshma Ravapati, Mr. Saurabh Prabhulkar and Medvita Trivedi for respondent Nos.1, 4, 12 and 13.

Mr. Arvind Datar, Senior Advocate i/by Mr. Bharat Manghani for respondent 3 (NBA)

Mr. P. P. Kakade, Govt. Pleader with Mrs. R. A. Salunkhe, AGP for respondent 5 -State.

Mr. Rajeev Pandey with Mr. Madhur Rai i/by PRS Legal for respondent No.6(The India Today Group).

Mr. Kunal Tandon a/w Ms. Prachi Pandya i/by Corporate Attorneys for respondent No.7 (Times Now).

Ms. Malvika Trivdei a/w Mr. Saket Shukla, Mr. Vasanth Rajshekharan, Mr. Mrinal Ojha, Mr. Debashri Datta, Mr.Rajat Pradhan, Ms. Madhavi Joshi and Mr. Siddhant Kumar i/by Phoenix Legal for respondent 8 (Republic TV).

Mr. Angad Dugal, Mr. Govind Singh Grewal, Shiva Kumar, Tanya Vershney, Raj Surana a/w Rishi Murarka for respondent 9 (NDTV Ltd.).

None for respondent  10 (News 18).

Mr. Ankit Lohiya a/w Mr. Hetal Thakore, Mr. Kunal Parekh, Ms. Bhavika Tiwari i/by Dua Associates AOR Mumbai for respondent 11 (Zee News).

Ms. Hetal Jobhanputra for respondent No. 14 (ABP News).

Mr. Jayant Mehta a/w Mr. Alankar Kirpekar a/w Mr. Tejveer Bhatia, Mr. Rohan Swarop, Mr. Shekhar Bhagat i/by MAG Legal for respondent 15 (India TV).

Mr. Siddhesh Bhole, Mr. Rishabh Dhanuka i/by Alba Law Offices for respondent No. 16 (News Nation).

Mr. Siddharth Bhatnagar, Senior Advocate a/w Mr. Pralhad Paranjape for respondent No. 17 (NBF).

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court:  G.R. Swaminathan, J., observed that,

What the government does must inspire the confidence of the people. Every time a custodial death occurs, the legitimacy of the State suffers a big dent.

Factual Matrix

Petitioner a permanent resident belonged to a scheduled caste community. His elder brother fell in love with a relative namely, Punitha and in view of the objection raised by her parents, he started residing elsewhere. Punitha’s family complained as if had been abducted.

Since the elder brother and Punitha could not be traced, petitioner and other members of the family were periodically directed to appear for enquiry before the investigating officer. Further, petitioner alleged that all the family members were subjected to physical abuse.

It was further stated that, local police arrived at the petitioner’s house and several times and had beaten up the petitioner, his youngest brother i.e. Ramesh on the next visit. The younger brother of the petitioner was taken in custody and later he did not return home.

Suicide

Ramesh was found hanging, according to the petitioner he was tortured by the local police and he died as a result.

In order to cover up the crime, police made the above-stated incident appear as if he had committed suicide.

A complaint was registered under Section 174(3) of CrPC.

The petition had been filed seeking a direction to the respondents to exhume the body and conduct a second postmortem.

Court had directed for conducting the second postmortem at the burial itself. The entire second postmortem was also directed to be videographed. Hence, the second post-mortem was done accordingly.

The entire autopsy had been duly videographed and even a statement was made in writing to that effect in the status report, it turned out that what was recorded were only brief clippings.

Custodial Death

It has been stated that a proper videograph was not taken at all and in view of the same petitioner’s counsel insisted that appropriate directions will have to be issued for the future observance and strict compliance in cases of custodial death or where it is alleged that the death is due to police torture.

Bench referred to the Division Bench of this Court in a PIL in WP (MD) No. 78 of 2019, decided on 28-09-2020.

Further, the Court stated that,

“…foundations of any democratic government rest on popular acceptance. Though State primarily functions through its coercive apparatus, its actions must be perceived as proper by the people.”

“A dead person is equally entitled to justice. I would call it posthumous justice.”

Court also observed that, Whenever someone suffers an unnatural death, the circumstances that led to it will have to be unearthed. Otherwise, there would be no closure.

To ensure the above stated, Court issued the following directions:

(i) The Judicial Magistrate conducting the enquiry under Section 176(1)(A) CrPC shall ensure that the family of the deceased or its representatives are given access to see the body both front and back and are also allowed to take video and photos.

(ii) No autopsy shall take place or commence without the next of kin having seen the body. Of course, if the family of the deceased refuses to see the body, even after so being permitted by the concerned Judicial Magistrate conducting the enquiry, the Judicial Magistrate can, in writing, permit the conducting of postmortem.

(iii) The autopsy shall be carried out by a team of two doctors who have a master’s degree in forensic medicine and are attached to a Medical College and Hospital in the State. In other words, what is called forensic autopsy must be conducted.

(iv) The autopsy shall be done by adhering to the norms laid down by the Hon’ble Division Bench in V. Eswaran v. Government of Tamil Nadu, dated 16-04-2019 in W.P. No. 10694 of 2019 and in W.P.(MD)No. 78 of 2019, dated 28-09-2020.

(v) The whole body shall be x-rayed in order to find out if there are any fractures. The entire autopsy should be videographed from the start of the examination till its completion by adhering to the following six phases set out in Modi ‘a Textbook of Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology’ 26th Edition edited by Justice K.Kannan.

vi) The autopsy report should be prepared expeditiously and handed over to the investigating officer in the case so that the filing of the final report is not delayed. A copy of the autopsy report as well as video should be simultaneously given to the legal heir or representatives of the family of the deceased. This alone will enable them to take recourse to legal remedies immediately. 

If after receipt of the autopsy report, the legal heir/representatives of the deceased family give in writing that they intend to move the High Court, the body shall be preserved in the mortuary for at least 48 hours. If the body is disposed of either by cremation or otherwise in the meanwhile, the very purpose of holding a second post-mortem will be rendered infructuous.

While parting with the decision, Court stated that:

All of us know that hasty cremation in the tragic Hathras gang rape case led to controversy. It is in the interest of the police to take the family of the deceased into confidence and avoid rushing things through. They are stakeholders in the process and the police have to treat them accordingly.

Court allowed the petition with the aforesaid directions. [Santhosh v. District Collector, Madurai District; 2020 SCC OnLine Mad 5541, decided on 02-12-2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of RF Nariman, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee, JJ has directed a de novo investigation into the suspicious death of National Law University (NLU)-Jodhpur student Vikrant Nagaich in 2017.

BACKGROUND OF THE CASE

The third-year law student, Vikrant was found dead on August 14, 2017, under unnatural circumstances near a railway track opposite the university. As per the authorities, the student committed suicide due to alleged depression.

Neetu Kumar Nagaich, the mother of the deceased student, had sought transfer of the investigation in the case from the Rajasthan police to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). She approached the court and accused the state police of “lackadaisical and callous manner of the probe” into the FIR lodged on June 29, 2018, with Jodhpur’s Mandore police station. She has sought an independent inquiry while complaining of a shoddy probe with probable collusion to shield some influentials.

She that the FIR in the case was not registered for a period of 10 months from the date when the incident occurred, and was reluctantly filed thereafter. Three years since, the investigation is at a standstill with no progress and no chargesheet filed in the case, stated the plea. In the plea, she added that the state was “criminally negligent in the investigation” or was “trying to cover” up for the perpetrators or had some malafide intention.

KEY FACTS TAKEN INTO CONSIDERATION BY THE COURT

  • The occurrence took place in the intervening night of 13.08.2017 and 14.08.2017.
  • The inquest proceedings under Section 174 Cr.P.C. were registered on 14.08.2017 but remained inconclusive, and in view of the closure report deserves to be consigned. The death of the deceased was initially sought to be passed off as accidental by collision with a train or suicidal due to depression.
  • The F.I.R. under Section 302, IPC was registered very much belatedly on 29.06.2018, albeit reluctantly, only at the persistence of the petitioner and her husband after they repeatedly approached the higher authorities.
  • Even thereafter the investigation remained at a standstill till the filing of the counter affidavit before this Court as recent as 03.07.2020 with the respondents insisting that the death was accidental and that the nature of injuries could not attribute a homicidal death.
  • Earlier the husband of the petitioner had also petitioned the High Court where till 20.07.2019 the respondents insisted that the death was accidental in nature.
  • The Supreme Court had, on 08.07.2020, directed the completion of investigation within 2 months, after which a ‘very lengthy’ investigation closure report was placed before the Court us taking a stand that though the death was homicidal there was no clue.

COURT’S OBERVATIONS

The Court said that the High Court, despite noticing the long pendency of the investigation, took a misguided approach that the petitioner had not expressed suspicion against any one and neither had he alleged biased against the Investigating Officer, to pass an open ended order to investigate the case and file a report. Hence, the investigation remained inconclusive for nearly three long years with the investigating agency sanguine of passing it off as an accidental death without coming to a firm conclusion avoiding to complete the investigation.

The Court noticed that when, on 08.07.2020, it directed that the investigation be concluded within a period of two months and the final report be placed before it, suddenly a very lengthy investigation closure report was filed taking a stand that though the death was homicidal there was no clue. It, hence, said that

“The closure report is therefore, to our mind, a clear hasty action leaving much to be desired regarding the nature of investigation, because if a detailed investigation had already been done as is sought to be now suggested, there is no reason why a final report could not have been filed by the investigating agency in the normal course of events and needed an order to do so from this Court. The entire investigation and the closure report therefore lack bonafide.”

It was, hence, of the opinion that the interest of justice therefore requires a de novo investigation to be done, to sustain the confidence of the society in the rule of law irrespective of who the actors may be.

DIRECTIONS

  • closure report set aside and a de novo investigation by a fresh team of investigators to be headed by a senior police officer of the State consisting of efficient personnel well conversant with use of modern investigation technology also directed.
  • No officer who was part of the investigating team leading to the closure report shall be part of the team conducting de novo investigation.
  • fresh investigation must be concluded within a maximum period of two months and the police report be filed before the court concerned whereafter the matter shall proceed in accordance with law.

[Neetu Kumar Nagaich v. State of Rajasthan, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 741, decided on 16.09.2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of V.M. Deshpande and Anil S. Kilor, JJ., held that if the prosecution fails prima facie to show that that accused had an intention to aid or instigate or abet deceased to commit suicide caused cannot be compelled to face trial for the offence punishable under Section 306 of the Penal Code, 1860.

The instant application was filed for quashing the FIR registered for offence punishable under Section 306 of Penal Code, 1860 along with a prayer to stay the investigation in the said matter.

The complainant had a Loan Account with the Bank of Maharashtra wherein the applicant was discharging his duties as Branch Manager, Bank of Maharashtra.

In the present matter, complainant’s real brother is the deceased who committed suicide in 2015 by hanging himself.

Complainant lodged his report against the present applicant a day after his brother committed suicide.

Though the applicant was granted pre-arrest bail, he filed for the present proceedings to quash the FIR.

Section 306 of the Penal Code, 1860

“If any person commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of such suicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

Section 107 of Penal Code, 1860: 

As per the First clause, “if a person instigates any person to do a particular thing, it can be said that he has abetted”.

High Court referred to the decision of Dilip v. State of Maharashtra, (2004) 11 SCC 401.

Ratio: It is incumbent upon the prosecution to at least show prima facie case that accused had an intention to aid or instigate or abet deceased to commit suicide. In the absence of availability of such material, the accused cannot be compelled to face trial for the offence punishable under Section 306 of the Penal Code.

In the present matter, it has been noted that the deceased was not having any loan outstanding in his name. According to the prosecution, the deceased went to the Bank of Maharashtra for a loan.

If previous loan amount is outstanding and if the applicant, who is Branch Manager of the said Bank, is refusing to grant any further loan, can be said as act of a vigilant and prudent banker and if he is not granting any further loan, it cannot be termed that by such act he instigated and/or abetted the person to commit suicide.

Hence, in view of the above, Court terminated the proceedings against the applicant. [Santoshkumar v. State of Maharashtra,  2020 SCC OnLine Bom 914, decided on 09-09-2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

“When truth meets sunshine, justice will not prevail on the living alone but after Life’s fitful fever, now the departed will also sleep well. Satyameva Jayate.”

Supreme Court: A single judge bench of Hrishikesh Roy, J has held the ongoing investigation by the CBI to be lawful and further directed that if any other case is registered on the death of the actor Sushant Singh Rajput and the surrounding circumstances of his unnatural death, the CBI is directed to investigate the new case as well. Such enabling order will make it possible for the CBI to investigate the new case, avoiding the rigors of Section 6 of the DSPE Act, requiring consent from the State of Maharashtra.

BACKGROUND OF THE CASE

The order came on Rhea Chakraborty’s plea seeking the transfer of an FIR, from Patna to Mumbai, accusing her of abetting in Sushant Singh Rajput’s alleged suicide on June 14, 2020. Chakraborty, who was reportedly Sushant Singh’s girlfriend at the time of his death, has challenged Bihar police’s jurisdiction in the matter, given that the alleged crime took place in Maharashtra. Apprehending that all facets of the death of the his son will not be investigated properly by the Mumbai police, Krishna Kishore Singh has filed the above FIR on 25.07.2020, which led to registration of the case by Rajeev Nagar Police Sation, Patna. Several allegations are leveled against Chakraborty in connection with the suicidal death of the Actor and, therefore, she has filed this Petition for transfer of the proceedings from the Bihar Police to the Mumbai Police Authorities. Bihar Police had, however, recommended for a CBI probe into death case of actor and the Centre has accepted the same.

DETAILED ANALYSIS OF THE JUDGMENT

TRANSFER POWER UNDER SECTION 406 CRPC

The scope of exercise of this power is for securing the ends of justice. The precedents suggest that transfer plea under Section 406 CrPC were granted in cases where the Court believed that the trial may be prejudiced and fair and impartial proceedings cannot be carried on, if the trial continues. The Court held that only cases and appeals (not investigation) can be transferred.

SCOPE OF SECTION 174 CRPC PROCEEDING AND MUMBAI POLICE’s EXERCISE OF POWER THEREOF

The Court noticed that the proceeding under Section 174 CrPC is limited to the inquiry carried out by the police to find out the apparent cause of unnatural death. These are not in the nature of investigation, undertaken after filing of FIR under Section 154 CrPC.

It further said that the Mumbai Police has attempted to stretch the purview of Section 174 without drawing up any FIR and therefore, as it appears, no investigation pursuant to commission of a cognizable offence is being carried out by the Mumbai police. They are yet to register a FIR. Nor they have made a suitable determination, in terms of Section 175(2) CrPC. Hence,

“The inquiry conducted under Section 174 CrPC by the Mumbai police is limited for a definite purpose but is not an investigation of a crime under Section 157 of the CrPC.”

JURISDICTION OF PATNA POLICE TO REGISTER COMPLAINT

The Court held that the Patna police committed no illegality in registering the Complaint. Looking at the nature of the allegations in the Complaint which also relate to misappropriation and breach of trust, the exercise of jurisdiction by the Bihar Police appears to be in order.

“Registration of FIR is mandated when information on cognizable offence is received by the police and at the stage of investigation, it cannot be said that the concerned police station does not have territorial jurisdiction to investigate the case.”

Moreover, the allegation relating to criminal breach of trust and misappropriation of money which were to be eventually accounted for in Patna (where the Complainant resides), could prima facie indicate the lawful jurisdiction of the Patna police.

It has hence, been held that the stage of investigation, they were not required to transfer the FIR to Mumbai police. For the same reason, the Bihar government was competent to give consent for entrustment of investigation to the CBI and as such the ongoing investigation by the CBI is held to be lawful.

INVESTIGATION ENTRUSTMENT TO CBI

“While the CBI cannot conduct any investigation without the consent of the concerned state as mandated under section 6, the powers of the Constitutional Courts are not fettered by the statutory restriction of the DSPE Act.”

The Court noticed that the FIR at Patna was transferred to the CBI with consent of the Bihar government during pendency of this Transfer Petition. However, in future, if commission of cognizable offence under section 175(2) CrPC is determined, the possibility of parallel investigation by the Mumbai Police cannot be ruled out. Section 6 of the DSPE Act, 1946 read with Section 5 prescribe the requirement of consent from the State government, before entrustment of investigation to the CBI.

“As the CBI has already registered a case and commenced investigation at the instance of the Bihar government, uncertainty and confusion must be avoided in the event of Mumbai Police also deciding to simultaneously investigate the cognizable offence, based on their finding in the inquiry proceeding.”

The Court was hence of the opinion that a decision by this Court on the point would confer legitimacy to the investigation.

“… for the innocents, who might be the target of vilification campaign. Equally importantly, when integrity and credibility of the investigation is discernible, the trust, faith and confidence of the common man in the judicial process will resonate.”

COURT’S DIRECTION ON INVESTIGATION

Noticing that as because both states are making acrimonious allegations of political interference against each other, the Court said that the legitimacy of the investigation has come under a cloud. Accusing fingers are being pointed and people have taken the liberty to put out their own conjectures and theories.

“Such comments, responsible or otherwise, have led to speculative public discourse which have hogged media limelight. These developments unfortunately have the propensity to delay and misdirect the investigation.”

The Court was, hence, of the opinion that to ensure public confidence in the investigation and to do complete justice in the matter, it is appropriate to invoke the powers conferred by Article 142 of the Constitution.

It further noticed that while the steps taken by the Mumbai police in the limited inquiry under Section 174 CrPC may not be faulted on the material available before this Court, considering the apprehension voiced by the stakeholders of unfair investigation, this Court must strive to ensure that search for the truth is undertaken by an independent agency, not controlled by either of the two state governments. Most importantly, the credibility of the investigation and the investigating authority, must be protected.

The Court, hence, noted that a fair, competent and impartial investigation is the need of the hour. The expected outcome then would be, a measure of justice for the Complainant, who lost his only son. For the petitioner too, it will be the desired justice as she herself called for a CBI investigation. The dissemination of the real facts through unbiased investigation would certainly result in justice.

[Rhea Chakraborty v. State of Bihar, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 654, decided on 19.08.2020]

Hot Off The PressNews

Supreme Court: A single judge bench of Hrishikesh Roy, J has reserved verdict actor Rhea Chakraborty’s plea seeking the transfer of an FIR, from Patna to Mumbai, accusing her of abetting in Sushant Singh Rajput’s alleged suicide on June 14, 2020. The Court has, in the meantime, asked the parties to submit written submissions by Thursday i.e. August 13, 2020.

Chakraborty, who was reportedly Sushant Singh’s girlfriend at the time of his death, has challenged Bihar police’s jurisdiction in the matter, given that the alleged crime took place in Maharashtra. Apprehending that all facets of the death of the his son will not be investigated properly by the Mumbai police, Krishna Kishore Singh has filed the above FIR on 25.07.2020, which led to registration of the case by Rajeev Nagar Police Sation, Patna. Several allegations are leveled against Chakraborty in connection with the suicidal death of the Actor and, therefore, she has filed this Petition for transfer of the proceedings from the Bihar Police to the Mumbai Police Authorities.

Earlier, Senior Advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for Sushant Singh Rajput’s father, submitted that

“the Complainant is apprehensive about misdirection of the investigation by the Mumbai Police and, therefore, the Bihar Police Authorities should be permitted to carry on their investigation into the suspicious circumstances on the death of the son of the Complainant.”

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta also informed the Court that Centre has accepted Bihar government’s recommendation for CBI probe into death case of actor. the Bihar Police

State of Maharashtra on the other hand, argued that Patna police has no jurisdiction to either lodge an FIR or investigate it and this has been made a political case. Senior advocate R. Basant submitted,

“the Bandra Police Authorities are conducting a professional investigation and he be given time to place on record the stage and nature of the investigation, conducted so far.”

Senior Advocate Shyam Devan, appearing for Chakraborty, argued that the case is registered at the instance of the deceased actor’s father by the Patna Police Authorities, without any jurisdiction.


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Hot Off The PressNews

Supreme Court:  A bench headed by SA Bobde, CJ dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or National Investigation Agency (NIA) into the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput.

“Who are you. You are a total stranger who is unnecessarily interfering in the case. The victim’s father is pursuing the case. We are dismissing your petition. Dismissed,”

The Supreme Court was hearing a petition filed by law student DD Dubey seeking a CBI or NIA probe into the death of the actor.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, the senior law officer of the Central government, submitted before the Supreme Court that the FIR registered in Patna in the case has already been transferred to the CBI for investigation.

CJI asked the petitioner,

“We are told CBI has filed an FIR. What is the locus standi of yours (petitioner), in the matter,”

Advocate Subhash Jha, appearing for the petitioner, had sought a CBI probe into the death case, to which the bench said, “don’t argue like this and make absurd statements”.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had earlier sent a recommendation to the Central government for CBI investigation in the case filed in Patna based on the complaint of Sushant’s father KK Singh against actor Rhea Chakraborty under sections including abetment of suicide on July 25.

Bollywood actor Rhea Chakraborty has also filed plea before Supreme Court  seeking the transfer of an FIR, from Patna to Mumbai, accusing her of abetting in Sushant Singh Rajput’s alleged suicide on June 14, 2020. Chakraborty, who was reportedly Sushant Singh’s girlfriend at the time of his death, has challenged Bihar police’s jurisdiction in the matter, given that the alleged crime took place in Maharashtra.

Apprehending that all facets of the death of the his son will not be investigated properly by the Mumbai police, Krishna Kishore Singh has filed the above FIR on 25.07.2020, which led to registration of the case by Rajeev Nagar Police Sation, Patna. Several allegations are leveled against Chakraborty in connection with the suicidal death of the Actor and, therefore, she has filed this Petition for transfer of the proceedings from the Bihar Police to the Mumbai Police Authorities.

A single judge bench of Hrishikesh Roy, J has directed Mumbai Police to to file status report on probe conducted so far in Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput death case. Asking the parties to file reply within 3 days, the Court has said that it would hear the matter next week. Read more

(Source: ANI)


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Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: A single judge bench of Hrishikesh Roy, J has directed Mumbai Police to to file status report on probe conducted so far in Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput death case. Asking the parties to file reply within 3 days, the Court has said that it would hear the matter next week.

The Court is hearing Bollywood actor Rhea Chakraborty’s plea seeking the transfer of an FIR, from Patna to Mumbai, accusing her of abetting in Sushant Singh Rajput’s alleged suicide on June 14, 2020. Chakraborty, who was reportedly Sushant Singh’s girlfriend at the time of his death, has challenged Bihar police’s jurisdiction in the matter, given that the alleged crime took place in Maharashtra.

Apprehending that all facets of the death of the his son will not be investigated properly by the Mumbai police, Krishna Kishore Singh has filed the above FIR on 25.07.2020, which led to registration of the case by Rajeev Nagar Police Sation, Patna. Several allegations are leveled against Chakraborty in connection with the suicidal death of the Actor and, therefore, she has filed this Petition for transfer of the proceedings from the Bihar Police to the Mumbai Police Authorities.

Senior Advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for Sushant Singh Rajput’s father, submitted that

“the Complainant is apprehensive about misdirection of the investigation by the Mumbai Police and, therefore, the Bihar Police Authorities should be permitted to carry on their investigation into the suspicious circumstances on the death of the son of the Complainant.”

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta also informed the Court that Centre has accepted Bihar government’s recommendation for CBI probe into death case of actor. the Bihar Police

State of Maharashtra on the other hand, argued that Patna police has no jurisdiction to either lodge an FIR or investigate it and this has been made a political case. Senior advocate R. Basant submitted,

“the Bandra Police Authorities are conducting a professional investigation and he be given time to place on record the stage and nature of the investigation, conducted so far.”

Senior Advocate Shyam Devan, appearing for Chakraborty, argued that the case is registered at the instance of the deceased actor’s father by the Patna Police Authorities, without any
jurisdiction.

Observing that truth should come out so far as actor’s death is concerned, the Court placed the matter for hearing next week.

” three days time is granted to all parties to place on record their respective stand in the matter. The State of Maharashtra should apprise the Court on the stage of investigation by the Mumbai Police by the next date.”

[Rhea Chakraborty v. State of Bihar, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 625 , order dated 05.08.2020]


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Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: A bench headed by RF Nariman, J has granted Rajasthan Police two months deadline to complete the investigation into the suspicious death of National Law University (NLU)-Jodhpur student Vikrant Nagaich in 2017.

The court was hearing a plea by the student’s mother seeking transfer of the investigation in the case from the Rajasthan police to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Neetu Kumar Nagaich, the mother of the deceased student, had approached the court and accused the state police of “lackadaisical and callous manner of the probe” into the FIR lodged on June 29, 2018, with Jodhpur’s Mandore police station. She has sought an independent inquiry while complaining of a shoddy probe with probable collusion to shield some influentials.

The mother of 21-year-old NLU student claimed that the FIR in the case was not registered for a period of 10 months from the date when the incident occurred, and was reluctantly filed thereafter. Three years since, the investigation is at a standstill with no progress and no chargesheet filed in the case, stated the plea. In the plea, she added that the state was “criminally negligent in the investigation” or was “trying to cover” up for the perpetrators or had some malafide intention.

The third-year law student, Vikrant was found dead on August 14, 2017, under unnatural circumstances near a railway track opposite the university. The authorities tried to present the case as that of suicide due to alleged depression.

[Neetu Kumar Nagaich v. State of Rajasthan, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 561 , order dated 08.07.2020]

(With inputs from ANI)

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: K.R. Shriram, J., while upholding the decision of the trial court with regard to the acquittal of the accused, held that,

“There is an acquittal and therefore, there is double presumption in favour of accused.”

The present appeal was filed impugning an order and Judgment by Vth Adhoc Sessions Judge, Pune, acquitting 6 accused of offences punishable under Sections 498A, 306, 201 read with Section 34 of Penal Code, 1860.

Accused were charged with offences punishable under Sections 498A (husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty), 302 (punishment for murder), 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender ) read with Section 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of IPC.

Jayshree (Deceased) on visiting her parental home on several occasions had informed of the ill-treatment and harassment she was being received from her matrimonial home on account of demand of money for buying a Motorcycle.

On hearing the same, Complainant (Jayshree’s father) made the in-laws of Jayshree realise that they should not ill-treat or harass Jayshree.  After a few days, on one morning Complainant received the message of Jayshree being dead.

Thereafter, Complainant alleged the accused of having ill-treated Jayshree on account of demand of money for the purchase of Motor Cycle and made her life miserable and thereafter murdered her. Base on the same, offence was lodged under Sections 498A, 302, 201 and 34 of Penal Code.

Trial Court altered the charge from Section 302 to 306 IPC on receiving an application for the same as the medical report stated that the cause of death was by hanging, i.e., suicide not murder.

After hearing the parties and on receiving the evidence pertaining to the case, Court passed the order of acquittal, which is impugned in the present appeal.

APP submitted that the accused were harassing and ill-treating the deceased by unlawfully demanding Hero Honda Motor Cycle. Jayshree on not being able to bear with the harassment on the part of the accused, therefore, abetted the commission of suicide by Jayshree. Hence all the accused have to be convicted.

Senior Advocate, Rajiv Patil while defending the impugned Judgment submitted that none of the witnesses can be taken to have proved the offence under Sections 498A or 201 or 306 of IPC.

Decision

High Court agreed with the respondent’s counsel on considering the evidence placed on record.

With regard to the evidence in regard to the allegation of demand of money for motor cycle, documents showing that the accused had bought the same before his marriage on taking a loan from the bank which was also repaid before the marriage have been placed on record.

Regarding Section 306 IPC, Court noted that no evidence had been placed on record to speak off. There was no evidence to suggest or indicate that the accused knew or had reason to believe that the deceased would commit suicide.

“Even if any acts or words uttered by the accused or their conduct are sufficient to demean or humiliate the deceased and even to drive the deceased to suicide, such acts will not amount to instigation or abetment of commission of suicide, unless it is established that the accused intended by their acts that the deceased must commit suicide. It is not enough if the acts of the accused cause persuasion in the mind of the deceased to commit suicide.”

In reference to the above, decision of Kerala High Court was cited, Cyriac v. Sub-Inspector of Police, Kaduthuruthy, 2005 SCC OnLine Ker 346, wherein it was held that,

“…it is not what the deceased ‘felt’, but what the accused ‘intended’ by her act which is more important.”

Thus, in Court’s opinion and on considering the evidence on record, prosecution failed to drive home the charge under Section 498A or Section 306 IPC.

Bench held that there is double presumption in favour of the accused,  firstly, the presumption of innocence available to the accused under the fundamental principle of criminal jurisprudence that every person shall be presumed to be innocent unless they are proved guilty by a competent court of law. Secondly, accused having secured their acquittal, the presumption of their innocence is further reinforced, reaffirmed and strengthened by the trial court.

Hence, trial court’s decision cannot be held illegal or improper or contrary to law. [State of Maharashtra v. Vijay Maruti Bombale, 2019 SCC OnLine Bom 5985, decided on 19-12-2019]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, India has taken suo motu cognizance of media reports that an alleged victim of sexual assault committed suicide in Bareilly district of Uttar Pradesh as the police allegedly delayed proceedings on her complaint.

Reportedly, the Senior Superintendent of Police, Bareilly has placed the Sub-Inspector concerned under suspension and one Munshi, who had dismissed the application submitted by the victim, has also been attached. The FIR in the matter has now been registered and orders have been issued for a thorough probe.

The Commission has observed that the contents of the news report, if true, raise serious issue of violation of human rights. Accordingly, it has sent notices to the Chief Secretary and the DGP, Uttar Pradesh calling for a detailed report on the matter within four weeks.

The Commission has further observed that it is unfortunate that the public servants instead of taking timely action on her complaint, tried to delay the proceedings forcing the woman into frustration and mental agony due to which she took an extreme step of ending her life by hanging herself. If timely action had been taken by the police authorities to arrest the accused, a precious human life could have been saved.

According to the media reports, the FIR on the complaint of the victim was reportedly registered only after she met the senior officers. Still, the Sub-Inspector concerned who was investigating the matter allegedly asking her to go for medical examination and get her statements recorded. Now, two people, accused of the rape attempt have been arrested and two others have been nabbed for passing certain comments at the victim woman.


National Human Rights Commission

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: Sandeep K. Shinde, J. dismissed an appeal filed by the State against the order of acquittal by the trial court in respect to the matter pertaining to Sections 498-A and 306 of Penal Code, 1860.

State preferred the present appeal under Section 378(1) of CrPC, 1973 against the order of acquittal passed by Additional Sessions Judge.

In accordance with the prosecution case, the deceased suffered suicidal death due to acute cardiorespiratory arrest caused due to 100% burns at her matrimonial house. Deceased’s brother filed the complaint against deceased’s brother-in-law (accused 1) and wife of accused 1 (accused 2) along with sister-in-law of deceased (accused 3), for ill-treating the deceased and for abetting to commit suicide.

Thus, a crime under Section 498-A and 306 read with Section 24 of the Penal Code, 1860 was registered,

Deceased suffered unnatural death within a period of 7 years from the date of her marriage. Trial Court acquitted the accused, having found the prosecution could not establish that the accused ill-treated and caused cruelty to deceased within the meaning of Explanation Clause-a to Section 498-A of the Penal Code, 1860.

Settled Law:

“Cruelty for the purpose of Section 498-A Penal Code, 1860 means any “willful conduct” which is of such a nature as is likely to drive a women to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman or harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.”

The question involved in the present case is,

“Whether prosecution has established that the “willful conduct” of the accused was of such a nature which drove Shaheeda (deceased) to commit suicide?”

On the date of the incident, a quarrel ensued between the deceased and accused 2, during the course of the same, deceased inflicted injury on the forehead of accused 2 by a stick. It is disclosed that when accused 1 had gone to the police station to report about the assault by deceased on his wife (accused 2), he was informed that the deceased had set herself on fire.

It was reported to the police that there were recurring disputes between the deceased and her in-laws on account of supply and electricity and water.

Thus upon assessing the evidence of deceased’s brother, it cannot be said that “willful conduct” of the accused amounts to cruelty and such alleged conduct drove her to commit suicide. There is no specification laid out as to what kind of ill-treatment or harassment was meted out to the deceased.

High Court on noting the facts and circumstances of the case, held that there is no evidence or rather, it is not the case of the prosecution that the deceased was physically harassed or tortured by the accused. Equally, there is no dependable evidence to hold that, accused were mentally torturing the deceased.

Therefore, by relying on the Supreme Court’s decision in Pawan Kalyan v. State of Haryana, (1998) 3 SCC 309, Ramesh Kumar v. State of Chhattisgarh, (2001) 9 SCC 618 and  Mohd. Hoshan v. State of A.P., (2002) 7 SCC 414, Court held that the trial court is consistent with the evidence which cannot be faulted with and hence no interference is called for. The appeal, therefore, fails and is dismissed. [State of Maharashtra v. Ibrahim Ruknuddin Bagkari, Criminal Appeal No. 1267 of 2003, decided on 11-09-2019]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

The National Human Rights Commission has taken suo-moto cognizance of media reports that a woman committed suicide at Police Station Jathlana, Yamunanagar, Haryana alleging police inaction in her rape case. The Commission has issued notices to Chief Secretary and DGP, Haryana calling for a detailed report on the matter within six weeks.

The Commission has also directed to the DGP, Haryana to communicate the action taken against the delinquent police personnel. The Commission directed the Chief Secretary of the State of Haryana to look into vulnerability of the family of the deceased and the protection and financial help if not already carried out, be provided by the State to the victim family. The direction also issued about whether training has been provided to the police personnel at different levels to handle such sensitive cases with a more human touch.

Issuing the notices, the Commission has observed that the contents of the news reports, if true, raised serious issue of violation of human rights of the victim and indicate gross negligence on part of the police personnel. The apparent insensitivity and lackasdical attitude on part of the police personnel is a grave concern.

According to the news reports carried today on 04-09-2019, the victim had got tired by visiting the police station again and again and in fact, justice was denied to her by the police authorities of Jathlana Police Station in Yamunanagar and she finally committed suicide. Her family members have made serious allegations against the Sub-Inspector and Police Station In-charge and demanded their suspension with the immediate effect.

The father of the deceased woman lodged a complaint that his daughter was married in the year 2016 and after marriage, she did not give birth to a child and there were regular altercations in the family. Some months ago, when the victim came to her maternal house in her village, where alleged fellow villagers on the pretext of getting her divorce and also job called her at a place and gave the victim lift in a car and took her to Jagadhar Bus stand where the victim was given juice having sedatives. The news report also reveals that the accused kept the victim in Delhi, Lucknow and Dehradun for 3-4 months and during the time, the victim was raped and obscene videos were also made. The victim somehow managed to get free from their captivity and after came back to the house revealed the ordeal to her family members.


National Human Rights Commission

[Press Release dt. 04-09-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Punjab and Haryana High Court:  A Division Bench of Rakesh Kumar Jain and Harnaresh Singh Gill, JJ. heard an appeal that sought divorce under Section 13 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

The facts of the case at hand were that the couple got married in March, 2019 and later the respondent-wife left her matrimonial house in May 2015. In February 2016, the husband (appellant herein) filed for divorce on the grounds of blackmail, adultery and mental harassment of the husband as well as his family. The trial court rejected the relief of divorce on the ground that on the date of filing of the divorce petition, the statutory period of two years had not expired.

I.P.S Kohli, the counsel for the appellant, contended that since the very beginning of the marriage, the respondent quarrelled with her in-laws and threatened them to do everything under her command. He further claimed that she refused to do the household work and held that she would commit suicide if she was forced to do chores to create troubles for them. He further accused the respondent of adultery and for consuming alcohol and drugs. The counsel maintained that the respondent had a habit of leaving her matrimonial home without informing them and any inquiry of her whereabouts would be called as ‘interference on her personal life’. He alleged that the respondent refused to share a bed with the appellant which caused mental stress to him. He claimed that the respondent broke her mangalsutra in front of the Panchayat members and outrightly refused to live with the appellant as his wife and left her matrimonial home.

The respondent-wife, though agreed to the facts regarding the marriage, denied the accusation that she threatened to commit suicide. She also negated the facts that she refused to do household chores and in turn claimed that she would cook meals regularly and feed the family and the guests. She contended that she was pressurized to bring money from her parents and to influence them to sell their land. However, these demands were not acceded to by the respondent or her father. She added that the appellant and his parents harassed her physically and mentally. She further claimed that the appellant and his family never accepted her and turned her out of the house.

The Court observed that the allegations of cruelty remained unsubstantiated and there was no infirmity and illegality in the impugned judgment and decree passed by the trial Court. It relied on the case Rajni Goyal v. Amit Kumar, 2014 SCC OnLine P&H 24088, to rule that adultery on part of the respondent cannot be proved as there was no cogent evidence was presented by the appellant “Rather unsubstantiated and uncorroborated testimony associating the respondent with adulterer has caused mental cruelty to the respondent”. In addition to this, the Court was of the opinion that this case was of normal ‘wear and tear’ of the married life of the parties, which takes place on a daily basis in life. The Court further remarked that on the date of filing of the divorce petition, the statutory period of two years had not expired. Thus, the present divorce petition had rightly been rejected on this count by the trial court. Hence, the appeal was dismissed.[Ravinder Yadav v. Padmani, 2019 SCC OnLine P&H 1294, decided on 17-05-2019]

Hot Off The PressNews

Supreme Court: A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi has expressed its willingness to meet with the wife of former senior police officer Gaurav Dutt who allegedly committed suicide and blamed West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for the extreme step in his suicide note.

The Court said it will interact with Sreyashi Dutt in July to ascertain why she wants to withdraw her plea for an independent inquiry into the death of her husband. Sreyashi, the wife of the retired West Bengal cadre IPS officer from the 1986 batch, has sought to withdraw her petition, saying she was not in a proper mental condition when she agreed to file the case.

Dutt had accused Banerjee in his suicide note of pushing him to take the extreme step by “victimising” him for over 10 years. He was suspended and sent on compulsory waiting in 2010 following allegations of sexual assault of a male constable. He was found with a slit wrist at his home in Kolkata on February 19. Dutt had taken voluntary retirement last year.

(Source: ANI)

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Sanjeev Sachdeva, J., allowed a petition filed by in-laws of the deceased (wife) against the order of the trial court in pursuance of which charges were framed against them under Sections 304-B (dowry death) and 498-A (husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty) IPC.

As per the prosecution, the deceased had died within seven years of her marriage. It was alleged that on the fateful, she was brought to Sanjay Gandhi Hospital where she was declared brought dead. On the MLC, the doctor opined: “alleged history of hanging and declared brought dead”. Parents of the deceased stated that she was harassed for dowry by her husband and in-laws (petitioner). A case was registered and the trial court was of the view that a prima facie case was established against the husband and the in-laws. Accordingly, the charges were framed against all the accused. Aggrieved thereby, the in-laws filed the present petition.

Anunya Mehta and Akshay Deep Singhal, Advocates for the in-laws contended that the charges against them were based on omnibus allegations and the deceased was not residing with them for last several years as she was living separately in Rohini with her husband. They prayed for discharging the in-laws.

The High Court perused both the sections. It was noted that the allegations made by parents of the deceased were all against the husband. And there were a few very general allegations against the in-laws like that of ‘continuous bickering’. There was no allegation that they ever demanded dowry. It was stated, To constitute an offence under Sections 304-B and 498-A IPC, it not mere bickering which would amount to an offence but it should be harassment of such a nature that would drive a woman to commit suicide.” The Court held that allegations against the in-laws were not such a nature so as to qualify as an offence under the said sections. In such view of the matter, the petition was allowed and the in-laws were discharged.[Satbir Dalal v. State (NCT of Delhi), 2019 SCC OnLine Del 7006, dated 14-02-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Punjab and Haryana High Court: The Bench of Arvind Singh Sangwan, J. set aside an order framing charges under Sections 306 and 506 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 against petitioner.

The facts of the case were that one Amandeep Singh committed suicide after two years of marriage with the petitioner’s daughter. Pursuant to the dispute between the two families, the deceased’s wife left her matrimonial home. Thereafter, the deceased left his house and told his sister on the phone that he was disturbed because of his wife and was going to take his life by jumping in a canal. Later, his car and other belongings along with a gift bag were found near the canal with a note stating “I love U Aman Best Wishes for ours next life. This is last gift for you by me. Muhha Putt love you.”

A First Information Report was registered by father of the deceased – Ranjit Singh – under Sections 306, 506 read with Section 34 of Penal Code, 1860 against the petitioner and his daughter – Amanpreet Kaur. After completion of the investigation, the trial Court passed an order framing charges under Sections 306 and 506 of IPC, against petitioners. Aggrieved thereby, the instant revision petition was filed.

Counsel for the petitioner submitted that there was no direct allegation of abetment against them. Further, the deceased’s suicide note did not suggest that he had leveled any allegations against the petitioners, rather, he had shown his affection towards his wife. It was further argued that nothing on record to show that the petitioners have ever abetted the deceased to commit suicide.

The Court, opined that before holding an accused guilty of an offence under Section 306 IPC, the Court must scrupulously examine facts and circumstances of the case to find out whether the cruelty and harassment meted out to the victim had left him with no other alternative but to put an end to his life. The person who is said to have abetted the commission of suicide must have played an active role by an act of instigation or by doing certain actions to facilitate the commission of suicide. Reliance was placed on Apex Court’s dictum in Bhagwan Das v. Kartar Singh, (2007) 11 SCC 205 and Madan Mohan Singh v. State of Gujarat, (2010) 8 SCC 628.

It was held that there was nothing on record to show that by way of willful conduct of the petitioners, the deceased was compelled to commit suicide. Allegations in the FIR, as well as the material collected during the investigation, did not prima facie constitute offence under Section 306 IPC as no material has come on record to support the allegations/charge against the petitioners. The alleged suicide note only reflected deceased’s love towards his wife and there was no indication of any harassment. Thus, the impugned order was set aside.[Balwinder Singh v. State of Punjab, 2019 SCC OnLine P&H 11, decided on 09-01-2019]