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Murder or Suicide – Alibi – Dying Declaration – DW 8 Evidence that the victim bolted inside – after breaking open the doors and after put off the fire – intimation was passed to accused in the field who shifted the victim to hospital – Both courts failed to consider this evidence – come to conclusion as murder basing on Dying Declaration – out of 6, two were dead prior to incident i.e. Rati Ram and Balbir Prasad are already dead and nothing need be said about their involvement in the incident – two are residing in far away place – other two are infields – Dying Declaration not separable and as such whole this is to be discarded as false – High court failed to consider this aspect – Alibi clearly proved with cogent evidence , No court should pick holes in evidence purposefully as it should be considered on par with prosecution evidence same treatment – Apex court set aside the conviction of lower courts and acquit the accused = Jumni and Others …..Appellants Versus State of Haryana …Respondent =2014 (March. Part ) judis.nic.in/supremecourt/filename=41315

 Murder or Suicide – Alibi – Dying Declaration – DW 8 Evidence that the victim bolted inside – after breaking open the doors and after put off the fire – intimation was passed to accused in the field who shifted the victim to hospital – Both courts failed to consider this evidence – come to conclusion as murder basing on Dying Declaration – out of 6, two were dead prior to incident i.e.  Rati Ram and Balbir Prasad  are  already  dead  and nothing need be said about their involvement  in  the  incident – two are residing in far away place – other two are infields – Dying Declaration not separable and as such whole this is to be discarded as false – High court failed to consider this aspect – Alibi clearly proved with cogent evidence , No court should pick holes in evidence purposefully as it should be considered on par with prosecution evidence same treatment – Apex court set aside the conviction of lower courts and acquit the accused =

 

value of the testimony of alibi witnesses and the severability  of  a  dying

declaration.=

 

There  is

no allegation or evidence of any matrimonial disharmony between Jagdish  and

Asha Devi who had been married  for  about  nine  years  nor  is  there  any

allegation of any demand or harassment for dowry from Asha Devi.

5.    The case of  the  prosecution  is  entirely  dependent  on  the  dying

declaration of Asha Devi. 

 The  statement/dying  declaration

reads as follows:-

           “Stated that I was married at the age of  16  years.   I  am  25

           years old.  I have two sons, one is 5 years old while the second

           is 1½ old.  My husband is serving  in  military.   Sometimes  he

           visits us after a week and  sometimes  after  15  days.   In  my

           house, my father-in-law Rati Ram, mother-in-law Jumni, Jeth Prem

           Chand, Jethani Bala Rani, two Devars Sham Lal and Balbir Parshad

           are staying.  My father-in-law, mother-in-law, Jeth Jethani  and

           both the Devers had been harassing me from the  very  beginning.

           My mother-in-law,  father-in-law,  Jeth  Jethani  and  both  the

           Devers had been making plans to  eliminate  me.   Last  week  my

           mother-in-law, father-in-law, Jeth,  Jethani  and  Devers  said,

           “let us get her bitten from a dog and in this way she  would  be

           eliminated”.  Yesterday, during  noon  time,  my  mother-in-law,

           father-in-law, Devers, Jeth and  Jethani  had  given  me  severe

           beatings.  Thereafter yesterday at about  3.00  PM  when  I  was

           about to go to police station to lodge a  report,  all  of  them

           prevented me and said, “if she is bent upon to do so, she should

           be eliminated by setting her ablaze”.  After  getting  up  today

           morning, I went to my mother-in-law and in a  fit  of  anger,  I

           broke my bangles (a sign  of  indignation  against  the  married

           status).  My mother-in-law, said that fault lies with her (Asha)

           and she should be finished.  Mother-in-law, father-in-law, Jeth,

           Jethani and both the devers after  conniving  with  one  another

           tied me with my Chuni (head gear) and poured kerosene  oil  upon

           me.  The kerosene oil also entered in my  eyes.   Mother-in-law,

           father-in-law, Jeth Jethani and both the devers set me  on  fire

           together.  I made a lot of noise.  The incident occurred at 7.30

           AM.  My mother-in-law Jumni, father-in-law Rati Ram,  Jeth  Prem

           Chand, Jethani Bala Rani and both the Devars Sham Lal and Balbir

           Parshad are responsible for setting me on fire.  After my death,

           both of my children be handed over to my parents.  Otherwise  my

           in-laws would kill them also.” =

 Prem  Nath  and  Raj  Bala  produced

alibi witnesses before the Trial  Judge  to  show  that  Prem  Nath  was  an

employee in the HMT factory in Pinjore and that on 4th April  1996  as  well

as on 5th April 1996 he was in Pinjore and there was no question of  his  or

his wife’s involvement in the incident. 

The accused  also  produced  Chandan

Singh, Sub-Inspector, Food Supply, Yamunanagar as  DW-7  to  prove,  on  the

basis of the ration card issued to Jagdish and Rati Ram, that they lived  in

the same neighbourhood but not together as stated by Asha  Devi.  

Similarly,

Puran Chand a neighbour of Jagdish was produced as DW-8  and  his  testimony

was to the effect that he saw smoke coming out of  Jagdish’s  house  and  he

heard some children making a noise.  

Thereupon he went  to  Jagdish’s  house

and found that the door of the tenement was bolted from inside.   He,  along

with one Gurbachan broke open the door and found Asha Devi  lying  burnt  in

the tenement.  

They put out the fire and called Rati Ram who was working  in

the nearby fields.  Thereafter,  Rati  Ram  took  Asha  Devi  to  the  Civil

Hospital.  Puran Chand also stated that Prem Nath  and  Raj  Bala  were  not

present at the spot.=

 Unfortunately, the High Court overlooked the evidence of  Puran  Chand

(DW-8) who stated that Asha Devi’s tenement was locked from inside and  that

the door had to be broken open by him and Gurbachan who found her burning.

Plea of alibi . as Prem Chand and Raj Bala  are  concerned,  both

the Trial Judge and the High Court have given us the  impression  that  they

proceeded on the basis that these two accused persons are required to  prove

their innocence.  In fact it is for the prosecution  to  prove  their  guilt

and that seems to have been lost in the consideration of the case.  =

 It is no doubt true that when an alibi is set up,  the  burden  is  on

the accused to lend credence to the defence put up by him  or  her.  However

the approach of the court should not be such as to pick holes  in  the  case

of the accused person.  The defence evidence  has  to  be  tested  like  any

other testimony, always keeping in mind that a person is  presumed  innocent

until he or she is found guilty.

 It is true that when a person is on his or her death bed, there is  no

reason to state a falsehood but it is equally true that it is  not  possible

to delve into the mind of a person who is facing death. 

In the present  case

the death of  Asha  Devi  and  the  circumstances  in  which  she  died  are

extremely unfortunate but at the same time it  does  appear  that  for  some

inexplicable reason she put the blame for  her  death  on  all  her  in-laws

without  exception.  Perhaps  a  more  effective  investigation  or  a  more

effective cross-examination of the witnesses  would  have  brought  out  the

truth but unfortunately on the record as it stands, there is no  option  but

to give the benefit of doubt to Jumni (and Sham Lal) and to hold  that  they

were not proved guilty of the offence of having murdered Asha Devi. 

The evidence of the alibi witnesses clearly brings  out  that  on  4th

April 1996 Prem Nath was in his factory from 2.00 p.m.  onwards  till  10.00

p.m. and later in the night he was seen by his tenant at  about  10.30  p.m.

On the next day that is 5th April 1996 Prem Nath and Raj Bala were  seen  by

their tenant at 7.45 a.m. and about 11.00 a.m. Prem Nath purchased and  took

delivery of a scooter from Hind Motors Ltd., Chandigarh before going to  the

factory at about 6.00 p.m.  On 5th April 1996 his wife Raj Bala  distributed

sweets on the purchase of a new scooter.  But, what is of equal importance  is

that neither the Trial Court nor the High  Court  adverted  to  the  crucial

evidence of Puran Chand (DW-8) who stated that he saw smoke  coming  out  of

Jagdish’s tenement and children  were  making  a  noise.   When  he  reached

there, he saw flames and smoke coming out from the ventilator  of  Jagdish’s

tenement and along with Gurbachan, he had to break  down  the  door  of  the

tenement which was locked from inside and they found Asha Devi on fire.   If

this statement of Puran Chand is  correct,  and  there  does  not  seem  any

reason to doubt it since nothing was put to him  in  this  regard  in  cross

examination, a case of suicide by  Asha  Devi  is  a  possibility.  At  this

stage, it may be noted that the investigating officer Gurdial Singh  (PW-10)

could not say if the bolt of the tenement was broken or not.

On a reading of the dying declaration it  is  quite  clear  that  Asha

Devi was very disturbed on the morning of 5th April 1996  and  that  is  why

she broke her bangles in the presence of Jumni. This may be because  of  the

events of the previous day or her being a victim of  continuous  harassment.

This, coupled with a lack of response from  Jumni  on  the  morning  of  5th

April 1996 may have completely frustrated Asha Devi leading  her  to  commit

suicide. Whatever be the cause of Asha Devi being  upset,  the  evidence  of

Puran Chand has not been challenged and so it cannot be  glossed  over.   In

the face of this, it is not possible to discount  the  theory  suggested  by

learned counsel that the case  was  possibly  one  of  the  suicide  out  of

extreme frustration and not of murder.

44.   Insofar as Prem Nath and Raj Bala are concerned  there  is  sufficient

material to accept their alibi and they must be  acquitted  of  the  charges

made against them.

45.   As mentioned above Rati Ram and Balbir Prasad  are  already  dead  and

nothing need be said about their involvement  in  the  incident.  Were  they

alive, they too would have been entitled to the benefit of doubt  since  the

facts pertaining to them were similar to those of Jumni and Sham Lal.

Conclusion:

46.   The plea of alibi set up by Prem Nath and Raj Bala deserve  acceptance

and are accepted. They are found not guilty of having  murdered  Asha  Devi.

Jumni and Sham Lal are given the benefit of doubt  and  the  charge  against

them of having murdered Asha Devi is not proved beyond a  reasonable  doubt.

Both the appeals are accordingly allowed.

2014 (March. Part ) judis.nic.in/supremecourt/filename=41315

RANJANA PRAKASH DESAI, MADAN B. LOKUR

REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 1159 OF 2005
Jumni and Others …..Appellants

Versus

State of Haryana …Respondent

AND

CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 603 OF 2005

Prem Nath and Another …..Appellants

Versus

State of Haryana …Respondent
J U D G M E N T

Madan B. Lokur, J.

1. The two questions for consideration and discussion relate to the
value of the testimony of alibi witnesses and the severability of a dying
declaration.
2. In the present appeals, we are of the opinion that the testimony of
the alibi witnesses of two of the four appellants deserves acceptance and
the dying declaration so closely concerns all four appellants that it is
not possible to sever the role of the sets of appellants, resulting in our
giving the benefit of doubt to the remaining two appellants.
The facts:
3. Six relatives (by marriage) of deceased Asha Devi were accused of
having murdered her and thereby having committed an offence punishable
under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. The accused persons were Rati
Ram (father-in-law, now died), Jumni (mother-in-law and appellant in
Criminal Appeal No. 1159 of 2005), Sham Lal (brother-in-law and appellant
in Criminal Appeal No. 1159 of 2005), Balbir Prasad (brother-in-law and
appellant in Criminal Appeal No.1159 of 2005, who, we were told has since
died), Prem Nath (brother-in-law and appellant in Criminal Appeal No. 603
of 2005) and Raj Bala (wife of Prem Nath and appellant in Criminal Appeal
No. 603 of 2005).
4. Asha Devi was married at the age of 16 to Jagdish who was employed in
the army. According to her father, Asha Devi lived with Jagdish for about
one year and thereafter she lived in village Bhojpur in district Jagadhari,
Haryana, in a one room tenement along with her two children aged 5 years
and 1½ years. Her in- laws were staying in an adjacent tenement. There is
no allegation or evidence of any matrimonial disharmony between Jagdish and
Asha Devi who had been married for about nine years nor is there any
allegation of any demand or harassment for dowry from Asha Devi.
5. The case of the prosecution is entirely dependent on the dying
declaration of Asha Devi. In her statement, Asha Devi stated that at about
12.00 noon on 4th April 1996 she was given a severe beating by all her in-
laws. Thereafter, at about 3.00 p.m. she wanted to lodge a complaint with
the police but all her in- laws prevented her from doing so. Rather, they
suggested that she should be set ablaze.
6. On the morning of 5th April 1996, Asha Devi seems to have had a
quarrel and in a fit of anger she broke her bangles. Upon this, Jumni said
that she should be finished. Consequently, all her in-laws tied her up and
poured kerosene on her and set her on fire. This was at about 7.30 a.m.
7. At about 10.30 a.m. Asha Devi was taken to the Civil Hospital at
Jagadhari. Seeing her condition with 100% burns, the doctor on duty, Dr.
M.R. Passi (PW-1) immediately informed the police who took urgent steps for
having her statement recorded. Ms. Sarita Gupta, Judicial Magistrate, 1st
Class (PW-9) was deputed for this purpose. According to Ms. Sarita Gupta,
she recorded the statement of Asha Devi in the Civil Hospital between 11.22
a.m. and 12.05 p.m. on 5th April 1996. The statement/dying declaration
reads as follows:-
“Stated that I was married at the age of 16 years. I am 25
years old. I have two sons, one is 5 years old while the second
is 1½ old. My husband is serving in military. Sometimes he
visits us after a week and sometimes after 15 days. In my
house, my father-in-law Rati Ram, mother-in-law Jumni, Jeth Prem
Chand, Jethani Bala Rani, two Devars Sham Lal and Balbir Parshad
are staying. My father-in-law, mother-in-law, Jeth Jethani and
both the Devers had been harassing me from the very beginning.
My mother-in-law, father-in-law, Jeth Jethani and both the
Devers had been making plans to eliminate me. Last week my
mother-in-law, father-in-law, Jeth, Jethani and Devers said,
“let us get her bitten from a dog and in this way she would be
eliminated”. Yesterday, during noon time, my mother-in-law,
father-in-law, Devers, Jeth and Jethani had given me severe
beatings. Thereafter yesterday at about 3.00 PM when I was
about to go to police station to lodge a report, all of them
prevented me and said, “if she is bent upon to do so, she should
be eliminated by setting her ablaze”. After getting up today
morning, I went to my mother-in-law and in a fit of anger, I
broke my bangles (a sign of indignation against the married
status). My mother-in-law, said that fault lies with her (Asha)
and she should be finished. Mother-in-law, father-in-law, Jeth,
Jethani and both the devers after conniving with one another
tied me with my Chuni (head gear) and poured kerosene oil upon
me. The kerosene oil also entered in my eyes. Mother-in-law,
father-in-law, Jeth Jethani and both the devers set me on fire
together. I made a lot of noise. The incident occurred at 7.30
AM. My mother-in-law Jumni, father-in-law Rati Ram, Jeth Prem
Chand, Jethani Bala Rani and both the Devars Sham Lal and Balbir
Parshad are responsible for setting me on fire. After my death,
both of my children be handed over to my parents. Otherwise my
in-laws would kill them also.”
8. Soon after the statement was recorded Asha Devi’s father Devi Dayal
(PW-6) arrived in the Civil Hospital (although he says that he reached the
hospital at about 11.45 a.m. but after the Magistrate left) and he made
arrangements to take her to Chandigarh but she died on the way.
9. On these broad facts, investigations were carried out and a charge
sheet was filed against the six accused persons for having murdered Asha
Devi.
Proceedings in the Trial Court:
10. Before the Additional Sessions Judge, in Case No. 35 of 1996, the
principal argument of the prosecution was that in view of the dying
declaration there was no doubt at all that the accused persons were guilty
of having murdered Asha Devi. 11. Prem Nath and Raj Bala produced
alibi witnesses before the Trial Judge to show that Prem Nath was an
employee in the HMT factory in Pinjore and that on 4th April 1996 as well
as on 5th April 1996 he was in Pinjore and there was no question of his or
his wife’s involvement in the incident. The accused also produced Chandan
Singh, Sub-Inspector, Food Supply, Yamunanagar as DW-7 to prove, on the
basis of the ration card issued to Jagdish and Rati Ram, that they lived in
the same neighbourhood but not together as stated by Asha Devi. Similarly,
Puran Chand a neighbour of Jagdish was produced as DW-8 and his testimony
was to the effect that he saw smoke coming out of Jagdish’s house and he
heard some children making a noise. Thereupon he went to Jagdish’s house
and found that the door of the tenement was bolted from inside. He, along
with one Gurbachan broke open the door and found Asha Devi lying burnt in
the tenement. They put out the fire and called Rati Ram who was working in
the nearby fields. Thereafter, Rati Ram took Asha Devi to the Civil
Hospital. Puran Chand also stated that Prem Nath and Raj Bala were not
present at the spot.
12. One of the questions considered by the Trial Judge was whether Asha
Devi was in a fit condition to make a statement, particularly since,
according to Dr. M.R. Passi, she had 100% superficial as well as deep
burns. The Trial Judge noted that Dr. Passi testified that Asha Devi was
fit to make a dying declaration and that he was present when Ms. Sarita
Gupta was recording her dying declaration. He stated that Asha Devi was
responding to the questions put to her by the Magistrate.
13. The Trial Judge also considered the statement of Ms. Sarita Gupta who
had confirmed from Dr. Passi regarding the fitness of Asha Devi to make a
statement. Ms. Sarita Gupta stated that only after Asha Devi was declared
fit to make a statement that her statement was recorded and read over to
her. According to Ms. Sarita Gupta, during the recording of her statement,
Asha Devi was conscious and responding to verbal commands. She also stated
that Dr. Passi was present throughout when Asha Devi’s dying declaration
was being recorded.
14. On these facts, the Trial Judge concluded that Asha Devi was fit to
make a dying declaration.
15. The next question addressed by the Trial Judge was whether the dying
declaration contained any falsehood. In this regard, the Trial Judge came
to the conclusion that there was nothing to suggest that the dying
declaration was incorrect in any manner or that Asha Devi made allegations
out of some vengeance.
16. Finally, the Trial Judge examined the plea of alibi raised by Prem
Nath and Raj Bala and in this regard he concluded that there was every
possibility of both of them being present in village Bhojpur both on 4th
April 1996 when Asha Devi was given a beating as well as in the early
morning of 5th April 1996 when Asha Devi was set on fire.
17. On the above conclusions, the Trial Judge held, in his judgment and
order dated 28th October 1998, that all the accused were guilty of having
murdered Asha Devi.
18. Feeling aggrieved, the accused persons filed Criminal Appeal No. 524-
DB of 1998 in the High Court of Punjab & Haryana. By its judgment and
order dated 25th October 2004, the High Court dismissed their appeal.
Proceedings in the High Court:
19. The High Court considered the evidence of Dr. Passi as well as the
evidence of Ms. Sarita Gupta and upheld the conclusion of the Trial Judge
that Asha Devi was in a fit state of mind to make a statement before the
Magistrate.
20. The High Court also upheld the conclusion that Asha Devi was in a
condition to speak coherently and was capable of making a statement.
Consequently, the High Court accepted the validity of the dying
declaration.
21. The High Court then considered the question whether it could be held,
despite the dying declaration, that Prem Nath and Raj Bala were not
involved in the incident concerning Asha Devi. Relying upon a few
decisions of this Court, the High Court was of the view that there was no
error in law in accepting a part of the dying declaration and rejecting
another part of the dying declaration. The High Court then examined the
evidence of the alibi witnesses in an attempt to ‘bifurcate’ the dying
declaration. However, the High Court rejected their testimony and concluded
that there was every possibility of Prem Nath and Raj Bala being present
both on 4th April 1996 when Asha Devi was subjected to a beating as well as
on 5th April 1996 when she was allegedly set on fire.
22. The High Court affirmed the conviction of the accused as well as the
sentence imposed upon them.
23. Unfortunately, the High Court overlooked the evidence of Puran Chand
(DW-8) who stated that Asha Devi’s tenement was locked from inside and that
the door had to be broken open by him and Gurbachan who found her burning.
Plea of alibi
24. On a consideration of the material before us, what strikes us as a
little odd is that insofar as Prem Chand and Raj Bala are concerned, both
the Trial Judge and the High Court have given us the impression that they
proceeded on the basis that these two accused persons are required to prove
their innocence. In fact it is for the prosecution to prove their guilt
and that seems to have been lost in the consideration of the case.
25. It is no doubt true that when an alibi is set up, the burden is on
the accused to lend credence to the defence put up by him or her. However
the approach of the court should not be such as to pick holes in the case
of the accused person. The defence evidence has to be tested like any
other testimony, always keeping in mind that a person is presumed innocent
until he or she is found guilty.
26. Explaining the essence of a plea of alibi, it was observed in Dudh
Nath Pandey v. State of U.P.[1] that:
“The plea of alibi postulates the physical impossibility of the
presence of the accused at the scene of offence by reason of his
presence at another place. The plea can therefore succeed only
if it is shown that the accused was so far away at the relevant
time that he could not be present at the place where the crime
was committed.”
This was more elaborately explained in Binay Kumar Singh v. State of
Bihar[2] in the following words:
“We must bear in mind that an alibi is not an exception (special
or general) envisaged in the Indian Penal Code or any other law.
It is only a rule of evidence recognised in Section 11 of the
Evidence Act that facts which are inconsistent with the fact in
issue are relevant.”
Illustration (a) given under Section 11 of the Evidence Act is then
partially reproduced in the decision, but it is fully reproduced below:
“The question is whether A committed a crime at Calcutta on a
certain date; the fact that on that date, A was at Lahore is
relevant.
The fact that, near the time when the crime was committed, A was
at a distance from the place where it was committed, which would
render it highly improbable, though not impossible, that he
committed it, is relevant.”
This Court then went on to say,

“The Latin word alibi means “elsewhere” and that word is used
for convenience when an accused takes recourse to a defence line
that when the occurrence took place he was so far away from the
place of occurrence that it is extremely improbable that he
would have participated in the crime. It is a basic law that in
a criminal case, in which the accused is alleged to have
inflicted physical injury to another person, the burden is on
the prosecution to prove that the accused was present at the
scene and has participated in the crime. The burden would not be
lessened by the mere fact that the accused has adopted the
defence of alibi. The plea of the accused in such cases need be
considered only when the burden has been discharged by the
prosecution satisfactorily. But once the prosecution succeeds in
discharging the burden it is incumbent on the accused, who
adopts the plea of alibi, to prove it with absolute certainty so
as to exclude the possibility of his presence at the place of
occurrence. When the presence of the accused at the scene of
occurrence has been established satisfactorily by the
prosecution through reliable evidence, normally the court would
be slow to believe any counter-evidence to the effect that he
was elsewhere when the occurrence happened. But if the evidence
adduced by the accused is of such a quality and of such a
standard that the court may entertain some reasonable doubt
regarding his presence at the scene when the occurrence took
place, the accused would, no doubt, be entitled to the benefit
of that reasonable doubt. For that purpose, it would be a sound
proposition to be laid down that, in such circumstances, the
burden on the accused is rather heavy. It follows, therefore,
that strict proof is required for establishing the plea of
alibi.”
This view was reiterated in Jayantibhai Bhenkarbhai v. State of
Gujarat.[3]
27. On the standard of proof, it was held in Mohinder Singh v. State[4]
that the standard of proof required in regard to a plea of alibi must be
the same as the standard applied to the prosecution evidence and in both
cases it should be a reasonable standard. Dudh Nath Pandey goes a step
further and seeks to bury the ghost of disbelief that shadows alibi
witnesses, in the following words:
“Defence witnesses are entitled to equal treatment with those of
the prosecution. And, courts ought to overcome their
traditional, instinctive disbelief in defence witnesses. Quite
often, they tell lies but so do the prosecution witnesses.”

 
28. The defence put up by Prem Nath and Raj Bala needs to be examined in
the light of the law laid down by this Court. What is the defence put up by
them? Subhash Saini, Office Assistant with HMT in Pinjore appeared as DW-1
and stated that Prem Nath was on duty on 4th April, 1996 from 2.00 p.m. to
10.00 p.m. On the next day that is on 5th April, 1996 he was on half day
leave and was on duty from 6.00 p.m. to 10.00 p.m.
29. This witness also stated that the entry and exit of an employee to
and from the factory premises is recorded in a punching machine and two
employees of the factory supervise the machine to avoid proxy punching. If
there is any suspicion about any employee, the identity card is demanded
from him or her. The Trial Court and the High Court had observed that it
is possible to ‘manipulate’ the punching machine. While this may be so,
there is nothing to suggest that despite the presence of employees and
other safeguards having been set up by HMT, Prem Nath had manipulated the
punching machine. The view of both the courts was speculative in nature and
cannot form the basis for rejecting the alibi.
30. Jagan Nath Mishra (DW-2) is the tenant of Prem Nath and he stated
that he met Prem Nath at about 10.30 p.m. on the night of 4th April 1996.

31. This witness further stated that he left his residence to attend duty
the next morning at about 7.45 a.m. (This has wrongly been mentioned as
5.45 a.m. in the impugned judgment and we have verified from the original
record that it is actually 7.45 a.m.) At that time he met Prem Nath and
Raj Bala. He also stated that when he returned at about 5.45 p.m. he was
given sweets by Raj Bala because they had purchased a new scooter.
32. On 5th April 1996 Prem Nath had taken half day leave for the purpose
of purchasing a scooter. This was testified by Bhim Sen Verma (DW-3). It
was stated by K.N. Sharma (DW-5) that Prem Nath was on duty on 4th April
1996 up to 10.00 p.m. and on half day duty on 5th April 1996.
33. K.K. Kanwal from Hind Motors Ltd. in Chandigarh entered the witness
box as DW-6 and affirmed that at about 11.00 a.m. on 5th April 1996 Prem
Nath had purchased and taken delivery of a scooter from his company. He
further stated that prior to taking delivery of a vehicle, it takes about
an hour to complete all procedural formalities in this regard.
34. The evidence of the alibi witnesses clearly brings out that on 4th
April 1996 Prem Nath was in his factory from 2.00 p.m. onwards till 10.00
p.m. and later in the night he was seen by his tenant at about 10.30 p.m.
On the next day that is 5th April 1996 Prem Nath and Raj Bala were seen by
their tenant at 7.45 a.m. and about 11.00 a.m. Prem Nath purchased and took
delivery of a scooter from Hind Motors Ltd., Chandigarh before going to the
factory at about 6.00 p.m. On 5th April 1996 his wife Raj Bala distributed
sweets on the purchase of a new scooter. 35. The Trial Court and the
High Court have disbelieved the entire case put up by Prem Nath and Raj
Bala by holding that they could very well have been in village Bhojpur at
12.00 noon on 4th April 1996 when Asha Devi was given a beating and they
could have travelled back to Pinjore to enable Prem Nath to be in the
factory at 2.00 p.m. Nothing is said about how they could have stopped Asha
Devi at 3.00 p.m. from going to the police to lodge a complaint. The same
night, they could have left Pinjore to be in village Bhojpur early morning
on 5th April 1996 at about 7.30 a.m. when Asha Devi was set on fire.
Thereafter, they could have come back to Pinjore to enable Prem Nath to be
in Hind Motors at about 10.00 a.m. to purchase a scooter at 11.00 a.m.
There is nothing on record to indicate the distance between Pinjore and
village Bhojpur but we were orally told that it takes more than a couple of
hours to cover that distance. Prem Nath did not have any means of personal
conveyance which could have enabled him to undertake these journeys.
36. Apart from the conclusions of the Trial Court and the High Court
appearing far-fetched, the testimony of Jagan Nath Mishra (DW-2) the tenant
of Prem Nath has not been correctly appreciated because of a typing error
in transcribing it from the original record. As mentioned above, Jagan Nath
Mishra had seen Prem Nath and Raj Bala at 7.45 a.m. on 5th April 1996 (and
not at 5.45 a.m. as wrongly transcribed in the impugned judgment).
Consequently, Prem Nath and Raj Bala could not have been in village Bhojpur
at 7.30 a.m. on 5th April 1996. This evidence has gone unchallenged.
37. It seems to us that although the High Court has given due weightage
to the dying declaration of Asha Devi but having accepted it, it has tried
to pick holes in the defence evidence to justify the contents of the dying
declaration. Given the law laid down by this Court, this was not the
correct manner of approaching the evidence brought forth by Prem Nath and
Raj Bala. In our opinion, the alibi witnesses have made out a strong case
of demonstrating the improbability of Prem Nath and Raj Bala being involved
in the incident of beating up Asha Devi at about 12.00 noon on 4th April
1996, of stopping her at about 3.00 p.m. from going to the police to lodge
a complaint and setting her on fire at about 7.30 a.m. on 5th April 1996.
Severability of a dying declaration:
38. The next question is whether Asha Devi’s dying declaration can be
split up to segregate the case of Prem Nath and Raj Bala from the case of
the other accused persons.
39. In Godhu v. State of Rajasthan[5] this Court found itself unable to
subscribe to the view that if a part of the dying declaration is found not
to be correct, it must result in its rejection in entirety. It was held,
“The rejection of a part of the dying declaration would put the
court on the guard and induce it to apply a rule of caution.
There may be cases wherein the part of the dying declaration
which is not found to be correct is so indissolubly linked with
the other part of the dying declaration that it is not possible
to sever the two parts. In such an event the court would well be
justified in rejecting the whole of the dying declaration. There
may, however, be other cases wherein the two parts of a dying
declaration may be severable and the correctness of one part
does not depend upon the correctness of the other part. In the
last mentioned cases the court would not normally act upon a
part of the dying declaration, the other part of which has not
been found to be true, unless the part relied upon is
corroborated in material particulars by the other evidence on
record. If such other evidence shows that part of the dying
declaration relied upon is correct and trustworthy the court can
act upon that part of the dying declaration despite the fact
that another part of the dying declaration has not been proved
to be correct.”

40. Although at law there is no difficulty in segregating the role of two
sets of accused persons if the dying declaration is severable, the present
case indicates that the role of the accused persons cannot be segregated.
This is because Asha Devi’s dying declaration mentions all the accused
persons as being involved in all the events that had taken place on 4th
April 1996 and 5th April 1996. There is no distinction made in the role of
any of the accused persons and they have all been clubbed together with
regard to the harassment of Asha Devi; making plans to eliminate her; Asha
Devi being beaten up on 4th April 1996; all the accused persons preventing
her from lodging a complaint with the police; all the accused persons tying
up Asha Devi with her chunni and pouring kerosene oil on her and then
setting her on fire. Asha Devi has referred to each one of them as being
involved in every incident on 4th April 1996 and 5th April 1996. If
somewhat different roles were assigned to at least some of the accused
persons, segregation or severance could have been possible. But with
everybody being roped in for every event, it is not possible in this case
to segregate or sever the actions of one from another.
41. Notwithstanding this, as we have seen, it is not possible to accept
the involvement of Prem Nath and Raj Bala in the events that took place on
the two fateful days. Nevertheless, it is quite possible that the other
four accused were involved in beating up Asha Devi on 4th April 1996 and
setting her on fire on 5th April 1996. But, what is of equal importance is
that neither the Trial Court nor the High Court adverted to the crucial
evidence of Puran Chand (DW-8) who stated that he saw smoke coming out of
Jagdish’s tenement and children were making a noise. When he reached
there, he saw flames and smoke coming out from the ventilator of Jagdish’s
tenement and along with Gurbachan, he had to break down the door of the
tenement which was locked from inside and they found Asha Devi on fire. If
this statement of Puran Chand is correct, and there does not seem any
reason to doubt it since nothing was put to him in this regard in cross
examination, a case of suicide by Asha Devi is a possibility. At this
stage, it may be noted that the investigating officer Gurdial Singh (PW-10)
could not say if the bolt of the tenement was broken or not.
42. On a reading of the dying declaration it is quite clear that Asha
Devi was very disturbed on the morning of 5th April 1996 and that is why
she broke her bangles in the presence of Jumni. This may be because of the
events of the previous day or her being a victim of continuous harassment.
This, coupled with a lack of response from Jumni on the morning of 5th
April 1996 may have completely frustrated Asha Devi leading her to commit
suicide. Whatever be the cause of Asha Devi being upset, the evidence of
Puran Chand has not been challenged and so it cannot be glossed over. In
the face of this, it is not possible to discount the theory suggested by
learned counsel that the case was possibly one of the suicide out of
extreme frustration and not of murder.
43. It is true that when a person is on his or her death bed, there is no
reason to state a falsehood but it is equally true that it is not possible
to delve into the mind of a person who is facing death. In the present case
the death of Asha Devi and the circumstances in which she died are
extremely unfortunate but at the same time it does appear that for some
inexplicable reason she put the blame for her death on all her in-laws
without exception. Perhaps a more effective investigation or a more
effective cross-examination of the witnesses would have brought out the
truth but unfortunately on the record as it stands, there is no option but
to give the benefit of doubt to Jumni (and Sham Lal) and to hold that they
were not proved guilty of the offence of having murdered Asha Devi.
44. Insofar as Prem Nath and Raj Bala are concerned there is sufficient
material to accept their alibi and they must be acquitted of the charges
made against them.
45. As mentioned above Rati Ram and Balbir Prasad are already dead and
nothing need be said about their involvement in the incident. Were they
alive, they too would have been entitled to the benefit of doubt since the
facts pertaining to them were similar to those of Jumni and Sham Lal.
Conclusion:
46. The plea of alibi set up by Prem Nath and Raj Bala deserve acceptance
and are accepted. They are found not guilty of having murdered Asha Devi.
Jumni and Sham Lal are given the benefit of doubt and the charge against
them of having murdered Asha Devi is not proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
Both the appeals are accordingly allowed.
……………………………………J
(Ranjana Prakash Desai)
……………………………………J
(Madan B. Lokur)
New Delhi;
March 12, 2014
———————–
[1] (1981) 2 SCC 166
[2] (1997) 1 SCC 283
[3] (2002) 8 SCC 165
[4] 1950 SCR 821
[5] (1975) 3 SCC 241

 

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