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K’taka High Court grants relief to Accused after nearly 3 years due to Failure of Witness testimony to provide Incriminating Evidence.

CASE TITLE – Salman Chirik v. State of Karnataka

CASE NUMBER – CP NO.3782 OF 2024

DATED ON – 14.05.2023

QUORUM – Justice H.P. Sandesh

 

FACTS OF THE CASE

This petition was a successive bail petition of the Petitioner, who is accused the No.3. The Hon’ble High Court of Karnataka earlier in Crl.P.No.9818/2021, in view of the filing of the charge sheet, granted liberty to the petitioner to approach the Trial Court. The petitioner also approached this Court in Crl.P.No.7785/2022 and the same was rejected vide order dated 21.11.2022, on merits. The petitioner once again approached the Hon’ble High Court of Karnataka by filing a fresh petition in Crl.P.No.2600/2023 and the Court rejected the same vide order dated 14.06.2023, but with liberty to approach this Court after examination of the eye-witnesses.

 

ISSUES

Whether the evidence on record against the Petitioner/Accused No.3, is adequate to deny bail.

 

CONTENTIONS BY THE PETITIONER

The learned counsel for the petitioner submitted that the injured witnesses, as well as the eye-witnesses have been examined before the Trial Court as P.W.1 to P.W.7 and none of them have supported the case of the prosecution and during the course of cross-examination also, nothing was elicited from their mouth and nothing is there to appreciate in the matter on merits. He also brought to light that the Accused No.1 in the same case, facing similar charges was enlarged on bail by this same Court vide order dated 29.07.2022, and stated that the Petitioner in turn had been in Custody for 2 years and 8 months. He further went on to mention that Accused Nos.5 and 7 and this Petitioner are in custody and other than this petitioner and accused Nos.5 and 7, all are on bail. The learned counsel argued that in view of the injured witnesses and eye-witnesses who have not supported the case of the prosecution, the Court has to enlarge the petitioner on bail.

 

CONTENTIONS BY THE RESPONDENT

The learned High Court Government Pleader appearing for the respondent State submitted that the charges levelled against the Petitioner is different and the evidence on record is different. Hence, the petitioner is not entitled to bail.

 

COURT ANALYSIS AND JUDGEMENT

The Hon’ble High Court of Karnataka after hearing the arguments of both the parties, looked into the depositions of the injured witnesses and eye-witnesses. They stated P.W.1 to P.W.3, who have sustained injuries in the incident, though P.W.1 stated that when he went to pacify the Galata, he had sustained injuries on above the left eye, but he says that the accused persons were not there in the spot and his brother and Yasin were not subjected to assault by this petitioner. P.W.2 stated that someone had inflicted injury on his cheek and the said person is not before the Court. He was subjected to cross-examination and nothing had elicited from his mouth either. P.W.3 though says that he was also assaulted, none of the accused persons, who were present before the Court assaulted him and he had turned hostile. P.W.4 to P.W.7 are the eye-witnesses. The Hon’ble High Court of Karnataka stated that they have also not stated anything about the incriminating evidence about the petitioner herein and that when such being the material on record and when the eye-witnesses and the injured witnesses have been examined, in the absence of incriminating evidence, the petitioner is entitled for bail and the Criminal Petition was allowed, certain to some conditions, those being: (i) The petitioner shall execute his personal bond for a sum of Rs.2,00,000/- (Rupees Two Lakhs only) with two sureties for the like-sum to the satisfaction of the jurisdictional Court. (ii) The petitioner shall not indulge in tampering the prosecution witnesses. (iii) The petitioner shall appear before the jurisdictional Court on all future hearing dates, unless exempted by the Court for any genuine cause. (iv) The petitioner shall not leave the jurisdiction of the Trial Court without prior permission of the Court till the case registered against him is disposed of.

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Judgement Reviewed by – Gnaneswarran Beemarao

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“THE MALEGAON BLAST CASE: UNRAVELLING LEGAL COMPLEXITIES IN INDIA’S FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM”

 ABSTRACT

 The Malegaon blast of 2008, stands as an agonizing exemplification to the intricate nature of terrorism investigations in India.  The Malegaon Blast Case, 2008 sent shivers down the spines of the people throughout India, highlighting the impending threat of terrorism in the socio-political landscape of the country. The repercussions of the blast led to a launch of comprehensive investigations aimed at identifying the perpetrators and bringing them to justice. However, the path to justice proved to be perforated with complexities, both legal and practical. To understand the legal framework surrounding the investigation of terrorism in India, it is crucial to dive into the legislative landscape. The legislation provides the law enforcement agencies with utmost powers. However, these powers must be exerted prudently to prevent the latent violation of the human rights as well as to ensure agglutination of due process of law. Despite, the sturdy legal framework, the investigators often face daunting adversities during investigations. The Malegaon Blast Case demonstrates these adversities. Moreover, the ubiquitous dominance of political and religious factors adds another layer of convolutions to terrorism investigations, often leading to allegations of prejudice or intrusion. Prosecuting those amenable for the acts of terrorism is another obstacle. The burden of proof in the cases of terrorism is eminently high, requiring the prosecution to not only substantiate the guilt of the accused but also their collusion in a larger terrorist network. Moreover, the prolonged legal proceedings and the baroque nature of evidence often result in persistent trials, testing the patience and resources of all involved parties. This article scrupulously examines the legal framework governing such investigations, colligating them with the austere realities faced by the investigators of such cases on the ground. By analysing the historical context, legal provisions, investigative challenges and prosecutorial obstacles, this study aims to shed light on the labyrinthine web surrounding the Malegaon Blast Case. Through an analysis of implications and potential reforms, it provides insights into effectively navigating similar cases in the future.

KEYWORDSMalegaon Blast, Terrorism, Bombing, Investigation, Prosecution, Chargesheet, Explosives, Forensic Evidence, Conspiracy, Arrests, Trial, Legal Proceedings, Witness Testimony, MCOCA, NIA, UAPA, Counterterrorism, Communal Tensions, Judicial Inquiry

 INTRODUCTION

 On the 29th of September, 2008, a blast took place near Bhikku Chowk in Malegaon, a town in the Nasik District of the Indian state of Maharashtra approximately 200 Km northeast of Mumbai. Pretty much, at the same instance, another blast occurred in Modasa, Gujarat. The explosion occurred on the eve of Navaratri. These onslaughts resulted in the lamentable loss of a 15-year-old boy with total of 10 injured in Modasa, Gujarat[1] and six lives in Malegaon with a total of 101 people enduring injuries[2]. Concretely, the modus operandi resembled a blast that took place in Delhi just three days prior.

The blasts were initiated by two low-intensity bombs strapped to a Hero Honda motorcycle, which eventually served as an imperative hint leading the police to the perpetrators. Primitively, scepticism swerved towards the Muslim extremists, inducing the deployment of the Mumbai Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) to assist the Malegaon police in the investigation. The investigation was backed by the ATS Chief Hemant Karkare, lamentably killed during the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai by Lashkar-e-Tayyaba terrorists, the ATS later exposed evidence inculpating the Hindu extremists’ groups. On the date of 24th of October, 2008, three individuals namely Prime Suspect Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur (Member of Lok Sabha in BJP – Who as per the update of the Malegaon Blast Case on 26th April, 2024, on several occasion in the past, failed to appear before the court to record her final statement regarding the 2008 Malegaon Blast Case on the pretext of illness[3]), Shiv Narayan Gopal Singh Kalsanghra and Shyam Bhawarlal Sahu were arrested by the police concerning the blasts that took place in Malegaon. Posterior investigations unveiled that other Hindu extremist groups, including the Rastriya Jagran Manch, Sharda Sarvagya Peeth, Hindu Rashtra Sena and Abhinav Bharat were enmeshed, leading to the further arrests. The probe took a vital turn with the arrest of Lt. Col. Prasad Shrikant Purohit, a serving Army officer, on November 4, 2008. However, the case soon became politicized, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiv Sena accusing the ATS of possessing political impetus behind the arrests, while also levying allegations against the Congress. The investigation of the ATS unveiled the potential connections between the accused and the other acts of terrorism, inclusive of the Modasa blast in Gujarat, the 2008 Malegaon Blast, the 2007 Mecca Masjid Blast in Hyderabad[4], and the Samjhauta Express Blast in 2007[5]. The prosecutors instituted charges under the Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act (MCOCA)[6], involving prior chargesheets against one or more of the accused. The special court in July, 2009, dismissed the MCOCA charges, citing the lack of cognizance in the other cases at the time of filing the chargesheet[7] for the 2008 Malegaon Blast. However, in 2010, the Bombay High Court re-established the MCOCA charges, citing that the cognizance appertains to the crime, not the accused and since the cognizance had been taken in the other cases, MCOCA could be applied. On the 15th of April,2015, the Supreme Court of India overturned the decision of the Bombay High Court, dismissing the MCOCA charges due to the insufficiency in evidence in the prior cases. The court instructed the High Court to establish a special court for swift and prompt legal proceedings. On the 25th of July, 2015, Rohini Salian, the Special Public Prosecutor in the case alleged that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had directed her to adopt a lenient stance towards the accused, flaming further controversies and raising questions about the impartiality of the investigations of the case.

INVESTIGATIVE REALITIES

The investigators tasked to unsnarl the convoluted layers of the Malegaon Blast Case withstood different adversities, including the pragmatic obstacles, operational restrictions, and the deficiencies in the resources throughout the investigative process. From gathering intelligence to collecting evidence and navigating the complexities of socio-political dynamics, the challenges often impeded the pursuit of justice in cases of terrorism. The primary suspects initially identified in the Malegaon Blast Case Noor-Ul-Huda, Shabeer Batterywala, and Raees Ahmad. Initially, the Maharashtra police suspected the involvement of groups such as Bajrang Dal, Lashkar-e-Toiba, or Jaish-e-Mohammed, but no evidence was emancipated incriminating any of these groups. However, suspicion later shifted towards Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. In May, 2008, a hoard of RDX explosives and automatic rifles were discovered in the region, leading to the arrest of former members of the Students Islamic Movement of India. The explosives used in the September, 2007 Malegaon Blast case resembled those used in the 2006 Mumbai Train Blast case, which were ascribed to the Islamic groups. On the 12th of September, 2006, the Prime Minister of India stated that it would be inapt to definitively exonerate Hindu groups in the Malegaon Blast Case. The Prime Minister of India accentuated the need for a thorough investigation aimed at unveiling the truth without any prejudices and pre-conceived notions.

In an Op-Ed published on the 11th of September, B. Raman illuminated that it was immature to dismiss the possibility of the involvement either by the Hindu or Islamic extremists. B. Raman pointed out the attempts by certain Muslim community leaders to seed schism by questioning the fairness of the police officials as well as levelling accusations against the investigating officers. On the 30th of October, 2006, the arrests embroiled members of the Students Islamic Movement of India, suggesting progress in the case according to the statements of the police officials. On the 28th of November, 2006, the Mumbai Police disclosed that two Pakistani Nationals were involved in the explosions. Despite this, they continued their search for the eight additional suspects. The ATS had already incarcerated eight suspects, inclusive of two individuals related to the Mumbai Serial Blasts of 13th July 2011, connected with the Malegaon Blast Case, resulting in 17 fatalities and over 133 injuries[8].

 The ATS concluded the liaison of Hindu Nationalists groups based on the composure of the explosives used. The case was eventually taken over by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in 2013, leading to the arrest of individuals associated with the Hindu Right-Wing group Abhinav Bharat. The charges furnished on the initially arrested Muslim men were dismissed by the MCOCA in 2016.

PROSECUTORIAL CHALLENGES

The Malegaon Blast Case, furnishes numerous prosecutorial adversities, reflecting the complexities inherent in prosecuting the cases of terrorism and communal violence. These adversities span from gathering evidences against the perpetrators to presenting a cogent case before the courts, and they often involve navigating the legal, procedural as well as the socio-political hurdles. The key prosecutorial adversities faced in the Malegaon Blast Case are as follow:

  1. Assemblage and Conservation of the Evidences Prosecutors faced eloquent hurdles in the assemblage as well as the conservation of the evidences in the Malegaon Blast Case. It included the physical evidences such as the residue of the explosives, the forensic samples, and the debris from the site of the blast. Taking into consideration, the chaotic aftermath of the explosion and the passage of time, the conservation of the evidences became even more adverse. Moreover, the need to establish the chain of custody and ensure the admissibility of evidence in the court adds a cream-layer to the complexities.
  2. Testimony of the witnesses and ReliabilityFending the testimony of the witnesses is pivotal for instituting a strong case, but it is often formidable in the cases involving terrorism and communal violence. Witnesses might be reluctant to step forward due to the fear of retaliation, intimidation, or societal pressure. Moreover, ensuring the credibility of the witnesses amidst the consolidated communal sentiments posed a challenge for the prosecutors. The Malegaon Blast Case led to the examination of 300 witnesses, out of which 37 witnesses turned hostile so far[9]. Furthermore, the chances of the witness tampering with the information during testifying as well as coercion aggravated these issues, making it formidable to present a coherent narrative before the court.
  3. Complexity of Conspiracy chargesThe prosecutors had to navigate through the convolutions of conspiracy charges, particularly when dealing with multiple defendants and convolute plots. Unravelling the web of connections between the accused, their motivations, and the conspiracy for the purpose of the blast demands substantial investigative resources and legal expertise. It became even more adverse when an accused approached the special court seeking for an action against a former ATS officer alleging that the evidences brought in record by the officer during the trial was planted evidence in the home of a co-accused. The ATS claimed that there was a conspiracy to defame him and that the accusations on him were made as an “afterthought”[10].
  4. Admissibility of Forensic and Technical EvidenceFurnishing the forensic as well as the technical evidences in court are poses vital adversities, especially when dealing with complex analysis of explosives and digital forensics. Ensuring the credibility as well as the admissibility of such evidence require assent to rigid procedural standards and expert testimony. Defense attorneys might challenge the validity of such forensic evidences, leading to prolonged judicial process over the admissibility and the weightage of the technical evidences.
  5. Public and Political CompressionThe Malegaon Blast Case, like any other high-profile cases, is subjected to profound public and political scrutiny. Political interference as well as influence, media sensationalism, and communal stress further complicate the prosecutorial process, possibly sabotaging the integrity of the legal proceedings. It is evident from the fact that Bhavesh Patel, one of the suspects of the Malegaon Blast Case, wrote a letter to a CBI Court alleging that the Union Ministers Sushil Kumar Shinde, RPN Singh, Shri Prakash Jaiswal and Congress Leader Digvijaya Singh had harassed him and pressurized him to entrap RSS Leaders Mohan Bhagwat as well as Indresh Kumar as a conspirer in the Malegaon Blast Case[11].

IMPLICATIONS

The implications of the Malegaon Blast Case stretch far beyond the four walls of the courtroom, reverberating deeply within the socio-political landscape of India and affecting various stakeholders inclusive of the Government of India, Law Enforcement Agencies, Minority Community, Civil Society as well as the broader aspects of the Indian public. The implications in the Malegaon Blast Case are as follows:

  1. Counter-Terrorism Policies and Strategies – The Malegaon Blast Case accentuates the need for vigorous and effective Counter-Terrorism policies and strategies in India. It stresses on the adversities posed by the autochthonous terrorism and the exigent for motivated measures to prevent fanaticism, battle extremist ideologies, and reinforce the intelligence-sharing gimmick. The case of Malegaon blast coaxes a review of existing counter-terrorism framework and the development of targeted initiatives to address springing threats.
  2. Law Enforcement Practices and Procedures– The case of the Malegaon Blast throws light on the strength and the weaknesses of the law enforcement practices and procedures in India, especially on the pretext of the investigation of terrorism. It accentuates the significance of professionalization, training, and capacity -building within the investigating agencies to improvise their capabilities in handling the complexities of the cases. Furthermore, it stresses on the need for the assent to legal as well as procedural safeguards to ensure the integrity of investigations and prosecutions.
  3. Social Cohesion and Community Relations – The Malegaon Blast Case has consequential ramifications for social cohesion and community relations in India, especially between the religious and ethnic groups. It emphasizes on the menace of the communal dichotomization and the potential for violence ignited by the religious extremism and the sectarian tensions.
  4. Protection of Minority Rights and Civil Liberties – The case of Malegaon Blast raises a distress regarding the protection of the rights of the minorities in the country as well as the civil liberties, especially on the pretext of counter-terrorism measures. It accentuates the significance of upholding the principles of the Constitution of India such as the right to equality, freedom of religion, and due process. Shielding these rights is a necessity to prevent discrimination, arbitrary detention, and violations of privacy stating national security as a concern.
  5. Rule of Law and Judicial Independence – The case of Malegaon Blast is a litmus test for the rule of law as well as the judicial independence in India. It accentuates the significance of impartial and transparent judicial proceedings, free from political interference or undue influence.
  6. Media and Public Discourse– The Malegaon Blast case has significant ramifications for media coverage and public discourse concerning terrorism and communal violence in India. It stresses the responsibilities of the media to report exactly and responsibly all the facts of such sensitive issues, avoiding sensationalism or insurgent verbosity that may magnify tensions. The court ,thus, rejected the plea of NIA for a gag on media stating the gravity of the offence as well as the national security and ensured the media that it can continue to report on the trial, providing information and maintaining the accountability in the legal process[12].

LEGAL PROVISIONS

The Malegaon Blast Case dissects the legal framework governing the act of terrorism investigations in India and scrutinizes the relevant statutes including the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA), the National Investigation Agency, 2008 (NIA), the Indian Penal Code,1860, the Code of Criminal Procedure,1973, the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, Explosive Substances Act, 1908, the Indian Arms Act, 1959, the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), 1999,  
and the Constitution of India.

  1. Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967[13]
  • Section 15 to 38 of the UAPA,1967 prescribes the offenses, investigations and the penalties under the Act.
  • Section 43D of the UAPA,1967 prescribes the conditions for grant of bail for the offenses under this Act.
  1. Indian Penal Code, 1860[14]
  • Section 120B of IPC,1860 prescribes the definition of Criminal Conspiracy
  • Section 302 to 307 of IPC,1860 prescribes the offenses relating to murder and attempt to murder
  • Section 324 of IPC,1860 prescribes the punishment for Voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means
  • Section 326 of IPC, 1860 prescribes the punishment for Voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means
  • Section 153A of IPC,1860 prescribes the punishment for Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, languages etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony
  • Section 295A of IPC, 1860 prescribes the punishment for Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.
  1. National Investigation Agency Act, 2008[15]

The NIA Act provides for the establishment of the NIA and empowers it to investigate and prosecute the offenses affecting the sovereignty, integrity, and security of India, including terrorism.

  1. Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973[16]
  • Section 173 of CRPC, 1973 prescribes the procedure for investigation by police officer in charge of a police station
  • Section 167 of CRPC, 1973 prescribes the procedure when investigation cannot be completed in twenty-four hours.
  • Section 207 of CRPC, 1973 prescribes the supply to the accused a copy of police report and other documents
  • Section 309 of CRPC, 1973 prescribes the power to postpone or adjourn proceeding
  • Section 311 of CRPC, 1973 prescribes the power to summon material witness, or examine person present
  • Section 313 of CRPC, 1973 prescribes the power to examine the accused
  1. Indian Evidence Act, 1872[17]
  • Section 24 to 35 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 prescribes the provisions related to the relevancy of facts and admissibility of evidence
  • Section 45 to 51 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 prescribes the provisions regarding the opinion of experts
  • Section 118 to 134 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 prescribes the provisions regarding witnesses
  1. The Constitution of India[18]
  • Article 21 of the Constitution of India deals with the Protection of life and personal liberty
  • Article 22 of the Constitution of India deals with the Protection against arrest and detention in certain cases
  • Article 39A of the Constitution of India deals with Equal justice and free legal aid
  • Article 14 of the Constitution of India deals with the Right to equality before law
  • Article 15 of the Constitution of India deals with the Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth.
  1. The Explosive Substances Act, 1908[19]
  • Section 3 of the Explosive Substances Act, 1908 prescribes the Punishment for causing explosion likely to endanger life or property
  • Section 4 of the Explosive Substances Act, 1908 prescribes the punishment for Attempt to cause explosion or for making or keeping explosive with intent to endanger life or property
  • Section 5 of the Explosive Substances Act, 1908 prescribes the punishment for Making or possessing explosives under suspicious circumstances
  • Section 6 of the Explosive Substances Act, 1908 prescribes the punishment of abettors
  1. The Arms Act, 1959[20]
  • Section 25 of the Arms Act, 1959 prescribes the Punishment for certain offenses relating to arms and ammunition
  • Section 27 of the Arms Act, 1959 prescribes the Punishment for using arms and ammunition in contravention of Section 5 or Section 7
  • Section 28 of the Arms Act, 1959 prescribes the Punishment for unlawfully acquiring, possessing, or carrying prohibited arms or prohibited ammunition
  1. The Maharashtra Control of Organized Crimes Act (MCOCA), 1999[21]
  • Section 3 of the MCOCA prescribes the Offense of organized crime
  • Section 4 of the MCOCA prescribes the Punishment for organized crime

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, this article fuses all the key findings and arguments presented throughout the study. It reflects on the lessons learned from the Malegaon Blast Case and the broader ramifications for investigations concerning terrorism in India. Furthermore, it accentuates the exigent for reforming legal frameworks, enhancing investigative capabilities, and asserting the principles of justice and liability in the brawls against terrorism. Eventually, it advocates for a panoramic approach that balances security exigent with respect to human rights and the rule of law. The Malegaon Blast Case marks an important milestone in India’s quest for justice, liability, and communal harmony. It brought a broader ramification for India’s counter-terrorism efforts and underscores the significance of sturdy investigative mechanism, intel-sharing partnership, as well as the legal frameworks to confront terrorism effectively. It highlights the need for continuous improvisation in investigative techniques, forensic capabilities, and legal procedures to ensure smooth and speedy adjudication of terrorism cases. Furthermore, it serves as a prompt of the menace of the religious extremism and sectarian violence and accents the significance of nurturing ecumenical dialogue, tolerance, and understanding.

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Written by – Sruti Sikha Maharana

References:

[1] https://nia.gov.in/case-detail.htm?16

[2] https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/2008-malegaon-blast-15-years-on-prosecution-closes-evidence-against-7-accused-101694719119028.html

[3] https://www.freepressjournal.in/india/malegaon-bomb-blast-case-after-repeated-warnings-pragya-singh-thakur-finally-appears-before-court

[4] https://indianexpress.com/article/what-is/mecca-masjid-blast-2007-hyderabad-nia-aseemanand-5139063/

[5] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/2007-samjhauta-express-blast-case-68-dead-all-accused-acquitted/articleshow/68506483.cms?from=mdr

[6]https://www.indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/16362/1/the_maharashtra_control_of_organised_crime_act,_1999.pdf

[7] https://nia.gov.in/writereaddata/Portal/CasesPdfDoc/RC-05-2011-NIA-DLI-1.pdf

[8] https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=73229

[9] https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/another-key-witness-turns-hostile-in-malegaon-blast-case-trial-4023784

[10] https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/malegaon-blast-case-accused-claims-ats-officer-planted-evidence-home-co-accused-8659356/

[11] https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/ajmer-blast-to-malegaon-bombings-new-row-as-terror-suspects-allege-political-pressure-535777

[12] https://indianexpress.com/article/india/malegaon-trial-court-rejects-nia-plea-for-gag-on-media-6046468/

[13] https://www.mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/A1967-37.pdf

[14] https://www.indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/2263/1/aA1860-45.pdf

[15] https://www.mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/2022-08/The%2520National%2520Investigation%2520Agency%2520Act%2C%25202008_1%5B1%5D.pdf

[16] https://www.indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/15272/1/the_code_of_criminal_procedure%2C_1973.pdf

[17] https://www.indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/15351/1/iea_1872.pdf

[18] https://www.indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/15240/1/constitution_of_india.pdf

[19] https://www.indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/2342/1/AAA1908___06.pdf

[20] https://www.indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/1398/1/A1959_54.pdf

[21] https://www.indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/16362/1/the_maharashtra_control_of_organised_crime_act,_1999.pdf

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“Stridhan Gifted to Woman Is Her Absolute Property; Husband Has No Control Over It: Supreme Court”

Case title: Maya Gopinathan v. Anoop S.B. & Anr.

Case no.: Arising Out of SLP (Civil) No.13398/2022

Dated on: 24th April 2024

Quorum: Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice Dipankar Datta

FACTS OF THE CASE

In a recent appeal before the High Court of Kerala, the matter at hand delved into the intricate issues surrounding matrimonial disputes, specifically focusing on allegations of misappropriation of jewellery. The case, arising from the dissolution of a marriage between the appellant and the first respondent, unfolded a series of events that led to legal proceedings and subsequent appeals. The final judgment, however, left much to be debated.

The marriage between the appellant and the first respondent, both previously married individuals, took place in 2003. Allegations arose concerning the misappropriation of the appellant’s gold jewellery by the respondents, which she claimed were entrusted to them for safekeeping. The appellant filed a petition before the Family Court, seeking the recovery of the value of her jewellery and a sum of money paid by her father to the first respondent. The Family Court ruled in favor of the appellant, directing the respondents to compensate her for the jewellery and the sum of money. Dissatisfied with this decision, the respondents appealed to the High Court.

CONTENTIONS OF THE APPELLANT

The appellant contended that the jewellery entrusted to the respondents was misappropriated to discharge their financial liabilities, supported by the testimony of witnesses and circumstantial evidence.

  1. Misappropriation of Gold Jewellery: The appellant claims that on the first night of marriage, the first respondent took custody of all her jewellery and entrusted it to the second respondent under the guise of safekeeping. She alleges that the jewellery was misappropriated by the respondents to discharge their pre-existing financial liabilities.
  2. Payment of Rs. 2,00,000/-: The appellant contends that during pre-marriage negotiations, it was agreed that Rs. 2,00,000/- would be paid to the first respondent by P.W.2. She asserts that this payment was made after marriage.
  3. Possession of Jewellery: The appellant argues that she did not retain possession of her jewellery throughout the marriage and presents her narrative of events, corroborated by P.W.2, to support her claim.

CONTENTIONS OF THE RESPONDENTS

The respondents denied the allegations, claiming that the jewellery was in the appellant’s possession throughout, and they had no knowledge of any misappropriation. They argued that the appellant failed to provide concrete evidence of the acquisition of the jewellery or the existence of financial liabilities.

  1. Denial of Dowry Demand: The respondents deny any demand for dowry, stating that it was a second marriage for both parties. They admit to being informed about the pre-existing 50 sovereigns of gold that the appellant had and the promise of supplementation by P.W.2.
  2. Custody of Jewellery: The respondents counter the appellant’s claim regarding the custody of jewellery, stating that the appellant kept the jewellery locked in an almirah on the first night of marriage and later took it to her paternal home.
  3. Utilization of Jewellery: The respondents deny misappropriating the jewellery, asserting that the appellant wore her jewellery at subsequent events, indicating her continued possession.

Both parties present their versions of events, supported by testimonies and evidence, to establish their claims and refute those of the opposing party. The appellant seeks to establish misappropriation of jewellery and the payment of Rs. 2,00,000/-, while the respondents aim to rebut these claims and assert the appellant’s continued possession of her jewellery.

REFERENCE BY COURT –

Rashmi Kumar v. Mahesh Kumar Bhada [a decision by a bench of three Hon’ble Judges on a reference made by a bench of two Hon’ble Judges, who considered it necessary that a fresh look at the view expressed in a previous decision of three Hon’ble Judges in Pratibha Rani v. Suraj Kumar be had], after scrutiny of several treatises and precedents had that the properties gifted to a woman before marriage, at the time of marriage or at the time of bidding of farewell or thereafter are her stridhan properties. It is her absolute property with all rights to dispose at her own pleasure. The husband has no control over her stridhan property. He may use it during the time of his distress but nonetheless he has a moral obligation to restore the same or its value to his wife. Therefore, stridhan property does not become a joint property of the wife and the husband and the husband has no title or independent dominion over the property as owner thereof. It was also observed that to make out an offence under section 406 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, what was required to be proved was entrustment of stridhan property with dominion over such property to the husband or to any member of his family as well as dishonest misappropriation of or conversion to his own use the said property by the husband or such other member of his family. Admittedly, we are not concerned with any criminal offence and, therefore, proof on balance of probabilities would be sufficient.

ISSUE

The central issues revolved around whether the appellant could establish the misappropriation of her jewellery and whether the High Court erred in setting aside the relief granted by the Family Court.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND JUDGEMENT

The Family Court, after an exhaustive examination of evidence, concluded in favor of the appellant, citing discrepancies in the respondents’ testimony and supporting the appellant’s version of events. However, the High Court, in its appellate jurisdiction, arrived at a contradictory conclusion, questioning the credibility of the appellant’s claims and disregarding significant evidence.

The Supreme Court’s scrutiny of the High Court’s judgment highlighted several flaws, including the imposition of an undue burden of proof on the appellant and the misinterpretation of photographic evidence. The Court emphasized that in civil cases, the standard of proof is based on a preponderance of probabilities and not on proof beyond reasonable doubt. It criticized the High Court for its failure to draw the right inferences from established facts and for its contradictory findings.

The court acknowledges that such a significant amount of jewellery would naturally be entrusted to a newly-wed husband, especially by a bride entering a new home. The Family Court found that the jewelry was indeed entrusted to the husband, and any disposal or non-return of it would constitute misappropriation.

Witness testimonies support the appellant’s claim that the jewellery was not permanently gifted or transferred to the husband but was only handed over for safekeeping. Despite doubts raised about the weight of the jewellery and its accurate measurement, the court finds evidence supporting the appellant’s claim, including testimony regarding her ownership of 50 sovereigns of gold from her previous marriage.

The court rejects the High Court’s reasoning that possession of a bank locker before marriage implies ownership of jewelry. It finds the assumption conjectural and notes that the appellant’s possession of gold jewelry, as evidenced by photographs, is consistent with her claim. The court also criticizes the High Court for not appreciating the counterclaim filed by the husband, which sought the return of gifts given to the wife at the time of marriage, further supporting her ownership claim.

While acknowledging that the case could be remanded for further proceedings, the court considers the prolonged duration of the legal process and decides to provide relief to the appellant without further delay. Considering the passage of time, inflation, and the appellant’s age, the court exercises its power under Article 142 of the Constitution of India to award financial compensation of Rs 25,00,000 to the appellant. This compensation is intended to provide comfort and security for her future life.

The court orders the respondent to pay the compensation within six months, failing which he will be liable to pay interest. The appellant is granted the liberty to initiate proceedings for the realization of the awarded amount in accordance with the law.

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“Appellate Court cannot overturn the order of acquittal only on the ground that another view is possible”: Supreme Court

Case title: Bhupatbhai Bachubhai Chavda & Anr. v. State of Gujarat

Case no.: Criminal Appeal no. 334 of 2019

Dated on: 10th April 2024

Quorum: Justice Abhay S. Oka and Justice Ujjal Bhuyan

FACTS OF THE CASE

The case revolves around an incident that occurred on September 17, 1996, where the appellants, a father and son, were accused of assaulting Punjabhai (the deceased) with pipes and sticks, resulting in his death. Initially, the Sessions Court acquitted the appellants, but the State of Gujarat appealed against the acquittal, leading to the High Court converting the acquittal into a conviction. Subsequently, the case reached the Supreme Court.

CONTENTIONS OF THE APPELLANT

The learned senior counsel appearing for the appellants pointed out that the High Court, while overturning the order of acquittal, had relied upon the police statement of PW-4 and had erroneously put the burden on the appellants to adduce evidence to show their innocence. He submitted that the entire approach of the High Court while dealing with an appeal against acquittal, is completely erroneous. He submitted that there is no finding recorded by the High Court that the only possible view which could be taken based on the evidence was that the guilt of the appellants had been proved. The learned senior counsel submitted that the High Court had erred in overturning the order of acquittal.

CONTENTIONS OF THE RESPONDENTS

The learned counsel appearing for the State vehemently submitted that in an appeal against acquittal, the High Court was duty-bound to reappreciate the evidence, and after finding that evidence of PW-4, an eyewitness, completely inspires confidence, the High Court rightly interfered with the order of acquittal.

LEGAL PROVISIONS

Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) : Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death or [imprisonment for life], and shall also be liable to fine.

Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) : Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intentionWhen a criminal act is done by several persons in furtherance of the common intention of all, each of such persons is liable for that act in the same manner as if it were done by him alone.

ISSUE

  1. Validity of High Court’s Intervention: Whether the High Court’s interference with the acquittal was justified and in accordance with legal principles.
  2. Reliability of Witness Testimonies: Assessment of the credibility of key witnesses, particularly PW-4, in light of inconsistencies and discrepancies in their statements.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND JUDGEMENT

The apex court emphasized the cardinal principle that while reviewing an acquittal, the Appellate Court must ascertain if the trial court’s verdict was plausible based on evidence. It criticized the High Court for not addressing this pivotal question and cautioned against overturning acquittals merely on the basis of alternative interpretations. The court chastised the High Court’s misapplication of burden of proof, reiterating that unless statutorily mandated, the onus remains on the prosecution.

After meticulously dissecting the testimonies, the Supreme Court concurred with the Trial Court’s scepticism towards the eyewitness account, citing inconsistencies and vested interests. It rebuked the High Court’s failure to appreciate these nuances and reinstated the acquittal, affirming the presumption of innocence. Consequently, the appellants were acquitted, and the Trial Court’s verdict reinstated.

The Bhupatbhai Bachubhai Chavda case stands as a testament to the judiciary’s commitment to rigorous scrutiny and adherence to legal principles, especially in appeals against acquittals. It underscores the importance of evidence appreciation and the presumption of innocence, serving as a beacon in navigating the labyrinth of criminal litigation.

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Judgement Reviewed by – Chiraag K A

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