Bhagwan Singh vs The State Of Uttarakhand on 18 March, 2020


Supreme Court of India

Bhagwan Singh vs The State Of Uttarakhand on 18 March, 2020

Author: Hon’Ble The Justice

Bench: Hon’Ble The Justice, B.R. Gavai, Surya Kant

                                                                                   REPORTABLE




                                     IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
                                    CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION


                                     CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 407 OF 2020

                         [Arising out of Special Leave Petition(Crl.)No. 656 OF 2018]



      Bhagwan Singh                                                          ..... Appellants(s)

                                                           VERSUS

      State of Uttarakhand                                               .....Respondents(s)




                                                    JUDGMENT

Leave granted.

2. This Criminal Appeal is directed against the judgment dated 26 th

July, 2017 passed by the High Court of Uttarakhand whereby the

appellant’s criminal appeal against the judgment and order dated

11th/12th July, 2013 rendered by Learned Sessions Judge, Bageshwar

convicting the appellant under Sections 302 and 307 of Indian Penal

Code
Signature Not Verified
(for short, ‘IPC’) and sentencing him to undergo life
Digitally signed by
CHARANJEET KAUR

imprisonment (under Section 302, IPC) and 5 years’ rigorous
Date: 2020.03.18
16:11:01 IST
Reason:

imprisonment (under Section 307, IPC) along with a fine of Rs.

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20,000/­ in default whereof he was directed to undergo 6 months’

additional rigorous imprisonment, was dismissed. The appellant was,

however, acquitted for offence punishable under Section 25 of the

Arms Act for want of the requisite sanction.

3. It may be mentioned at the outset that notice of the special leave

petition was issued on the limited question to determine the nature of

offence committed by the appellant i.e. whether it falls under the

ambit of Section 302 or 304 of IPC. To determine this question the

facts may be briefly noted.

Facts:

4. On 21st April, 2007, the marriage ceremony of the Appellant’s

son was taking place at village Dafaut, Uttarakhand, when around

5:30 pm as soon as the marriage procession reached the Appellant’s

courtyard ­ he suddenly fired celebratory gunshots. The pellets struck

5 persons standing in the courtyard namely, Smt. Anita W/o

Chanchal Singh, Khushal Singh @ Sonu, Ummed Singh (P.W.6), Smt.

Vimla W/o Devendra Singh (P.W.5) and Smt. Vimla W/o Bhupal Singh

(P.W.7). The injured were taken to the hospital where two of them –

Anita and Khushal Singh @ Sonu succumbed to their injuries. Later at

about 8:40 pm, Dharam Singh (P.W.3) filed an FIR at PS Kothwali,

Bageshwar, narrating in full detail the incident of which he himself

was a witness.

5. After the conclusion of investigation, initially a charge sheet

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under Section 304, IPC was filed but later on the appellant was

charged under Sections 302 and 307, IPC along with Section 25 of the

Arms Act.

6. The Ld. Sessions Judge held the appellant guilty of offences

under Sections 302 and 307, IPC based on testimonies of eye

witnesses and injured witnesses. It was noted that Appellant fired

shots from his son’s licensed gun causing fatal injuries to Smt. Anita

and Khushal Singh and injuring three others. He was consequently

sentenced in the manner as briefly noticed in the opening paragraph

of the order.

7. The appellant went in appeal before the High Court. His primary

contention was that he had no intention to cause anyone’s death. He

stated that the firing was accidental and was caused by a ball with

which some children were playing. The ball struck against the gun in

his hand and led to the firing of shots. The occurrence was an

admitted fact and the only plea taken was that it being a case of

accidental firing, Section 300 punishable under Section 302, IPC was

not attracted.

8. The High Court rejected the appellant’s plea and held as follows:

“There is no merit in the submission put forth by learned
Advocates appearing for the appellant. PW2 Chanchal Singh
has categorically deposed that the appellant has aimed at his
wife Smt. Anita and fired. The bullet hit on her chest. She was
taken to the hospital and declared dead. In his cross­
examination, he has denied the suggestion that the ball has
struck against the gun which led to accidental fire. PW3

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Dharam Singh has also admitted that the injuries were caused
by the accused with the firearm. The injured were taken to the
hospital. He has also denied that it was a case of accidental
fire. PW4 Tejpal Singh is another eyewitness. According to him
the appellant fired. The pellets had hit Anita and his son
Khushal @ Sonu. He has also denied the suggestion that it was
an accidental fire. PW5 Vimla Devi W/o Devendra Singh has
also corroborated the statements of eyewitnesses PW2
Chandchal (sic.) Singh and PW4 Tejpal Singh. According to her
also, the appellant has fired and she suffered the pellet injuries
and was taken to the hospital. PW6 Ummed Singh is another
eyewitness. According to him also, the appellant was seen
holding a gun. He also received the injuries. He was taken to the
hospital for treatment. He has also denied that it was a case of
accidental fire. PW7 Vimla Devi W/o Bhupal Singh is also the
eyewitness. According to her, the appellant fired his gun and
she along with others had received the pellet injuries. She was
also taken to the hospital. He has admitted in the cross­
examination that the appellant fired aiming Anita Devi and
Khushal Singh.”

The High Court has further held that:

“Appellant was standing on the roof. He aimed at Anita Devi.
The bullet struck Anita Devi on her chest. Khushal Singh @ Sonu
also received firearm injuries. Other persons also suffered the
pellet injuries by firearm. Appellant was seen shooting by PW2
Chanchal Singh, PW4 Tejpal Singh, PW5 Smt. Vimla Devi W/o
Devendra Singh, PW6 Ummed Singh and PW7 Vimla Devi W/o
Bhupal Singh. It cannot be termed as the case of negligence. The
accused had knowledge throughout that if the bullet is fired
aiming at a particular person, it would result in his/her death.”

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9. As stated earlier, this Court issued notice restricted to the nature

of the offence. The appellant’s culpability of causing the death of Smt.

Anita and Khushal Singh by way of gunshot injury as concurrently

established was thus neither intended to be interfered with nor the

same has been seriously re­agitated before us.

Contentions:

10. Learned senior counsel for the appellant very passionately

contended that this is a case of celebratory firing which unfortunately

caused unintentional death of two persons and injuries to three

others. It is not ‘culpable homicide’ because the appellant had, while

firing towards roof, no knowledge that the act was likely to cause

death. He contended that such an act amounts to negligence of the

nature as defined under Section 304­A, IPC. Learned senior counsel

alternatively submitted that the appellant’s act at best would

constitute culpable homicide not amounting to murder punishable

under Section 304 Part­2, IPC, for the appellant can be said to have

the knowledge that his act was likely to cause death but he had no

intention to cause death or such bodily injury likely to cause death.

Reliance was placed on the decision of this Court in Kunwar Pal vs.

State of Uttarakhand1.

11. Conversely, learned State Counsel reiterated that the appellant

was rightly convicted under Section 302, IPC as the evidence on
1
(2014) 12 SCC 434

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record does suggest that while standing on the roof he aimed at Smt.

Anita and fired the gunshot and the bullet struck her chest. Similarly,

Khushal Singh @ Sonu received firearms injuries. Both Anita and

Khushal Singh admittedly died of those injuries.
Analysis:

12. We have heard learned counsel for the parties and perused the

record. From the contents of FIR read with the statements of injured

and eye­witnesses, it emerges out that there was a marriage function

of son of the appellant and no sooner did the rituals of marriage were

performed at about 5.30 p.m., the appellant fired from a licensed gun

pointing towards the roof and caused injuries to 5 persons. Smt.

Anita W/o Chanchal Singh and Khushal Singh @ Sonu were

grievously injured who eventually succumbed to their respective

injuries. Smt. Anita as well as Khushal Singh were present there in

order to participate in the marriage celebrations which suggests that

neither they nor their families had any animosity with the appellant.

Similarly, Dharm Singh (P.W.3) – complainant, too had no axe to grind

against the appellant. The eye­witness account further reveals that

the shots were fired towards the roof and not aiming at any of the

victims. It may thus be difficult to accept that the appellant had any

intention to kill Smt. Anita or Khushal Singh.

13. Equally unfounded is the defence plea taken by the appellant

that he was only holding the licenced gun and a ball thrown by the

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children who were playing with it, struck the gun causing accidental

firing. The version of eye­witnesses completely belies such a defence

story. Otherwise also, it does not appeal to common sense that a ball

would strike the gun in appellant’s hand resulting in an undesigned

firing. Unless the safety lock of the gun was moved forward, the gun

wouldn’t go off automatically even if its butt was hit by a play­ball.

Appellant’s attempt to shelter behind Section 304­A, IPC is thus an

exercise in futility and is liable to be rejected.

14. In this backdrop, the short question which falls for consideration

is whether the appellant’s act of causing death of Smt. Anita and

Khushal Singh tantamounts to offence of ‘murder’ as held by the trial

court and the High Court or any lesser offence as urged by Shri

Siddharth Luthra, learned senior counsel for the appellant. Sections

299 as well as 300, IPC provide for situations in which death is caused

by an act with the intention of causing death or such bodily injury

which the offender knows is likely to cause death. Both Sections 299

and 300 deal with instances in which death is caused by an act with

the intention of causing such bodily injury as the offender knows to be

likely to cause death of the person to whom injury is inflicted. These

provisions also deal with cases where there is no intention of either

causing death or a bodily injury which is ordinarily sufficient to cause

death. The absence of intention to cause death or bodily injury which

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is in the ordinary course of nature likely to cause death is, therefore,

not conclusive. What is required to be seen is whether the act is one

where the offender must be deemed to have had the knowledge that he

was likely, by such act, to cause death.

15. The trial court as well as the High Court have proceeded on the

premise that the appellant’s act by firing from the gun which was

pointed towards the roof, was as bad as firing into a crowd of persons

so he ought to have known that his act of gun­shot firing was so

imminently dangerous that it would, in all probability, cause death or

such bodily injury as was likely to cause death.

16. The facts and circumstances of the instant case, however, do not

permit to draw such a conclusion. We have already rejected the

prosecution version to the extent that the appellant aimed at Smt.

Anita and then fired the shot(s). The evidence on record contrarily

shows that the appellant aimed the gun towards the roof and then

fired. It was an unfortunate case of mis­firing. The appellant of

course cannot absolve himself of the conclusion that he carried a

loaded gun at a crowded place where his own guests had gathered to

attend the marriage ceremony. He did not take any reasonable safety

measure like to fire the shot in the air or towards the sky, rather he

invited full risk and aimed the gun towards the roof and fired the shot.

He was expected to know that pellets could cause multiple gun­shot

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injuries to the nearby persons even if a single shot was fired. The

appellant is, thus, guilty of an act, the likely consequences of which

including causing fatal injuries to the persons being in a close circuit,

are attributable to him. The offence committed by the appellant, thus,

would amount to ‘culpable homicide’ within the meaning of Section

299, though punishable under Section 304 Part 2 of the IPC.

17. Incidents of celebratory firing are regretfully rising, for they are

seen as a status symbol. A gun licensed for self­protection or safety

and security of crops and cattle cannot be fired in celebratory events,

it being a potential cause of fatal accidents. Such like misuse of fire

arms convert a happy event to a pall of gloom. Appellant cannot

escape the consequences of carrying the gun with live cartridges with

the knowledge that firing at a marriage ceremony with people present

there was imminently dangerous and was likely to cause death.

18. A somewhat, similar situation arose in Kunwar Pal (Supra)

wherein this Court held as under:

“12. We find that the intention of the appellant to kill the deceased,
if any, has not been proved beyond a reasonable doubt and in any
case the appellant is entitled to the benefit of doubt which is
prominent in this case. It is not possible therefore to sustain the
sentence under Section 304 Part I IPC, which requires that the act
by which death is caused, must be done with the intention of
causing death or with the intention of causing such bodily injury as
is likely to cause death. Though it is not possible to attribute
intention it is equally not possible to hold that the act was done
without the knowledge that it is likely to cause death. Everybody,

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who carries a gun with live cartridges and even others know that
firing a gun and that too in the presence of several people is an act,
is likely to cause death, as indeed it did. Guns must be carried
with a sense of responsibility and caution and are not meant to be
used in such places like marriage ceremonies.”

19. Resultantly, we hold that the appellant had the requisite

knowledge essential for constituting the offence of ‘culpable homicide’

under Section 299 and punishable under Section 304 Part­2 of IPC.

He is thus held guilty under Section 304 Part­2 and not under Section

302 of IPC. On the same analogy, the appellant is liable to be

punished for ‘attempt to commit culpable homicide’ not amounting to

murder under Section 308, in place of Section 307 of IPC for the

injuries caused to the other three victims. To this extent, the

appellant’s contentions merit acceptance.
Conclusion:

20. For the above­stated reasons, the appeal is allowed in part. The

conviction of the appellant under Section 302, IPC is modified to

Section 304 Part­2, IPC and that under Section 307, IPC is altered to

Section 308, IPC. As a necessary corollary, the sentence of life

imprisonment awarded to the appellant for committing the offence

under Section 302 IPC, is reduced to 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment

and the sentence awarded to him under Section 307, IPC is

substituted with Section 308 IPC, without any alteration in the fine

imposed by the trial court.

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……………………………….

(S.A. BOBDE)
CJI

……..……………………..J.

(B.R. GAVAI)

…………………………… J.

(SURYA KANT)

NEW DELHI

DATED : 18.03.2020

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