The Supreme Court of India today dismissed the appeals filed by six persons who had been convicted for killing Manjunath, an Indian Oil Employee in 2005. Manjunath had exposed corruption in Lakhimpur area of Uttar Pradesh, causing the services of Petrol Pump of the persons relating to accused persons be disrupted.
All the six persons who had appealed to the Apex Court were found guilty by the Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court today dismissed their appeals, while maintaining the sentences awarded out to them. The High Court in its judgment dated February 11, 2009 had awarded life term to six persons who were found guilty.
In 2005, Manjunath had inspected the petrol pump of the now convicted persons and on finding some irregularities, the sales and supplies of the petrol pump were suspended by the IOC at his instance. Thereafter, on November 20, 2005, the police had found dead body of Manjunath in a vehicle that also had the convicted persons in them. One of the convicted persons then also confessed that they had killed Manjunath and that they were going to dispose of his body, before police encountered them.
Thereafter, after due judicial process, the Trial Court awarded death penalty to a convict for the murder of Manjunath while sentencing others to life imprisonment and other smaller punishments.
However, the High Court thereafter changed the sentence of the convict awarded death penalty to life imprisonment, while maintaining the sentences awarded to others. The High Court also gave the benefit of doubt to two co-accused persons and acquitted them.
Before the Supreme Court, the Counsel of the appellants relied on Aghnoo Nagesia v State of Bihar (1966) 1 SCR 134, and submitted, ““a confession made to a police officer under any circumstances is not admissible in evidence against the accused. It covers a confession made when the accused was free and not in police custody, as also a confession made before any investigation has begun” The judgment also notes the contentions of the Counsel as, “Taking support from a decision of this Court in State of Punjab Vs. Barkat Ram, (1962) 3 SCR 338, learned counsel submitted that the confession made to any member of the police, of whatever rank and at whatever time, is inadmissible in evidence as per Section 25 of the Evidence Act.”
The Counsel also submitted that the judgment of the High Court is based only on conjectures and surmises and not on any cogent and reliable evidence. He claimed that the case of the prosecution is based on only circumstantial evidence and that it has failed to connect all the chain of events. The Counsel also tried to expose loopholes in scientific reports and claimed that the place of occurrence of the event is doubtful and that the evidence against the accused persons was planted. He also submitted that the accused persons had no motive to kill Manjunath and that the case against them is a fabricated one.
Additional Advocate General Gaurav Bhatia appeared for the State of UP and submitted that, “this is an unfortunate case where an Officer of the Indian Oil Corporation was brutally murdered by the accused for honestly carrying out his duties.” He also submitted that the prosecution had made its case beyond reasonable doubt and that the Supreme Court should entertain the appeal only if it involves a substantial question of law.
Relying on Dalbir Kaur v. State of Punjab (1976) 4 SCC 158 and Shivnarayan Laxminarayan Joshi v. State of Maharashtra (1980) 2 SCC 465, the Supreme Court decided to entertain the appeal and eventually went on to dismiss the same.
On merits, the Bench agreed that the entire case of prosecution is based on circumstantial evidence. It also said, “It is settled principle of law that statements made by an accused before police official which amount to confession is barred under Section 25 of theIndian Evidence Act. This prohibition is, however, lifted to some extent by Section 27.”
The Court, quoting from State of Maharashtra Vs. Damu, (2000) 6 SCC 269 said, “In the light of Section 27 of the Evidence Act, whatever information given by the accused in consequence of which a fact is discovered only would be admissible in the evidence, whether such information amounts to confession or not. The basic idea embedded under Section 27 of the Evidence Act is the doctrine of confirmation by subsequent events. The doctrine is founded on the principle that if any fact is discovered in a search made on the strength of any information obtained from a prisoner, such a discovery is a guarantee that the information supplied by the prisoner is true. The information might be confessional or non-inculpatory in nature, but if it results in discovery of a fact it becomes a reliable information”
It also noted, “The confession given by the accused is not the basis for the courts below to convict the accused, but it is only a source of information to put the criminal law into motion. Hence, the accused cannot take shelter under Section 25 of the Evidence Act.”
Answering the question of motive raised, the Court observed, “We are in full agreement with the Courts below that the accused conspired to commit the offence of murder of the deceased. The nexus between the accused to do away with the deceased, has been established by the prosecution beyond all reasonable doubt.” The Court also observed, “There is also no doubt in our mind as regards the place of incident. An effort has been made by the learned counsel appearing for the accused to raise doubts over the same on the ground that the number of bullets used in the crime is not proportionate to the number of bullets hitting the deceased.”
Answering the question is discrepancies relating to bullets fired and hit, the Court said, “in every case of gun firing, it is not required that each and every bullet should hit the target. There may be attempts by the deceased or the victim to save himself from the raining bullets, and in which case, the bullets may not hit the target. Merely because all the bullets fired from the gun did not hit the target and were not recovered from the scene of offence, is no ground to conclude that the incident did not take place.”
Finding no material evidence in favour of accused persons, the Apex Court said, “There is no doubt that when two views are possible, the one which favours the accused should be taken and the accused should be acquitted by giving the benefit of doubt. But in the instant case, the evidence on record is trustworthy and consistent, and there is only one view, which points to the guilt of the accused.”
Finding no merit in the appeals filed, the Court said, “in the light of above circumstances coupled with the complete chain of events, this Court has no manner of doubt to hold that the prosecution has succeeded in proving its case against the accused beyond all reasonable doubt.”
The appeals were then dismissed, with no change in sentence that was awarded by the High Court.
Image from here.
Read the Judgment here.