On Friday, the Calcutta High Court held that penal liability would not be attracted if a person harbours dacoits in general and it must be proved that he had harboured such dacoits who intended to commit a 'particular dacoity'.
The order was passed in an appeal filed by one of the convicts against the order of the Trial Court that had sentenced him to suffer rigorous imprisonment for seven years. The Appellant had been convicted for committing a daring dacoity at a convent school in March 2015, under Sections 120B and 216A of the IPC.
Section 216A of IPC renders prior and post harbouring of dacoits culpable and Section 120 punishes Criminal Conspiracy.
Assailing the Trial Court's order, the Appellant had contended that there was no legally admissible evidence to connect him with the crime. CCTV camera footage did not show his presence at the spot; he was not identified by any of the witnesses who were present at the spot; his fingerprint did not match with the samples of fingerprints collected from the place of occurrence; etc.
The Respondent State on the other hand submitted that the Appellant was a relative of one of the principal accused (Milan) in the case who had committed a number of dacoities while staying at the Appellant's residence, apart from other such instances which indicated that the Appellant had deep-rooted connections with all the accused.
Discarding the State's arguments, the division bench of Justice Joymalya Bagchi and Justice Ravi Krishan Kapur noted that these pieces of evidence only showed a close family relationship between the Appellant and the other co-accused and the same did not reflect existence of a criminal conspiracy.
"Mere association with the accused persons owing to family connection cannot give rise to an inference of meeting of minds between the appellant on the one hand and other accused persons on the other hand to commit the dacoity," the bench said.
With regards harbouring of dacoits, the court held,
"There was no evidence on record that the appellant was aware that the others were planning to commit dacoity in the convent. Raucous and unbridled behaviour of the accused persons during marriage or their expensive habits without anything more would not create an irresistible inference in the mind of a reasonable man of ordinary prudence that they were planning to commit dacoity in the convent.
...Penal liability would not be attracted if a person harbours dacoits in general and it must be proved that he had harboured such dacoits who intended to commit a 'particular dacoity'."
While dismissing the confessional statement of one the co-accused which culminated the Appellant as well, the court held,
"retracted confession of an accused is not substantive evidence against a co-accused and can only lend assurance to corroborate other evidence on record against the latter. Although other accused persons may have enjoyed the hospitality of the appellant immediately prior to the incident, it cannot be said that there was a meeting of minds between the appellant and other accused persons to plan the said dacoity. As the substantive evidence on record is too flimsy and unconvincing, conviction of the appellant cannot be founded on the retracted confession of a co-accused." Reliance was placed on Kashmira Singh v. State of M.P., AIR 1952 SC 159.
With these observations, the court reversed the decision of the Trial Court and acquitted the Appellant.
Case Title: Gopal Sarkar v. State of West Bengal
Case No.: CRA 693/2017
Quorum: Justice Joymalya Bagchi and Justice Ravi Krishan Kapur
Appearance: Advocates Ayan Bhattacherjee and Apalak Basu (for Appellant); PP Sawsata Gopal Mukherjee and Advocates Madhusudan Sur and Zareen N Khan (for State)
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