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Witness by relative of dead person not necessarily biased or misleading, says Supreme Court

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New Delhi (ILNS): Following careful analysis of a trial and depositions of associated witnesses, the Supreme Court yesterday ruled that the testimony of a witness who is a relative of a person whose death is being investigated, can form the basis of conviction if found to be truthful. The court observed that just because the witness is a relative of the deceased, does not necessarily mean that he/she will falsely implicate innocent persons.

The bench of Justices NV Ramana, Surya Kant, and Hrishikesh Roy was deliberating on a case in which five of the accused (in a murder) had appealed a conviction order by the Madhya Pradesh High Court, Indore Bench under Section 148, 302, and 149 of the IPC. The bench dismissed the appeal filed by the five – Karulal, Amra, Kachru, Suratram, and Bhagirath – all accused in the murder of Madhavji on August 18, 1993.

The back story

On that fateful day, farmer Madhavji was busy in the fields, as his son Bhanwar Lal grazed oxen nearby. Bhanwar Lal has said that he suddenly heard his father cry out loudly and saw Amra, Kachru, Karu, Surtaram, Lala (who is now dead), and Bhagirath attacking his father with axe, swords, farsa, lathis, etc.

Bhanwar Lal, Babulal, and Shyam Kala bai (Bhanwar Lal’s sister) were the eyewitnesses of the incident. Bhanwar Lal said in his testimony that “while running towards his father, he saw Lala, Karu, Amra, Kachru, Surat Ram and Bhagirath attacking his father. Shyam Kala also reached the field. Bhanwar Lal said that “Lala and Amra were armed with lathis, Surat Ram was holding a knife, Kachru had a sword, Karuji was holding an axe having edges like a farsa and Bhagirath too was holding an axe.”

The assailants ran away when they saw the three coming. The testimony says: “The son rushed home and arranged a bullock cart where the injured Madhavji was placed and then they proceeded to the Narayangarh police station where he lodged the FIR. Bhanwar Lal also mentioned that the injured Madhavji had told him in the field itself, before he went to fetch the bullock cart, that Lala, Amru, Kachru, Surat Ram and Bhagirath had assaulted him.”

Along the way to the police station, while they were crossing the houses of the accused, Veniram, the son of Kachru (one of the assailants), along with Badambai, Munnabai, Ramibai, Sitabai had blocked their way and had tried to prevent them from lodging the report. They also threatened to kill the son and daughter.

However, again, other villagers gathered, and the cart could proceed towards Narayangarh. On the way, Madhavji died. Bhanwar Lal and Babulal reached Narayangarh Police Station with the dead body and lodged a report at about 11.55 am, within four hours of the incident.

On completion of the investigation, the charge sheet was filed against six accused under Sections 148, 302 read with Section 149 of the IPC. Four others namely, Badambai, Munnabai, Ramibai, and Sitabai were charged under Section 506 IPC as they allegedly obstructed and threatened the informant when they were proceeding with the injured in the bullock cart. Later the trial court acquitted the four ladies.

Thereafter, the evidence against the accused who were charged under Section 148, 302,149 IPC was considered. Kishanlal, Prabhulal, Bhawarlal (not Bhanwar Lal, but another person) and Nanuram had turned hostile and did not support the case of the prosecution.

Before the Supreme Court, the counsel for the appellant submitted that the evidence of the children of the deceased should be discarded, because of past enmity and that the appellants were falsely implicated.

Ankita Chaudhary, Deputy Advocate General of Madhya Pradesh argued that the evidence of the three eyewitnesses conclusively supports the prosecution case. She then submitted that medical evidence and injuries corroborate the oral testimonies. The bitter relationship between the two groups provide a clear motive for the accused to attack the victim, she added.

The Supreme Court referred to Justice Vivian Bose in Dalip Singh & Ors. Vs. State of Punjab1 and opined: “A witness is normally to be considered independent unless he or she springs from sources which are likely to be tainted and that usually means unless the witness has caused such as enmity against the accused, to wish to implicate him falsely. Ordinarily, a close relative would be the last to screen the real culprit and falsely implicate an innocent person…”

The court noted that being related to the deceased does not necessarily mean that they will falsely implicate innocent persons. The court added that an unrelated witness had deposed supporting the testimony of related witnesses in this case.

The apex court also cited the judgments in Khurshid Ahmed vs. State of Jammu and Kashmir (2018) 7 SCC 429, State of Uttar Pradesh vs. Samman Dass (1972) 3 SCC 201, and Sushil & Ors. Vs. State of U.P 1995 Supp 1 SCC 363 on defense version that few of the witnesses had not supported the prosecution case and on the injuries being caused through a fall in the nullah and the old enmity being the cause for implicating the accused.

The bench observed: “But there are enough material evidence and trustworthy testimonies which clearly support the case against the accused and the prosecution need not fail on this count alone. Some witnesses may not support the prosecution story for their own reasons and in such a situation, it is necessary for the Court to determine whether the other available evidence comprehensively proves the charge. In this case, it is seen that the prosecution version is cogent and supported by three eyewitnesses who have given a consistent account of the incident. Their testimonies are corroborated by medical evidence. The learned Trial Judge had elaborately discussed the evidence of both sides and came to a logical conclusion which inspires confidence. We are therefore of the view that the hostile witnesses will not affect the conviction of the appellants.

“Proceeding on the above basis and on careful examination of the manner in which the learned Trial Judge analyzed the evidence and rendered his verdict, the conviction of the appellants according to our assessment, was rightly ordered and correctly upheld by the High Court. It is declared accordingly. In the result, the appeal stands dismissed,” reads the judgment.

-India Legal Bureau

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