The Orissa High Court has recently upheld the conviction and resultant life imprisonment awarded to a person in a 2001 murder case. Notably, after the conviction by the Trial Court in 2003, he was enlarged on bail in 2004 by the High Court.
While dismissing the appeal, a Division Bench of Chief Justice Dr. S. Muralidhar and Justice Radha Krishna Pattanaik observed,
"The Court is satisfied that the prosecution in the present case has been able to establish convincingly each of the links in the chain of circumstances and further prove that the circumstances are so complete and incapable of an explanation of any other hypothesis than that of the guilt of the Appellant. The evidence is not only consistent with his guilt but is also inconsistent with his innocence."
The informant (PW-1) and both the accused were co-villagers. A few days prior to the unfortunate incident, the daughter of the co-accused allegedly eloped from the village. The family members of the co-accused, while searching for her, reached the house of PW-1 and enquired from his daughters (one of whom is the deceased) about her.
On 1st April 2001, the present Appellant and co-accused's daughter returned to the village. Thereafter, the family members of both the Appellant and the co-accused picked up a quarrel with the daughters of PW-1 alleging that they had spread rumours against the Appellant and co-accused's daughter. In course of the quarrel, the Appellant and the co-accused threatened to murder the deceased that very night. The prosecution alleged that the co-accused and his wife instigated the Appellant to kill her.
On that night itself, after taking her meals, the deceased went to the backyard of her house to answer the call of nature and did not return. Her family assumed that she may have gone to see the 'Danda Jatra' and after taking their meals, went to sleep. Early in the morning of 2nd April 2001, PW-3 (sister of the deceased) discovered the deceased lying dead in the backyard of the house with bleeding injuries on her head and neck.
Subsequently, PW-1 lodged an FIR before the Officer-in-Charge, Reamal Police Station (PS), who registered a case and took up the investigation. He conducted an inquest over the dead body. He also arrested the Appellant. While in custody, the Appellant made a statement leading to the recovery of the weapon/axe from his kitchen room. The said axe was seized. He is also stated to have produced his sporting t-shirt, one navy-coloured blue half pant and one old chappal. The IO is said to have seized the same. On completion of investigation, the IO filed the charge-sheet. The Appellants pleaded not guilty and claimed trial.
However, after careful examination of all the evidence on record, the Additional Sessions Judge, Deogarh found the present appellant guilty of the alleged murder and sentenced him to serve rigorous imprisonment for life and acquitted the co-accused for lack of evidence. The appellant, being aggrieved by the decision, appealed to the High Court.
Contentions of the Appellant:
Mr. Basudev Pujari, counsel for the appellant, submitted that there is no finding by the Doctor who conducted the post-mortem that the death of the deceased was homicidal. Further, there are several discrepancies in the evidence of PW-1 and PW-7 (the IO) as regards the exact time of scribing of the FIR. Again, he contended that the trial Court referred to the chemical examination report, neither such report was in fact exhibited nor did PW-7 rely on any such report.
He argued that circumstances allegedly found against the Appellant were not put to him in proper way while recording his replies under Section 313, Cr.P.C. and that caused severe prejudice to him. Apart from that, he pointed out that the PWs 1, 2 and 3 were related to the deceased and had borne a grudge against the Appellant for the discord over the rumour spread by the family of PW-1 regarding elopement of the Appellant with the daughter of the co-accused. Hence, he pleaded, non-examination of independent witnesses was fatal to the prosecution case.
Contentions of the Respondent:
Mr. Pravat Kumar Muduli, Additional Government Advocate for the State, submitted that the proximity between the death and the quarrel between the accused and the family of the deceased lent credibility to the evidence of PWs-1, 2 and 3. Merely because they were related to the deceased would not result in their evidence being discarded if it was found to be consistent and true. Reliance was placed on the decision in Waman v. State of Maharashtra (2011). Further, he stressed that the minor contradictions in the statements of the witnesses (PW 1 & 7) would not result in their evidence being discarded.
He vehemently contended that the prosecution has proved each of the links in the chain of circumstances, which was conclusive in nature excluding every possible hypothesis except the one pointing to the guilt of the Appellant.
The first circumstance, the Court noted, is regarding the quarrel that took place in the previous night between the Appellant, the co-accused on one hand and the deceased and her family on the other. This was spoken of by PWs-1, 2 and 3. The Court held, no doubt that these are the witnesses who are related to the deceased but that by itself would not result in their testimonies being discarded if they are otherwise truthful and consistent with each other. To buttress the aforesaid position, the Court relied on the decision of the Apex Court in Waman (supra).
The Court expressed its disinclination to accept the minor inconsistency pointed out by the counsel for the Appellant as regards the registration of the FIR and who scribed it by comparing the evidence of PW-1 and the IO. The Court observed, that can only be viewed by the Court as a minor contradiction not affecting the credibility of the testimonies of PWs-1, 2 and 3, which does not dilute the case of the prosecution.
As regards the recovery evidence, the Court took the view that it has been more than adequately proved by the IO himself by producing the relevant record. No doubt, he could have examined the independent witnesses in whose presence the recoveries were carried out, but not examining them will not automatically lead to discredit the entire recovery evidence. To this effect, the Court placed reliance on the principles enunciated in Kashmira Singh v. State of Punjab (1998).
The Court pointed out the answer rendered in cross-examination by the doctor who conducted the post-mortem examination on the deceased. He stated,
"As my report reveals the oblique incise wound was caused while the deceased was standing and the other blows were caused after the deceased fell down."
Thus, the Court held that it is futile for the Appellant to contend that the prosecution had failed to prove that the death was homicidal.
Lastly, the Court held, the assertion that the weapon of offence did not have bloodstains will not matter if all the above circumstances form a continuous chain and clearly point to the guilt of the Appellant and no one else. Therefore, the fact that the chemical examination report may not have been exhibited is also not of much significance.
Accordingly, the Court confirmed the decision and sentence rendered by the Trial Court. It also cancelled the bail bonds of the appellant and ordered him to surrender forthwith to serve the remainder of the sentence.
Case Title: Tapan Kumar Pradhan v. State of Odisha
Case No.: CRLA No. 29 of 2003
Judgment Dated: 11th August 2022
Coram: Dr. S. Muralidhar, CJ. & R.K. Pattanaik, J.
Judgment Authored By: Dr. S. Muralidhar, CJ.
Counsel for the Appellant: Mr. Basudev Pujari, Advocate
Counsel for the Respondent: Mr. Pravat Kumar Muduli, Additional Government Advocate
Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Ori) 123