SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
Before :- M.M. Dutt, S. Ratnavel Pandian and V. Ramaswamy, JJ.
Criminal Appeal No. 420 of 1989. D/d. 20.10.1989.
For the Appellant :- Mr. C. Sitaramiah, Senior Advocate, Mr. A.D.N. Rao and A. Subba Rao, Advocates with him.
Padala Veera Reddy - Appellant
State of Andhra Pradesh - Respondent
For the Respondent :- Mr. P. Krishna Rao, Mr.B. Krishna Prasad and Mr. G. Prabhakar, Advocates.
S. Ratnavel Pandian, J. - This criminal appeal is directed against the judgment of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh, rendered in Criminal Appeal No. 544 of 1987 partly allowing the appeal by setting aside
the convictions of respondents 2 to 4 (accused Nos. 1 to 3) under Section 302 read with Section 34 of I.P.C. and Section 498-A, I.P.C. and the sentence of imprisonment for life and the sentence of one year rigorous imprisonment respectively but retaining the conviction of the respondents 2 to 4 under Section 201 read with Section 34 of I.P.C. and the sentence of three years rigorous imprisonment as against respondents 2 and 3 (accused 1 and 2) but reducing the sentence of imprisonment inflicted on respondent No.4(A-3) to the period already undergone and in lieu of the unserved portion of the sentence, imposing a fine of Rs. 1000/- in default to suffer rigorous imprisonment for three months.
2. The relevant facts of the case giving rise to this appeal are necessary to be recapitulated for the disposal of this appeal.
3. Before the trial Court, there were four accused namely respondents 2 to 4 and one Mallidi Pada Kapu alias Venkata Reddy (accused 4) who stood convicted under Section 201, I.P.C. and sentenced to undergo three years rigorous imprisonment and to pay a fine of Rs. 1,000/- in default to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a further period of 3 months and who is not a respondent in this appeal. For the sake of convenience, we shall refer respondents 2 to 4 in this judgment as accused Nos. 1 to 3 as arrayed before the trial Court.
4. The second and third accused are the father and mother of the first accused. The first accused married the deceased, Vijaya, daughter of P.W. 8 (the appellant herein) on 10-5-79 at Tirumala hills. P.W. 9 is the brother of the deceased. All the accused are residents of Komaripalem. The appellant is the resident of Rayavaram. At the time of the marriage, the appellant gave sufficient cash and gold to the deceased. As the deceased was aged about 12 years at the time of her marriage she stayed with her parents till she attained her puberty and thereafter was sent to her marital home. The case of the prosecution is that the deceased used to complain to her father and that her husband and in laws were pressing hard to get some landed property towards her dowry. When the appellant made enquiries about her daughter's complaints, the accused abused and tried to beat him. In 1985 during the second crop season, the accused 1, 2 and 4 along with the deceased forcibly harvested the crop standing in the land of the appellant. It is stated that the deceased even went to the extent of filing a suit against her father, the appellant (P.W. 8) and brother (P.W. 9) claiming that the land in dispute was in her possession. Her brother P.W. 9 in turn filed a suit against the deceased and P.W. 8. The appellant filed a criminal complaint against the deceased and the accused persons. Thus, there were civil and criminal proceedings between the parties.
5. On the intervening night of 6/7th September, 1985 the accused 1 to 3 are said to have attended the marriage celebrated in the house of P.W. 1 and remained in the marriage house till morning of 7th September and when they came back to their house they, to their shock and surprise, found number of people gathered in front of their house and the body of the deceased lying in an easy chair. The fourth accused who is not a respondent in this appeal went to the police station and gave the report Ex. 14 to the Head Constable. Some nail marks and swelling over the neck, lips, chin and nose were noticed on the dead body. A tin covered with a cap and pasted with a label inscribed 'Democran' ( i.e. pesticide) was found by the side of the dead body. The fourth accused stated in Ex. P-14 that the deceased had committed suicide. P.W. 10 registered the report. Thereafter, P.Ws. 10 and 11 reached the scene and took up investigation.
6. In the meanwhile, the applicant and P.W. 9 on receipt of the jarring information about the death of the deceased came to the scene village. During the investigation, the first accused handed over three letters Exs. P-6 to P-8, said to have been written by the deceased to her father. These letters were seized under Ex. P-5. P.W. 10 held the inquest and during the course of which he examined P.Ws. 8 and 9 and others. As suspicion was entertained over the death of the deceased, the dead body was sent for post-mortem examination. P. Ws. 5 and 6, the Medical Officers conducted autopsy and found some external injuries. The medical officers sent the viscera and some of the parts of the dead body namely liver, kidney for chemical examination. After the receipt of the chemical examiner's report both P.Ws. 5 and 6 gave their opinion that the death was due to poisoning and smothering i.e. asphyxia. Further investigation was taken by P.W. 13 and thereafter by P.W. 14. All the accused were arrested. After completing the investigation, chargesheet was laid. On the side of prosecution P.Ws. 1 to 14 were examined.
7. All the accused denied their complexity with the offence in question and stated that the relationship between the deceased and the accused was on cordial terms, that on the ill-fated night they were all in the marriage house of P.W 1 and that this case is foisted against them by the appellant on account of the long-standing enmity. The trial Court accepting the evidence let in by the prosecution convicted A-1 to A-3 under the respective charges and sentenced them as aforementioned. On being aggrieved, the accused 1 to 3 filed criminal appeal No. 544 of 1987 and the fourth accused who stood convicted only under Section 201, I.P.C. preferred criminal appeal No. 576 of 1987. Both the appeals were disposed of by the High Court by the impugned common judgment.
8. The State has not preferred any appeal against the order of acquittal of A-1 to A-3 of the charges punishable under Sections 302 read with 34 and 498-A of the Indian Penal Code; but this present appeal is by P.W. 8, the father of the deceased.
9. Mr. Sitaramiah, the learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant took us very meticulously through the judgments of the trial Court as well of the Appellate Court and strenuously contended that the reasons given by the appellate Court for recording an order of acquittal of the offence of murder are perverse and difficult to comprehend and the Appellate Court has over-looked the imprisonment and vital facts which tend to show that the circumstances established are consistent only with the hypothesis of guilt of the accused. According to him, the chain of evidence is complete leaving no reasonable ground for drawing a conclusion consistent with the innocence of the accused. It is further submitted that the unrealistic and false plea put forth by the accused stating that none of them was present in the house on the ill-fated night is itself an additional circumstance lending support to the other impelling circumstances unfailingly pointing out the guilt of the accused. The first respondent, State of Andhra Pradesh sails with the appellant supporting the arguments advanced by Mr. Sitaramiah. Mr. P. Krishna Rao, learned counsel appearing on behalf of the respondents 2 to 4 (Accused 1 and 3) countered the above argument, submitting that the judgment of the Appellate Court is based on sound reasoning and that the totality of the evidence adduced by the prosecution, if at all proves anything it may create only a suspicion against the appellants and that no conviction, as rightly pointed out by the Appellate Court, can be safely recorded on such suspicion or conjecture.
10. Before adverting to the arguments advanced by the learned counsel, we shall at the threshold point out that in the present case there is no direct evidence to connect the accused with the offence in question and the prosecution rests its case solely on circumstantial evidence. This Court in a series of decisions has consistently held that when a case rests upon circumstantial evidence such evidence must satisfy the following tests :-
- (1) the circumstances from which an inference of guilt is sought to be drawn, must be cogently and firmly established;
- (2) those circumstances should be of a definite tendency unerringly pointing towards guilt of the accused;
- (3) the circumstances, taken cumulatively, should form a chain so complete that there is no escape from the conclusion that within all human probability the crime was committed by the accused and none else; and
- (4) the circumstantial evidence in order to sustain conviction must be complete and incapable of explanation of any other hypothesis than that of the guilt of the accused and such evidence should not only be consistent with the guilt of the accused but should be inconsistent with his innocence. [See Garnbhir v. State of Maharashtra, 1982(2) SCC 351 : AIR 1982 SC 1157].
11. Bearing the above principle of law enunciated by this Court we shall scrutinise scrupulously and examine carefully the circumstances appearing in this case with serious and onerous responsibility imposed on this Court.
12. There are certain salient and material features in the present case which are not controverted; they being that A-1 to A-3 and the deceased lived under a common roof, that the deceased had instituted a civil suit against her father, P.W. 8 and brother P.W. 9 claiming exclusive possession of the disputed land, that the deceased was found dead on the morning of 7-9-85 and that there were certain visible injuries such as abrasions, nail marks and contusions on the part of the nose upper lip, chin and neck etc. as noted by the Medical, Officers (P.Ws. 5 and 6) in the post-martem report Ex. P-9. The appellate Court on the strength of the opinion given by the Medical Officers (P.Ws. 5 and 6) has agreed with the view of the trial Court that the death of the deceased was of homicidal one and not suicidal and held "therefore suicidal is ruled out". We also very carefully went through the evidence of the Medical Officers and found that the prosecution has convincingly established that the death of the deceased was due to forcible administration of poison and smothering. Hence we are in full agreement with the concurrent findings of the Courts below that it is a clear case of murder.
13. The next important question is whether the circumstances attending the case do satisfactorily and unerringly establish the guilt of the accused 1 and 3 or any of them so as to incriminate them with the heinous crime of murder and the offence of cruelty within the mischief of Section 498-A, I.P.C. The learned counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant seeks to draw an inference of guilt of the accused on the following circumstances :-
- 1. The demand of the deceased requesting her father to settle the landed property in her name and her subsequent filing of the civil suit in the year 1985 i.e. within a period of 6 years since her marriage indicate that the accused should have pressurised the deceased to take a hostile attitude towards her father so that they could grab the property.
- 2. The very fact that the deceased who was in her prime of youth did not accompany her husband and in laws to attend the marriage celebrated in the house of P.W. 1, situated just opposite to the accused's house shows that there was no cordial relationship between the deceased and the accused and the deceased was not leading a happy marital life.
- 3. The facts that the victim was alive when all the accused are said to have left their house to attend the marriage and she was done away with only during the intervening night of 6th/7th September, 1985 are not in dispute.
- 4. The fact that the deceased was found dead lying on an easy chair indicates that the dead body should have been brought and laid on the easy chair by someone else.
- 5. The presence of a tin container covered with a cap and pasted with a label inscribed 'Democran' (i.e. pesticide) near the easy chair which on chemical examination was not found to contain any poisonous substances shows that someone had kept the tin near the dead-body so as to create a false impression in the minds of others that the victim had consumed the poison and committed suicide.
- 6. The presence of the injuries namely semicircular abrasions resembling that of human nail marks over the upper parts of her lip, nose and chin, the contusions over the front of neck, the congestion of the protruding eye balls and the presence of bluish, black discolouration from the right angle of the mouth extending to right side of neck unequivocally lead to a decisive conclusion that the deceased had been over-powered by the assailants and the poison was administered to her by forcibly opening her mouth and closing the nose and pressing the neck so as to make the victim to gulp the poison and in that process more than one person should have participated. This view is fortified by the final opinion given by the doctors stating that the death might have been caused due to the combined effect of asphexia due to smothering and poisoning democran.
- 7. The conduct of the first accused in handing over three letters Ex. P6 to P8, alleged to have been written by the deceased herself, to the Investigating Officer on 7-9-85 at the scene house itself is yet another circumstance showing that the accused has by a concerted pre-plan manipulated a defence theory of suicide so as to escape from the culpability of the crime. The defence of the accused that they were at the marriage house from 8.00 p. m. on 6-9-85 till the morning of 7-9-85 is patently false and unrealistic since the house of PW. 1 where the marriage was conducted is almost opposite to the house of the accused. This plea of the accused is too big a pill to be swallowed.
- 8. The. introduction of the patently false averments in Ex. P-14 by accused 4 that deceased had committed suicide should have been made only at the instance of A- 1 and A-3 and this conduct of the accused clearly indicates that the accused had pre-planned and calculated a false theory of defence presumably due to an earlier deliberation and consultation with the local M.L.A.
15. While considering the above circumstances, the appellate Court has expressed its view that the explanation given by the accused that they were at the marriage house of PW. 1 throughout the night is nothing but a false explanation and that the culprits who ever they might have been should have administered the poison to the victim and there by caused her death and that there is very strong suspicion against the accused persons but the prosecution cannot be said to have established the guilt of the accused decisively since the suspicion cannot take the place of legal proof. The relevant portion of the final conclusion of the appellate Court reads thus :
- "There is no evidence whatsoever either from the neighbours or from others to show that the accused at any time ill-treated the deceased or treated her cruelty. In these circumstances, it is not possible to hold that the prosecution has established the guilt on the part of A-1 to A-3. Thus, there is no conclusive evidence that the accused committed the offence of murder. It is an unfortunate case where cold-blooded murder has been committed and it is difficult to believe that no inmate of the house had any hand in the offence of murder. But that will be only a suspicion which cannot take the place of proof."
17. No doubt, this murder is diabolical in conception and cruel in execution but the real and pivotal issue is whether the totality of the circumstances unerringly establishes that all the accused or any of them are the real culprits. The circumstances indicated by the learned counsel undoubtedly create a suspicion against the accused. But would these circumstances be sufficient to hold that the respondents 2 to 4 (accused 1 to 3) had committed this heinous crime. In our view, they are not.
18. There are series of decisions holding that no one can be convicted on the basis of mere suspicion, however, strong it may be. Though we feel it is not necessary to recapitulate all those decisions we will refer to a few on this point.
19. This Court in Palvinder Kaur v. State of Punjab, 1953 SCR 94 : AIR 1952 SC 354 has pointed out that in cases depending on circumstantial evidence Courts should safeguard themselves against the danger of basing their conclusion on suspicions howsoever strong.
20. In Chandrakant Ganpat Sovitkar v. State of Maharashtra, 1975(3) SCC 16 it has been observed :
- "It is well settled that no one can be convicted on the basis of mere suspicion, though strong it may be. It also cannot be disputed that when we take into account the conduct of an accused, his conduct must be looked at in its entirety."
23. The appeal is dismissed accordingly.