KAMAL KHUDAL Versus STATE OF ASSAM

KAMAL KHUDAL Versus STATE OF ASSAM 


Landmark Cases of India / सुप्रीम कोर्ट के ऐतिहासिक फैसले


NON­REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 470 OF 2015
KAMAL KHUDAL      …APPELLANT
Versus
STATE OF ASSAM       …RESPONDENT
J U D G M E N T
J.B. PARDIWALA, J. :
1. This appeal, by special leave, is at the instance of a convict
accused of the offence of murder and is directed against the judgment
and order passed by the Gauhati High Court dismissing the Criminal
Appeal No. 86 of 2010 by which it affirmed the judgment and order of
conviction passed by the Additional Sessions Judge (FTC), Sivasagar
in the Sessions Case No. 57 of 2008 dated 10.06.2010.
2. It appears from the materials on record that in all three accused
persons were put on trial in the Court of the Additional Sessions
Judge (FTC), Sivasagar, including the appellant herein. All the three
accused were charged with the offence punishable under Section 302
read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code (for short, “IPC”).  The
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trial court, vide its judgment dated 10.06.2010, held the appellant
herein along with one Munna Bhoi (A­1) guilty of the offence of murder
punishable under Section 302 IPC and sentenced them to undergo life
imprisonment with fine of Rs. 2,000/­ each and in default of payment
of fine, further rigorous imprisonment for a period of two months. The
third co­accused Bipon Bhoi was given the benefit of doubt and he
came to be acquitted.  
3. The case of the prosecution may be summarized as under:
4. On 15.07.2007 at about 7 o’clock in the morning the appellant
herein along with the co­accused (Munna Bhoi) came to the house of
the deceased, namely, Uttam Dutta. The accused persons took the
deceased along with them for the purpose of paddy plantation.  When
the deceased left with the accused persons in the morning, his brother
Utpal Dutta was present at the house.  The deceased did not return to
his house till late evening.  The family members of the deceased got
worried and started searching for him. The dead body of the deceased
was found lying in a drain of Duribam Tea Estate with various injuries
on the body, including burn injuries. No sooner the dead body of the
deceased was recovered, then his brother Utpal Dutta went to the
police station and registered the First Information Report (FIR). The
FIR was registered as Kakatibari P.S. Case No. 24/2007 for the offence
punishable under Section 302 of the IPC.
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5. Upon   registration   of   the   FIR,   the   investigation   started.   The
investigation revealed that the co­accused Munna Bhoi was running a
liquor   (local)   factory   situated   adjacent   to   his   paddy   field.     The
deceased after working for sometime in the paddy field accompanied
the accused persons to the liquor factory. Something went wrong while
the accused persons and the deceased were in the liquor factory. The
locals   working   in   the   vicinity   of   the   liquor   factory   heard   some
commotion coming from the liquor factory. After sometime, the locals
saw the deceased coming out of the factory with burn injuries on his
body. One of the prosecution witnesses Hanu Khetrapal (PW­2), who
was   present   in   the   nearby   agricultural   field,   enquired   with   the
deceased   as   to   what   had   happened.     At   that   point   of   time,   the
deceased is said to have informed the PW­2 that the accused persons
had poured hot lali (raw material used for preparing local liquor) on
his body as a result of which he had suffered burn injuries.  Saying
so, the deceased left and thereafter his dead body was recovered from
the drain of Duribam Tea Estate.
6. During   the   course   of   investigation,   the   investigating   agency
arrested   three   persons,   namely,   Munna   Bhoi,   Kamal   Khudal
(appellant herein) and Bipon Bhoi. On completion of the investigation,
charge sheet was filed against all the three accused for the offence of
murder. As the offence was exclusively triable by the Sessions Court,
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the Magistrate in whose court the charge sheet was filed committed
the case to the court of the Sessions Judge, Sivasagar under Section
209 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (for short, “CrPC”). The
trial court proceeded to frame charge against all the three accused
persons   for   the   offence   punishable   under   Section   302   read   with
Section 34 of the IPC vide order dated 11.09.2008.
7. It appears from the materials on record that the prosecution in
all examined 8 witnesses. At the end of the trial, the trial court held
the appellant herein, along with Munna Bhoi, guilty of the offence of
murder   of   the   deceased   and   sentenced   them   to   undergo   life
imprisonment with fine of Rs. 2,000/­ each. As noted above, the third
accused, namely, Bipon Bhoi came to be acquitted.
8. The appellant herein being dissatisfied with the judgment and
order of conviction passed by the trial court preferred the Criminal
Appeal No. 86 of 2010 in the Gauhati High Court.   The co­accused
Munna Bhoi also preferred an appeal which was registered as the
Criminal Appeal No. 87 of 2010. Both the appeals were heard together
and by a common judgment dated 20.12.2013 both were ordered to be
dismissed.  
9.  In such circumstances referred to above, the appellant is here
before this Court with the present appeal. We are informed that the
co­accused Munna Bhoi thought fit not to question the judgment of
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the High Court.
SUBMISSIONS :­
10. Mr.   Vivek   Sharma,   the   learned   counsel   appearing   for   the
appellant,   vehemently   submitted   that   the   trial   court   committed   a
serious error in holding the appellant accused guilty of the offence of
murder.   He would submit that the High Court also committed a
serious   error   in   upholding   the   judgment   and   order   of   conviction
passed by the trial court. According to the learned counsel, the case
on hand is one of “not reliable legal evidence”. He would submit that
the   entire   conviction   of   the   appellant   is   based   on   a   oral   dying
declaration alleged to have been made by the deceased before the PW2, namely, Hanu Khetrapal. This so called oral dying declaration of the
deceased ought not to have been relied upon by the trial court as well
as by the High Court as the same does not inspire any confidence. The
learned counsel would submit that as a rule of prudence the courts
below should have insisted for corroboration before relying upon an
oral dying declaration which otherwise is a weak piece of evidence. He
would submit that had the dying declaration been recorded in writing
by an Executive Magistrate  some sanctity could have been attached to
the same. However, it would be too dangerous to place any reliance on
an uncorroborated oral dying declaration made before a local person.
11. The learned counsel would further submit that the case at hand
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is   one   of   circumstantial   evidence.   Conviction   can   be   based   on
circumstantial   evidence   provided   there   are   incriminating
circumstances pointing only towards the guilt of the accused.   He
would further submit that although the first informant, PW­1 Utpal
Dutta (brother of the deceased) has deposed that early in the morning
the   accused   persons   had   come   at   his   house   and   had   asked   the
deceased to join them for the paddy plantation, yet this circumstance,
by   itself,   cannot   be   termed   as   an   incriminating   circumstance.   It
cannot be said to be a circumstance of last seen together.
12. In such circumstances referred to above, the learned counsel for
the appellant prays that there being merit his appeal, the same may
be allowed and the impugned judgment and order passed by the High
Court as well as by the trial court be quashed and set aside and the
accused appellant be acquitted of the charge of murder. 
13. The State of Assam, although served with the notice issued by
this Court, yet thought fit not to oppose the present appeal.
ANALYSIS :
14. Having heard the learned counsel appearing for the appellant
and having gone through materials on record, the only question that
falls for our consideration is whether the High Court committed any
error in dismissing the criminal appeal filed by the appellant herein
against   the   judgment   and   order   of   conviction   passed   by  the   trial
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court ?
15. We must first look into the medical evidence on record. The
prosecution has examined Dr. Nirmal Ch. Chutia (PW­9) as one of its
witnesses to prove the post mortem report of the deceased. Dr. Chutia
at the relevant point of time was serving as the Senior Medical &
Health Officer at the Civil Hospital, Sivasagar. In his examination­inchief,   he   has   deposed   that   the   dead   body   of   one   Uttam   Dutta
(deceased) aged 36 years was brought at the hospital for the purpose
of post mortem.  In the post mortem report, the following injuries were
noted :­
“1) External appearance  :
               A male dead body, aged approximately 36 years,
rigormortis present.
2) Wounds :­
There are multiple dark achimost areas—seen on left
side of the chest wall, Chest and forehead.  Approximately
75% of body surface area are burnt. Superficial skin is
burnt off.  Wound are antemortem in nature.
3) Cranium and Spinal Canal  :
All organ are healthy.
4)  Thorax  :
Multiple factures on the left side and haemothorax
with laceration of left lungs. 
5) Abdoman  :
Organs are healthy.
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6) Muscles, bones and joints­­­healthy.”
16. Dr. Chutia (PW­9) further deposed that there were 75% burn
injuries on the body of the victim.   The superficial skin was found
burnt.  Multiple dark ecchymosis were to be seen on the left side of
the   chest   and   forehead.   Ecchymosis   means   discolouring   of   skin
resulting from blood underneath. He had deposed that the injuries
were ante mortem in nature. He certified the cause of death due to
shock and haemorrhage resulting from chest & skull injuries and
skull   injuries.   He   had   also   deposed   that   multiple   injuries   on   the
thorax of the victim were also noticed.
17. Hanu Khetrapal (PW­2) in his examination­in­chief had deposed
that on the  date of incident at about 10 in the  morning he was
ploughing his field. He saw that the deceased was also ploughing the
agricultural field of Munna Bhoi along with the other accused persons.
He   had   deposed   that   there   was   a   liquor   (local)   factory   owned   by
Munna Bhoi situated adjacent to his agricultural field. PW­2 further
deposed that he saw all the accused persons along with the deceased
going towards the liquor factory. After some time, he heard some noise
coming from the factory. The deceased came to the field of PW­2 and
informed   him   that   the   accused   persons   had   poured   hot  lali  (raw
material used for preparing local liquor) on his body as a result he had
suffered burn injuries. According to the PW­2, the deceased thereafter
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left   the   place.   The   defence   has   not   been   able   to   elicit   anything
substantial in the cross examination of PW­2 rendering his evidence
doubtful in any manner.
18. The trial court placed reliance on the following circumstances, as
noted in para 19 of its judgment, to hold the accused appellant guilty
of the offence of murder:
“(i) Accused Munna and Kamal went to the house of the
victim at about 7 a.m. on 15.7.2007 and brought the victim
along with him.
(ii) P.W. 2 saw the victim along with all the accused persons
in the paddy field of the accused Munna Bhui till 10 a.m.
on   the   date   of   occurrence.   According   to   P.W.   2   all   the
accused persons and the victim left the field and went to
the liquour factory of the Munna Bhui.   He heard some
noise there. After a while, the victim returned back and
P.W. 2 saw some injury on his body. The victim was in
abnormal state at that time.
(iii)   The dead body was recovered in a drain of Duribam
Tea Estate. P.Ws. have clearly stated that the skin of the
victim was removed from the body and according to them,
the skin was removed due to burnt injuries caused by bot
water.
(iv)  The doctor has opined that about 75% of the body was
burnt   and   the   superficial   skin   was   burnt   off   due   to
application of hot water.
(v)   Ext,   1   was   prepared   on   15.7.2007   by   the   I.O.   had
detected burnt injuries on the body of the victim caused by
hot water.
(vi)   Accused   Munna   Bhui   was   arrested   on   18.7.2007,
accused Bipon was arrested on 19.7.2007 and Kamal was
arrested on 23.7.2007. All the accused were absconding
themselves in order to avoid arrest.”
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19. The High Court, upon re­appreciation of the entire evidence,
concurred with the reasons assigned by the trial court in its judgment
and order holding the appellant herein guilty of the offence of murder.
The High Court accepted the oral dying declaration to be true and
trustworthy said to have been made by the deceased to the PW­2.
20. We are of the view, having regard to the evidence on record, that
High Court was justified in accepting the oral dying declaration made
by   the   deceased   before   the   PW­2   as   one   reliable   and   inspiring
confidence.  
21. The law regarding the nature, scope and value as a piece of
evidence   of   oral   and   written   dying   declarations   is   now   fairly   well
settled by various judicial decisions of this Court. A dying declaration,
oral or written, before it could be relied upon, must pass a test of
reliability as it is a statement made in the absence of the accused and
there is no opportunity to the accused even to put it through the fire of
cross  examination   to  test  is  genuinity or veracity.  The  court has,
therefore,   to   subject   it   to   close   scrutiny.     But   once   the   court   is
satisfied that it is a truthful version as to the circumstances in which
the death resulted and the persons causing injuries, the law does not
expect that there should be corroboration before it can be relied upon.
However, if there are infirmities and the court does not find it safe to
base any conclusion on it without some further evidence to support it,
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the question of corroboration arises. 
22. We may refer to one of the decisions of this Court in the case of
Heikrujam Chaoba Singh v. State of Manipur, (1999) 8 SCC 458,
wherein in para 3 this Court observed as under:
“3. An oral dying declaration no doubt can form the
basis   of   conviction,   though   the   Courts   seek   for
corroboration as a rule of prudence. But before the
said declaration can be acted upon, the Court must
be satisfied about the truthfulness of the same and
that the said declaration was made by the deceased
while he was in a fit condition to make the statement.
The dying declaration has to be taken as a whole and
the witness who deposes about such oral declaration
to him must pass the scrutiny of reliability. …” 
23. “Truth sits upon the lips of a dying man.”
           ­  Matthew Arnold
24. The whole idea of accepting a statement in the name of dying
declaration   comes   from   a   maxim  “Nemo   moriturus   praesumitur
mentire” which means that a man will not meet his maker with a lie in
his mouth. It is believed that when a man is at the point of death and
when every expectation of this world is gone, it hushes away every
motive of lie.  
25.  In   our   view,   the   oral   evidence   of   the   PW­2,   namely,   Hanu
Khetrapal is quite natural. On the day of occurrence, he was working
in his agricultural field. His presence in his field could be said to be
natural. There is no good reason for Hanu Khetrapal (PW­2) to come
11
before the trial court and depose falsely against the accused persons.
It is not even the case of the accused appellant herein that Hanu
Khetrapal (PW­2) had some axe to grind against him, including the
other co­accused and, therefore, fabricated the entire story of an oral
dying declaration. Besides the same, the oral dying declaration of the
deceased made before Hanu Khetrapal  (PW­2) stands  corroborated
with the medical evidence on record. The medical evidence on record
would suggest that there were 75% burn injuries on the chest of the
deceased. The burn injuries were suffered by the deceased as the
accused persons are said to have poured hot lali (raw material used
for preparing liquor). 
26. We also take notice of the fact that the appellant herein came to
be arrested on 23rd of July, 2007, that is, almost after about 8 days
from the date of incident.  He was absconding. He was not available at
his house.  The appellant accused in his further statement recorded
under   Section   313   of   the   CrPC   has   not   explained   where   he   was
between 15.07.2007 and 23.07.2007, that is, till the date of his arrest.
This is one another incriminating circumstance and, if taken into
consideration with the other circumstances on record, would bear
some relevance while deciding the guilt of the accused. 
27. It appears from the materials on record, more particularly from
the nature of the oral evidence, that something went wrong while the
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deceased and the accused persons were inside the liquor factory. It
appears to be a case of sudden fight.  It could be on account of some
verbal   altercation   between   the   deceased   and   the   accused   persons
while they were inside the liquor factory.
28. In the overall view of the matter, we are convinced that there is
no good reason to interfere in the present appeal. We do not find any
fundamental or basic infirmity in the impugned judgment of the High
Court going to the root of the matter calling for any interference by
this Court.
29. In the result, this appeal fails and is hereby dismissed.
…………………………………….J.
(SURYA KANT)
…………………………………….J.
(J.B. PARDIWALA)
NEW DELHI;
JULY 14, 2022
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