2011 ALL MR (Cri) 2416
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUDICATURE AT BOMBAY

P.B. MAJMUDAR AND MRIDULA BHATKAR, JJ.

Hanmant Shankar Salunkhe Vs.The State Of Maharashtra

Criminal Appeal No.358 of 2005

15th July, 2011

Petitioner Counsel: Mr. SUNILKUMAR RATHORE
Respondent Counsel: Smt. V. R. BHOSALE

Criminal P.C. (1973) S.374 - Appeal against conviction - Fact of absconding - Fact that the accused was absconding itself cannot be a ground for conviction - The circumstances are incriminating, however, the incriminating circumstances should be sufficient to establish complete chain to hold the accused guilty - It should not leave any room for any other possibility - Appeal allowed. Evidence Act (1872), S.3. (Para 12)

JUDGMENT

MRIDULA BHATKAR, J. :- This appeal is directed against the judgment and order passed by 5th Additional Sessions Judge, Satara, dated 29/11/2004. The appellant/accused is convicted for the offence punishable under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code and sentenced to suffer life imprisonment and fine. The appellant was residing with his family at village Somardi, Dist.Satara. On 5/11/2003 in the evening the appellant had returned home in drunken condition. He was habitual drunkard. His wife Kalpana (P.W.7) quarreled with him as he had consumed liquor and was demanding food. The appellant and Kalpana had three children, Shailaja, the deceased, was the eldest daughter. Shailaja took side of her mother and shunned her father for drinking. Such incident was a routine in the family. The accused because of his addiction was not working regularly however, Kalpana used to earn livelihood by doing labour-work. They had two sons who were studying and they also used to take side of their mother. The accused, therefore, used to threaten them that he would kill one of the family members as they all fight with him. On the previous night, there were not enchanges of words between the accused and his family members and at that time Shailaja told her mother that on the next morning she would go to collect wood for fuel from a stream in the forest which is known as 'Shivecha Odha'. The appellant slept in the courtyard.

2. In the morning i.e.on 6/11/2003 he went to a liquor shop and consumed liquor. On 6/11/2003 at about 11 a.m. Shailaja left the house and went to stream-'Shivecha Odha' to collect wood for fuel.On that day Shailaja did not return home till 5 p.m..Her mother Kalpana made enquiries and went to search her in the forest. However, Shailaja was not found. In the morning she and her son again went to forest and they found the dead body of Shailaja at Shivecha Odha.Shailaja had sustained head injuries caused by stones. Blood stained stones were lying there. The incident was reported to the police at Kudal outpost. The police arrived at the spot. The body was sent for the postmortem to the hospital. Dr.Suhas (P.W.6) carried out postmortem and opined that there was fracture of occipital and parietal region of the head and the cause of death was neurogenic shock due to external and internal haemorrhage with severe brain injury due to head injury. Kalpana lodged the F.I.R.. The police registered offence under section 302 and 201 of the Indian Penal Code against the unknown person at C.R.No. 33/2003.They drew inquest panchanama,spot panchanama and recorded statements of the witnesses. However, the appellant/ accused, father of the deceased, was not found in the house and he did not return home nearly for 12 days. Kalpana suspected that the appellant must have killed Shailaja and, therefore, she gave supplementary statement to that effect. The accused was arrested while committing theft at village Bhuinj, Dist.Satara on 18/11/2003 and after his arrest in the theft case it was transpired that he has committed murder of Shailaja by assaulting her with stone in the said stream 'Shivecha Odha'. At the instance of the accused the police drew memorandum under section 27 of the Evidence Act and after completion of investigation filed chargesheet against the accused.

3. After committal of the case to the Sessions Court, the learned Sessions Judge framed charge against the accused for the offence punishable under sections 302 and 201 of the Indian Penal Code. After completion of trial the accused was acquitted of the offence punishable u/s 201 of the Indian Penal Code, however, he was convicted for offence punishable u/s 302 of the Indian Penal Code. Hence the appeal.

4. Learned counsel appearing for the appellant has submitted that the case is based only on the circumstantial evidence which is very weak and incomplete. He has submitted that the learned Sessions Judge has committed an error in accepting the inadmissible evidence which is recorded by the police u/s 27 of the Evidence Act. He has pointed out that there are discrepancies in the evidence of the complainant and she has lodged complaint against her husband only on the basis of suspension which cannot be replaced as a proof. He argued that the accused is falsely implicated in the case under the police pressure. He was doing his job of digging well therefore he was out of house for 10-12 days. He was not aware of the death of his daughter so he could not attend the last rites. The learned counsel argued that admittedly the appellant is addicted to liquor and he used to quarrel with his family members and this circumstance has made the learned trial Judge to accept the case of the prosecution. He further submitted that there is no evidence of discovery of any incriminating article against the accused and therefore, the judgment and order of the learned Sessions Judge be set aside. He read the evidence of P.W.5 Sandip who was the neighbour and P.W.9 Pramod, son of the accused, and pointed out that at 11 O'clock these two boys saw Shailaja going towards Shivecha Odha and they warned her not to go to that place alone. He argued that there may be a possibility that any other person might have committed murder of Shailaja; but the police did not find the real culprit; they arrested the accused.

5. Per contra learned A.P.P. has submitted that the accused had quarrel with his family members on the previous night and Kalpana, P.W.7, and Pramod, P.W.9, both have deposed that the accused used to threaten them of their lives and he out of vengence used to tell that he would kill one of the family members. She further submitted that it is a case where the prosecution hasl proved motive and the fact that the accused was absconding is also established by the prosecution on the basis of the evidence of P.W.10, P.I. Suryavanshi. It is argued that P.W.7, Kalpana, reported about the incident of un-natural death of her daughter immediately to Kudal. Outpost and on that day she did not suspect that her husband would do such brutal act and therefore,she lodged complaint against un-known person. However, when her husband was absconding for a long time and did not come even for the funeral and last rites of Shailaja, she gave complaint against the accused. It is submitted that the prosecution has shown the place where he had burnt his shirt and the ash and button of his shirt were found. This shows guilty conduct of the accused. It is submitted that the judgment of the learned Sessions Judge be confirmed.

6. The prosecution has examined 10 witnesses in this case. Out of 10 witnesses, evidence of Kalpana,P.W.7, P.W.2, discovery panch are the only material witnesses. Kalpana deposed about the quarrel on the previous night and the reason for the quarrel and the threates given by the accused. P.W.9, Pramod, has corroborated the evidence. Kalpana has deposed about the fact that the accused was absconding for 12 days. P.S.I. Suryavanshi has corroborated that the accused was missing from 6/11/2003 till 18/11/2003. The evidence of the P.S.I. discloses that the accused was arrested at Bhuinj for an offence of theft on 18/11/2003 and the case was transferred to him on 19/11/2003. Arrest panchanama at Exh.39 was drawn on the same day. The case of the prosecution is based entirely on the two pillars of circumstantial evidence i.e. motive and abscondence of the accused. The fact of abscondence of the accused for 12 days is established by the prosecution. So also quarrel is also proved. It is necessary to look into the other evidence as only these two incriminating circumstances are not sufficient to connect the accused with the guilt.

7. The prosecution has relied on the evidence of P.W.2, panch for discovery . Memorandum is marked at Exh.26 and recovery panchanama is marked as Exh.27. This panchanama runs 3-4 pages. The police have recorded a fact of accused showing the place where he had hidden himself before committing murder. It is recorded that the accused had shown the place i.e.hut where he went after committing murder and changed his blood stained shirt and then further recorded that he showed the place where he had burnt the shirt where ash and one button were found. As pointed out by the counsel for the appellant that the learned Sessions Judge has erred in accepting this inadmissible portion in the panchanama. The entire portion of the panchanama except the place where one line that ash and button were found is inadmissible on the point of discovery. Ash and the button do not help the prosecution in taking the case further. It does not corroborate to prove the act of murder and, therefore, no weightage can be given to the memorandum and discovery panchanama Exh.26 and 27.

8. In the arrest panchanama, Exh.39, it is mentioned that a white shirt and pant which were on the person of the accused were blood staind. It is difficult to believe that a person who has committed murder 12 days prior to the date of the arrest would wear the blood stained clothes on the 12th day. The C.A.report Exh.46 discloses that no blood stains were found on article 13-shirt. Moreover as per the case of the prosecution the police drew discovery panchanama where ash of the shirt was found under Exh.27. Thus, discovery panchanama Exh.27 and C.A.report Exh.46 contradict the evidence of arrest panchanama Exh. 39 about seizure of blood stained shirt on the person of the accused.

9. The evidence of P.W.5,Sandip and P.W.9, Pramod though support the prosecution on the point of movement of the deceased, this evidence creates doubt whether the accused could be the author of the murder of Shailaja? Both the witnesses have stated that in the morning of 6/11/2003 these boys were going towards the forest for grazing their she goats. As they were proceeding Shailaja followed them at 11 a.m.. Her brother Pramod warned her that she should not go alone to Shvecha Odha. P.W. 7,Kalpana, deposed that when Shailaja told her that she was going to collect wood for fuel, she warned her not to go alone at Shivecha Odha. Pramod corroborates the fact of warning given by his mother Kalpana to Shailaja that she should not go alone to that place. This shows that the place around the stream i.e. Shivecha Odha was lonely and it was not safe to go to that place alone and therefore, all these family members apprehended and they warned Shailaja that she should not go there alone.

10. One more point is to be noted that as per the evidence of Kalpana and Pramod, Shailaja informed her mother that she would be going to Shivecha Odha in the morning to collect wood. Accordingly she left her house in the morning. Pramod met her and the fact that she was going towards Shivecha Odha at 11 a.m. was reconfirmed. Shailaja did not return home till 5 p.m., therefore, Kalpana made enquiry with people. She went to search her in jungle. However, she returned as Shailaja did not find. P.W. 9, Pramod, and P.W.5 Sandip stated that they also went to search Shailaja but they did not find her. Kalpana deposed that she reported about missing of Shailaja to her brother who was residing nearby. An important question arises that if the place where Shailaja had gone was known to her mother and brother then why immediately on that night Kalpana and her brother-in-law did not go to Shivecha Odha to search her. If they had gone to that place, then another question arises why body of Shailaja was not found at the place on that evening. Therefore, possibility of some third person killing Shailaja cannot be overruled.

11. On this point we considered the admissions given by Kalpana in her cross examination. Kalpana while answering the question in respect of the occupation of her husband she deposed that her husband was in habit of staying away from home for 2-3 days and during his absence she never used to make enquiry about him. She also deposed that her husband used to do the work as a labour for digging well and he used to return home after completing the work. Some time the work of well continued for 2-4 days and some times even for 8 days. So these admissions disclose the life style and behavioural pattern of the accused which also made us to consider his defence in his favour.

12. It is settled position of law that though the accused was absconding this fact itself cannot be a ground for conviction. The circumstances are incriminating, however, the incriminating circumstances should be sufficient to establish complete chain to hold the accused guilty. It should not leave any room for any other possibility. In the present case, there is no sufficient evidence. Hence we are of the view that benefit of doubt is to be given to the accused.

13. Hence the conviction and sentence awarded by the learned Sessions Judge is set aside. The Accused is acquitted of the offence punishable u/s 302 of the Indian Penal Code. He be released forthwith, if not required in any other offence.

Appeal allowed.