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CASE NAME: Ashok Debbarma @ Achak Debbarma V/s State of Tripura
CITATION: CRIMINAL APPEAL NOS.47-48 OF 2013
COURT: Supreme Court of India
BENCH: K. S. Radhakrishnan J.
Vikramajit Sen J.
DECIDED ON: March 4, 2014.
RELEVENT STATUTES: The Arms Act, 1959.
The Indian Penal Code
BRIEF FACTS & PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
- A group of Armed Extremists at Jarulbachai village in the night of 11.2.1997, set fire to twenty houses belonging to a group of linguistic minority community of Bengal settlers, in which 15 persons lost their lives, which included women and children and causing extensive damage to their properties.
- The Takarajala Police Station, West Tripura got information about the incident at about 11.00 p.m. on 11.2.1997 from Jarullabachai DAR Camp stating that extremists had set on fire a number of houses at Jarulbachai village and that the people had been shot dead and injured grievously.
- Information so received was entered into the General Diary at the Takarajala Police Station in the form of Entry No.292 dated 11.2.1997. PW18 (Officer-in-Charge) of Takarajala Police Station visited the Jarullabachai DAR Camp, cordoned off the area, and conducted search. Most of the houses of the village were found gutted by fire. On the very night of the occurrence, as many as 13 dead bodies were found lying at various places and three persons were found lying injured.
- A formal written information, as regards the occurrence, was received by the investigating officer from one Gauranga Biswas (PW2) from the place of occurrence. Based on the written information, which was so received at the place of occurrence, Takarajala Police Station Case No.12/97 under Sections 148/149/302/326/307/436 IPC read with Section 27(3) of the Arms Act, 1959 was registered. Later, a greater number of dead bodies were found and number of dead persons increased to 15, so also the number of injured persons.
- Dead bodies as well as injured persons were taken to GB Hospital at about 4.00 p.m. on 12.2.1997. Inquests were held on the dead bodies and post-mortem examinations were also conducted. PW.18, the Investigating Officer, seized vide seizure list (Ex.11), two empty cartridges and some ashes from the place of occurrence. Looking at the serious nature of the evidence, investigation was handed over to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and PW20 (a DSP) was entrusted with the investigation.
- PW20, on completion of the investigation, filed a charge-sheet under Sections 148/149/302/326/307/436 IPC read with Section 34 IPC and 27(3) of the Arms Act, 1959 read with Section 34 IPC against 11 persons. The Additional Sessions Judge, West Tripura, Agartala, having found the Appellant and Gandhi Deb Barma guilty of the offences under Sections 326, 436 and 302 read with Section 34 IPC and also Section 27(3) of the Arms Act, 1959 read with Section 34 IPC, declared both the accused guilty of the offences aforementioned and convicted them accordingly vide judgment dated 7.11.2005, on which date Gandhi Deb Barma was absent since he was absconding.
- Judgment was, therefore, pronounced by the Sessions Judge in the absence of the co-accused in terms of Section 353(6) CrPC. The Additional Sessions Judge then on 10.11.2005, after hearing the prosecution as well as the accused on the question of sentence, passed an order sentencing the Appellant to death on his conviction under Sections 148/149/302/326/307/436 IPC read with Section 27(3) of the Arms Act, 1959.
- The Additional Sessions Judge in terms of provisions contained in Section 366 (1) CrPC referred the matter to the High Court for confirmation of death sentence awarded to the Appellant, which was numbered as criminal Reference No.02/2005. The High Court vide its judgment and order dated 5.9.2012 set aside the conviction of the Appellant under Section 27(3) of the Arms Act, 1959. However, the death sentence under Section 302 IPC read with Section 34 IPC, to the sentence passed for offence under Sections 326 and 436 read with Section 34 IPC, was sustained, against which these Appeals have been preferred.
- Whether the High Courts’ order of sustaining the punishment under section 326, 436 and 34 of the IPC against the appellant in the present appeal correct?
- Whether this is one of the rarest of rare case, as held by the trial Court and affirmed by the High Court, so as to award death sentence to the accused?
RATIO OF THE COURT:
- The High Court was right in holding that the Appellant is not guilty under Section 27(3) of the Arms Act, 1959, in view of the law declared by this Court in State of Punjab v. Dalbir Singh (2012) 3 SCC 346, wherein this Court held that Section 27(3) of the Arms Act is unconstitutional. The fact that such dastardly acts referred to earlier were committed in the Jarulbachai village in the night of 11.2.1997, is not disputed. since the accused persons were known to the witnesses and they were identified by face, the fact that no Test Identification Parade was conducted at the time of investigation, is of no consequence.
- The whole object behind the Test Identification Parade is really to find whether or not the suspect is the real offender. In Kanta Prashad v. Delhi Administration AIR 1958 SC 350, this Court stated that the failure to hold the Test Identification Parade does not make the evidence of identification at the trial inadmissible. However, the weight to be attached to such identification would be for the Court to decide and it is prudent to hold the Test Identification Parade with respect to witnesses, who did not know the accused before the occurrence.
- The mere fact that the Appellant was not named in the statement made before the police under Section 161 CrPC and, due to this omission, the evidence of PW10 and PW13 tendered in the Court is unreliable, cannot be sustained. if the evidence tendered by the witness in the witness box is creditworthy and reliable, that evidence cannot be rejected merely because a particular statement made by the witness before the Court does not find a place in the statement recorded under Section 161 CrPC.
- Under Section 313 statement, if the accused admits that, from the evidence of various witnesses, four persons sustained severe bullet injuries by the firing by the accused and his associates, that admission of guilt in Section 313 statement cannot be brushed aside. This Court in State of Maharashtra v. Sukhdev Singh and another (1992) 3 SCC 700 held that Sub-section (4) of section 313 says that the answers given by the accused in response to his examination under Section 313 CrPC can be taken into consideration in such an inquiry or trial.
- The answers given by the accused while examining him under Section 313, fully corroborate the evidence of PW10 and PW13 and hence the offences levelled against the Appellant stand proved and the trial Court and the High Court have rightly found him guilty for the offences under Sections 326, 436 and 302 read with Section 34 IPC.
- Dealing with the next issue the court was of the view that Appellant alone could not have organized and executed the entire crime. Eleven persons were originally charge-sheeted out of 30-35 group of persons who, according to the prosecution, armed with weapons like AK47, Dao, Lathi, etc., had attacked the villagers, fired at them and set ablaze their huts and belongings.
- But an accused has a profound right not to be convicted of an offence which is not established by the evidential standard of proof “beyond reasonable doubt”. This Court in Krishnan and another v. State represented by Inspector of Police (2003) 7 SCC 56, held that Law cannot afford any favourite other than truth and to constitute reasonable doubt, it must be free from an overemotional response. Doubts must be actual and substantial doubts as to the guilt of the accused persons arising from the evidence, or from the lack of it, as opposed to mere vague Courts, while examining whether any doubt is beyond reasonable doubt, may carry in their mind, some “residual doubt”, even though the Courts are convinced of the accused persons’ guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
- For instance, in the instant case, it was pointed out that, according to the prosecution, 30-35 persons armed with weapons such as fire arms, dao, lathi etc., set fire to the houses of the villagers and opened fire which resulted in the death of 15 persons, but only 11 persons were charge-sheeted and, out of which, charges were framed only against 5 accused persons. Even out of those 5 persons, 3 were acquitted, leaving the appellant and another, who is absconding. Court, in such circumstances, could have entertained a “residual doubt” as to whether the appellant alone had committed the entire crime, which is a mitigating circumstance to be taken note of by the court, at least when the court is considering the question whether the case falls under the rarest of rare category.
- The court observed the evidence tendered by the witness in the witness box is creditworthy reliable, that evidence cannot be rejected merely because a particular statement made by the witness before the Court does not find a place in the statement recorded under Section 161 CrPC.
- The crime perpetrated by a group of people in an extremely brutal, grotesque and dastardly manner, could not have been thrown upon the appellant alone without charge-sheeting other group of persons numbering around 35. All element test as well as the residual doubt test, in a given case, may favour the accused, as a mitigating factor. The question raised, in this case, is with regard to ineffective legal assistance which, according to the counsel, caused prejudice to the accused and, hence, the same may be treated as a mitigating circumstance while awarding sentence.
- The court had laid down three tests – crime test, criminal test and RR test, not the “balancing test”, while deciding the proportionality of the sentence. To award death sentence, crime test has to be fully satisfied and there should be no mitigating circumstance favouring the accused, over and above the RR test.
- Only safeguard, statutorily and judicially provided is to give special reasons, not merely “reasons” before awarding the capital punishment In Santosh Kumar Satisbhushan Bariyar v. State of Maharashtra (2009) 6 SCC 498, this Court highlighted the fact that the arbitrariness in sentencing under Section 302 may violate the idea of equal protection clause under Article 14 and the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.
- Circumstances which favoured the accused in the instant case, to hold it as not a rarest of rare case, which are that the appellant alone could not have executed such a crime, which resulted in the death of 15 persons and leaving so many injured and setting ablaze 23 houses, that is the entire elements of the crime could not have been committed by the appellant alone.
- While altering the death sentence to that of imprisonment for life, the court felt are inclined to fix the term of imprisonment as 20 years without remission, over and above the period of sentence already undergone, which, would meet the ends of justice.
- Ordered accordingly.
- The Appeals are, accordingly, disposed of.