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This article is written by Nipun Raj, of Amity Law School, Ranchi. The article provides a legal analysis of the Landmark Case of K.M. Nanavati v. the State of Maharashtra (1961).

It has been published by Rachit Garg.


The case of K.M. Nanavati v. the State of Maharashtra is one of the landmark judgments in the history of the Indian Judiciary. The case received unprecedented media coverage. It is also known to be the last case to be heard as a jury trial in India since the Government abolished the jury system as a result of this case. This case highlights an important concept of ‘Grave and Sudden Provocation’. 

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The article analyses the case in detail and also discusses the important points.

Facts of the case

  1. The petitioner K.M. Nanavati, an Indian Naval Officer, shifted to Bombay with his wife Sylvia and their children.
  2. A businessman named Prem Bhagwan Ahuja was residing with his sister in the same city.
  3. In 1956, Ahuja and his sister were introduced to Nanavatis through Agniks, who were common acquaintances of Ahujas and Nanavatis.
  4. When Nanavati was frequently away from Bombay on his official duty for longer durations then Sylvia, his wife, fell in love with Prem Ahuja and developed Illicit relations with him.
  5. When Nanavati returned from his ship he tried to be affectionate to his wife to which she was not being responsive on multiple occasions.
  6. On 27 April 1959, Nanavati asked his wife if she had been faithful to him. She merely shook her head to indicate that she was not.
  7. On 27 April 1959, Sylvia confessed to her husband about the Illicit relationship with Prem Ahuja.
  8. In the heat of agony, Nanavati went to his ship to procure a loaded revolver and then went to the office of Prem Ahuja. 
  9. On not finding him at the office he drove to Ahuja’s residence and shot him dead.
  10. K.M. Nanavati, the accused, initially was declared not guilty under Section 302 by the Jury with an 8 : 1 verdict.
  11. The case was then referred by the Sessions Judge to the Hon’ble High Court of Bombay under Section 307 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
  12.  The Hon’ble High Court declared the accused guilty under Section 302 of  IPC.
  13.  An appeal was finally made to the Hon’ble Supreme Court.

Contentions of the petitioner

  1. The argument put forth by the counsel of Nanavati was that after hearing Sylvia’s confession, Nanavati wanted to kill himself, but his wife managed to calm him down. He planned to find out whether Ahuja wanted to marry her or not because she didn’t inform him. As a result, he dropped his wife and two children off at the movie theatre and drove to his ship in his car.
  2. Nanavati informed the authorities in the ship that he wanted to take a revolver and six rounds from the ship’s stores because he was going to drive alone to Ahmednagar by night, but his true intention was to shoot himself. He placed the revolver and six cartridges inside a brown envelope after receiving them.
  3. Nanavati then drove to Ahuja’s office, but when he didn’t find him there, he drove to Ahuja’s flat, which was unlocked by a servant, and walked to Ahuja’s bedroom, closing the door behind him. He was also carrying the envelope containing the revolver.
  4. When Nanavati saw Ahuja inside the bedroom, he labelled him a dirty swine and asked if he would marry Sylvia and care for the children. “Am I supposed to marry every woman I sleep with?” Ahuja raged. Nanavati became enraged, stowed the revolver in an envelope in a neighbouring cabinet, and threatened to thrash him. When Ahuja made a sudden grab at the envelope, Nanavati drew his revolver and told Ahuja to return. A scuffle erupted between the two, and during the struggle, two rounds were mistakenly fired, killing Ahuja.
  5. Nanavati returned to his car after the shooting and drove it to the police station, where he surrendered. Hence, the petitioner shot at the Ahuja in response to a grave and sudden provocation, and even if he did commit an offence, it would be culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

Contentions of the respondent

  1. The first point of disagreement was that Ahuja had just gotten out of the shower while wearing a towel. His towel was still on his body when his body was discovered. It hadn’t loosened or fallen off, which was exceedingly unlikely in the event of a scuffle.
  2. Following Sylvia’s confession, a calm and composed Nanavati drove them to a movie theatre, dropped them off, and then went to his ship to get his pistol, all on false pretences. This demonstrates that he had sufficient cooling time, that the provocation was neither grave nor sudden, and that Nanavati had premeditated the murder.
  3. Anjani, Ahuja’s servant who was there at the time of the incident and was a natural witness, testified that four shots were fired in rapid succession and that the entire event occurred in less than a minute, ruling out a scuffle.
  4. Nanavati exited Ahuja’s residence without informing his sister Mamie, who was present in another room, that it was an accident.
  5. According to the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Nanavati admitted to shooting Ahuja and even rectified the misspelling of his name in the police record, demonstrating Nanavati’s ability to think normally.

Issues before the Court

  1. Whether the High Court lacked jurisdiction under Section 307 of the CrPC to examine the facts in order to determine the competency of the Sessions Judge’s referral.
  2. Whether the High Court had the power to strike aside a jury’s decision on the grounds of misdirection in charge under Section 307(3) of the CrPC.
  3. Whether there were any misdirections in the charge.
  4. Whether the jury’s decision was such that it might have been reached by a group of reasonable men based on the facts presented to them.
  5. Whether the act was done in “the heat of the moment” or whether it was a premeditated murder?
  6. Whether the pardoning power of the Governor and the Special Leave Petition can be clubbed together?

Hon’ble High Court’s judgement

A division Bench of the said High Court, consisting of Shelat and Naik, JJ., heard the case. The two learned Judges issued separate decisions, but both agreed that the accused was guilty of murder under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code and should be imprisoned for the rest of his life. After concluding that the jury had been misled, Shelat, J. evaluated the complete evidence and concluded that the accused was plainly guilty of murder; alternatively, he expressed the opinion that the jury’s finding was perverse, irrational, and, in any case, contrary to the weight of evidence. Naik, J., opted to reach his finding on the alternative argument that no reasonable group of people could have reached the jury’s conclusion. Both the learned Judges agreed that no case had been made out to reduce the offence from murder to culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The present appeal has been preferred against the said conviction and sentence.

Hon’ble Supreme Court’s judgement

As pointed out by the Supreme Court, confession by the wife of adultery was grave but Ahuja was not present at the time the confession was made, hence, the element of the suddenness of killing was missing. Because three hours had transpired between the time of confession and the time of the killing, the Court concluded that a reasonable man had had enough time to cool down since the provocation.

The Supreme Court ruled that the accused’s conviction under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code and sentence of life imprisonment imposed by the High Court are legitimate, and there are no grounds for interference.

  1. The Hon’ble Supreme Court noted that if the judge disagrees with the jury’s decision, he can refer the case to the High Court under subsection (1) of section 307 of the CrPC. The following two elements must be met: (1) the judge must disagree with the jury’s verdict, and (2) he must believe that the jury’s verdict was one that no reasonable man could have reached. The referral order will be competent if and only if these two conditions are met; otherwise, it will be deemed incompetent and will be rejected by the High Court.
  2. When the High Court determines that the order of reference is competent, it must perform the responsibilities set forth in subsection (3) of section 307 of the CrPC. Under this provision, the High Court must review all evidence, give due weight to the judge’s and jury’s opinions, and then acquit or condemn the accused. The defendant’s learned counsel contended that the opposite meaning would contradict the objective of this clause.
  3. The Court concurred with the High Court’s conclusions about the Judge’s allegation of misdirection. It noted that the question of whether a misdirection tainted the jury’s verdict must be considered in light of the likely impact that the misdirection had on the lay jury. The Supreme Court went on to say that the purpose of the judge’s charge to the jury is to explain and present the facts and circumstances of the case to them. The Judge’s job is to make sure that the jury understands the law and its ramifications, as well as to present all of the evidence to them so that they can make the best conclusion possible.
  4. After reviewing all the evidence, the Hon’ble Court was of the view that the conduct of the appellant was inconsistent with his defence that the deceased was shot by accident. In contrast, he had the mentality of someone who had planned and calculatedly exacted vengeance on his wife’s lover. On a false pretext, he secured the revolver and marched into Ahuja’s bedroom with a loaded weapon. Despite having numerous opportunities to do so, he did not tell anyone that he shot the deceased by accident until his trial. The injuries found on the deceased’s body were consistent with a deliberate shooting. Thus the verdict of the jury could not stand.As a result, the Court came to the conclusion that no reasonable group of men could have reached the same determination as the jury based on the evidence.
  5. After considering the facts of the case, the Court determined that not only had the accused/appellant developed self-control, but he was also considering his family’s future. After his wife confessed her infidelity to him, he had plenty of time to calm down. His actions were plainly calculated and purposeful. The case did not fall under the defence of, grave and sudden provocation and that it was premeditated murder.
  6. The Supreme Court held that the pardoning power of the Governor and the Special leave petition cannot operate together. If a Special leave petition is filed, then the power of the Governor will cease to exist.


The case of K.M. Nanavati was one of the most contentious matters dealt with by the Indian judiciary. From a jury verdict of not guilty to being found guilty of murder by the Supreme Court, the case received extraordinary media coverage, which most likely had a significant impact on the jury’s decision.

We have to respect the Court’s decision in light of the facts and circumstances of the current case. Punishments should not be assumed or presumptively imposed. A crime’s penalty should be proportionate to the crime committed. Penal rules are strictly interpreted, and the Nanavati case demonstrates the strict interpretation of penal statutes. The Court’s decision was based not on the man’s honour or standing in society, but on the nature of the offence he committed.



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