Satish Kumar vs The State Of Himachal Pradesh on 2 March, 2020


Supreme Court of India

Satish Kumar vs The State Of Himachal Pradesh on 2 March, 2020

Author: Hemant Gupta

Bench: L. Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta

                                                             REPORTABLE

                         IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

                        CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION


                         CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 19 OF 2017


SHRI SATISH KUMAR & ANR                                    .....APPELLANT(S)

                                        VERSUS

THE STATE OF HIMACHAL PRADESH & ANR.                     .....RESPONDENT(S)

                                    WITH

                        CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 1109 OF 2016




                               JUDGMENT

HEMANT GUPTA, J.

1. Criminal Appeal No. 19 of 2017 is preferred by Satish Kumar and

Rajeev Kumar whereas Criminal Appeal No 1109 of 2016 is

preferred by Lekh Ram, against common judgment of the High

Court of Himachal Pradesh dated 20th September, 2016 whereby

the appeal filed by the complainant was allowed and the order of

acquittal passed by the learned trial court on 30 th November, 2012

was set aside. The appellants were convicted for the offences

punishable under Section 302 read with Section 34 of the Indian

Penal Code, 18601 as well as under Sections 25 and 27 of the Arms

Act, 19592.

1    for short, ‘IPC’
2    for short, ‘Act’

                                                                           1

2. Brief facts leading rise to the present appeals are that on 22 nd

December, 2009 at about 07:15 hours, an information (Ex PW 15-

A) was received by Ram Singh (PW-15), Inspector, on phone said to

be by Satish Kumar son of Kanshi Ram, that Ratti Ram son of late

Shri Roshan Lal, had died due to gun shot. On receiving such

information, a Police team led by the Station House Officer of

Police Station Ghumarwin proceeded towards the place of

occurrence. Subsequently, on the statement of Neelam Sharma

(PW-1), daughter of deceased Ratti Ram, FIR No. 218 was

registered on 22nd December, 2009 at about 14:05 hours.

3. Neelam Sharma had stated that her father left home at about 8 am

on 21st December, 2009 informing her that he would go to the

house of Karma at Village Chujala and thereafter he would go to

attend his duty at Village Harlog. But when he did not return till 6

pm, she called on his mobile number but mobile was switched off.

She called in the morning to the Forest Guard to inquire about her

father who told her that her father had not come there to join the

duty. Thereafter, she made telephone call to accused Satish

Kumar, whose house is in front of her house and sought phone

number of Karma, resident of Village Chujala. The Police came to

her house on 22nd December, 2009, when she came to know that

her father had died due to gun shot by Satish Kumar and Rajeev

Kumar and the body of his father is lying at Balh Churani forest.

The motive of murder was said to be land dispute with Satish

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Kumar pending in Shimla High Court.

4. Ram Singh (PW-15), Inspector, deposed that the disclosure

statements of accused Satish Kumar and Rajeev Kumar were

recorded on 22nd December, 2009 itself. The statements of both

the accused Satish Kumar (Ext. PW2/A) and Rajeev Kumar (Ext.

PW15/C) were recorded in the presence of Jaswant Singh (PW-2)

and Kuldeep Singh (PW-3). They disclosed that the dead body of

deceased Ratti Ram had been concealed in Balh Churani forest and

that they could get the same recovered. Both the accused

accompanied the Police team to Balh Churani forest and on their

demarcation of the spot, the dead body of deceased Ratti Ram was

recovered on 22nd December, 2009 in the presence of witnesses

Jaswant Singh and Kuldeep Singh. The memo of taking possession

of dead body is Ex.PW15/F. A bag was also recovered lying nearby

the dead body which was identified by Neelam Sharma (PW-1)

belonging to her father. The dry soil was also taken from the spot

by the Police and spot map of the recovery of dead body was also

prepared. Two pellet marks were visible on the stems of bushes.

The embedded pellets were removed with a stone.

5. Subsequently, on the same day, another statement of accused

Rajeev Kumar was recorded in respect of disclosure of single barrel

gun concealed in his house. The recovery memo is PW15/G.

Accused Rajeev Kumar also stated that he had concealed empty

cartridge in his house, which was also taken in possession from his

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house on 27th December, 2009. Accused Lekh Ram is the father of

accused Rajeev Kumar. It is alleged that the gun was licensed in his

name and two live cartridges were recovered from his house.

6. The Investigating Officer (IO) had also taken possession of blood-

stained soil, leaves and grass particles lifted from the spot; and the

clothes worn by the deceased Ratti Ram. All these articles along

with the gun, the empty cartridge and the live cartridges were sent

for forensic science examinations. The report (Ex.PW14/D) dated

22nd March, 2010 in respect of articles such as clothes and blood on

the clothes and the soil was furnished whereas in respect of the

gun, the cartridge was found to be fired from the gun recovered on

the basis of disclosure statement of Rajeev Kumar. It was also

reported that traces of gunshot residue on the holes was present

on the clothes worn by the deceased and the range of firing was

distant.

7. The postmortem was conducted on 23 rd December, 2009 by Dr.

N.K. Sankhan (PW-7) who had found multiple injuries on the dead

body of deceased Ratti Ram and also found multiple perforated

wounds. As per his final opinion, deceased Ratti Ram died due to

cardio respiratory failure as a result of injuries to lungs and heart

and hypovolemic shock as a result of gunshot injury.

8. On the basis of the evidence produced, the learned trial court

acquitted all the accused for the reason that the prosecution has

4
failed to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.

The learned trial court held that the IO was in the knowledge about

the dead body, therefore, the question of recording of the

disclosure statements of accused persons has got no evidentiary

value. The learned trial court found that the confession of guilt of

the accused persons is difficult to be drawn, rather exculpatory

conclusions are deducible. The circumstances are not of a

conclusive nature and do not exclude every possible hypothesis

consistent with the innocence of the accused. The learned trial

court returned the following finding:

“29. Thus, in view of the evidence as discoursed
aforesaid, it is emerging that investigating officer was in
the knowledge about the dead body and in view of this,
the question of recording of disclosure statements of
accused persons gathers no evidentiary value. If the
police already had knowledge of the place of recovery
then the evidence collected in pursuance to disclosure
statements becomes inadmissible and takes the case
out of purview of Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act.”

9. The High Court found that the finding of the learned trial court that

the dead body was recovered prior to the disclosure statement

made by the accused Satish Kumar and Rajeev Kumar is not cor-

rect. In fact, the dead body was recovered only on the basis of the

disclosure statements. The High Court further found that the re-

covery of the dead body and the weapon of offence in pursuance

of the disclosure statement stands corroborated with the report of

the forensic science laboratory. Thus, the chain of the circum-

stances is complete so as to warrant conviction of all the accused.

5

10. However, in appeal preferred by the complainant, the judgment of

the trial court was set aside. The High Court held that the

postmortem report and the report of the Forensic Science

Laboratory emphatically lead to the use of gun (Ext.P/27) by the

accused. Therefore, there is incriminatory evidence against the

accused. The High Court held that the dead body was not known

to the prosecution, before the recovery was made in pursuance of

disclosure statement, therefore, the finding of the trial court is not

correct. The High Court also found that even if it is assumed that

the gun shot fired by only one of the accused, it would not

exculpate the incriminatory role of other co-accused in the relevant

occurrence.

11. The learned counsel for the appellant argued that as the entire

case of the prosecution is based on circumstantial evidence, the

prosecution has to prove the hypothesis that the accused alone

have committed the crime. The prosecution witnesses have given

contradictory statements which does not complete the chain of cir-

cumstances and in fact, the truthfulness of the case of the prose-

cution is seriously doubted. This Court in Sharad Birdhichand

Sarda v. State of Maharashtra3, delineated the conditions,

which must be fulfilled before a case against an accused can be

said to be established on the basis of circumstances. It was held as

under:

3 (1984) 4 SCC 116

6
“153. A close analysis of this decision would show that
the following conditions must be fulfilled before a case
against an accused can be said to be fully established:

(1) the circumstances from which the conclusion of
guilt is to be drawn should be fully established.
It may be noted here that this Court indicated that the
circumstances concerned “must or should” and not “may
be” established. There is not only a grammatical but a
legal distinction between “may be proved” and “must be
or should be proved” as was held by this Court in Shivaji
Sahabrao Bobade v. State of Maharashtra
[(1973) 2 SCC
793 : 1973 SCC (Cri) 1033 : 1973 Crl LJ 1783] where the
observations were made: [SCC para 19, p. 807: SCC (Cri)
p. 1047]
“Certainly, it is a primary principle that the
accused must be and not merely may be guilty
before a court can convict and the mental
distance between ‘may be’ and ‘must be’ is long
and divides vague conjectures from sure
conclusions.”

(2) the facts so established should be consistent only
with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused, that is to
say, they should not be explainable on any other
hypothesis except that the accused is guilty,

(3) the circumstances should be of a conclusive
nature and tendency,

(4) they should exclude every possible hypothesis
except the one to be proved, and

(5) there must be a chain of evidence so complete as
not to leave any reasonable ground for the conclusion
consistent with the innocence of the accused and must
show that in all human probability the act must have
been done by the accused.

154. These five golden principles, if we may say so,
constitute the panchsheel of the proof of a case based
on circumstantial evidence.”

12. In Brajendrasingh v. State of M.P.4, this Court held that the

4 2012 4 SCC 289.

7
circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn

should be fully established and should also be consistent with only

one hypothesis i.e. the guilt of the accused. The circumstances

should be conclusive and proved by the prosecution. There must

be a chain of events so complete so as not to leave any substantial

doubt in the mind of the Court. The Court held as under:

“27. There is no doubt that it is not a case of direct
evidence but the conviction of the accused is founded
on circumstantial evidence. It is a settled principle of law
that the prosecution has to satisfy certain conditions
before a conviction based on circumstantial evidence
can be sustained. The circumstances from which the
conclusion of guilt is to be drawn should be fully
established and should also be consistent with only one
hypothesis i.e. the guilt of the accused. The
circumstances should be conclusive and proved by the
prosecution. There must be a chain of events so
complete so as not to leave any substantial doubt in the
mind of the Court. Irresistibly, the evidence should lead
to the conclusion inconsistent with the innocence of the
accused and the only possibility that the accused has
committed the crime. To put it simply, the circumstances
forming the chain of events should be proved and they
should cumulatively point towards the guilt of the
accused alone. In such circumstances, the inference of
guilt can be justified only when all the incriminating
facts and circumstances are found to be incompatible
with the innocence of the accused or the guilt of any
other person.”

13. The primary question in the present appeals is as to whether, the

prosecution has recovered the dead body prior to recording of

confessional statements of the accused vide Ex. PW2/A and Ex.

PW15/C of Satish Kumar and Rajeev Kumar.

14. It is contended that the information with respect to death of Ratti

Ram was received by Inspector Ram Singh (PW-15) on the phone

8
by one of the appellants Satish Kumar at 07.15 hours. PW-15

proceeded to Balh Churani forest along with other police officials

after receipt of such information. Ex. PW1/A is the statement of

Neelam Sharma recorded at 12.45 pm by PW-15 at Village Balh

Churani. The FIR is registered at 14.05 hours.

15. The first statement of Neelam Sharma (Ex. PW 1/A) is that she

came to know from the police, when they arrived at the village,

that Satish Kumar and Rajeev Kumar have killed her father. She as

PW1 deposed that the statement of the accused was recorded

before they proceeded to the forest, and that except ward member

(Jaswant Singh) nobody had told her that her father had been

murdered by Satish Kumar and Rajeev Kumar. It is after her

statement was recorded that she went to the forest with the police,

and the witness Jaswant Singh and Kuldeep Singh, and accused

Rajeev Kumar and Satish Kumar. She further deposed that PW-2

Jaswant Singh had informed her before the arrival of the police that

the dead body of her father was lying in the forest. Jaswant Singh

is ward member from Balh Churani of Gram Panchayat Robin.

Some officials proceeded to the spot, whereas some came along

with dead body of her father. She denied that Balh Churani forest

is a big forest.

16. On the other hand, PW-2-Jaswant Singh was declared hostile when

he deposed that no disclosure statement was made by Rajeev

Kumar in his presence. He was cross-examined by the public

prosecutor. He denied that any disclosure statement was made by

9
the accused Satish Kumar and Rajeev Kumar. He also denied that

Rajeev Kumar had signed any statement in his presence. He

denied other recovery memos as well. In the cross-examination by

the accused, he admitted that Balh Churani forest starts near the

house of deceased Ratti Ram and many registered hunters used to

come to this forest for hunting prior to the occurrence. Some

hunters without permission, would also come to the forest. The

dead body of Ratti Ram was recovered from a distance of

approximately 1 KM from his house. The motorable road is at a

distance of 1 ½ KM from the dead body. He deposed that the

statement of Neelam Sharma and accused Satish Kumar was

recorded near the dead body after identification of the dead body.

He deposed that Satish Kumar stated to the police that he fired a

gunshot by mistake but he had not stated that the gunshot was

fired by him and by Rajeev Kumar. He stated that Rajeev Kumar

had stated to the police that their gun was not used for firing but

was still taken into possession by the police. He admitted that

there were criminal cases between Kanshi Ram, father of Satish

Kumar and himself, but those cases were compromised.

17. PW-3 Kuldeep Singh turned hostile and denied that any statement

was made by accused Satish Kumar and Rajeev Kumar in his

presence. In cross-examination he deposed that 15-20 persons of

Balh Churani Village had gone to the forest. He admits that the

dead body was searched by the police and was not demarcated by

anybody else.

10

18. PW-15 Ram Singh in his cross-examination deposed that the

accused Satish Kumar and Rajeev Kumar were arrested on 22 nd

December, 2009 at 1.30 pm. He categorically deposed that he had

not informed Jaswant Singh (PW-2) before proceeding from the

police station. He did not enquire with anybody over the telephone

from the police station pursuant to Daily Diary Report. He deposed

that he came to know that deceased had died due to gunshot

injury before recording the statement of Neelam Sharma. The

accused Satish Kumar and Rajeev Kumar were questioned in the

presence of Jaswant Singh and Kuldeep Singh. He denied that no

telephone call was made by Satish Kumar to police station. He

admitted that the place where the dead body was lying was about

1 KM from the house of Ratti Ram and both the accused

collectively identified the place where the dead body was lying.

19. The phone call was received by police at 7.15 am. The distance of

the place of recovery of dead body in forest from the house of the

deceased is only about 2 Kilometers approx. In the first statement

of Neelam Sharma recorded at 12.45 pm, there is an assertion that

her father was killed by gun shot by Satish Kumar and Rajeev

Kumar. How could she disclose the names of the assailants, if the

police had yet to start investigation? The statement of the accused

Satish Kumar was recorded prior to the statement of Rajeev Kumar

which was recorded between 1.30 to 2.00 pm as per PW-15. But

as per PW-2 Jaswant Singh, the police called him and got the first

confirmation about the incident from him, whereas the IO

11
completely denied having made any attempt to contact PW-2 to

get any information. As per the IO, he proceeded to Balh Churani

forest after associating Satish Kumar, Jaswant Singh, Kuldeep Singh

and Neelam Sharma. The conclusion of the cause of death as due

to gunshot by Satish Kumar and Rajeev Kumar could find mention

in the FIR, which is the basis of initiating the investigating process,

only if the dead body had already been recovered. The IO has

given contradictory statement as that of statement of PW-1

Neelam Sharma as well as PW-2 Jaswant Singh. The statements of

the witnesses do not appear to be trustworthy so as to maintain

conviction of the appellants. The evidence of the prosecution does

not inspire confidence.

20. The entire prosecution case is based upon the telephone call made

by Satish Kumar but no call details have been produced to verify

the correctness of the telephone call. As per the IO, there was no

verification made in pursuance of the phone call received.

21. The other incriminating circumstance weighed with the High Court

is the recovery of the single barrel gun with the cartridge from the

house of Lekh Ram, the licence holder. The report of the forensic

science laboratory would only show that such gun was used in the

commission of crime, but the prosecution has failed to establish

which of the accused has actually used the gun. The disclosure

statement of the accused Satish Kumar is that he fired from the

gun. But the recovery of the gun is on the basis of disclosure

statement of accused Rajeev Kumar. There is no direct evidence as

12
to the use of licensed gun of Lekh Ram, though the gun along with

empty and live cartridges were recovered on the statement of

Rajeev Kumar. It is not possible to conclusively hold that it was

either Rajeev Kumar or Satish Kumar who fired upon the deceased.

In the absence of the evidence as to which of the two accused fired

upon the deceased, the accused cannot be convicted only on the

basis of recovery of gun used in the commission of crime.

22. The High Court has convicted all the accused additionally for the

offences under Sections 25 and 27 of the Act. None of the

conditions mentioned in Section 25 of the Act are even broadly

extended towards all the accused including Lekh Ram, the

licensee. Section 27 of the Act provides for punishment if whoever

uses any arms or ammunition in contravention of Section 5 of the

said Act. Again, none of the conditions mentioned in Section 5 are

attracted towards any of the accused including Lekh Ram. At best,

there could be an allegation of violation of conditions of licence

but, none of the accused have been charged for violation under

Section 30 of the Act. Therefore, none of the accused is liable for

conviction for any offence under the Act.

23. In a case based upon circumstantial evidence motive is relevant

but the prosecution has failed to prove any motive on the part of

the accused. As per the statement of Neelam Sharma (PW-1), the

motive was land dispute with Satish Kumar. If such was a motive,

then there is no reason for her to contact Satish Kumar, who was

said to be staying near her house, to find out whereabouts of her

13
father. The said motive has no foundation to stand.

24. The trial court has recorded an order of acquittal. Such order of

acquittal could be interfered with only if there was perversity in the

findings recorded by the trial court. Mere fact that the High Court

has a different opinion will not be sufficient to enable the High

Court to set aside the order of acquittal. The High Court in appeal

took a different view than what was taken by the trial court to set

aside the judgment and convict the appellants herein. While

exercising the jurisdiction under Section 389 of the Code of

Criminal Procedure, 19735, especially when trial court has recorded

a finding of not proving the guilt, the Appellate Court should

interfere only if the findings are perverse and are not possible by

any reasonable person. The High Court in an appeal against

acquittal does not interfere only if the Appellate Court has a

different view on process of evidence than what was taken by the

learned trial court. This Court in Chandrappa and Others v.

State of Karnataka6 considered the scope of powers of the

appellate court against an order of acquittal passed by the trial

court under the Code and held as under:-

“42. From the above decisions, in our considered view,
the following general principles regarding powers of
appellate Court while dealing with an appeal against
an order of acquittal emerge:

(1) An appellate Court has full power to review, reap-
preciate and reconsider the evidence upon which the
order of acquittal is founded;

(2) The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 puts no limi-

tation, restriction or condition on exercise of such

5 For short “the Code”
6 (2007) 4 SCC 415

14
power and an appellate Court on the evidence before it
may reach its own conclusion, both on questions of
fact and of law;

(3) Various expressions, such as, “substantial and com-
pelling reasons”, “good and sufficient grounds” “very
strong circumstances”, “distorted conclusions”, “glar-
ing mistakes”, etc. are not intended to curtail exten-
sive powers of an appellate Court in an appeal against
acquittal. Such phraseologies are more in the nature of
“flourishes of language” to emphasise the reluctance
of an appellate Court to interfere with acquittal than to
curtail the power of the Court to review the evidence
and to come to its own conclusion.

(4) An appellate Court, however, must bear in mind
that in case of acquittal, there is double presumption
in favour of the accused. Firstly, the presumption of in-
nocence available to him under the fundamental prin-
ciple of criminal jurisprudence that every person shall
be presumed to be innocent unless he is proved guilty
by a competent court of law. Secondly, the accused
having secured his acquittal, the presumption of his in-
nocence is further reinforced, reaffirmed and strength-
ened by the trial court.

(5) If two reasonable conclusions are possible on the
basis of the evidence on record, the appellate court
should not disturb the finding of acquittal recorded by
the trial court.”

25. We find that the High Court interfered with the findings of acquittal

even though the conclusion drawn by the trial court is a possible

conclusion on the basis of evidence on record. We find that the

prosecution has failed to prove the role of accused in causing

death of the deceased Ratti Ram inasmuch as the recovery of dead

body in pursuance of similar disclosure statements made by

accused Satish Kumar and Rajeev Kumar is not proved. In the

absence of any evidence led by the prosecution as to who fired the

fatal shot, the benefit of doubt must go to the accused persons and

15
was rightly granted by the learned trial court.

26. Consequently, we find that the order of the High Court convicting

the appellants is wholly illegal, unwarranted and unjust. The

conviction of the appellants for the offences punishable under

Section 302 read with Section 34 IPC and Sections 25 and 27 of the

Act is set aside. Accordingly, both the appeals are allowed. The

order of acquittal recorded by the trial court is restored. The bail

bonds shall stand discharged. All the accused be set at liberty, if

not wanted in any other case.

………………………………………J.

(UDAY UMESH LALIT)

………………………………………J.

(INDU MALHOTRA)

………………………………………J.

(HEMANT GUPTA)

NEW DELHI;

MARCH 02, 2020.

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