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Supreme Court quashes criminal plea of 6 convicts against sentence

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The Supreme Court has dismissed the criminal application of six convicts, who challenged the sentence awarded to them by the trial court, and upheld by the Calcutta High Court.

The three-Judge Bench of Justices Uday Umesh Lalit, S. Ravindra Bhat and Bela M. Trivedi observed on October 7 that there was some delay in recording the statements of the concerned eye-witnesses, but mere factum of delay by itself cannot result in rejection of their testimonies.

The Court further observed that the material on record definitely establishes the fear created by the accused. If the witnesses felt terrorised and frightened and did not come forward for some time, the delay in recording their statements stood adequately explained. 

Nothing has been brought on record to suggest that during the interregnum, the witnesses were carrying on their ordinary pursuits, the Bench noted.

“We have gone through their testimonies and are convinced that their statements were cogent, consistent and trustworthy. We, therefore, reject the submissions advanced by Advocate Raj Kumar Gupta. On merits, we do not find any reason to take a different view in the matter,” the order read.

The Criminal Appeals were preferred by Goutam Joardar, Kartick Das, Biltu Bhattacharya, Shibu Kahar alias Dodan alias Dhuma and Raju Rabidas alias Shera, challenging the Calcutta High Court order passed on March 13, 2019, dismissing the appeals preferred by the convicts and confirming their sentence recorded by the Sessions Judge, Malda.

The convicts were tried in Sessions Trial on the file of the Court of Sessions Judge, Malda in respect of the offences punishable under Sections 302/120B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 read with Section 27(3) of the Arms Act, 1959. The Trial Court, by its judgment dated December 14, 2012, accepted the case of prosecution and convicted Goutam, Kartick, Biltu, Shibu and Raju, but acquitted accused Babun Sarkar. Aggrieved by this, the convicts preferred Criminal Appeals in the High Court, which also rejected their applications.

Advocate Raj Kumar Gupta, appearing for the convicts in the Supreme Court, called the attention of the Court to the testimonies of two eye-witnesses and submitted that the delay in recording their statements under Sections 161 and 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 respectively would be fatal to the case of the prosecution.

It was further submitted that no explanation was forthcoming why there was delay in recording their statements. Reliance was placed on the decisions of this Court in Balakrushna Swain vs State of Orissa, (1971) 3 SCC 192; Alil Mollah & Another vs State of West Bengal, (1996) 5 SCC 369; and, Shahid Khan vs State of Rajasthan, (2016) 4 SCC 96. Advocate Gupta said that apart from the testimonies of the two witnesses, there was nothing on record to justify the conviction of the appellants.

Liz Mathew, Advocate appearing for the state, submitted that the terror unleashed by the accused was of such magnitude that the concerned witnesses had fled away in fear and that it was only after the appropriate steps were taken by the investigating machinery, including the arrest of the accused, that the witnesses came forward. Mathew also submitted that apart from the eye-witness account, there were supporting pieces of material in the form of recoveries, which were conclusive in nature.

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