17 June 2024


Supreme Court

Ganpat Singh Vs. The State of Madhya Pradesh




Mere circumstance of Accused being last seen with the deceased is an unsafe hypothesis for conviction under Section 302 of IPC

Present appeal arises from a judgment of a Division Bench of High Court. The High Court affirmed the conviction of the Appellant under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). Additional Sessions Judge by a judgment found the Appellant guilty of an offence under Section 302 of the IPC and sentenced him to imprisonment for life. The case rested entirely on circumstantial evidence. The circumstances which weighed with the trial Court were that, deceased was last seen accompanying the Appellant; deceased had taken with her the jewellery of PW1 and PW2 which was recovered from the Appellant; and the Appellant had no explanation of how the articles were found in his possession.

There are no eye-witnesses to the crime. In a case, which rests on circumstantial evidence, the law postulates a two-fold requirement. First, every link in the chain of circumstances necessary to establish the guilt of the Accused must be established by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt. Second, all the circumstances must be consistent only with the guilt of the Accused.

The normal principle in a case based on circumstantial evidence is that, the circumstances from which an inference of guilt is sought to be drawn must be cogently and firmly established; that those circumstances should be of a definite tendency unerringly pointing towards the guilt of the Accused; that the circumstances taken cumulatively should form a chain so complete that there is no escape from the conclusion that within all human probability the crime was committed by the Accused and they should be incapable of explanation on any hypothesis other than that of the guilt of the Accused and inconsistent with his innocence.

Evidence that, the Accused was last seen in the company of the deceased assumes significance when the lapse of time between the point, when the Accused and the deceased were seen together and when the deceased is found dead is so minimal as to exclude the possibility of a supervening event involving the death at the hands of another. It would be difficult in some cases to positively establish that, the deceased was last seen with the Accused, when there is a long gap and possibility of other persons coming in between exists. In the absence of any other positive evidence to conclude that Accused and deceased were last seen together, it would be hazardous to come to a conclusion of guilt in those cases.

The case of the prosecution is riddled with unexplained contradictions, PW1 and PW2 were crucial to the case of the prosecution for establishing that, the deceased had visited them and that they had lent her silver ornaments ostensibly because she intended to arrange the engagement of her son PW4. Admittedly, neither PW1 nor PW2 were called upon to identify the jewellery alleged to have been recovered from the house of the Appellant. PW1 stated that, the jewellery which she had lent weighed more than half a kg. PW2 deposed that, the ornaments which she had lent weighed about 1.25 kgs. In the course of her cross-examination, PW1 stated that, it was true that the ornaments which she had lent were commonly worn by women in the villages. PW2 also admitted that, there were no identification marks on the ornaments and they were of a nature that is commonly used. PW5, the daughter of the deceased, had (as the High Court observed) no opportunity to observe the ornaments on the person of the deceased. The ornaments had no special marks of identification. PW5 materially improved upon her version during the course of the examination. On this state of the evidence, the recovery of the silver ornaments (which was an important link in the chain of circumstances relied upon by the Additional Sessions Judge) has been correctly disbelieved by the High Court.

An important circumstance which weighed with the High Court was that, the body of the deceased was recovered at the behest of the Appellant. There is a manifest error on the part of the High Court in arriving at this conclusion since the record would indicate that, the body of the deceased was recovered several months before the arrest of the Appellant. The mere circumstance that the Appellant was last seen with the deceased is an unsafe hypothesis to found a conviction on a charge of murder in this case. The lapse of time between the point when the Appellant was last seen with the deceased and the time of death is not minimal. The time of death was estimated to be between two to four weeks prior to the recovery of the body.

A strong suspicion in itself is not sufficient to lead to the conclusion that the guilt of the Appellant stands established beyond reasonable doubt. There are material contradictions in the case of the prosecution. The prosecution failed to establish a complete chain of circumstances and to exclude every hypothesis other than the guilt of the Appellant. Supreme Court allowed the appeal and set aside the conviction of the Appellant under Section 302 of IPC.

Tags : Conviction Legality Circumstantial evidence

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