Chandmal & Anr. v. State of Rajasthan

Burden of proof on prosecution to prove accusation beyond 'reasonable doubt' is one of the cornerstones of criminal trial. Read this case analysis to learn how the Apex Court overturned the lower courts' decision for the Prosecution failed to discharge its burden.
CITATIONAIR 1976 SC 917
COURTSupreme Court of India
JUDGES/CORAMJustice P Bhagwati and Justice R Sarkaria
DATE OF JUDGEMENT07.11.1975

Introduction

The importance of admitting circumstantial evidences beyond doubt has been highlighted in this case where the case has been turned over by the Apex Court due to failure of prosecution to establish the allegations fully and indubitably.

Facts

The facts of the case are as follows: Nazar Bai, an old widow was residing alone and separately from her son, Shankar Lal. Her cousin Ramchandra resided nearby and on the auspicious day of Karwa Chauth he invited Nazar Bai to have dinner at his house.  According to the prosecution when Nazar Bai left to go to her cousin’s house, Chandmal followed her. After about 5 days Shankar Lal lodged a missing complaint in the police station claiming that his mother never reached Ramchandra’s house. However, Chandmal’s name was not mentioned in the report.

About two years after the disappearance of the deceased. Police Sub-Inspector Bansi Lal saw Chandmal, dressed like a female going on Chittor Fort. On suspicion, the Sub-Inspector arrested him under Section 55/109, of Code of Criminal Procedure and proceeded to investigate his house which actually belonged to one Ranglal.

Subsequently Chandmal gave a disclosure statement to the Sub-Inspector and along with 2 witnesses the police was led to Ranglal’s property by Chandmal where he showed the buried skeleton draped in some female clothes. Some ornaments where also recovered which were identified to be of the deceased by her son. Consecutively Ranglal was also arrested and a case was initiated.

The Appellants Chandmal and Ranglal were tried by the Sessions Judge, Pratapgarh in respect of offences under Sections 302, 201 and 411, Penal Code. The Judge convicted Chandmal under Section 302, Penal Code, for committing the murder of Nazar Bai and sentenced him to imprisonment for life. He further convicted him under Section 411, Penal Code, as a dishonest receiver of stolen property of the deceased and sentenced him to one year’s rigorous imprisonment. He was convicted under Section 201, Penal Code, also, but no separate sentence was passed on that count. Ranglal was acquitted of the charges under Section 302 and 201, Penal Code but was convicted for an offence under Section 411, Penal Code and sentenced to one year’s rigorous imprisonment. The High Court dismissed the appeal of the convicts rejecting to alter the decision of the Sessions Judge. Hence, this appeal by special leave came before the Supreme Court.

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Issues

The main issues in the case were:

  1. Whether or not the circumstantial evidence submitted to prove the guilt of the appellants were fully and indubitably established by the prosecution.
  2. Whether or not the prosecution was correct in stating that the ornaments recovered belongs to the deceased or has the same been proved in the Court of Law.
  3. Whether or not the prosecution had established beyond doubt that the skeleton was of Smt. Nazar Bai.

Summary of court decision and judgment

The circumstance that when Nazar Bai was last seen departing from her house, she was being followed by Chandmal had not been clearly established. There was no evidence that the Appellant and the deceased were last seen together near or at the house from which her alleged skeleton was said to have been discovered. By itself, therefore, this circumstance was not of a definite tendency and had little evidentiary value.

The prosecution had miserably failed to prove that these ornaments and other articles belonged to Smt. Nazar Bai or had been stolen from her house. Because there was no mention about the disappearance or theft of any ornaments or valuables from the house of Nazar Bai in the FIR and Shankar Lal had on record admitted that he sold the majority of his mother’s jewelry during her lifetime and also mortgaged the house thus it was sufficient to conclude that Nazar Bai was not a wealthy woman. The Court further observed that the deceased being a Hindu widow would not have worn so much gold as a common practice in society.

The Court believed that the discovery of the skeleton was ‘stage-managed’ after implanting the ornaments on it to fix its identity as the keys to the house though belonged to Ranglal were actually with Chandmal and subsequently with the police upon latter’s arrest. The failure of the police to create a memorandum and seal the skeleton and the recovered ornaments also shows a negative side on the prosecution story. Further, not only the identity of the skeleton was doubtful, the cause of the death had not been established. It had not been shown that the death of the person whose skeleton it was, had been due to culpable homicide or unlawful violence.

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Thus, the circumstances in which the conviction of Chandmal rested were not fully and indubitably established. All the charges against Chandmal therefore failed. Thereby the Supreme Court set aside the conviction of Chandmal and acquitted him.

Analysis

Circumstantial evidence, in law, is evidence not drawn from direct observation of a fact in issue. Reasonable doubt is tied into circumstantial evidence as circumstantial evidence is evidence that relies on inference, and reasonable doubt was put in place so that the circumstantial evidence against someone in a criminal or civil case must be enough to acquit someone fairly. ‘Reasonable doubt’ is described as the highest standard of proof used in court and means that there must be clear and convincing evidence of what the person has done. Therefore, the circumstantial evidence against someone may not be enough but it can contribute to other decisions made concerning the case.

It is well settled that when a case rests entirely on circumstantial evidence, such evidence must satisfy three tests.

  1. The circumstances, from which an inference of guilt is sought to be drawn, must be cogently and firmly established,
  2. Those circumstances should be of a definite tendency unerringly pointing towards the guilt of the accused, and
  3. The circumstances, taken cumulatively, should form a chain so complete that there is no scope from the conclusion that within all human probability the crime was committed by the accused and none else. That is to say, the circumstances should be incapable of explanation on any reasonable hypothesis save that of the accused guilt.

Basing on the above points it is clear that the prosecution in the present case had indeed failed to satisfy the requirements of circumstantial evidence thus the decision delivered by the apex Court was inevitably right.

Conclusion

In cases where it is impossible to prove the guilt of the accused through direct evidence or rather due to lack of direct evidence the alternative provided by the law to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt if not fully through circumstantial evidence. The prosecution should jot down such evidence in a way to satisfy the abovementioned conditions and also to establish beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of the accused.

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