Ram Lakhan Singh & Ors Vs. The
State of Uttar Pradesh  INSC 144 (6 May 1977)
CITATION: 1977 AIR 1936 1978 SCR (1) 125 1977
SCC (3) 268
Indian Penal Code, ss. 396 and 302/149,
conviction and death sentence under-Admitted enmity between accused and family
of deceased-Independent neighbouring witnesses not examined by prosecution-When
crime established but criminals' participation questionable, conviction not
Under Art. 136 when appreciation of the
entire evidence is undertaken.
A dacoity was committed in village Jafrapur
at about 9 P.M.
The inmates of the house raised alarm. A
large crowd gathered at the gate and lit a fire to add to the moonlight to
enable recognition of the dacoits who opened fire and murdered three members of
the family. The accused were of neighbourhood and admittedly inimical to the
family of the deceased but apart from three inmates of the house, an inimical
neighbour and another person, no independent witness from the crowd was
examined by the prosecution. The accused were tried and convicted by the
Sessions Court u/s.
396 and in the alternative under s. 302/149
I.P.C., and sentenced to death. They were also convicted under sq. 148, 395 and
324/149 I.P.C. and variously sentenced. The High Court affirmed the conviction
On appeal by special leave, this Court agreed
that the crimes were established, but doubted the appellants' participation in
the same. Acquitting them of all the charges, the Court,
HELD : It is not enough in this case that the
inmates were natural witnesses, and that they could correctly describe what had
taken place inside the house. The real question is whether the accused have
taken part in the crime and their implication in the case is free from
The appreciation of the evidence against the
accused is replete with infirmities affecting the very quality of appreciation
and are unable to hold that the prosecution has established the charges against
the accused beyond reasonable doubt. [133 B, 135 A] That ordinarily this Court
does not reappreciate the evidence in an appeal u/Art. 136 will not stand in
the way of going into the whole matter once again in such an unusual case. This
Court will not deny protection under Art. 136 when there is a pervading sense
of judicial unsafety in relying upon the evidence for the purpose of
The Court observed :
The police cannot conscientiously rest on
their: oars after submitting a hasty charge-sheet leaving for good the track of
the real,offenders of the crime.
Dagdu and Ors. etc. v. State of Maharashtra
 3 S.C.R.
636, referred to.
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Criminal
Appeal No. 423 of 1974.
(Appeal by Special Leave from the Judgment
and Order dated 1-1-1974 of the Allahabad High Court in Crl. Appeal No.
1086 of 1973 and Referred no. 60 of 1973.) R.
K. Garg, S. C. Agarwal, V. J. Francis, A. P. Gupta and U. P. Misra, for the appellants.
D. P. Uniyal and O. P. Rana, for the respondent.
126 The Judgment of the Court was delivered
by GOSWAMI, J.-There are cases where crimes are established but criminals'
participation is shrouded in suspicion. This is one such case.
Three murders were committed in the course of
a dacoity during the early part of the night on April 20, 1972, at about 9.00
P.M. All the inmates of the house under attack had not then finished their
meals. Lights were burning.
The village was awake. Accused are known and
of the neighbourhood combining with four unknown persons. They came armed with
fire-arms. The fire was opened and two men and one woman fell to the fatal
Shrieks and shouts came from the house as
well as from the house-top where insiders took position, torchlight with one of
them, shouting frantically for help. A large number of men gathered at the
gate, some of them even while dacoity was going on inside. A fire was lit at
the gate to add to the moonlight to enable recognition of the dacoits.
What does it all lead to? Only three inmates,
PWs 1 to 3, an inimical neighbour (PW 4) and a witness (PW 5), out of the
hundred who gathered and who had not even been examined by the police during
the investigation, are before us to testify to the guilt of the four assailants
awaiting their death sentence under section 396 IPC or 302/149 IPC.
A perusal of the High Court judgment shows
that it was more confined to the proof of the crime than to a close scrutiny
about the complicity of the accused.
The High Court in agreement with the Sessions
Judge found that the witnesses were truthful since their evidence was
corroborated by, medical evidence, the tattooing and scorching signs which are
inevitable in any gunshot injury.
Who doubts the dacoity and the accompanying
murders ? But did the neighbouring enemies take part in the dacoity ? That is
the principal question which has to lie established beyond reasonable doubt on
the evidence of the fivewitnesses.
Accused Ram Lakhan Singh, Lalloo Singh,
Shitla Baksh Singh and Rameshwar Singh were convicted by the Sessions Judge
under section 396 IPC and in the alternative under section 302/149 IPC and
sentenced to death. They were also convicted under sections 148, 395 and
324/149 IPC and variously sentenced. The High Court affirmed the conviction and
sentence. Hence this appeal by special leave.
The occurrence took place at village Jafrapur
about twelve miles from Jagatpur Police Station in the district of Rae
At village Jafrapur, there was a very
well-to-do joint family of three generations living together in a large twostoried
house. The family owns substantial cultivation, besides flour, saw and oil
127 The patriarch of the family is deceased
Shiv Bahadur Singh (55) who was also Pradhan of the village. The other members
of the family, all living together, are his son, Udairaj Singh and his wife
deceased Shmt. Lakhpat (36) and their sons, Ram Naresh Singh (22) (PW 1),
deceased Ram Jas Singh (20) and Ram Kumar Singh (5) and daughters, Ram Kumari
(14) (PW 3) and Kumari Nirmala (8). Shmt. Rajwati (17) (PW 2), wife of Ram
Naresh Singh and Shmt. Saroj, wife of deceased Ram Jas Singh, were also living
The house of the accused Jai Singh, Lalloo
Singh and Rameshwar Singh is close to the residence of Shiv Bahadur Singh. In
the same village, Jafrapur, there was another family of accused Ram Lakhan
Singh and his daughter was married to accused Shitla Baksh Singh of Manehru at
a distance of about one mile from Jafrapur. It appears the case of accused Jai
Singh was separated and he is not before us.
The two families of the accused were at
daggers drawn with the family of the deceased. For years there have been civil
and criminal litigation between them and some were pending even on the date of
occurrence. Proceedings were instituted by the police against both the parties
under section 107 Cr.
P. C. These wire also pending on the date of
occurrence. In connection with the case under section 107 Cr. P. C. guns of
Udairaj Singh and Ram Naresh Singh (PW 1) were deposited with the authorities
about a year before the occurrence. In December 1971 Udairaj Singh had
complained to the District Magistrate, Rae Bareilly, against the accused and
other members of their family stating that there was danger to their life and
property. On the other hand about five or six months before the occurrence
accused Shitla Baksh Singh also lodged a report against deceased Shiv Bahadur
Singh, Udairaj Singh and PW Ram Naresh Singh implicating them in a dacoity and
on the date of the occurrence they were on bail in that case. Shiv Bahadur
Singh bad a flour mill in village Manehru. Jaddu Singh, uncle of accused Shitla
Baksh Singh installed a flour mill in front of the said flour mill. Business
rivalry ensued. One Mohan Mistry working in Shiv Bahadur Singh's flour mill was
said to be assaulted by accused Ram Lakhan Singh and others as Mohan refused to
leave Shiv Bahadur Singh's service in compliance with their wish. This led to a
case under section 308 IPC against accused Ram Lakhan Singh and three others
and it was fixed for trial in the Court of Sessions at Rae Bareilly on April
21, 1972, the day following the night of occurrence. In fact Ram Lakhan Singh
was arrested on that day at Rae Bareilly where he went for the case.
In the backdrop of the aforesaid fierce
hostility and business rivalry between the parties a dacoity with murder was
committed in the house of Shiv Bahadur Singh on the night of April 20, 1972, at
about 9.00 P.M.
The first information report was lodged by
Ram Naresh Singh (PW 1) at midnight at 12.10 A.M. at Jagatpur Police Station.
The FIR contains the names of five persons,
namely, accused Rameshwar 128 Singh (65), Lalloo Singh (35), Jai Singh, Ram
Lakhan Singh (45) and Shitla Baksh Singh (25). Rameshwar Singh, Lalloo Singh
and Jai Singh ate brothers. Accused Ram Lakhan, Singh is the father-in-law of
accused Shitla'Baksh Singh. The FIR also mentioned that there were four unknown
persons with them. The FIR gave a list of 18 items of property including cash
Rs. 13,500/which were taken away by the dacoits after breaking open almirahs
and boxes. The FIR gave a detailed description of the entire incident from
entrance of the intruders upto their bolting away after having shot three
persons dead , namely, Shiv Bahadur Singh, Ram Jas Singh and Shmt. Lakhpat. The
case was registered under section 396 IPC and the police arrived at the place
of occurrence at about 4.00 A.M.
According to the prosecution, along with the
four accused who had pistols with them, there were Jai Singh armed with a
double barrel gun and four other unknown men dressed in khaki uniforms with
bandoliers. At the time of occurrence, Shiv Bahadur Singh, Ram Jas Singh and
Shmt. Lakhpat were taking their meals in the court-yard. These nine persons all
of a sudden entered their house. Jai Singh and Lalloo Singh fired shots at Shiv
Bahadur Singh and he fell down dead. Ram Jas Singh tried to escape. Accused
Shitla Baksh Singh and an unknown person caught him and brought him to the
court-yard. Then Shitla Baksh Singh and the unknown person fired shots at him. He
also immediately died. Shmt. Lakhpat, Shmt. Rajwati, Shmt. Saroj and Shmt. Ram
Kumari ran into a room and chained the door from inside. The assailants broke
open the door and accused Jai Singh and Ram Lakhan Singh entered the room and
brought out Shmt.
Lakhpat. The other women also came out of the
room. Then Jai Singh and Ram Lakhan Singh shot Shmt. Lakhpat dead. At that time
Shmt. Ram Kumari also received injury from a pellet but was not directly
attacked. The unknown persons then broke open two almirahs in the north
verandha and took out a sum of Rs. 13,500/-. They also entered a room and broke
open boxes and took out ornaments. The dacoity continued for 20/25 minutes
after which all the assailants ran away firing shots in the air.
The prosecution relied upon the evidence of
Ram Naresh Singh (PW 1), Rajwati (PW 2) Ram Kumari (PW 3), Rahim Bux (PW 4) and
Ram Kishun (PW 5). Both the Sessions Judge and the High Court accepted their
It is submitted by Mr. Uniyal on behalf of
the State that there is no reason why we should reappraise the evidence and
interfere with the conclusion of guilt affirmed by the High Court. Mr. Garg, on
the other hand, submits that notwithstanding the evidence of these five
witnesses there is such an inherent improbability of the accused committing,
the offence that the Sessions Judge and the High Court have arrived at a
completely erroneous conclusion which we should not accept in the interest of
Justice. Counsel further submits that it is not merely a question of appreciation
of evidence as such but appreciation of the realities of the situation whether
under the entire circumstances which have been brought out in the evidence the
accused could have 129 taken part in the crime in the way alleged without even
taking precaution to conceal their identity. Mr. Garg submits that the first
information report could not have been lodged at the hour described in the
detailed manner in which it has been written. He submits that it was more
likely that Ram Naresh Singh did not know any names of the accused and it was
only after the police had arrived that the accused were roped in with the four
unknown men to wreak vengeance.
Mr. Uniyal submits that there is
party-faction in the village, one party supported by the deceased's. family and
the other by that of the accused. There was enmity between the parties and the
authorities had been informed by the deceased about threat to life and
property. He further submits that the object of the attack was to murder and
wipe out the family and not dacoity which was incidental for the purpose-of
enlisting the aid of four unknown men in the crime. According to him if the
object was dacoity there would have been some evidence as to snatching of
ornaments from the person of the ladies as also an attempt at getting hold of
the keys for the purpose of opening the boxes and almirahs to facilitate the
robbery. Further there was immediate opening of fire to kill the inmates. Mr.
Uniyal submits that the witnesses are natural witnesses and their testimony should
not be rejected when two courts have accepted the same.
We have given anxious consideration to the
submissions of Mr. Uniyal but for the reasons which will presently follow it is
not possible to hold that the charges are established against the accused
beyond reasonable doubt.
The Sessions Judge has more or less prefaced
his judgment by observing that Shitla Baksh Singh's "family is of law
breakers". He further observed as follows :"I may also mention that
Shiv Bahadur Singh and members of his family always took recourse to law and
the accused persons acted as law breakers. It is true that cases against
Rameshwar Singh were of civil nature and that there was no criminal case
against him. But in these days offenders bear grudge against and become hostile
to the person who either takes civil action or criminal action against them. I
may further mention that Shitla Baksh Singh ventured to implicate respectable,
law abiding and very well to do persons Shiv Bahadur Singh, his son and
grandson in a dacoity case. This clearly speaks of his malice towards them.
The position that I conclude is that Shiv
Bahadur Singh and members of his family were law abiding persons and always
took recourse to law, whereas the accused persons are law breakers and they
were positively in mical/hostile to Shiv Bahadur Singh and his family".
x x x x Baksh Singh's) father-in-law, Ram
Lakhan Singh accused was convicted under section 308 IPC case brought by Mohan
servant of the complainant. . . . .
130 From the above we are of opinion bat the
Sessions Judge adopted a highly incorrect approach in trying a criminal case
While dealing with the evidence, of Rahim Bux (PW 4) the Sessions Judge
referred to the fact of his evidence being accepted in another case under
section 308 IPC against accused Ram Lakhan Singh and he took note that Ram
Lakhan Singh was convicted in that case. From this he observed :
"It means that the testimony of Rahim
was believed. The defence has not shown that evidence of Rahim was found false
in that case. In case Rahim gave correct evidence ill the case of Mohan then in
my opinion he can also be believed in the present case because he is a natural
witness of the occurrence".
This is again a wrong approach.
Although the judgment of the Sessions Judge
is otherwise an exhaustive judgment it cannot be said from the instances which
we have set out above that his appreciation is free from legal infirmity of
some kind of prejudice against the accused who are described as "law
breakers". In our system of law an accused starts with a presumption of
His bad character is not relevant unless he
gives evidence of good character in which case by rebuttal, evidence of bad
character may be adduced (Section 54 of the Evidence Act).
With regard to accused Rameshwar Singh the
Sessions Judge observed that "the presence of Rameshwar Singh was quite
necessary with the assailants because he knew very well the circuitous route of
going inside the house of the victims".
This is again a very faulty appreciation of
the case against accused Rameshwar Singh who is 65 years old and who need not
himself have taken the trouble of accompanying the assailants when his younger
brothers were there.
The High Court also did not closely examine
the case which contain several extra-ordinary features and above infirmities in
the judgment of the trial court. To say the least, that the accused were none
but known persons of the neighbourhood highly inimically disposed towards the
deceased and the crime was committed when the whole village was awake, should
call for an onerous test regarding credibility. In disposing of the argument on
the score of improbability the High Court observed as follows :"There can
be more than one reason for the appellants themselves having gone to commit the
offences charged against them. It is quite likely that the unknown persons
picked up by the appellants were not prepared to go for the perpetration of the
crime unless the appellants also accompanied them. It is also likely that the
appellants were swayed by the feelings of old time chivalry and wanted not only
their adversaries to be killed but also wanted to demonstrate to them that they
met their doom for having the audacity to incur their displeasure'.
131 Dealing with the arguments regarding
absence of independent evidence the High Court observed :
"In the particular circumstances of this
case, therefore, the mere fact that no independent person has come forward to
support the prosecution version of the occurrence can be no ground for
discarding the evidence of the witnesses already examined, particularly that of
Ram Naresh Singh, Smt. Rajwati and Ram Kumari P.Ws'.
With regard to the evidence of Ram Kishun (PW
5 who a not even been examined by the investigating officer, both courts relied
on his evidence and the High Court observed that "the evidence of Ram
Kishun can also therefore be pressed into use in order to lend assurance to the
evidence of the other witnesses". The above observation of the High Court
would go to show that it was trying to look for further assurance from some
independent source to corroborate the testimony of the eye witnesses who are
all inimically disposed towards the accused. We also do not find in either of
the judgments any reference to the prosecution not examining all the eye
witnesses mentioned in the FIR.
Thus when we find that the appreciation of
the evidence against the accused is replete with infirmities pointed out above
affecting the very quality of appreciation, this Court will have to undertake
for itself, in the interest of justice, a thorough examination of the evidence
and the entire circumstances to satisfy itself about the guilt of the accused
who have been awarded the extreme penalty under the law. That ordinarily this
Court does not re-appreciate the evidence in an appeal by special leave under
Article 136 of the Constitution will not stand in the way of our going into the
whole matter once again in such an unusual case.
This Court will not deny protection under
Article 136 of the Constitution when there is a pervading sense of judicial unsafety
in relying upon the evidence for the purpose of conviction.
The Sessions Judge wrongly accepted the
prosecution case that "the assailants had come to destroy the entire
family" and that "in the present case the main intention of the known
assailants was to murder Shiv Bahadur Singh and other members of his family'.
It is difficult to appreciate how this alone can be the object when we find
that Udairaj Singh and Ram Naresh Singh who were all along shouting from the roof
and were focusing a torch upon the intruders, who even fired towards them, were
spared. If the Sessions Judge is right about the object of the attack, it will
only be consistent with the absence of Udairaj Singh and Ram Naresh Singh in
which case the evidence of Ram Naresh Singh will be open to grave suspicion.
Even Udairaj Singh has not been examined by the prosecution as a witness
although the Sessions Judge has referred in his judgment "that Udairaj
Singh told them (people who gathered) that Rameshwar Singh and others had
killed his father and son. . . . . . ". In the absence of Udairaj Singh
this statement is of, course inadmissible, but this is pointed out only to show
that the culprits named, at that stage, were "Rameshwar Singh and others"
and not all the accused and that withholding of his evidence was deliberate. If
the killing of the persons is the main intention, it 132 is difficult to
appreciate why it was necessary for the accused Shitla Baksh Singh and another
unknown person to have caught Ram Jas Singh while he was running away and
brought him back to the courtyard for the purpose of firing at him in order to
kill him. He could have been killed while he was running away. The reason why
the witnesses have stated that Ram Jas Singh was brought to the court-yard was
perhaps to enable Ram Naresh Singh and others to see the killing. The courts
have not taken note of this at all.
The most unusual feature in the case is that
in spite of the fact that people from the neighbourhood gathered at the gate of
the house and were said to be watching when the dacoity was being committed
inside and nine persons from among them were named as witnesses in the FIR only
Rahim Bux (PW 4) who was admittedly inimical towards the accused was examined
to impeicate the accused.
Another unusual feature is that Ram Naresh
Singh, who went to, the police station about half an hour after commission of
the dacoity leaving three dead bodies in the house would have himself the
equanimity and patience to detail an essay of information at the police
station. It would have been more natural for him just to tell the police that
murders and dacoity were committed by the persons whom he could name and the
names of the witnesses who could recognise the dacoits. It is also surprising
that he could give a long list of articles with weight and value when lodging
the first information report. The constable who wrote the first information
report containing five pages appended a note at the foot of the FIR certifying
that "the statement of the complainant has been taken down in the check
report word for word". Even in this unusually long first information
report accused Rameshwar Singh was not ascribed any part although during
evidence it was stated that he was the first to have "challenged" and
threatened the inmates after which other accused opened fire. There is also no
mention in this long report about Ram Kumari having received any injury. One
should have thought it rather unusual for the police to delay for a long time
in the Thana after they have been informed of such a dastardly crime committed
twelve miles away and not immediately to go to the place of occurrence and take
immediate steps for apprehending the near by culprits. The police could have
spared the trouble of cataloguing in the FIR the instances of enmity and
description of the pending courts cases while it might have been enough to
mention that the family of Shiv Bahadur Singh had enmity with the accused
It is because of these unusual features that
the defence strongly suggested that there was some manipulation in lodging the
first information report in this case and that therefore mention of the names
of the accused therein should not be treated with the same importance as is
done in normal cases.
This is not a case in which a dacoity was
committed at dead of night when inmates were asleep and they could recognise
the dacoits while committing the dacoity and there was no other independent
person nearby who could have seen them.
There being admittedly 133 enmity between the
accused and the 'deceased's family it was the bounden of the prosecution to
examine the neighbouring witnesses who were there and named in thefirst
information report to corroborate the testimony of the inmates. That out of the
neighbouring witnesses named in the first information report only Rahim Bux (PW
4) who was inimically disposed towards the accused was selected throws a great
deal of doubt in the prosecution case against the accused.
It is not enough in this case that the
inmates were natural witnesses, as the courts emphasised, and that they could
correctly describe what had taken place inside the house.
The real question is whether the accused have
taken part in the crime and their implication in the case is free from
Our attention is drawn by Mr. Uniyal to an
application by the Public Prosecutor filed before the court that the statements
of the other witnesses were not necessary. There is nothing to show that they
were either unwilling to depose in favour of the prosecution or were won over
by the accused. When the witnesses named in the first information report were
not considered necessary by the Public Prosecutor, it is curious to find that
Ram Kshun who was not examined by the police nor was he cited in the chargesheet
was found necessary and was examined as PW 5. According to the evidence the two
servants of Udairaj Singh namely, Pancham and Ghurai, were at the gate when the
robbers entered the house and they went to the village to call people. They
also returned later with the people. Even then these two witnesses were not
examined as witnesses. As already pointed out even Udairaj Singh who flashed
his torch and must have seen the intruders was withheld. It is rather
intriguing that Rahim Bux (PW 4) stated in his evidence that "Udairaj told
us that Rameshwar and others had fired at his father and son". This is
repeated by Ram Kishun (PW 5) when he stated "Udairaj Singh told us that
Rameshwar Singh and others had entered his house". One is left to guess
whether it is because of this reason that Udairaj Singh has not been examined
as a witness and the statements attributed to him have also become inadmissible
in evidence It is clear that the prosecution does not require that part of the
evidence and left it to be finally inadmissible. There is no reason why Udairaj
Singh would not have been able to name, all the accused persons to PWs 4 and 5.
His non-examination is suspect.
Again if the object of the accused was to
murder and wipe out the entire family, as has been found, by the Sessions
Judge, there is no reason why in spite of their noticing Udairaj Singh and Ram
Naresh Singh on the roof they would have left them without a scratch in spite
of the fact that Ram Naresh Singh stated that the accused had tired towards
Some importance is given by the prosecution
to the evidence that the accused tried to search for the youngest boy in the
family, namely, Ram Kumar Singh (5), who was sleeping in the courtyard. This
fact is even mentioned in the first information report. We are, however, unable
to give any unusual importance to this which may as well perhaps be a clever
verisimilitude134 When the police found that along with four unknown persons
certain enemies of the deceased were named as culprits it was their duty to
keep that fact in mind while investigating into the crime. On the other hand we
find that there was no investigation worth the name in this case even though
the Superintendent of Police arrived at the place of occurrence the following
morning. Even a police constable from Rae Bareilly, the District Headquarters,
arrived at the place of occurrence at 6.00 A.M., about two hours after the
arrival of the Jagatpur police. It is not known how and what information was
received Rae Bareilly kotwali. It is, however, admitted that Sub-Inspectors
from Rae Bareilly also came with the S.P. at 8.00 A.M., the following morning
to the place of occurrence. Rae Bareilly is about ten miles from the village
whereas Jagatpur is twelve miles. It is equally intriguing that in such a case
the police submitted the charge-sheet on May 11, 1972, after about three weeks
of the occurrence. The police, therefore, did not at all consider it necessary
to investigate the case, carefully to rule out the possibility of the enemies of
the deceased being implicated due only to grave suspicion. It is indeed
surprising that the police officer did not think it his duty to immediately
arrest the accused living next door if he had no doubt about their complicity
disclosed in the first information report. The Police Officer (PW 7) stated in
his evidence that he had asked one of the Sub-Inspectors to arrest the accused
but did not tell if that officer tried to find them out in their house. Even
that officer has not been examined as a witness in this case. This is an
unusual and unnatural attitude on the part of the police officer in such a
serious case if the names of the accused immediately available bad been truly
disclosed. Again, when the police officer was asked as to bow the police from Rae
Bareilly came there he was unable to give any reason and stated that he could
not say "how the information in respect of this occurrence had reached the
kotwali". We should have expected the police officer at least to have
asked the SubInspectors of kotwali as to how they came to know of the
occurrence in which case there would have been the possibility of some
information at Rae Bareilly which might even be earlier than the actual first
information report received at the Jagatpur Police Station. This fact also
reduces the weight that may be attached to the first information report in this
case at Jagatpur.
After all this discussion when we come to the
judgment of the High, Court we find that it was of the opinion that "the
evidence of Ram Kishun can also therefore be pressed into use in order to lend
assurance to the evidence of the other witnesses".
It is true that no enmity or grudge is
suggested against this witness, but we find that this witness was not even
examined by the police nor was he cited in the chargesheet.
In a grave charge like the present, it will
not be proper to place reliance on a witness who never figured during the
investigation and was not. named in the chargesheet. The accused who are
entitled to know his earlier version to the police are naturally deprived of an
opportunity of effective cross-examination and it will be difficult to give any
credence to a statement which was given for the first time in court after about
a year of the occurrence. We cannot, therefore, agree that the High Court was
right in accenting the 135 evidence of this witness as lending assurance to the
testimony of other witnesses on the basis of which alone perhaps, the High
Court felt unsafe to convict the accused.
After having examined the entire evidence and
circumstances in a case of this description, we are unable to affirm the
conviction on the oral testimony of the aforesaid five witnesses and to hold
that the prosecution has established the charges against the accused beyond
We, therefore, give the four accused the
benefit of reasonable doubt and acquit them of all the charges. The judgment
and order of the High Court sentencing the accused to death and other sentences
are set aside and the accused shall be released from detention forthwith.
We may observe that this is a case where the
police cannot conscientiously rest on their oars after submitting a hasty
chargesheet leaving for good the track of the real offenders of the crime. This
is equally the problem for the general police administration throughout the
country to which we direct attention in a recent judgment in Dagdu and Others,
etc. v. State of Maharashtra(1).
M.R. Appeal allowed.