Mahendra Singh Vs. State of West
Bengal  INSC 92 (24 April 1973)
MATHEW, KUTTYIL KURIEN
CITATION: 1973 AIR 2288 1974 SCC (3) 409
Arms Act, 1959. Ss. 25(1) (a) and 27-Scope
of-Possession of arms not for anti-social purpose-No licence-Sentence.
Practice-High Court's power to dismiss appeal
summarily- Desirability of giving reasons-Delay in final disposal of criminal
On receipt of information the police searched
the appellants house on May 14, 1968. In the central room of that house there
was an almirah of which the key was produced by the appellant and handed over
to the Inspector of Police. When the almirah was opened with the key it was
found to contain a bag with live cartridges and a gun. As no licence or permit
for their possession was produced, the appellant was prosecuted and was
convicted under Ss. 25(1)(a) and 27 of the Arms Act, 1959 and the appellant was
sentenced to imprisonment for two years R.I. His appeal to the High Court was
dismissed summarily. Special leave to appeal to this Court was granted and the
accused was on bail pending disposal of the appeal.
HELD: (1) The High Court has the power to
dismiss an appeal in limine where in its opinion there is no substance in the
appeal. But in cases where ,questions of fact or law, which are arguable and
which are not unsubstantial, are ,raised, it is desirable that the High Court,
while dismissing summarily, should indicate broadly the reasons which prevailed
with it. In such cases not only the reasons recorded by the High Court would be
helpful to this Court in better understanding and appreciating the High Court's
'line of approach but it would also serve to assure the accused that the
arguable points in his appeal have been properly argued and duly considered by
the High Court. [64D-F] Mushtak Hussain v. Bombay  S.C.R. 809 and Mushtaq
Ahmed Hussain ,and Mukhtar Hussain Ali Hussain v. The State of Guj., Cr. A. No. 9 of 1973 decided on 13-3-73 followed.
(2) However, it is undesirable and
unnecessary in the larger interests of justice to send the present case back to
the High Court for re-decision. The appellant was convicted in June 1969 and
the High Court's decision was shortly thereafter. Undue delay in final disposal
of criminal appeals tends to some extent to defeat the very purpose of criminal
justice. Speedy disposal of criminal cases for commission of offences promotes
confidence of the society in the administration of criminal justice which is
essential for sustaining the faith of the law-abiding members of the society in
the effectiveness of the rule of law. It also saves the accused from avoidable
harassment inherent in unreasonably prolonged trials and appeals. [64F-H;
65A-B] (3) On the evidence on the record it is not possible to hold that the
existence of the arms in the almirah was without the appellant's knowledge and
that his possession of the arms was unconscious. Therefore, his conviction
under s. 25(1) (a) was justified. [65E-F] (4) There is no evidence in support
of the conviction for the offence under s. 27, and therefore, his conviction
under that section cannot be sustained. [65F-G] (5) There is no evidence of any
undesirable antecedents of the appellant, and the possession of the arms has
not been shown to be inspired by any sinister purpose. Since more than 4 years
had elapsed since the date of the offence it would be in the ends of justice if
the sentence of imprisonment was reduced to that already undergone and a
sentence of fine is, imposed in addition. [65H; 66A-D]
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Criminal
Appeal No. 3 of 1970.
63 Appeal by special leave from the judgment
and order dated June 24, 1969 of them Calcutta High Court in Cr. Appeal No.
378 of 1969.
I. N. Shroff for the appellant.
P. K. Chatterjee and G. S. Chatterjee, for
The Judgment of the Court was delivered by
DUA, J.-This appeal by special leave is directed against the order of summary
dismissal of the appellant's appeal by the High Court of Calcutta from the
judgment and order of a learned Additional Sessions Judge, Asansol dated June
18, 1969 convicting the appellant for offences under ss. 25 (1) (a) and 27 of
the Arms Act, 1959.
According to the prosecution case, on receipt
of secret information, Inspector Kali Prasanna Chaudhury of Detective
Department, along with Circle Inspector, S. L. Routh, S.I.
K. D. Chakravarty, Officer-incharge of
Hirapur police station and S.I. K. D. Chatterjee, Town Sub-Inspector of Asansol
and some constables searched the appellant's house on May 14, 1968 between 6.40
a.m. and 9 a.m. in the presence of some other witnesses. In the Central Room of
the house there was an almirah of which the key was produced by the appellant
and handed over to Inspector Kaliprasanna Chaudhury (P.W. 1). The almirah was
opened with the said key wherein was found a bag containing seven.12 bore live
cartridges, seven .410 bore live cartridges, nine rifle ammunition and one 12
bore fired cartridge case. There was also found a gun folded into two parts
under a bundle of clothes on the lowest shelf. The appellant could not produce any
licence or permit for the possession of the gun and the cartridges. As a result
of this recovery the appellant was arrested and challenged. He was duly com-
mitted by a magistrate to the court of Sessions. The principal question which
fell for decision at his trial was whether it could be said that he was in
possession of the articles found from the almirah, as contemplated by s. 25 of
the Arms Act. After discussing the evidence and the legal position on the
question of presumption of conscious pos- session in circumstances like the
present, the learned Additional Sessions Judge came to the conclusion that
these articles were in the appellant's conscious possession. No licence or
permit for these articles having been produced, the appellant was convicted
both under s. 25(1) (a) and under s. 27 of the Arms Act. Under s. 27 of the Arms
Act no separate sentence was considered necessary but under s. 25 (1) (a) he
was sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for two years.
It may incidentally be mentioned that in the
trial court on behalf of the appellant the legality of the investigation into
the offence in question was also assailed, it being further contended that the
S.I. K. D. Chakravarty, Officer- in-charge of Hirapur police station was not
empowered to investigate the case. As these questions are not agitated in this
Court, we need say nothing on those points.
Against his conviction the appellant appealed
to the High Court under s. 410, Cr-P.C. but this appeal was dismissed summarily
on June 24, 1969 without indicating any reasons in support of the order of
64 Before us on behalf of the appellant it
was contended that the order of summary dismissal by the High Court is contrary
to the consistent view taken by this Court in numerous decisions where it has
been firmly laid down that if an appeal raises arguable points of fact or law,
then, it is undesirable and improper to dismiss it summarily without
indicating, at least broadly the reasons for such dismissal.
In this case, according to the submission,
the question of the conscious possession of the articles, on the facts and
circumstances of this case. was of considerable importance and it required
scrutiny of the evidence on the record. The appeal also raised some other
questions relating to the alleged infirmities in the search conducted during the
investigation. Indeed, according to the appellant's counsel, there were nearly
ten grounds of appeal in the memorandum which suggest that the question of the
conscious possession of these articles clearly required a closer scrutiny of
the evidence in the case.
In our view, there is force in the
Beginning with the decision in Mushtak
Hussein v. The State of Bombay(1) this Court has, in numerous cases, emphasised
the extreme desirability of indicating, however broadly, the reasons which
prevail with the High Court in dismissing summarily an appeal in which
questions of act or law are raised, which do not seem to be unarguable or
insubstantial. This, however, does not mean that the statute does not empower
the High Court to dismiss an appeal in limine where in its opinion there is no
substance in the appeal. The latest decision of this Court was given on March
13, 1973 in Mustaq Ahmed Mohamed Hussain and Mukhtar Hussain Ali Hussain v. The
State of Gujarat(2) in which some of the previous decisions of this Court on
this point have been digested. In arguable cases not only would the reasons
recorded by the High Court be helpful to this Court in better understanding and
appreciating the High Court's line of approach, but it would also serve to
assure the accused that the arguable points in his appeal were properly argued
and duly considered by the High Court. This assurance cannot be considered to
be without importance and value.
The question, however, arises whether it is
desirable and necessary in the larger interest of justice to send the present
case back to the High Court for re-decision or it would be more conducive to
the cause of 'justice that we ourselves examine the evidence and dispose of the
appeal finally without further prolonging the proceedings against the
appellant. It may be pointed out that the recovery of the articles in question
was effected as far back as May, 1968 and the appellant's conviction by the
trial court is dated June 16, 1969. The High Court dismissed his appeal on June
24, 1969, land this Court granted special leave on January 8, 1970 when the
appellant was released on bail.
More than 3 years have now elapsed since the
grant of special leave and the appellant's release on bail. We consider it
would be highly unfair and unjust to the appellant to prolong the uncertainty
of the final fate of this case by sending it back to the High Court for final
disposal of the appeal after rehearing. We have. therefore, undertaken to
examine the evidence ourselves because that would guarantee speedy disposal of
the case against the appellant. We may in this con- (1) (1953) S.C.R. 806.
(2) Crl. A. No. 9 of 1973 decided on 13-3-73.
65 nection point out that undue delay in the
final disposal of criminal cases tends, to some extent, to defeat the very
purpose of criminal justice. Speedy disposal of criminal cases for commission
of offences promotes confidence of the society in the administration of
criminal justice which is essential for sustaining the faith of the law-abiding
members of the society in the effectiveness of the rule of law. It also saves
the accused from avoidable harassment inherent in unreasonably prolonged trials
After having been taken through the evidence,
we find that the testimony of K. P. Choudhary, P.W.1 that the appellant had
produced the key of the almirah in question and handed it over to the witness
who opened the almirah with that key is trust-worthy and no infirmity is found
in his evidence.
The evidence of Dharmadas Thakur, P.W.2,
fully supports the evidence of P.W.1 on this point. So does the evidence of
Santosh Lal Routh, P.W.4. No doubt P.W.1 and P.W.4 are police officers, but
P.W.2 is an employee of Indian Iron & Steel Company Ltd. The appellant
worked in the department of P.W. 2. Now once it is held that the appellant had
produced the key of the almirah the presumption arises that the arms found in
that almirah were in his possession. No doubt, there were certain articles
belonging to women, but that is immaterial. It is not the appellant's case that
this key used to be taken by the other members of his family who used to place
their articles in this almirah without the appellant's knowledge and that
anyone of them might, therefore, have Placed the arms in question in that
almirah without his knowledge. In fact, the appellant has on the other hand,
completely denied the recovery of these articles from the almirah. His plea is
not wholly irrelevant and can certainly be taken. into consideration.
On the evidence on the record, therefore, it is
not possible to hold that the existence of the arms in the almirah were without
the appellant's knowledge or that his possession of the arms was unconscious.
Ms conviction under S. 25(1) (a) of the Arms Act, 1969 is, therefore,. fully
justified. It is, however, difficult to sustain his conviction under s. 27 of
the Arms Act. There is no evidence to support the offence under that section
and indeed the trial court has convicted him without properly applying its mind
to the ingredients of that offence. The. judgment of the trial court seems to
suggest that mere possession of the arms would also constitute an offence under
S. 27 of the Arms Act. This view is clearly not correct. But since no separate
sentence was imposed under S. 27, it is unnecessary to say anything more about
it than that the conviction under S. 27 must be quashed.
The question, however, arises as to what
sentence in the circumstances of the case would meet the ends of justice.
As already observed, the offence was
committed in May, 1968 and the appellant was convicted in June, 1969. We are
now in April, 1973. The possession of the arms in question has not been shown
to be inspired by any sinister purpose.
There is no evidence of any undesirable
antecedents of the appellant, nor is there any suggestion that the arms were
likely to be used for some antisocial purpose. Their possession by the
appellant might well have been intended to be utilized for the purpose 944 Sup.
CI/73 66 of self-defence, though undoubtedly the possession was without a proper
licence. Considering all the relevant circumstances of the case, we feel that
it would meet the ends of justice-if the sentence of imprisonment is reduced to
that already undergone and a sentence of fine of P.s. 5001'- is in addition
imposed on the appellant and in default of payment of fine, the appellant is
directed to serve a sentence of rigorous imprisonment for one month. We order
The appeal succeeds in part to the extent
V.P.S. Appeal partly allowed.