State of Odisha vs. Banabihari Mohapatra, SC 2021

FACTS – It is alleged that the first accused came to the residence of the deceased at around 7.30 a.m. on 23rd June, 2014 and told the Complainant that the deceased had been lying motionless and still, not responding to calls. Later his younger son Luja alias Smruti Ranjan Mohapatra being the second Respondent also came and informed the complainant that the deceased was lying motionless.On hearing this, the Complainant along with her family members went to the Ferry Ghat near the Chandabali Bus Stand and found her husband lying dead inside a room which was locked, with a swollen belly and a deep burn injury on his right foot which was apparently caused by electric shock. The body of the deceased appeared black and blood was oozing out from the mouth and nostril of the deceased. In the FIR, the complainant has alleged that on 22nd June, 2016, the deceased had left the house to go to the house of a relative. He had been wearing a gold chain on his neck and two gold rings on his fingers, and had been carrying Rs.800 for purchase of a new pair of pants and shirt and Rs.5,000/- for purchase of articles for a marriage.

On making enquiries the complainant learnt that the deceased had not visited the house of the relative on that day. The complainant has alleged that the Accused No.1 Banabihari Mohapatra, his son Luja alias Smruti Ranjan Mohapatra, being the Accused No.2, and other accomplices committed murder of her husband by applying electric shock to him after administering some poisonous substances to him.

The Sessions Judge Bhadrak framed charges against the Accused Respondents Banabihari Mohapatra and Luja @ Smruti Ranjan Mohapatra holding that the prosecution had failed to prove the charges against the Accused Respondents or either of them under Section 302, or Section 201 read with Section 34 of the IPC, and acquitting them under Section 235(1) of the Cr.P.C.

CAUSE – Order dated 2nd November, 2020 passed by the High Court of Orissa at Cuttack dismissing an application for leave to appeal being CRLLP No.14 of 2020 filed by the Petitioner State, against a judgment dated 14th January, 2020 passed by the Sessions Judge, Bhadrak in S.T. Case No.182/392 of 2014, acquitting the Respondents from charges under Sections 302/201 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

ARGUMENTS – Learned Counsel appearing on behalf of the Petitioner State forcefully contended that the High Court committed gross error in dismissing the application for leave to appeal filed by the Petitioner State on the ground of delay of 41 days, even though, there were serious charges against the Accused Respondents, including charges of murder under Section 302 of the IPC.

ISSUE – Are there grounds to interfere with the impugned judgment and order of the High Court under Article136 of the Constitution of India.

DECISION – There Are no eye witnesses to the incident. The deceased had apparently died in a room held by the Accused Respondent No.1. The Accused Respondents did not abscond. The Accused Respondents themselves informed the complainant that the deceased was lying still and motionless, not responding to calls.

The post mortem Report of the deceased reveals that the cause of death was electric shock, suffered by the deceased within 24 hours from the time of examination. On post mortem examination, the Doctor found food particles including meat in the stomach of the deceased,and also detected smell of alcohol. The post mortem doctor opined thatthe deceased was intoxicated with alcohol and the death was either accidental, or homicidal, but not suicidal. There is no conclusive evidence that the death was homicidal.

The mere fact that the deceased was lying dead at a room held by the the Accused Respondent No.1 and that the Accused Respondents had informed the complainant that the deceased had been lying motionless and still and not responding to shouts and calls, does not establish that the Accused Respondents murdered the deceased.

The Prosecution miserably failed to establish the guilt of the Accused Respondents. The Trial Court rightly acquitted the Accused Respondents. There is no infirmity in the judgment of the Trial Court,that calls for interference.

Before a case against an accused can be said to be fully established on circumstantial evidence, the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn must fully be established and the facts so established should be consistent only with the hypothesis of guilt of the accused. There has to be a chain of evidence so complete,as not to leave any reasonable doubt for any conclusion consistent withthe innocence of the accused and must show that in all human probability, the act must have been done by the Accused.

In Shanti Devi v. State of Rajasthan reported in (2012) 12 SCC 158, this Court held that the principles for conviction of the accused based on circumstantial evidence are:

•The circumstances from which an inference of guilt is sought to be proved must be cogently or firmly established.

•The circumstances should be of a definite tendency unerringly pointing towards the guilt of the accused.

•The circumstances taken cumulatively must form a chain so complete that there is no escape from the conclusion that within all human probability, the crime was committed by the accused and none else.

•The circumstantial evidence in order to sustain conviction must be complete and incapable of explanation of any other hypothesis than that of the guilt of the accused and such evidence should not only be consistent with the guilt of the accused but should be inconsistent with his innocence.”

It is well settled by a plethora of judicial pronouncement of this Court that suspicion, however strong cannot take the place of proof. An accused is presumed to be innocent unless proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

In Kali Ram v. State of Himachal Pradesh reported in AIR1973 SC 2773, this Court observed:-“Another golden thread which runs through the web of the administration of justice in criminal cases is that if two views are possible on the evidence adduced in the case one pointing to the guilt of the accused and the other to his innocence, the view which is favourable to the accused should be adopted.This principle has a special relevance in cases where in the guilt of the accused is sought is to be established by circumstantial evidence.”

Thus, the SC held that there was no ground to interfere with the impugned judgment and order of the High Court under Article 136 of the Constitution of India.

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