19 Nov 2020

Value, weight and quality of evidence outweighs the quantity, multiplicity or plurality of witnesses in determining the guilt of the accused - Supreme Court of India

Case : Jayantilal Verma v. State of M.P. (Now Chhattisgarh) Criminal Appeal No. 590 of 2015

Court : Supreme Court of India

Bench : Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul & Justice Hrishikesh Roy

Decided on : 19 Nov 2020

Relevant Statutes

Sections 302 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860

Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

Sections 106 and 134 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872

Brief Facts and Procedural History

1. Sahodara Bai was found dead on a cot in her matrimonial home at village Uslapur, District Rajanandgaon, M.P. (now Chhattisgarh) on 24.8.1999.

2. Kishore Kumar, the brother of deceased lodged her marg intimation with the police and revealed that allegedly on 19.8.1999, the deceased had returned to her maternal home to village Baiharsari as she had been harassed at the hands of her in-laws for the last 6-7 months for speaking to the wife of the brother of the appellant (husband of deceased) who lived separately. Kishore Kumar along with another brother, Lochan, had brought the deceased back to her matrimonial home for reconciliation. The in-laws wanted to see them for a few days and then decide if they wanted her to live with them. The deceased thereafter stayed back at her matrimonial home. The deceased got married to the appellant 8 years before the incident and had a few months old son.

3. FIR was lodged on 29.8.1999 arraying the appellant, his father, Lalchand and mother, Ahiman Bai as accused of offences punishable u/s 302 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and a post-mortem was conducted on the body. The post mortem report stated that the cause of death was asphyxia due to strangulation, and the nature of death was possibly homicidal.

4. On 21.7.2000, the Sessions Court found all the three accused persons guilty of offences punishable under Section 302 of the IPC, largely on the basis of the post-mortem report and the testimony of the PW-9, Dr. M.S. Bachkar, who conducted the post-mortem, and PW-1Kishore Kumar, while the possibilities of murder by thieves, snakebite or suicide were ruled out.

5. All the three accused appealed before the High Court. During the pendency of the appeal, Lalchand, the father-in-law of the deceased passed away. The High Court concluded that there was no legally admissible evidence to convict the mother-in-law of the deceased, and hence she was acquitted. However, the conviction of the appellant was upheld.

6. The appellant preferred to appeal to Supreme Court in which leave was granted on 30.3.2015.

The Issue of the Case

  • Whether the appellant i.e., the husband of the deceased is guilty of her murder?

The Observations of the Court

1. The honourable Supreme Court observed that since the incident had taken place inside the privacy of the house, the onus was on the persons residing in the house, to give an explanation when their statements were recorded u/s 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 for it is a matter especially within their knowledge as per Section 106, Indian Evidence Act, 1872. Mere denial could not be the answer in such a situation, even though the initial burden to establish the case would be upon the prosecution.

2. Moreover, the location of the house and the surrounding buildings was such that there was no possibility of somebody from outside coming and strangulating the deceased and that too without any commotion being caused or any valuable/jewellery missing.

3. Although a large number of witnesses turned hostile, the Indian legal system does not insist on a plurality of witnesses. Neither the legislature (Section 134 of the Evidence Act, 1872) nor the judiciary mandates that there must be a particular number of witnesses to record an order of conviction against the accused, as held in Namdeo v. State of Maharashtra, (2007) 14 SCC 150. The Trial Court was also not happy with the manner of prosecution conducted this case. But that is usual in the long drawn out trials in India and in the absence of any witness protection regime of substance, whatever evidence which is capable of being considered has to be examined to reach a conclusion.

4. Even though the case of the prosecution rests only on the testimony of PW-1 and the medical evidence, it is consistent and cogent as it is not always the quantity but the quality of the prosecution evidence that weighs with the Court in determining the guilt of the accused or otherwise, as was observed in Yanob Sheikh Alias Gagu v. State of West Bengal, (2013) 6 SCC 428.

5. The fact of the family members being in the home sometime before is quite obvious. No explanation has been given as to how the wife could have received the injuries. This is a strong circumstance indicating that he is responsible for the commission of the crime. Trimukh Maroti Kirkan v. State of Maharashtra, (2006) 10 SCC 681 supports this fact.

The Decision Held by the Court

The Honourable Supreme Court held that:

1. In the absence of a reason to interfere with the impugned judgment the appeal is dismissed.

2. The parties to bear their own costs.

3. The respondent State is directed to examine whether the appellant herein has completed 14 years of an actual sentence or not and if it is so, his case should be examined within a maximum period of two months for release in accordance with norms. If not, this exercise has to be undertaken within the same time on completion of 14 years of the actual sentence.

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