The High Court of Madhya Pradesh recently set aside the conviction of a man for murder and further directed the State to pay him compensation worth Rs. 42 Lakhs, observing that his conviction was a result of a botch and maliciously motivated investigation by an 'outrightly partisan' police.
While directing the State to pay compensation, the division bench of Justice Atul Sreedharan and Justice Sunita Yadav further held that the Appellant was free to proceed against the State for an action in tort for malicious prosecution-
In view of what we have held hereinabove, the fact that the Appellant has spent more than thirteen years awaiting justice and, in the facts and circumstances unique to this case, we award the Appellant a compensation of Rs. 42,00,000/- (rupees forty two lakhs), which shall be paid by the State within ninety days from the date of this order. Thereafter, it shall attract an interest of 9% per annum till the date of payment. This does not preclude the Appellant in proceeding against the State for an action in tort for malicious prosecution. If he succeeds in the same, the amount of compensation paid to the Appellant in compliance of this order shall be adjusted accordingly.
The Court was deciding an appeal preferred by the Appellant against his conviction U/S 302, 201 IPC.
As per the Prosecution story, the Appellant had committed murder of his partner. He then borrowed the car of one of the Prosecution Witnesses i.e., Hemant to dispose of her dead body in the ravine at Pachmarhi, wrapped in the bedding, to avoid the discovery of the crime.
The Appellant submitted before the Court that he was falsely framed by Hemant, who had connections with the higher echelons of the police establishment. He further alleged that it was Hemant, who in all probability, was the real culprit who murdered the deceased. He further argued that the police never really investigated into the role of Hemant in the offence.
The Appellant also negated the Prosecution story regarding him borrowing the car from Hemant by asserting that it was highly unlikely that the Appellant would've borrowed his car, owing to their rivalry due to college politics. He also pointed out to discrepancies in the testimony of Hemant's driver who, as per the Prosecution story, was present with the Appellant when he allegedly disposed of the body.
Per contra, the State submitted that the Appellant was rightly convicted for the offence. It was argued that though the evidence was circumstantial in nature, the guilt of the Appellant was proved beyond reasonable doubt. The State brought the Court's attention to the forensic report which had
detected human blood on the mat of the car on which the bedding was placed. They also referred to the post-mortem report to argue that the Appellant had strangulated the deceased.
Examining the submissions of the parties and the trial court record, the Court noted that Hemant and his driver were the main witnesses in the case and that neither of them were eye witnesses to the murder itself. The Court went on to deal elaborately with the testimonies of the two witnesses, pointing out lacunae and contradictory statements.
The Court then discussed the testimony of another Prosecution Witness, who was working as a clerk at the toll station on the day of the incident. He had testified that there were four people in the vehicle and not two (as was claimed by the Prosecution). The Court opined that his testimony had shredded the Prosecution story into pieces but it was not considered by the trial court. His statements, the Court added, were binding on prosecution as he was neither declared hostile nor was he re-examined-
The statement of PW13 introduces two more passengers about whom the prosecution is completely silent but, was under a duty to investigate and find out who the other two passengers were and most importantly, give an explanation to the Trial Court about it. However, the prosecution does not even fleetingly dwell upon the same or explain the anomaly.
The Court then moved on to analyse the forensic evidence relied upon by the Prosecution and the loopholes in it, starting with the blood stains found in the car-
The alleged discovery of human blood from the mat of the car is highly suspicious. Firstly, there is no answer from the prosecution as to why there was a delay of fifteen days in seizing vehicle while it was in the possession of PW1 or PW9 all the while? Secondly, Ex.P13, which is the post-mortem report reflects that all the antemortem injuries are in the nature of abrasions and contusion which could not have resulted in a copious flow of blood from the body, on to the bedding in which the body was wrapped and then on to the mat of the car. The shattering of the skull and separation of the head from the torso are all post-mortem events which stands established by the post-mortem report as (see paragraph 51 supra), and in all probability occurred when the body was thrown into the ravine.
The Court noted that the FSL report had revealed that there was human semen and sperms found on the underwear of the deceased and the bedsheet in which her body was wrapped but the same was not subjected to DNA test. The Court opined that the test could've thrown light on the case with regard to the last person(s) to have had sex with the deceased. This was all the more important as the case was based entirely on circumstantial evidence.
The Court, giving weightage to the statements of the family and friends, observed that the Appellant and the deceased were deeply in love with each other, which went on to manifest that the Prosecution had failed to establish motive on the part of the Appellant to kill the deceased. With regard to the incriminating articles found in the room of the Appellant, pursuant to his statement U/S 27 Evidence Act, the independent witness to the said statement had turned hostile. This, the Court noted, made the statement U/S 27 Evidence Act highly suspicious and not worthy of reliance as a circumstance against the Appellant.
Observing the manner in which the investigation was conducted, the Court ventured to enquire if the police carried out the investigation with the malicious intent of falsely implicating the Appellant to save the real culprit.
Explaining the principles of 'investigation', the Court noted-
The initiation of an investigation is not a witch hunt but an endeavour to unravel the truth. Its purpose is not to secure the conviction of the suspect/alleged accused as much as it is to ensure that it aids the Courts in arriving at a just decision. This also includes the duty to inform the Court that it is trying the wrong person as an accused when, evidence of his innocence is unearthed on a later date. An investigation must be fair, and it must consider not only the version of the incident given by the victim but also investigate into the defence of the accused.
Considering the facts of the case, the Court held that the police was outrightly partisan in its investigation and that it did not investigate the offence from the standpoint of the Appellant at all. It further observed that the conduct of the police clearly revealed that it was bent upon convicting the Appellant.
Elaborating on the importance of the statements made by accused U/S 313 CRPC, the Court lamented that the trial court did pay heed to consider the allegation raised by the Appellant that he was being wrongly framed by Hemant, who was hand in glove with the police-
…the Ld. Trial Court has not even fleetingly dealt with the version put forth by the Appellant in his statement u/s. 313 Cr.P.C. It was incumbent upon the Ld. Trial Court to deal with the allegation levelled by the Appellant in his answer to question No. 198, that Dr. Hemant Varma was close to the police authorities. In fact, this assertion of the Appellant assumed great significance as Dr. Hemant Varma (PW1) has himself stated in paragraph 12 of his Court testimony that he contacted IG Bhopal Mr. Shailendra Shrivastava directly on his mobile phone which reflects the close relationship between Dr. Hemant Varma and the then IG Bhopal Mr. Shailendra Shrivastava, as the personal mobile number of such a senior official is not in the public domain that anyone and everyone can have access to it.
The Court also raised eyebrows at the pace of such a complexed murder trial, which was concluded within 9 months-
The enthusiasm shown by the police in conducting this case in a tearing hurry, adds to the suspicion. A speedy trial is most desirable but when a case is investigated, charge sheeted and concluded in less than a year, the same, in the light of other circumstances and the average time usually taken to conclude a trial in this state, makes the cloud even more dense. The incident is of 19/09/08 and the judgement of the Trial Court convicting the Appellant is dated 31/06/09. In less than one year, twenty seven witnesses are examined and sixty documents are exhibited on behalf of the prosecution. A tad too efficient to not arouse suspicion.
Making the aforesaid observations, the Court held that the Appellant was falsely accused in the murder case and hence, his conviction ought to be set aside-
This is a case that has been deliberately botched up and the Appellant falsely implicated to protect perhaps, the actual perpetrators of the offence who may have been known to the higher echelons of the state police. Under the circumstances, the appeal succeeds, and the judgement of conviction dated 31/07/09 passed in S.T No. 6/09, imposing on the Appellant the sentence of rigorous imprisonment for life for the offence of murder punishable u/s. 302 IPC and for three years for an offence u/s. 201 IPC, is set aside. The Appellant shall be set at liberty forthwith.
On deciding the question whether the Appellant deserved any compensation from the State for his wrongful conviction, owing to a motivated and malicious investigation, the Court opined that the Appellant was 23 years old when he got convicted and that he lost the next 13 years of his precious life due to the same-
On the day the Appellant was arrested i.e., 25/09/08, he was a student of 4th year M.B.B.S. He was at the cusp of becoming a doctor. The Appellant is a Gond (as reflected in his arrest memo Ex.P53) and thereby a Scheduled Tribe. After his formal arrest on 25/09/08, the Appellant has continuously remained in jail, first as an undertrial and thereafter as a convict. He has wasted more than thirteen precious years of his life. He was 23 years of age on the date of his arrest and today he is 36. No amount of monetary compensation can ever replenish the period of youth he has lost for no fault of his. He has been a victim of truth being sacrificed at the altar of a motivated and malicious investigation. Whether his being a member of the scheduled tribe had anything to do with the fate he suffered cannot be stated with certainty but the indignity, discrimination and oppression, that members of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes face in the state is a "notorious fact" and does not require any extraneous evidence to be led to prove the same.
Placing reliance on multiple decisions of the Apex Court and of its own, the Court held the case of the Appellant to be eligible for receiving compensation. Accordingly, the appeal was allowed and the Appellant's conviction was set aside.
Case Title: Chandresh Marskole Vs. The State of Madhya Pradesh