Vemireddy Satyanarayan Reddy and Three
Others Vs. The State of Hyderabad  INSC 20 (14 March 1956)
AIYAR, N. CHANDRASEKHARA BOSE, VIVIAN
CITATION: 1956 AIR 379 1956 SCR 247
Crime, perpetration of-A person present but
not aiding or abetting-Whether principal or accessory-Corroboration of the
statement of a single witness against accused-What the law requires.
There is no warrant for the extreme
proposition that if a man sees the perpetration of a crime and does not give
information of it to anyone else, he might well be regarded in law as an
accomplice and that he could be put in the dock with the actual criminals.
A person may be present, and, if not aiding
and abetting, be neither principal nor accessory; as, if A, happens to be
present at a murder and takes no part in it, nor endeavours to prevent it, or
to apprehend the murderer, this course of conduct will not of itself render him
either principal or accessory.
Russell on Crime, 10th Edition, p. 1846,
33 248 In the matter of corroboration of the
evidence of a single witness against the accused what the law requires is that
there should be such corroboration of the material part of the story connecting
the accused with the crime as will satisfy reasonable minds that the man can be
regarded as a truthful witness. The corroboration need not be direct evidence
that the accused committed the crime; it is sufficient if it is merely
circumstantial evidence of his connection with the crime. The nature of the
corroboration will depend on and vary according to the particular circumstances
of each case. Rex v. Baskerville (1916) 2 K.B.D. 658, referred to.
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Criminal
Appeals No. 28 to 31 of 1955.
Appeals by special leave from the judgment
and order dated the 11th February, 1953 of the Hyderabad High Court in Criminal
Appeals Nos. 1260 to 1263 of 1951/1952 arising out of the judgment and order
dated the 6th November, 1951 of the Court of the Sessions Judge at Warangal in Original Criminal Case No. 127 of 1950.
H. J. Umrigar, for appellant No. 1.
K. R. Choudhry, for appellants Nos. 2 to 4.
Porus A. Mehta and P. G. Gokhale, for the respondent.
1956. March 14. The Judgment of the Court was
delivered by CHANDRASEKHEARA AIYAR J.-The four appellants and two others named
Sheshaya and Pitchi Reddy, who are all communists, were charged with the murder
of one Venkatakrishna Shastry who was a Congress worker or leader.
The appellants were convicted of the offence
but the other two were acquitted by the Sessions Judge, Warangal, Hyderabad
State, on the astounding ground that no overt acts were proved against them.
The appellants preferred appeals to the High Court at Hyderabad and there was
the usual reference for confirmation of the death sentences imposed on them.
The appeals were heard by a Bench consisting of Deshpande J. and Dr. Mir Siadat
Ali Khan J. and 249 they disagreed with each other. Deshpande J. held that the
evidence did not establish the guilt of the appellants and be acquitted them.
On the other band, Dr. Mir Siadat Ali Khan came to the conclusion that the
prosecution had established its case beyond reasonable doubt. He confirmed the
convictions but reduced the sentences to imprisonment for life. Owing to this
difference of opinion, the matter was referred to a third Judge, Manohar
Pershad J. and be agreed with the finding of guilty given by his learned brother
Dr. Mir Siadat Ali Khan. We granted special leave to the appellants to come
before this court.
The facts of the occurrence, as alleged by
the prosecution, are these. On the evening of 19-1-1949, the deceased
Venkatakrishna Shastry of the village of Maturpeta and five other persons, who
were Congress workers like him, were returning to the village from a tank. One
of the communist leaders called Nagabhushan Rao had been arrested a month or
two previously and the communist party believed that Venkatakrishna Shastry was
responsible for the arrest. So a large group of communists, about 25 or 30 in
number including the accused, armed with guns and swords, paid a visit to
Maturpeta to wreak vengeance against the Congress group led by Venkatakrishna
Shastry. They ran into the Congress group as they were getting back to the
village after the evening stroll. P.W. 14, a dhobi boy named Gopai was one of
the camp followers of this communist group.
Venkatakrishna Shastry and his co-workers
were tied up with their own clothes and were led to the village chavadi over
which a Congress flag was flying. A rope was brought from the house of P. W. 17
and the members of the Congress group were tied with this rope and led some
distance away from the village to a red-gram field, and all of them were beaten
by their enemies; except Shastry, the rest were driven away from the place.
Shastry was tied with the rope and taken in the eastern direction by Mangapaty
(the dalam or troup leader) and the accused. P. W. 14 was following the group
carrying a bundle of their clothes on his head. After a short halt at the
village of 250 Suknevedu, where some food was taken, the party went towards a
mango-tope near a brook, four or five miles away leading Venkatakrishna Shastry
as the captive. The deceased, Gopai (P.W. 14) and some of the accused remained
on the bank of the brooklet. The others went a little beyond and one of them
came back with orders that Venkatakrishna Shastry should be fetched.
Venkatakrishna Shastry was taken along and when the moon was at the meridian,
the rope with which he was led was tied round the neck of the deceased into a
noose. Two of the accused pulled one end of the rope and two others at the
other end in opposite directions.
Venkatakrishna Shastry was thus strangled to
death. A pit was dug and the body of Venkatakrishna Shastry was buried in the
river-bed. P.W. 14 saw all this from a distance of twenty yards in clear
Two or three days later, after some
wanderings in the jungle and mountain-dens P.W. 14 left the company of his
masters who were implored by the boy's father P.W. 7 to permit him to take the
Next morning a report was sent by P.W. 2 the
police patel about the abduction of Venkatakrishna Shastry and investigation
was begun. On 8-2-1949, that is about twenty days after the occurrence, some
bones of a human-body were discovered in the riverbed as the result of crows
and vultures hovering round the place. The police Patwari (P.W. 10) sent a
report about this discovery. The police arrived on the scene and exhumed the
body which was identified as that of Venkatakrishna Shastry. This was on
9-2-1949. It was sent for postmortem examination. The condition in which the
body was at the time of exhumation is stated in a panchnama that was then
prepared. The results of the postmortem examination are spoken to by the doctor
Being the only witness for the commission of
the crime, the dhobi boy (P.W. 14) was subjected to severe criticism by Mr. Umrigar
who held the dock brief for the appellants. He described him as an accomplice
and as an unmitigated liar and he asked us not even to look at his evidence.
P.W. 14 does not satisfy the 251 definition of an accomplice; he falls somewhat
short of the requirements which would confer on him this status.
According to the evidence, he left his
parents' roof after a quarrel with his father and while wandering in the
jungles he was picked up by the communists only 3 days before and taken as
their servant on promise to give him food. His main duty appears to have been
to go with the group carrying their bundles of clothes on his head. It was in
this capacity that he was not only able to see the abduction of the deceased
but also to witness the actual murder. He took no part whatever in the
commission of the offence or in any active or passive preparations for the
same. He was not a particeps crimines. After securing his release from his
temporary masters, he went back with his father to the village. It is true he
did not divulge the secret of the murder to anyone else except to his own
father. But who would, in view of the atrocities and terrorism that prevailed
in that region during the relevant time? It required a very courageous man to
have proclaimed the truth, needless of consequences to himself, And we cannot
credit the dhobi boy with so much of fearlessness. The learned counsel urged
that if a man sees the perpetration of a crime and does not give information of
it to anyone else, he might well be regarded in law as an accomplice and that
he could be put in the dock with the actual criminals. There is, however, no
warrant for such an extreme proposition. On the other hand, the following short
passage from Russell on Crime, 10th Edition, page 1846, will show its
untenability:"But a person may be present, and, if not aiding and
abetting, be neither principal nor accessory; as, if A, happens to be present
at a murder and takes no part in it, nor endeavours to prevent it, or to
apprehend the murderer, this course of conduct will not of itself render him
either principal or accessory".
Indeed, there can be no doubt that the
evidence of a man like P.W. 14 should be scanned with much caution and we must
be fully satisfied that he is a witness of truth, especially when no other
person 252 was present at the time to see the murder. Though he was not an
accomplice, we would still want corroboration on material particulars in this
particular case, as he is the only witness to the crime and as it would be
unsafe to hang four people on his sole testimony unless we feel convinced that
he is speaking the truth. Such corroboration need not, however, be on the question
of the actual commission of the offence;, if this was the requirement, then we
would have independent testimony on which to act and there would be no need to
rely on the evidence of one whose position may, in this particular case, be
said to be somewhat analogous to that of an accomplice, though not exactly the
same. What the law requires is that there should be such corroboration of the
material part of the story connecting the accused with the crime as will
satisfy reasonable minds that the man can be regarded as a truthful witness. In
the leading case of Rex v. Baskerville(1) it was pointed by Lord Reading C.J.
that "the corroboration need not be
direct evidence that the accused committed the crime; it is sufficient if it is
merely circumstantial evidence of his connection with the crime. The nature of
the corroboration will depend on and vary according to the particular
circumstances of each case.
What is required is some additional evidence
rendering it probable that the story of the accomplice is true and that it is
reasonably safe to act upon it.
Judged by this test, we can say that the
evidence given by P.W. 14 has been amply corroborated. It was not disputed for
the appellants that there is abundant evidence consisting of the testimony of
several witnesses in support of the truth of the narrative given by P.W. 14
regarding the abduction of the deceased. This evidence was given not by mere
onlookers but by men like P.Ws. 3, 4, 5, 6 and 9, who were with the deceased
when the communist group came upon them and who were themselves badly beaten up
by the gang before being released from, impending death at the merciful
intervention of (1)  2 K.B.D. 658 253 some one of them. They say that at
the time of the release the accused retained the deceased with them and took
him away in the direction of Mulgupad.
From this stage, P. W. 14 takes us to the
river bank where the deceased and he were allowed to sit. The accused went into
the river bed and later on orders were issued by the appellant No. 1, the
deceased was led by a rope from the bank by Muthyalu (4th appellant). The rope
was tied round the neck of the deceased into a noose and pulled in opposite
directions by two of the accused on each side and Shastry was thus strangled to
death. His body was buried in a pit dug in the river bed. The rope which was
found round the neck of the dead body when it was exhumed is said to be the
rope with which P.Ws. 3 to 6 and 9 were tied up and as the one that the members
of the gang brought from the house of Silam Brahmareddi (P.W. 17) earlier that
evening when the village was raided and the Congress workers were marched to
the Congress flag.
There is also evidence that the party of the
accused when they first encountered the party of the deceased asked who and where
was Venkatakrishna Shastry. The assailants, who were armed to the teeth,
indulged in threats to kill all of them. The deceased was a Congress leader and
it is not surprising that he was singled out for terrific punishment, while the
others were let off with a good thrashing and admonitions that they should give
up their Congress affiliations. It is but natural in the circumstances that
they should take away the deceased to a distant place to do away with him. That
he was so led by the group of the accused is also corroborated by the evidence
of Yesob (P.W. 12) who was watching his jawar crop on the night in question in
a neighbouring field.
Let us now turn to the exhumation of the dead
body, the inquest report, the postmortem certificate, and the evidence of the
doctor (P. W. 7). The patwari of Sakrivedu (P.W.
10) sent a report on the 8th February, 1949,
that he had information that a dead body lay buried in the river-bed.
The report has not 254 been filed but its
purport about the condition of the body is given in the inquest report as
unidentifiable. Two police sub-inspectors and some constables reached the riverbed
the same day and exhumed the body. Its then condition is described in these
words in the inquest report:
"It was noticed that a rope of Chinna
and Ambara was wrapped from neck to the waist. Both hands were missing and out
of the two legs one was attached to the body with little flesh.
The bones of the other separated leg (the
down part of the knee) and the bones of one hand were found in the pit.
There were some hairs in the head. The flesh
of the face was rotten and decayed. Teeth are safe and sound. There is rotten
flesh from the neck to the buttocks. It appears that this dead body is of a
The panchnama is signed by two persons, one
of whom HAS BEEN EXAMINED AS P.W. 16. He, along with the witnesses who gave
evidence as co-sufferers with the deceased in the communist raid of that
evening, have identified the body as that of Venkatakrishna Shastry. The
doctor's postmortem certificate is exhibit 2 and according to it the body was
petrified and even the marks of strangulation could not be detected; both the
palms had been cut out, the left hand was severed completely; there was only
the left eye in a rotten condition; the right eye was not found, the right ear
was not there. Examined as P.W. 7, the doctor has said that the face of the
corpse could not be identified, as the scalp was eaten away by mud, and the
bony structure of the face was present.
In the face of this evidence, the learned
counsel for the appellants contended with much force that identification must
have been impossible and that the witnesses who speak to the same should be
disbelieved. Two factors are,, however, overlooked in this argument. Though the
body was in an advanced state of decomposition and many parts of the limbs were
missing and even the flesh in the face was gone, it would not have been
difficult for close associates of 255 Venkatakrishna Shastry to say that it was
his corpse, from the general features form, outline, contour build of the body,
and the appearance of such of the limbs as were available to see. His friend
Madhusudhana Rao, P.W. 15, was working with the deceased for some years in the
Congress office and knew him well indeed. There is his evidence about
identification. More important still is the identification of the rope round
the neck of the body, the dhoti with the violet border that was on its waist,
and the janjam or the holy thread. The rope was brought from the house of Brahma
Reddy (P.W. 17). It was the one which was tied in loops round each member of
the Congress group as they were led from the village to the redgram field; it
was the rope that was used to lead Venkatakrishna Shastry to the brooklet; and
it was the rope that was found round the neck of the dead body when it was
unearthed. The bordered dhoti which was on the corpse belonged to
From these external marks, and the general
features, friends of the deceased like P.Ws. 3 to 6 and 9 and P.W. 17 in whose
house Shastry was living could say, we think, that the body buried in the
waist-deep pit in the bed of the river was that of Venkatakrishna Shastry.
Whether he is regarded as an accomplice or as
the sole witness of the offence P.W. 14 has been corroborated in such a manner
that his evidence about the steps taken by the accused immediately prior to the
perpetration of the murder carries conviction to our minds. The connection of
the accused with the crime must be held to have been made out.
We have also to accept that the dead body
recovered was that of Venkatakrishna Shastry and no question of the absence of
the body arises.
For this gruesome and revolting murder the
appellants have got only imprisonment for life for which they must be thankful
to the difference of opinion that arose among the learned Judges of the High
The appeal fails and is dismissed.