SABITRI SAMANTARAY VS STATE OF ODISHA CASE

SABITRI SAMANTARAY VS STATE OF ODISHA CASE


Landmark Cases of India / सुप्रीम कोर्ट के ऐतिहासिक फैसले


REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 988 OF 2017
SABITRI SAMANTARAY … APPELLANT
VERSUS
STATE OF ODISHA … RESPONDENT
WITH
CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 860 OF 2022
(arising out of S.L.P (CRL.) No. 3881 OF 2017)
BIDYADHAR PRAHARAJ … APPELLANT
VERSUS
STATE OF ODISHA … RESPONDENT
JUDGMENT
KRISHNA MURARI, J.
Leave granted in Special Leave Petition (Criminal) No. 3881 of 2017.
2. Present appeals are directed against the judgment and order dated
08.11.2016 passed by the High Court of Odisha at Cuttack in Criminal Appeal
1
No. 202 of 2015. The Appellants herein, namely Sabitri Samantaray and
Bidyadhar Praharaj are wife and husband respectively. The two have been
arrayed as accused no. 2 and accused no. 1 in FIR No. 120 of 2008. The
Appellants herein along with their daughter (accused no. 3) had been charged
with offences under Sections 302, 201 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal
Code (hereafter referred to as ‘IPC’). Sessions Court Jaipur, in C.T. Case No.
76 of 2010 convicted accused no. 1 and 2 for offences under Sections 302, 201
read with Section 34 IPC, whereby both the appellants were sentenced to
rigorous imprisonment for life and a fine of Rs. 10,000/- and further sentence of
six months in case of default in payment of fine. Their daughter i.e. Accused
No. 3 was convicted under Sections 302, 109 read with Section 34 IPC and was
sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for life and a fine of Rs. 10,000/-, and
further sentence of six months in case of default in payment of fine.
Subsequently, the High Court vide order impugned herein acquitted the
daughter of the appellants of all charges, but upheld the conviction of the
Appellants. The conviction of the appellants under Section 302 IPC, however,
was modified to conviction under Section 304 (II) IPC and, therefore, sentence
term was reduced to rigorous imprisonment for a term of five years and a fine
of Rs. 10,000/-, and an additional six months of rigorous imprisonment in case
of default.
2
Factual Matrix
3. The accused appellants herein were tenants of one Mayadhar Mohapana.
The said landlord on 21.07.2008, lodged an FIR stating that an unknown person
had attacked the accused appellants at around 7:30 PM while he was watching
television in his house. The landlord stated that he had heard a loud cry from the
portion of his house which was rented to the appellants, and as he rushed to
inquire what had happened, he saw an unknown person assaulting the appellants
with a “Kata”. Consequently, the landlord cried for help, and as other people
gathered around the house, he rescued the couple through an inter-connected
door.
4. This unknown person remained inside the appellants’ house. Police
arrived at the spot, searched all rooms, whereafter, the person was found dead
inside the kitchen of the house. It was initially suspected that he had committed
suicide by consuming poison. Subsequently, the body was sent for autopsy, and
was thereafter preserved for identification. On 24.07.2008, one Ranjan Rana
identified the deceased to be Sanjay Rana. He further disclosed that the
deceased had a love relationship with the daughter of the appellants.
5. Post-mortem examination of the body was also conducted and it was
opined by the doctor that death was caused by compression on lower part of the
neck, resulting in blockage of upper end of the trachea. It was further opined
3
that the deceased victim was assaulted by two or more persons with acid and
blunt objects. Thus, death was homicidal in nature. In consequence thereof,
charge sheet was submitted against the accused appellants and their daughter
(accused no. 3) for offences under Sections 302, 201, 109 and 34 IPC.
6. The accused appellants on the contrary maintained that the unknown
person had forcibly entered into their house and locked it from inside. He first
encountered accused no. 1 (i.e. Bidyadhar Praharaj) and threatened to kill him,
should he refused to hand over entire money and valuables. Subsequently, both
the appellants were assaulted by the deceased, which resulted in injuries. They
were eventually rescued, and thereafter police implicated them in a false case.
7. The Sessions Court, vide its judgment dated 30.03.2015, held that the
prosecution had successfully established its case beyond reasonable doubt and,
therefore, convicted the accused appellants and their daughter under above said
Sections. Aggrieved, appellants and their daughter challenged the judgment of
the Trial Court before the High Court. Vide impugned judgment, the High Court
acquitted the daughter of all charges, as she was not present at the scene of
offence. It was observed that she had no role in the actual incident and therefore
cannot be termed as an abettor to the crime. On the contrary, the conviction of
the accused appellants was confirmed by the High Court. The High Court
observed that something had transpired between the appellants and the
4
deceased, which ensued in an assault. It was further observed that thereafter, it
appeared that the deceased was somehow overpowered by the appellants and
was unarmed. Thereafter, both the appellants throttled him to death and poured
acid on him to impede identification. However, as there was a strong possibility
of existence of grave and sudden provocation, which was discernible from
adduced evidence, the conviction under Section 302 IPC was modified to
conviction under Section 304 (II) IPC, and both the accused were thereby
sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a term of five years.
Contentions made by the Appellants
8. The Appellants herein contend that reliance placed on Section 106 of the
Evidence Act is misconstrued, in absence of clear evidence pointing to the guilt
of the appellants accused. That the prosecution has failed to prove its case
beyond reasonable doubt, and has therefore failed to discharge its burden of
proof. In the absence of the prosecution having failed to prove its case beyond
reasonable doubt, the High Court cannot supplant Section 106 of the Evidence
Act to discharge the burden of proof incumbent upon the prosecution. The
judgment impugned herein is therefore in contravention to the law laid down by
this Court in Shambu Nath Mehra Vs. State of Ajmer1
.
1. 1956 SCR 199
5
9. Further, the High Court erred in convicting the appellants by entirely
relying upon circumstantial evidence. Additionally, in absence of any eyewitness, the High Court also erred in dismissing the contention of the appellants
regarding the disputed time of death of the deceased.
10. It is also contended that the High Court failed to appreciate that as per the
post-mortem report submitted by the Doctor, death of the deceased happened
when the appellants were admitted to the hospital, because of the injuries they
had suffered from being assaulted by the deceased. Moreover, reliance placed
upon answers given by the appellants in their statements under Section 313 of
CrPC is misplaced, as answers to questions under Section 313 CrPC are
inadmissible as evidence and cannot be relied upon by the prosecution.
[See, Devender Kumar Singla v. Baldev Krishnan Singla, (2005) 9 SCC 15 and
Mohan Singh v. Prem Singh and Anr., (2002) 10 SCC 236.]
11. Lastly it was submitted that the High Court failed to rely upon any
individual incident which would indicate the appellants’ participation, resulting
in the death of the deceased. Thus, the judgment lacks any prima facie finding
which would indicate participation of the appellants in the event leading to the
death of the deceased.
6
Contentions made by the Respondent – State
12. It has been submitted by the Respondent herein, that the High Court
relying upon admitted facts, creditworthy evidence, relationship between the
parties, more specifically relationship between the deceased and daughter of the
appellants, their telephonic contacts, exchange of money between the deceased
and appellant’s daughter, date, place and time of murder of the deceased, and
the presence of accused appellants inside the tenanted portion of the house, has
rightly observed that the incident did occur at the time and place alleged by the
prosecution wherein appellants were definitely involved.
13. Further, it was rightly observed that the claim of the first set of witnesses
failed to lay down a complete narration of the events. Additionally, vide
judgment impugned herein, it was rightly observed that the version of the
second set of witnesses was more convincing as it established the relationship
between the deceased and the appellants, which, to an extent was accepted by
the appellant’s husband herein and the daughter.
14. It is further contended that from a perusal of the facts and material on
record it is evident that no one else except the appellants herein were present at
the scene of the offence and therefore, on account of the appellants having
special knowledge, reference to Section 106 of the Evidence Act, has been
7
rightly made. The Trial Court, while confirming the reliance placed by the
prosecution on the judgment of this Court rendered in Rajendra Kumar Vs.
State of Rajasthan2
, has also referred to Section 106 of the Evidence Act.
Therefore, contentions made by the appellants that no reliance was placed by
the prosecution on Section 106 of the Evidence Act, is incorrect.
15. This Court in its judgment in Trimukh Maroti Kirkan Vs. State of
Maharashtra3
has also observed:-
“15. Where an offence like murder is committed in secrecy
inside a house, the initial burden to establish the case would
undoubtedly be upon the prosecution, but the nature and
amount of evidence to be led by it to establish the charge cannot
be of the same degree as is required in other cases of
circumstantial evidence. The burden would be of a
comparatively lighter character. In view of Section 106 of the
Evidence Act there will be a corresponding burden on the
inmates of the house to give a cogent explanation as to how the
crime was committed. The inmates of the house cannot get away
by simply keeping quiet and offering no explanation on the
supposed premise that the burden to establish its case lies
entirely upon the prosecution and there is no duty at all on an
accused to offer any explanation.”
16. Furthermore, it is submitted that as per the deposition of the medical
expert (PW 6), it is nowhere mentioned that the deceased had died when the
appellants were lying injured in the hospital. Additionally, statements of all
witnesses are consistent, and mere minor contradictions cannot form the basis
2. (2003) 10 SCC 21
3. (2006) 10 SCC 681
8
for rejecting the evidence produced by the prosecution in its entirety. Thus, from
a bare perusal of the facts, it can be conclusively established that the
prosecution has successfully established the chain of events beyond reasonable
doubt. The deceased was strangulated to death by the appellants and upon his
death, an attempt was made to conceal his identity by pouring acid over the
dead body.
Analysis
17. Having perused the relevant facts and contentions made by the appellants
and the respondent herein, in our considered opinion, the key issue which
requires determination in the instant case is whether the prosecution has
successfully discharged its burden of proof, and that the chain of events has
been successfully established so as to attract application of Section 106 of the
Evidence Act.
18. Section 106 of the Evidence Act postulates that the burden of proving
things which are within the special knowledge of an individual is on that
individual. Although the Section in no way exonerates the prosecution from
discharging its burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt, it merely prescribes
that when an individual has done an act, with an intention other than that which
the circumstances indicate, the onus of proving that specific intention falls onto
9
the individual and not on the prosecution. If the accused had a different
intention than the facts are specially within his knowledge which he must prove.
19. Thus, although Section 106 is in no way aimed at relieving the
prosecution from its burden to establish the guilt of an accused, it applies to
cases where chain of events has been successfully established by the
prosecution, from which a reasonable inference is made out against the accused.
Moreover, in a case based on circumstantial evidence, whenever an
incriminating question is posed to the accused and he or she either evades
response, or offers a response which is not true, then such a response in itself
becomes an additional link in the chain of events. [See Trimukh Maroti Kirkan
Vs. State of Maharashtra, (2006) 10 SCC 681]
20. Coming to the case at hand, vide its judgment, the High Court has
convicted both the appellants under Sections 304(II), 201 read with Section 34
of IPC. It was observed that the deceased was strangulated to death by the
appellants and an attempt was further made to conceal his identity, by pouring
acid over the body. The relevant submissions of the parties and evidence
adduced therewith has been discussed as follows:
21. Firstly, reliance was placed on the statement of PW 9 (the landlord) which
specifically mentioned that members of the police were the first to enter into the
10
house of the accused appellants, immediately after the accused appellants were
rescued from the inter-linked door, while the deceased had remained inside.
From the statement of PW 9, it can therefore be inferred that at the time of death
of the deceased, only the accused appellants were present inside the house.
Furthermore, the contention of the appellants that the gathered mass of people
had in fact assaulted the deceased and destroyed his face, has rightly been
rejected by the High Court as being devoid of any material evidence made in
support of the claim.
22. Thereafter, further reliance is placed on the testimony of the sister of the
deceased – Gitanajali Rana (PW 12), who stated that the deceased was a
jeweller having jewellery shop. She further stated that the deceased was in a
love relation with the daughter of the appellants, and that he would often visit
the house once or twice in a month. It was further stated that the deceased had
given an amount of Rs. 70,000/- to the daughter of the appellants (accused no.3)
as she had asked for his help. Deceased intended to marry accused no. 3,
however upon getting a job at a bank, the daughter started avoiding the
deceased and his frustrations grew. Deceased’s sister in her statement, further
stated that prior to his death, deceased had left the house exclaiming that he
would either come back along with the daughter of the appellants or would get
his money back. This statement was further confirmed by PW -7 and 8, who
11
were the friend and cousin brother of the deceased, respectively. It was
therefore rightly observed by the High Court that the statement of these second
set of witnesses clearly spells out a motive for the commission of offence. It
also establishes that the claim made by the accused appellants that the deceased
was not known to them is also false, especially considering that their daughter
(accused no. 3) has admitted in her deposition that the deceased used to visit the
house of the appellants.
23. Furthermore, regard must also be had to the statement of the medical
expert (PW 6), which revealed that the cause of death of the deceased was
asphyxia due to compression of lower part of the neck resulting in blockage of
the upper end of the trachea. It was opined that the deceased was assaulted by
two or more persons and that the injuries were homicidal in nature.
24. In the instant case, the prosecution had thus succeeded in establishing
intention of the appellants for the commission of the offence. Such an intention,
when analyzed in the light of the statements made by all the sets of witnesses,
and fatal injuries sustained by the deceased at the relevant place and time,
certainly makes out a strong case that death of the deceased was indeed caused
by the appellants. Therefore, once the prosecution had successfully established
the chain of events, the burden was on the appellants to prove it otherwise.
12
Thus, the High Court rightly observed that in light of Section 106 of the
Evidence Act, the onus was now on the appellants to disclose how the deceased
lost his life.
25. Furthermore, this Court in the case of Ashok Vs. State of Maharashtra4
has observed:-
“12. From the study of above stated judgments and many others
delivered by this Court over a period of years, the rule can be
summarised as that the initial burden of proof is on the
prosecution to bring sufficient evidence pointing towards guilt
of the accused. However, in case of last seen together, the
prosecution is exempted to prove exact happening of the
incident as the accused himself would have special knowledge
of the incident and thus, would have burden of proof as
per Section 106 of the Evidence Act. Therefore, last seen
together itself is not a conclusive proof but along with other
circumstances surrounding the incident, like relations between
the accused and the deceased, enmity between them, previous
history of hostility, recovery of weapon from the accused, etc.
non- explanation of death of the deceased, may lead to a
presumption of guilt.”
26. Therefore, having regard to the above facts and reasons stated therewith,
it can be deduced that the entire sequence of events strongly point towards the
guilt of the accused appellants, and that the appellants have failed to offer any
credible defense in this regard. The entire chain of events point towards the
4. (2015) 4 SCC 393
13
guilt of the appellants. Thus, we do not find any error in the impugned judgment
passed by the High Court. The appeals, accordingly, stand dismissed.
27. The bail bonds of the two accused stands cancelled and they are directed
to surrender before the Trial Court within a period of two weeks from today
failing which they shall be taken into police custody for the said purpose.
......…..........................CJI.
(N.V. RAMANA)
….....................................J.
(KRISHNA MURARI)
.…...................................J.
(HIMA KOHLI)
NEW DELHI;
20th MAY, 2022
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