‘It is but natural to have certain minor variations in the evidence of eye-witnesses when a large number of people had gathered to assault a smaller group of people and which resulted in death of five persons and injuries to 24 persons.’
Reviving a criminal case related to a post-panchayat poll violence in West Bengal in 1993, the Supreme Court has observed that merely because there are certain exaggerations, improvements and embellishments, the entire prosecution story should not be doubted.
The case relates to an incident of violence that occurred on May 31, 1993, at Karanda village of Burdwan district, where the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI (M)] party won the panchayat elections a day earlier by defeating the Indian Peoples’ Front (IPF) party, among other parties.
In the clash that followed, five IPF members were killed and 24 others were seriously injured. The trial court had acquitted all the accused, who were CPI(M) members and supporters, giving them benefit of doubt. The state did not file appeal, but some IPF members had approached the high court challenging the acquittals. The high court found that there was no perversity or gross procedural defect or error of law leading to glaring injustice to warrant interference with the decision of the trial court.
The apex court bench of Justice NV Ramana and Justice Mohan M Shantanagoudar, perusing the evidence on record, said: “We could not find any significant variation in the testimonies of all these witnesses. No major contradiction or variation is found. The presence of the witnesses on the spot has not been seriously doubted by the defence during the cross-examination. It is but natural to have certain minor variations in the evidence of eye-witnesses, when a large number of people had gathered to assault a smaller group of people and which resulted in death of five persons and injuries to 24 persons. In such a scenario, it could not have been possible to meticulously observe all the actions of each and every accused. The Court also should not expect from the witnesses to depose in a parrot-like fashion. However, the overall evidence of these witnesses, prima facie, appears to be untainted.”
The court also observed that the improvements, if any, were only with respect to weapons that had been used in the assaults and not to the factum of assaults per se. “It is not uncommon for witnesses to make exaggerations during the course of evidence. But merely because there are certain exaggerations, improvements and embellishments, the entire prosecution story should not be doubted,” the bench added.
It said that the high court failed to consider whether the trial court brushed aside material evidence related to the issue of murder, attempt to murder and grievous hurt, and entirely overlooked material evidence on vital issues such as house burning, grievous hurt and unlawful assembly.
The bench also rejected the stampede theory by the trial court. It said: “Curiously, the Courts have observed that the injuries must have been suffered in a stampede. There is no reason as to why only one group of people would sustain injuries in the alleged stampede, if any. Thus, the theory of stampede also prima facie may not be available to the defendant having regard to the evidence on record.”
The bench then remitted the matter to the high court to decide the revision petition on merits.