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Acquittal of a Life Convict on the Grounds Where Circumstantial Evidence Is Not Legal, Reliable, and Unimpeachable: Bombay High Court

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Facts of the case 

The case involves the death of the person Nanikram Sukeja, partner of Konark company resident of Ulhasnagar. On 6th May 2007, Nanikram had left Ulhasnagar to go to Chiplun. He collected cash of ₹ 3,25,000 to give wages to the workers and was accompanied by his relatives. He dropped off his relatives and informed his companions he would be back in 2 to 4 days. They traveled in a Tata Sumo jeep which was driven by accused no. 1 Ajay. On 7th May, accused no. 1 informed the police that on the way from Malkapur to Chiplun, a Scorpio Jeep had accosted their vehicle and kidnapped Nanikram. 

He also informed that 2 persons from Scorpio closed his mouth with a handkerchief and he fell unconscious.  On 8th May 2007, crime no. 42 of 2007 was registered at Devrukh Police Station against unknown persons for an offense punishable under sections 302, 395, 397, 365, 328, 201 of the Indian Penal Code. On 10th May, a wireless message was received at the police station saying that an unidentified body of a male person was found. As a matter of fact, Tata Sumo Jeep bearing No. MH-04-AS-2329 was found and the same was seized on 10th May 2007.

Inquest panchnama on the dead body was performed. P.W. 20 Sanjay Durgule was the panch. The inquest panchnama indicated that the dead person was about 45 to 50 years of age. At the time of the inquest, it was noticed that the penis of the dead body was circumcised, which was usually found in Muslim males and fluid was oozing from the dead body. The post mortem showed the cause of death was “Neuro Hemorrhagic shock due to head injury”. Eventually, accused no 1 and accused 2 were arrested since the memorandum showed involvement of Sadie Mukadam and accused 3 since he was residing with him. 


Arguments before the court

The prosecution had submitted that the amount of 1,69,150 was recovered and that the remaining amount was not recovered. The prosecution made a further contention that accused no. 1 had not offered any explanation in respect of his knowledge about the amount of Rs.1,69,150 in the house of accused no. 3. The APP had submitted that the accused no. had failed to give an explanation under section 106 of the Indian evidence act since the disease was in the company of accused no. 1. 


The counsel for the appellant had submitted that the prosecution has not proved the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt. There was also not enough evidence to prove that the accused had stolen the recovery of the amount of Rs.1,69,150 and had killed him. It was also submitted that the same amount which was given to Nanik Ram did not have records about the denominations. The recovery of the amount by itself would not prove that it was the accused one who had killed the deceased. 


Court’s Observations :

The court had observed that the deceased might be killed by one of the rival groups since there were several rivals in the business of sand excavation. It was also stated that there were several criminal charges pending against Konark company. According to the DNA profiling, the actual age of the disease was more than 60 years whereas the body of the dead which was found was a 45-year-old male. Moreover, the identity of the dead body as Muslim dismantles the theory of the prosecution that the dead body was that of Nanak Ram who was a Hindu. It was the responsibility of the prosecution to prove that all the circumstances eliminate every possibility of the accused being innocent and that the accused 1 had committed the said offense. 


The court had also relied on the landmark judgment of the Honourable Supreme Court in the case of Sarwan Singh vs. The State of Punjab, which has laid down a guiding principle in cases that rest upon circumstantial evidence. It was held as follows:


“Even if the prosecution story may be true there’s a wide difference between may and must and it should be covered by evidence that is legal, reliable and unimpeachable”


The High Court of Bombay held that the accused should be acquitted since there was no evidence which proved the deceased was killed by the accused no 1 and that no disappearance of evidence was created and hence he could be acquitted for the offense under section 201 of IPC. Similarly, the amount that was recovered from the house of accused 3 was not proven to be of the deceased and hence was sufficient to acquit the accused 1 under section 302 and 392 of IPC. In view of these observations the court decided accused No. 3 also deserves to be acquitted of the charge under section 414 of the Indian Penal Code.


Court’s Decision 

The court had acquitted the accused no 1&3 and the conviction and sentence imposed and passed by the learned additional sessions judge were quashed and set aside. The court had allowed the appeals and had disposed of them accordingly.

Case: Ajay Dattaram Surve vs the State of Maharashtra

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