DEVILAL V. STATE OF MADHYA PRADESH, 2021T

The Devilal v. State of MP case is significant because it centers on an Untouchability incident. Untouchability is a wicked practice that has been practiced in both rural and some urban areas since ancient times. The founders of the constitution opposed these practices and even created numerous laws for the protection of the populace. However, the caste system is still a problem in India today, despite the country’s constitution having been in place for more than 70 years. Many citizens fall prey to such practices, as was the case with Ganeshram in this instance, which led to a murderous charge.

Date of Judgment: 25 February 2021

Bench: J. UU Lalit. J. Indira Banerjee, J. KM Joseph

Court: Supreme Court of India

Citation: Criminal Appeal No. 989 of 2007

FACTS OF THE CASE

The appellants in this case, DeviLal and his sons Gokul and Amrat Ram, appealed to the Supreme Court the decision made by the Madhya Pradesh High Court, which had tried the appellant and his sons for a special offence. Ganeshram filed a FIR in this instance.
After being assaulted by Devilal, Gokul, and Amrat Ram with kulhari, talwar, and lathi, Ganeshram was brought to the police station, where he filed a police report, and he was subsequently taken to the district hospital. The victim’s condition was not good; it was impossible to take his blood pressure and he was unable to speak. After midnight, the victim Ganeshram passed away, and a postmortem was performed to observe his internal and external injuries and it was observed that excessive bleeding was cause of death.

Following an initial investigation, accused DeviLal, Gokul, and Amrat Ram were taken into custody. The appellants, as well as accused Devilal’s wife Gattubai, were tried in a special offence case. The trial court determined that the FIR recorded at the instance could be relied upon as the dying declaration after reviewing all available evidence, including medical records, eye witness statements, and section 302 read with 34 IPC. The prosecution proved the offence against accused DeviLal, Gokul, and Amrat Ram; however, the case against the fourth accused, DeviLal’s wife Gattubai, was not proven, and none of the accused were found guilty of offenses punishable under the SC/ST Act, receiving life sentences with fines of $5,000 apiece.

Subsequently, an appeal was filed with the High Court, arguing that the deceased could not have given a statement to the police in light of the medical evidence on file, which served as the foundation for the filing of the FIR. Nevertheless, the court rejected the submissions and upheld the verdict and punishment against the accused Devi Lal, Gokul, and Amrat Ram in its ruling dated September 14, 2006, which was later overturned by the Supreme Court.

In addition, accused DeviLal and Gokul were released on bail by the court on April 8, 2009, following a nine-year and four-month jail sentence. A petition was filed, raising the defense of juvenility and alleging, among other things, that AmratLal was underage when the offense was committed. Amrat Ram was 16 years, 11 months, and 26 days old when the offense was committed, according to an investigation and report that was given to the honorable court. So, he wasn’t a minor according to the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986, the age of juvenility for male juveniles was 16 years but according to the Juvenile Justice (care and protection of children) Act, 2000 the age of juvenility was raised to 18 years. The matter was remitted to Jurisdictional Juvenile Justice Board for determining appropriate quantum of fine that should be levied on Amrat Ram.

ISSUES RAISED

  1. Whether the judgment of the High court of Madhya Pradesh by which appellants were held guilty was right or not?
  2. The appellant Amrit Lal was major according to JJ Act, 1986 but was minor according to JJ Act, 2000 so, whether he was a major or minor?

CONTENTION

ARGUMENT FROM THE APPELLANT SIDE

The appellants DeviLal, Gokul and Amrat Ram challenged the order of Madhya Pradesh high court and raised the plea of juvenility for Amrat Ram for the first time.

  1.  The learned Senior Advocate for the appellants Mr. Sushil Kumar Jain has argued that it would be impossible to believe that Ganeshram could have made any reporting to the police as his condition was not so good and FIR was recorded after more than three hours since the offence was committed.
  2. He further argued that the witnesses were tutored as accepted by sajan bai, prime witness
  3. The learned Senior Advocate for the appellants Mr. Sushil Kumar Jain has argued that the prosecution witness 7 Laxminarayan has accepted when cross examined that the front of Devilal’s house where offense was committed wasn’t visible for the alleged eye witnesses.

ARGUMENT FROM RESPONDENT SIDE
1.The testimony of Prosecution Witness 9, Dr. Kothari, demonstrates that Ganeshram was alive when he conducted the initial examination, according to Mr. Harmeet Singh Ruprah, an experienced State advocate. 

2. The witness claims that although Ganeshram’s blood pressure was not measured when the doctor examined him, this did not prevent him from speaking with the police two hours earlier. 3. The report makes it very evident that the person’s inability to speak is only an expert’s opinion; no information regarding the symptoms leading up to the incident or the filing of the formal complaint is provided.

4. The State’s knowledgeable advocate, Mr. Harmeet Singh Ruprah, stated that PW1-Sajan Bai and PW2-Saman Bai were mentioned in the FIR. The testimony of these two witnesses unequivocally demonstrates that Ganeshram was assaulted by the appellants, resulting in his death. PW1-Sajan Bai’s claim that she was given a copy of her earlier statement made during the investigation does not imply that she received guidance on how to proceed with the case. It is noteworthy that PW2-Saman Bai was not asked any questions of this nature. Therefore, the deposition of PW2-Saman Bai and the final declaration of Ganeshram decisively end the case against the appellants, even if the testimony of PW1-Sajan Bai is disregarded. 

RATIONALE

In accordance with Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, a trial court found Devilal and his kids Gokul and Amrit Lal guilty. What’s more, even though it was allegedly a caste-based dispute, the Court found them not guilty under the SC/ST Act. 

In accordance with Sections 34, 302, and 342 of the Indian Penal Code, the Juvenile Justice Act of 1986, and Section 20 of the Juvenile Justice Act of 2000, we discussed the High Court’s, the Madhya Pradesh High Court’s, and the Trial Court’s contentions with regard to this case. Amrit Lal was granted equity under Section 20 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, as the age of adolescence specified in the Juvenile Justice Act of 1986 was increased from 16 to 18 in the Act. 

Given this development, a request was made in 2018 to look into this matter, and it was determined that Amritlal was a teenager at the time of the offense and that the Juvenile Justice Act of 2000 applied to him. A number of case regulations pertaining to adolescence were discussed, and the case of Hari Ram versus State of Rajasthan served as a catalyst for the court to address the topic of juvenility for the first time. 

The court decided to uphold Amrit Lal’s life sentence of imprisonment, for which he had previously been found guilty and fined Rs. 5,000 per person. The court decided to forward the matter to the jurisdictional Juvenile Justice Board, the relevant authority, in order to determine the appropriate amount of fine that should be imposed on the accused Amrit Lal. As a result, the Indian Supreme Court resolved the appeal on February 25, 2021. 

DEFECTS OF LAW

Anyone under the age of eighteen is considered a juvenile under the Juvenile Justice Act. However, under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, there are special provisions for trying individuals between the ages of 16 and 18 for “heinous” crimes. Because “heinous” is not precisely defined, there is ambiguity and inconsistent application across jurisdictions.
At about this time, dacoity—the alleged offense in the Devilal case—was not categorically categorized as “heinous,” which led to uncertainty about the best course of action. The Act specifies how juvenile offenders who commit “heinous” crimes are to be transferred to adult court. These systems, however, lack normalization and detail, which could lead to errors and anomalies. 

The term “mens rea” describes the mental state that precedes an act and is often used to determine criminal culpability. The proper application of “mens rea” to juveniles is up for debate because of the potential differences in their mental development compared to adults.
Regarding Devilal, there have been arguments regarding whether or not he fully understood the nature and consequences of the actions he took at the time of the offense.
India is party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which emphasizes the right of juvenile offenders to rehabilitation and reintegration.
Regarding Devilal’s case, questions were raised as to whether the adult court’s underlying preliminary may have overlooked these international obligations. 

INFERENCE

In the case of Devilal v. State of Madhya Pradesh, the accused Devilal and his two sons got into a heated argument over caste, and as a result, they severely beat Ganeshram, who subsequently passed away. The case was heard in trial court, followed by the High Court, which handed down a life sentence. This ruling was contested in the Supreme Court, which upheld the judgment for Devilal and his older son Gokul, and the case of Amrat Ram was referred to the Juvenile Board. I concur with the ruling in its entirety. According to the JJ Act, 2000, which raised the age of juvenile from 16 to 18, the third accused was transferred to the juvenile jurisdiction board because he was a juvenile at the time of the offense. 

The Indian Penal Code’s sections and provisions were followed in the decision to sentence each person to life in prison and a fine. 

AUTHOR

KHWAHISH GUPTA

SINHGAD LAW COLLEGE