The Supreme Court has observed that the failure of accused to discharge burden under Section 106 of the Evidence Act, 1872 is not relevant in a case governed by circumstantial evidence if the prosecution is unable to establish a chain of circumstance.
"When a case is resting on circumstantial evidence, if the accused fails to offer a reasonable explanation in discharge of burden placed on him by virtue of Section 106 of the Evidence Act, such a failure may provide an additional link to the chain of circumstances. In a case governed by circumstantial evidence, if the chain of circumstances which is required to be established by the prosecution is not established, the failure of the accused to discharge the burden under Section 106 of the Evidence Act is not relevant at all. When the chain is not complete, the falsity of the defence is no ground to convict the accused," the bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and Abhay S Oka remarked.
Section 106 of the Evidence Act states that the burden of proving things within the special knowledge of a person is on that person.
106. Burden of proving fact especially within knowledge - When any fact is especially within the knowledge of any person, the burden of proving that fact is upon him.
The prosecution case is as follows:
Nagendra Sha's(appellant in the present case) wife died due to burn injuries on November 18, 2011 and based on an information furnished by Mahesh Sah, a case of unnatural death was registered. However, since the cause of death after conducting an autopsy was "asphyxia due to pressure around neck by hand and blunt substance", an FIR was registered against the appellant under section 302 of IPC. When the case was committed to the Court of Sessions, a charge under Section 201 was also added and thereafter charges under Sections 302 and 201 were framed against the appellant.
Sah was convicted under Sections 302 and 201 by the trial court and was sentenced to life imprisonment and fine of Rs 5,000 for offence u/s 302 and rigorous imprisonment for 3 years and fine of Rs 5000 for offence u/s 201. Both the sentences had to run concurrently and upon default in payment of either fine, the Trial Court directed Sah to undergo rigorous imprisonment for three months.
Aggrieved by the Trial Court's verdict, Sha had preferred an appeal before Patna High Court which was dismissed on April 22, 2019. Sah thereafter approached the Top Court assailing the lower court verdicts.
Submissions of Counsels
The appellant's counsel submitted that none of the witnesses except the official witnesses had supported the prosecution's case and that his conviction was based solely on the cause of death mentioned in the post mortem report. Relying on the Apex Court judgement in Balaji Gunthu Dhule v State of Maharashtra (2012) 11 SCC 685, the counsel further submitted that except for the post mortem report the lower courts did not rely on any other material for convicting him.
It was also his contention that a complete chain of events establishing his guilt had not been established, since neither the deceased's mother nor Mahesh Sah had supported the prosecution.
Appearing for the State of Bihar, the counsel submitted that appellant's defence that the deceased died due to burn injuries sustained by accidental fire was completely false based on post mortem report. It was also his contention section 106 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 applied in the case since the deceased and appellant were staying under the same roof and thereafter the burden to explain how the death had occurred was on the appellant.
State's counsel also contended that the appellant's failure to discharge the burden on him u/s 106 of the Evidence Act was very crucial and that the case was based on circumstantial evidence.
Relying on judgement in Sharad Birdhichand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra ((1984) 4 SCC 116), the Court noted that it was not only the appellant who was residing in the house where the incident took place but his parents were also present there and ruled that it could not be said that the established facts did not rule out the existence of any other hypothesis.
On the applicability of Section 106 of the Evidence Act, the judgment authored by Justice Oka said :
"Section 106 of the Evidence Act will apply to those cases where the prosecution has succeeded in establishing the facts from which a reasonable inference can be drawn regarding the existence of certain other facts which are within the special knowledge of the accused. When the accused fails to offer proper explanation about the existence of said other facts, the Court can always draw an appropriate inference."
The bench while acquitting the accused of charges u/s 302 and 201 of IPC and setting aside the High Court's order dated April 22, 2019 observed that,
"The circumstances established by the prosecution do not lead to only one possible inference regarding the guilt of the appellant-accused."
Case Title: Nagendra Sah v State of Bihar
Case No: Criminal Appeal No. 1903 Of 2019
Citation: LL 2021 SC 457
Coram: Justices Ajay Rastogi and Abhay S Oka