THE STATE OF MADHYA PRADESH VS SHANKAR SINGH GURJAR, AIR 2021

FACTS

On 23rd June, 2006, Moharman Lal reported his grandson Shubham to be missing. Shubham, who is around 10 years old, had not returned from his tuition at Variety Public School. His teacher mentioned that Shubham planned to learn skating. Despite searches, Shubham remained missing. On 7th July, 2006, police received a tip about a very foul smell from Shankar Singh Gurjar’s locked house. Upon investigation, Shubham’s body was found to be concealed behind a brick wall. Postmortem revealed strangulation as the cause of his death. Witnesses testified to have seen Shubham with two boys from the building about 15-16 days earlier. The accused, ‘Raghuveer, and ,Shailendra Sharma’, were arrested and were charged under Section 365 of IPC.

The grounds that were raised in this appeal contended-  the conviction of the appellants is erroneous because there was no mention of their involvement in the missing report. They argued that there is no direct or indirect evidence linking them to the crime, and the testimonies of key witnesses exhibit inconsistencies and discrepancies. The prosecution’s narrative is seemed unnatural, lacking substantial evidence against the appellants. Moreover, there is no indication of premeditation, and no eyewitness testimony was there. The recovery of the body from a locked house and the cause of death, strangulation, lacked evidence tying the appellants to the act. Overall, the appellants assert their innocence, emphasizing the reliance on the case on conjecture rather than concrete evidence.

The interpretation of clause ‘Thirdly’ of Section 300 IPC was interpreted in case of Virsa Singh vs. State of Punjab[1] The accused, Virsa Singh, was accused of inflicting a single spear blow which resulted  in a specific injury—a punctured wound found on left side of the abdominal wall. The court stated that the requirements to establish culpability under this clause. Firstly, the prosecution must objectively prove the presence of any bodily injury. Secondly, the nature of injury shall be demonstrated. Above mentioned aspects are purely objective. Thirdly, it must be established that there remained an intention to inflict that particular bodily injury, excluding the possibility of accident or unintentional harm[2]. Once these three elements are being established, the inquiry can proceed further. Fourthly, it must be proven that the injury described is of such a nature that is sufficient to cause the death in ordinary course of nature. This aspect of the inquiry is purely objective and referred inferential, not related to the offender’s intention. If these four elements are established by prosecution, the offense is classified as murder under Section 300 “Thirdly”. It becomes immaterial whether there was any intention to cause death or to inflict an injury likely to cause death. The focus shifts entirely to the objective assessment of whether the injury is capable of causing the death in the ordinary course of nature[3].

The conviction and punishment imposed by the Special Judge (MPDVPK Act) Morena are the subject of appeals filed by Raghuveer, Savita, and Shailendra Sharma under Section 374 of the CrPC. Sections 120-B, 364(A)/34, Section 13 of the MPDVPK Act, Section 302/34, and Section 201 read in conjunction with Section 34 of the IPC, 1860 were among the several sections under which they were found guilty. In addition to fines, they received a term of three years to life in jail. There was to be a parallel run of the sentences. Kampoter Singh Gurjar, Surendra Singh, and Shankar Singh Gurjar’s acquittal has also been appealed by the State. During trial, the appellants entered a not guilty plea, denying any involvement in the offences despite numerous portions of the case being brought against them. No defense witness was presented.

ISSUES

In the present case, the following questions arose for consideration:

(i) Whether death of Shubham constitutes an unnatural death falling within the scope of culpable homicide amounting to murder?

(ii) Whether Shubham, who is aged around 10 years, was abducted on June 23, 2006?

(iii) Whether Shubham was abducted for ransom and subsequently murdered by the accused?

(iv) Whether the accused concealed evidence by hiding the deceased’s body in a lavatory and sealing it with brick wall?

(v) Whether the aforementioned actions were carried out with a common objective?

CONTENSIONS

  1. PETITIONER’S ARGUMENTS

In his statement recorded on November 27, 2007, Neeraj Sharma (PW/7), the petitioner’s father, allegedly did not mention the current appellants and acknowledged that he had no animosity against Shailendra Sharma. They contend that there is inadequate proof of conspiracy, so allegations under Section 11/13 of the MPDVPK Act and Section 364-A of the IPC are without merit. The appellants lack a full chain of circumstantial evidence and are only implicated solely on hearsay testimony.

In contrast, the State asserts that the prosecution has proven its case beyond any reasonable doubt with sufficient evidence, including a specific chain of circumstantial evidence supported by some scientific findings. They argue that the trial court erred in acquitting other alleged co-conspirators, Shankar Singh Gurjar with Surendra Singh, and Kampoter Singh Gurjar who were allegedly found involved in the offense. The State contends that their actions, such as inserting a bundle of thread into the deceased’s mouth, clearly indicates their involvement in furtherance of the common object. Therefore, the State urges dismissal of the appellants’ appeals and supports the State’s appeal.

Regarding the relevance of the accused’s intention of causing death, the court deems it irrelevant for determining the applicability of clause Thirdly of Section 300 IPC, 1860.

Arguments about the non-examination of witnesses Vijay and Suryapratap and the delay in lodging the FIR are dismissed as lacking any merit. The quality of evidence is deemed more important than the number of witnesses. Similarly, discrepancies regarding seized evidence such as the rope and lock do not undermine the prosecution’s case, as the crucial aspect remains the discovery of deceased’s body concealed behind a brick wall, suggesting a criminal MO by the appellants. Thus, the trial court’s decision regarding the absence of ulterior motives is upheld.

  • RESPONDANT’S ARGUMENTS

The respondent contended that:

(i) the fight was sudden;

(ii) the act occurred in heat of passion during a sudden quarrel; and

(iii) the offender did not exploit the situation or act in a cruel or unusual manner.

In response, the appellants’ counsel argued that there are several contradictions and omissions in the statements provided by the prosecution witnesses. However, these arguments lack strength as the contradictions and omissions contended are not significant or fatal to the prosecution’s case.

Additionally, the appellants’ counsel pointed out that Sonu (Shailendra) (PW/4) did not corroborate the prosecution’s case and even denied the incident during cross-examination. Hence, there arises doubts regarding the credibility of the prosecution’s case.

In Surendra Tiwari vs. State of Madhya Pradesh[4], when it was decided that a prosecution witness’s testimony could not be completely disregarded just because the prosecution decided to handle him hostilely and subject him to cross-examination. The testimonies of these witnesses cannot be regarded as completely erasing the record; rather, it may only be accepted to the degree that their account is proven trustworthy after a thorough examination. In this instance, it is clear from the record that the accused’s stalling strategies caused the cross-examination of Shailendra to be postponed. As a result, the trial court properly took Shailendra’s statement into account.

RATIONALE

The court provided its rationale as follows:

The court clarified that in certain cases, the severity of the injury inflicted may be linked to the offender’s intention. For example, if it can be demonstrated that the offender intended only a minor injury but resulted in a serious injury which was accidental, the offense may not be considered as murder. This distinction is a matter of fact, not of law.

To establish guilt under Sec. 149 of IPC(1860) , it is necessary to prove that the accused is a member of an “unlawful assembly” comprising of at least five individuals, regardless of whether the identity of each member is established or not. Once proven, it is then to determine if the common object of the assembly aligns with one of the 5 enumerated objects specified under Sec. 141 of IPC.

Common object of an assembly is typically inferred from the circumstances of the assembly, such as the time, place, and conduct of the members. Assessing the common object completely based on overt acts committed by individual members is not permissible[5].

The deceased, Shubham, was being identified by Moharman Lal (PW 1) who was the grandfather of the deceased, and Neeraj Sharma (PW 7). The dead body was discovered on 7 July, 2006, at around 7:30pm in Shankar Singh’s house, where Neeraj Sharma has identified the body despite decomposition.

J.N. Soni (PW 12) conducted the postmortem and determined that the deceased had been strangulated, leading to a homicidal death. Moharman Lal (PW 1) mentioned that Shubham, aged around 10 years, went missing on 23rd June, 2006, and a random call demanding Rs. 5 lakhs was received on the same day. He also noted his recent retirement and possession of the retirement benefit amount.

Bafatan (PW/2), a tenant in the same building for 10 years, testified to have seen the accused, Raghuveer and Shailendra Sharma, along with a ten-year-old boy on the day of offence. Witnesses Ameena (PW/3) and Sonu (PW/4) corroborated this account, stating that the boy did not return afterward. Various items were seized from the accused, including a cycle, sandals, skating shoes, and a cement bag, which were all sent for scientific examination.

DEFECTS OF LAW

Based on the provided facts and arguments, several potential defects of law in this case can be identified:

  • Lack of direct evidence to link the appellants to the crime beyond circumstantial evidence and witness testimonies.
  • Allegations of reliance only on hearsay evidence without a complete chain of circumstantial evidence to establish guilt.
  • Questions might arise regarding the application of Section 149 of IPC concerning the liability of members of an unlawful assembly and the determination of common object based on circumstantial evidence only.
  • Concerns about delay in lodging the First Information Report (FIR) and the non-examination of some witnesses may raise questions about the completeness of the investigation process.

INFERENCE

The court’s rationale suggests that there is sufficient circumstantial evidence to link the appellants, Raghuveer and Shailendra Sharma, to the abduction, murder, and concealment of the deceased’s body. The testimony of witnesses, including the identification of the accused with the victim before his disappearance and the recovery of incriminating items from the accused, supports the case of prosecution.

The court’s clarification on the interpretation of clause Thirdly of Section 300 IPC, 1860, establishes that there was an intention to cause a specific injury, rather than the intention of causing death and this is sufficient to establish culpability for murder if the injury is capable of causing death in the ordinary course of nature.


[1] AIR 1958 SC 465

[2] Bavisetti Kameswara Rao v. State of A.P. (2008) 15 SCC 725.

[3] Indian Kanoon, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/7977056/ ( last visited on Mar 21, 2024).

[4] AIR 1991 SC 1853

[5] Dani Singh v. State of Bihar [(2004) 13 SCC 203].