The Supreme Court on Thursday has upheld the order of the Punjab & Haryana High Court which has confirmed the conviction of trio under Section 307 IPC with a five years rigorous imprisonment while setting aside their conviction under 148 IPC. The Supreme Court cancelled their bail bond and has directed the State of Haryana to take the appellants into custody to serve the remainder of their five-year sentence as awarded by the High Court, in a compliant which was registered two decades back.
The court passed its verdict on two criminal appeals filed by Rohtas & Sanjay (jointly) & Bijender against the orders of Punjab & Haryana HC. Though, the High Court had upheld the quantum of sentence passed by the Additional Sessions Judge, Sonipat, but reduced it to five years from seven years, also imposed the fine of Rs 1,00,000/- payable as compensation to the victim-complainant.
A three-judge bench of Justices NV Ramana, Surya Kant & Aniruddha Bose Supreme Court had framed three questions to be answered in the appeals filed by the convicted persons. Firstly, whether a charge framed with the assistance of Section 149 IPC later be converted to one read with Section 34 IPC or even a simplicitor Individual crime? Secondly, whether lack of independent witnesses to a violent crime would undermine the prosecution case and whether closely related witnesses can be relied upon in such instances? And Thirdly, whether leniency ought to be shown to the present appellants given the extend period of liberty which they have enjoyed since being released on bail?
(I) Framing of Charge and subsequent alteration
The Supreme Court said it is settled proposition of law that although Section 34 & Section 149 IPC are modes for apportioning vicarious liability on the individual members of a group, there exist a few important differences between these two provisions. Applying these settled principles to the facts of the present case, it may be seen that both the common object and the common intention are traced back to the same evidence, i.e., evaluating the conduct of the accused as narrated by the injured and the eyewitness….that each of them had individually attacked the complainant with a deadly object in furtherance of the common intention of killing him. We, therefore, do not find that the appellants suffered any adverse effect when the High Court held the three of them individually guilty for the offence of attempted murder, without the aid of Section 149 IPC, said the Apex Court.
(II) Independence of witnesses
The Court said that the present crime took place in a private agriculture field and not in the middle of a busy public place. The defence has not claimed that other farmers also gathered at the scene and yet have not been examined. This shows that the appellants have in fact been blowing both hot and cold with their arguments. Earlier in the trial they had tried to discredit the ocular testimony of PW3 (Brother of the victim) by claiming that he might not have been able to witness the incident owing to standing crops in the field. Nonetheless, they expect this Court to believe that there could have been others who witnessed the incident but have deliberately been suppressed by the prosecution.
(III) Sentencing and Leniency
The Supreme Court said, “We, however, cannot be oblivious of the fact that the appellants and their deceased coaccused were all armed with deadly weapons. They surrounded the complainant and in a brutal attack caused him gruesome injuries and disabled him for life….The appellants have not undergone even half of their sentence period. Having enjoyed the more productive part of their lives outside jail cannot be, per se, taken as a mitigating factor. Any misplaced sympathy with the appellants is likely to cause injustice to the victim of the crime. We, therefore, do not find any justification to show leniency and reduce the sentence.”
It noted that “Given that earlier the appellants had been ordered to serve their two sentences of five years under Section 307 and one year under Section 148 of IPC concurrently, acquittal in the latter would effectively have no impact on their outstanding period of sentence.” Therefore, the Supreme Court had upheld the conviction and sentence of the appellants under Section 307 IPC and set aside their conviction under Section 148.
In the background of the case the complaint was filed by victim-Ranbir Singh who was threatened by the appellants including one more person who died during trial. Later, one day the appellants including some others inflicted blows on the complainants body using axes, thereby causing him to fall down and seriously Injuring his legs, hand and head. Further, the appellants declared that they will not rest till they killed the complainant. The brother (eye-witness) of the complainant saw them and raised alarm. The complainant received several injuries and admitted to the government hospital by his brother.
The Sessions Court has convicted six persons for offence under section 307 IPC & Section 149 IPC (with sentence of seven years rigorous imprisonment) & also under Section 148 of the IPC (with an additional one years concurrent imprisonment).
Following, which they all had appealed to High Court. The High Court appraised the entire evidence and giving the benefit of Doubt acquitted three persons out of the six. It had reduced the quantum of sentence under the charge of Section 307 IPC from seven years to five, with a combined additional fine of Rs 1,00,000/- to be paid to the victim-complainant.
Read the judgment here;