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Sarwan Singh v. State of Punjab 1976 4 SCC 369

Sarwan Singh v. State of Punjab 1976 4 SCC 369

This appeal, under 3. 2(a) of the Supreme Court (Enlargement of Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction) Act, 1970, challenges the conviction of Sarwan Singh under Section 302. I.P.C., resulting in a life sentence, and the convictions of Mukhtiar Singh and Amar Singh under Section 302/34. I.P.C., with the same sentence. The case originated from a murder charge against the appellants and five others for killing Jit Singh. Initially acquitted by the Additional Sessions Judge, the High Court reversed the acquittal for the appellants based on proof beyond reasonable doubt.

The case stems from a bitter rivalry between business partners in a liquor vend, culminating in the murder of Jit Singh. The prosecution alleges that Sarwan Singh, motivated by financial loss due to Jit Singh’s illicit liquor sales, sought revenge. Jit Singh, informed of a fellow’s legal trouble, attempted to secure bail but was unsuccessful. On their way back, the group alighted at Salabatpura, where they were ambushed by the accused, resulting in a brutal assault on Jit Singh.

The prosecution contends that the attackers, armed with various weapons, including an axe, were lying in wait, anticipating the victims’ stop at Salabatpura. The assailants fled when the victims raised an alarm, and the injured parties reported the incident to the police. The FIR detailed the assault under Sections 307/148/149, I.P.C., later amended to murder after Jit Singh’s death. The police investigation, including weapon recoveries and post-mortem, led to the submission of a charge-sheet, the accused’s trial, and the convictions now under appeal.

The deceased suffered a brutal and dastardly assault, evident from numerous injuries, including incised wounds, punctured wounds, lacerated wounds, and contusions. The post-mortem examination by Dr. Prem Nath identified 19 injuries, and the medical evidence played a crucial role in the case. The injuries, inflicted in a savage manner, formed a key aspect of both the defense and prosecution arguments.

Dr. Nath’s testimony revealed inconsistencies, as the injuries attributed to ghops recovered from some accused were deemed incompatible. The accused claimed innocence, asserting false implication due to factional animus. The Additional Sessions Judge, however, rejected the prosecution’s case on various grounds, some of which were not pressed by the defense.

Despite several circumstances considered by the trial judge, the High Court accepted crucial evidence against the appellants. The prosecution presented evidence of rivalry between Sarwan Singh and the deceased, as mentioned in the FIR and confirmed by witnesses. Three eyewitnesses testified to the assault, and the recovery of weapons at the accused’s instance sought to corroborate their involvement. Medical evidence further supported the prosecution’s case.

The High Court disagreed with the trial judge, acknowledging the prosecution’s categories of evidence. While it gave the benefit of doubt to five accused, it didn’t question the credibility of the witnesses, emphasizing that the decision was based on the perceived infirmities in the medical and other evidence rather than witness falsehood.

After a comprehensive review of the entire record and judgments of both the Additional Sessions Judge and the High Court, it is concluded that the High Court’s judgment is substantially correct. The Additional Sessions Judge’s reliance on certain non-material circumstances and speculative reasoning is deemed inappropriate. Despite the trial judge’s oversight of crucial evidence, the High Court correctly accepted the categories of evidence presented against the appellants.

Addressing the arguments presented by both parties, the first contention raised by Mr. Hardy, learned Counsel for the appellants, concerning the delay in dispatching the First Information Report (F.I.R.), is dismissed. The Additional Sessions Judge had accepted the argument that the F.I.R. was prepared later, after due deliberations and the inquest report. However, this conclusion overlooks key evidence indicating the Sub-Inspector’s prompt actions. The Sub-Inspector, along with his assistants, left for the crime scene immediately after recording the F.I.R. The documentary evidence, including entries in the Daily Diary and the copies of relevant documents, supports the Sub-Inspector’s timely actions and disproves the alleged delay. The High Court rightly rejected the Additional Sessions Judge’s finding that the delay in dispatching the F.I.R. cast suspicion on the prosecution’s truthfulness.

Furthermore, the argument that the F.I.R. details were copied from the inquest report lacks merit. The evidence, including the testimony of witnesses and documentary proof, adequately explains the sequence of events. The High Court rightly emphasized that mere delay in dispatching the F.I.R. does not undermine the entire prosecution case, citing precedent in support. The High Court’s conclusion aligns with the circumstances of this case, and it is affirmed that the Additional Sessions Judge was unjustified in rejecting the prosecution case based on the delay in dispatching the F.I.R. in the specific circumstances presented.

The argument presented by the appellants’ counsel, Mr. Hardy, contending that the eye-witnesses’ evidence is partisan and should not be relied upon due to the opposing factions in the village, is found to be flawed. While acknowledging that the witnesses may have belonged to the deceased’s group, Mr. Hardy conceded that there was no evidence of enmity between the two factions. The contention that mere association with the deceased’s group renders the witnesses interested or partisan is deemed incorrect. Specifically, it is clarified that P.W. 8 Gurdev Singh and P.W. 9 Pal Singh cannot be labeled as interested witnesses merely based on their visiting terms with the deceased. The fact that villagers often have such social interactions does not establish partisanship.

Moreover, the assertion that interested witnesses’ evidence requires corroboration as a matter of necessity is addressed. It is emphasized that the law does not equate the evidence of an interested witness with that of a tainted witness or approver, mandating corroboration. The evidence of interested witnesses is not inherently infirm, and while scrutiny is advised as a rule of prudence, it is not a legal requirement. The key point is that once the court is satisfied of the truthfulness of interested witnesses’ evidence, corroboration may not be mandatory. The presence of an independent witness, P.W. 9 Pal Singh, whose evidence consistently corroborates that of the interested witnesses, further strengthens the credibility of the prosecution’s case. The oversight of this crucial aspect by the Additional Sessions Judge is highlighted, and there is no discernible reason to distrust the evidence of Pal Singh based on its intrinsic merit.

Addressing the next argument, Mr. Hardy’s reliance on the alleged failure to prove the presence of the eye-witnesses and the deceased at Phul is dismissed. It is clarified that while there is no direct evidence of the deceased being in Phul, the circumstances lead to an inevitable inference that the deceased had been there, as testified by the eyewitnesses. The defense’s own evidence, particularly Exhibit D.W. 4/B and Exhibit D.W. 4/C, supports the prosecution’s narrative regarding Bashir Ahmed’s situation. The documents produced by the defense indicate that Bashir Ahmed was taken to Phul, and the bail was refused, aligning with the prosecution’s version. The failure of the Additional Sessions Judge to consider this crucial aspect, supported by evidence from the defense, is noted. Considering the cumulative effect of the evidence of the eyewitnesses, the confirmed presence of the deceased and the witnesses at the spot, and the supporting documents, it is concluded that the prosecution has sufficiently proven that the deceased and his companions went to Phul to arrange bail for Bashir Ahmed but returned early after the bail was denied, and the attack occurred when the deceased alighted from the bus at Salabatpura.

The appellants’ counsel, Mr. Hardy, raised concerns about the absence of independent witnesses from Salabatpura and argued that their non-examination by the prosecution affected the credibility of the assault case on the deceased. The appellate court, however, rejected this argument, stating that the onus lies with the prosecution to choose its witnesses and that the court cannot compel the prosecution to examine specific individuals. Adverse inferences may be drawn only if material witnesses are withheld, and the court must be satisfied that the omitted witnesses were essential to proving the case. In this context, the court emphasized that the evidence of the eye-witnesses did not suffer from any intrinsic infirmity and that the reluctance of witnesses to come forward is a common phenomenon in rural areas.

Additionally, the court addressed the reliance on the recovery of weapons (Exts. P. L., P. M., P. N., P. O., P. Q., & P. R.), specifying that only the recovery of weapons from the three appellants (Amar Singh, Sarwan Singh, and Mukhtiar Singh) is relevant to the case. The court noted the lack of incriminating statements in the disclosure statements related to the weapon recoveries and highlighted that the absence of bloodstains on the weapons weakened their significance. The court also discussed the recovery memo of a gandasa (Exhibit P. L.) from Amar Singh, asserting that its recovery was inconclusive as it lacked bloodstains.

The court then addressed the inconsistency between the prosecution evidence and the medical evidence, particularly regarding the punctured wounds. It acknowledged that the recovery of weapons did not necessarily align with the accused’s use of those weapons during the assault. Due to this inconsistency, the court expressed doubt about the participation of certain accused persons, leading to the benefit of doubt being granted to Mukhtiar Singh. Amar Singh was also given the benefit of doubt as there was no overt act attributed to him, and the evidence against him was not strong.

Regarding motive, the court disagreed with the defense’s claim that there was no motive for the accused to kill the deceased. It recognized the rivalry between the accused and the deceased over the sale of illicit liquor, emphasizing the consistency of this motive in the statements of witnesses.

In conclusion, the court upheld the conviction of Sarwan Singh, finding overwhelming evidence against him, while granting the benefit of doubt to Mukhtiar Singh and Amar Singh, leading to their acquittals. The court dismissed the appeal of Sarwan Singh, confirming his conviction and sentence, but allowed the appeals of Mukhtiar Singh and Amar Singh, directing their immediate release.

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