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This article is written by Prachi Singh, pursuing a Certificate Course in Advanced Criminal Litigation & Trial Advocacy from LawSikho. The article has been edited by Zigishu Singh (Associate, LawSikho) and Dipshi Swara (Senior Associate, LawSikho).

CITATION: 1996 AIR 607

DATE: 9TH November, 1995

Table of Contents

Introduction

The case of Balwinder Singh vs. State of Punjab highlights an important concept of circumstantial evidence. The conviction was set aside by the Supreme Court on the ground that the circumstantial evidence was not fully established hence the guilt of the accused was not proved beyond reasonable doubt. The article analyses the case in detail and also discusses the important pointers for relying on circumstantial evidence.

Facts of the case

1. Balwinder Singh (hereinafter the appellant) married Smt. Tajinder Kaur on 18.03.1984 and two daughters were born from this wedlock, Pinky who was about 6 years and Rozy who was about 2 years at the time of the commission of the offence. The appellant’s mother, Ajmer Kaur and the appellant were both unhappy with Tajinder Kaur for giving birth to daughters and used to constantly quarrel with her regarding the same. On several occasions, they even inflicted injuries on her.

2. Following the same, Appellant and his mother conspired together to take the life of the two daughters and in pursuance of the same on March 18, 1984; Appellant informed his wife that he would return only after killing both the daughters. He took his daughters to the Patiala bus-stand where he met Balwant Kaur, where he informed her that he was taking away his daughters to kill them. On hearing this, Balwant Kaur informed about the same to the Appellant’s wife.

3. Appellant took his children to his sister Mohinder Kaur’s home in Ludhiana and stayed there for a few hours. After that, he left the house stating that he was going to Rara Saheb.

4. On 19.03.1984, the dead body of a female child was discovered by Dr. Jaswant Singh at around 12 pm. The dead body was taken out and at about 4:30 pm, Appellant reached there and identified the dead body to be his daughter Rozy. The Appellant took the dead body for cremation near Gurdwara Rara Saheb. Meanwhile, Pinky was nowhere to be found.

5. Satya Walia who was a social worker and neighbour of the Appellant filed a written complaint to the police on 23.03.1984 after discovering about the murder and the extra-judicial confession made by the appellant about killing his daughters.

6. An F.I.R was registered and the investigation was done by ASI Iqbal Singh. During the investigation, a disclosure statement was made by the Appellant following which some bones and steel bangles were discovered from the place where the dead body of Rozy was found.

7. After the investigation was concluded, the Appellant and his mother were charged under Section 120-B of Indian Penal Code, 1860 for criminal conspiracy and also under Section 302 and 201 of the Indian Penal code for committing the murder or Rozy and thereafter cremating her dead body to save himself.

8. While the case was in Trial Court, the charge of criminal conspiracy under section 120-B could not be established and as a result, the Appellant and his mother were acquitted for the same. Furthermore, charges against the Appellant under section 302 as to committing murder of Pinky could not be established and hence he was only convicted for the murder of Rozy. There was no direct evidence involved in this case and the prosecution relied upon circumstantial evidence to establish the guilt of the accused.

9. The appellant was convicted under Section 302/201 of the Indian Penal Code and was sentenced to Imprisonment along with fine of Rs. 2000/- and if there is default in payment, further rigorous imprisonment of 2 years under section 302 and another rigorous imprisonment of 2 years under section 201 which has to run concurrently.

10. Thereafter, an Appeal was filed in the Supreme Court questioning the said conviction and sentence passed by the learned judge at Patiala Special Court, under Section 14 of the Terrorist Affected Areas (Special Courts) Act, 1984.

Issue in the present case

Whether the Appeal filed by the appellant challenging the conviction and sentence under section 300 and 201 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 is maintainable.

Analysis

This case was completely based on circumstantial evidence and there was no direct evidence involved in this case. The prosecution only relied upon various circumstances to establish the guilt of the accused as to committing the murder of his daughter Rozy. Circumstantial evidences are a series of facts which are so associated with the fact-in-issue that inference as to the guilt of the accused can be drawn from them. Circumstantial evidence is susceptible to fallibility and therefore they must only be relied upon if they completely establish the guilt of the accused and exclude any other hypothesis. The chain of events in such cases must be concrete and the guilt has to be proved beyond any reasonable doubt.

At the trial court, prosecution relied upon several circumstances to establish the guilt which are as follows:

i. Prosecution relied upon the ‘Last Seen theory’ as per the statements provided by Tajinder Kaur, Mohinder Kaur and Balwant Kaur.

Tajinder Kaur deposed about the constant quarrels that used to take place with respect to the birth of daughter and also deposed about the fact that appellant and his mother conspired together to kill both the daughters in furtherance of which the appellant took the daughters on March 18, 1984.

On 19 March, 1984 the mother of the appellant then informed Tajinder that both the daughters were killed by the appellant and thrown in the canal. Then on 20 March, 1984 the appellant also informed his wife that he killed both the daughters and cremated Rozy at Gurudwara Rara Saheb.

Satya Walia deposed that when he heard about the murder of both the daughters he enquired about the same from the appellant after which appellant confessed to him about killing his daughters. The Trial Court relied upon the statements made by Tajinder Kaur. 

The Supreme Court did not consider these circumstances concrete so as to form a chain because during the cross-examination of Tajinder Kaur, she admitted that she did not inform anyone about the constant quarrels and also did not disclose to anyone about the fact that happened on 18th and 19th March with respect to appellant and his mother conspiring to kill both the daughters. She only informed this to Satya Walia on 20th March but did not inform the police or even her parents regarding the same.

Mohinder Kaur also deposed that the appellant never came to her house along with daughters as was stated by the prosecution.

Moreover, the statement of Balwant Kaur was also contradictory during cross-examination and was not in furtherance of what was stated by Tajinder Kaur. Therefore, due to contradictions and no conclusive chain the Supreme Court considered these evidence as untrustworthy.

The Supreme Court stated that the trial court erred by relying upon the statements of Tajinder Kaur and overlooked the fact of delay in reporting the crime, and also prosecution has failed to establish the last seen theory and the chain of circumstances beyond any reasonable doubt.

ii. The Trial Court relied upon the extra judicial confession made by the appellant to Satya Walia about killing his daughters and also to Tajinder Kaur, and connected it with the discovery statement made by the appellant through which the dead body and bones were recovered of Rozy.

The Supreme Court emphasized upon the weak nature of the extra judicial confessions and how the trial court has erred in considering them since the circumstances were not fully established and all the statements were contradictory to each other instead of being in consonance with each other. The court stated that extra-judicial confessions should be used with great care and caution and corroboration of all the circumstances is necessary to establish such confessions.

iii. Prosecution also relied upon the fact that the appellant identified the dead body of Rozy and corroborated this fact with the above-mentioned circumstances. However, the defence stated that when the appellant came to identify the dead body, he told everyone that his children fell in the canal and he was searching for them.

The Supreme Court pointed towards the fact that since above-mentioned circumstances are not clearly established hence, they cannot be corroborated with the fact about appellant identifying the dead body. The court also stressed upon the fact that no identification parade was conducted so as to establish whether the person who identified the dead body was the appellant.

Judgment by the court

The Supreme Court considered all the facts and circumstances and then came to the conclusion that since the circumstantial evidence was not fully established, hence the guilt of the accused was not proved beyond reasonable doubt. Court held that the trial court wrongfully convicted the appellant and took a more emotional approach and emphasized upon the killing of a female child, that the trial court got swayed by emotions and did not consider all the circumstances in its entirety.

Therefore, the Supreme Court in this case allowed the appeal, and the conviction and the sentence of the appellant was set aside.

Supreme court’s recent verdict on circumstantial evidence

In a recent judgment passed on 16th April, 2018 in the case of NAVANEETHAKRISHNAN v. THE STATE BY INSPECTOR OF POLICE, Court stated that when conviction of the accused is entirely based upon circumstantial evidences then there are certain points that are to be kept in mind:

· Each and every incriminating circumstance has to be clearly established by some reliable evidence and the circumstances should form such a chain of events that no alternate hypothesis against the guilt of the accused is available.

· The court has to ensure that the chain of events must be such as to rule out the possibility of innocence of the accused.

· Even if one of the links is broken, the chain of circumstances gets snapped and the guilt of the accused cannot be established beyond any reasonable doubt.

· Court has to avoid the danger of suspicion to take the place of legal proof.

· There is a difference between “may be true” and “must be true” and when the entire case depends upon circumstantial evidence then the court has to be cautious.

Conclusion

Circumstantial evidence by its very nature is weak and it is extremely important to establish all the chain of circumstances with precision. If there is even a slight possibility of an alternate theory being created in favour of the accused, then the benefit of the doubt has to be given to the accused. The essentials for circumstantial evidence are that it should be conclusive and the guilt has to be proved beyond any reasonable doubt, but this was not the situation in this present case. If the entire case is based upon circumstances, then all the evidence must be scrutinized with great care to eliminate any alternate hypotheses. However, the trial court in this case overlooked various crucial elements which clearly created alternate hypotheses, and took a more emotional stance. The Supreme Court here took a pragmatic approach and weighed all the minute details, which ultimately led the case in appellant’s favour. 


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