This article is written by Sujitha S, from the School of Excellence in law, Chennai. This article focuses on Section 201 of the Indian Penal Code which deals with disappearance of evidence and providing false information regarding the offence committed.
The word ‘evidence’ is derived from the Latin term ‘evidentia,’ which means ‘to exhibit clearly, to make clear to the eye, to find clearly certain, to confirm, or to prove.’ Therefore, evidence is anything that may be used to establish or reject the existence or nonexistence of a claimed fact. Legally, evidence is something that is offered before a court for the purpose of demonstrating or disproving a point of contention. Section 3 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 defines ‘evidence’ as the statements that the court permits to be made by the witnesses relevant to the facts of the case and the documents submitted before the court for inspection. This documentary evidence also includes inspection of electronic records.
As said above, evidence can be either oral, which refers to witness testimony, or documentary, which refers to documents and electronic data presented to the Court. Circumstantial evidence can also be used to show an accused’s guilt. When such evidence is forged, fabricated, tainted evidence, it is known as false evidence. False evidence is evidence that has been forged, falsified, or corrupted in some way. The provisions dealing with providing and fabricating false evidence, as well as offences against public justice, are dealt with in Chapter 11 of the Indian Penal Code.
Section 201 IPC
Section 201: Causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender.
This Section comprises two aspects which include the disappearance of evidence and giving false information with the intention of screening the offender from legal consequences. The Section further prescribes the extent of punishment with reference to the gravity of the committed offence. They are as follows:
- In case of a capital offence, the offender can be punished with imprisonment extending to 7 years and fine.
- In case of an offence punishable with imprisonment for life, the offender can be punished with imprisonment extending to 3 years and fine.
- In case of an offence punishable with less than 10 years imprisonment, the offender can be punished with imprisonment for a term extending to one-fourth part of the longest term of the imprisonment provided for the offence or fine or both.
A, knowing that B has murdered Z, aids B in concealing the body in order to protect B from prosecution. Thus, A is given a sentence of seven-year imprisonment as well as a fine.
Primary Requirements for Section 201 IPC
The Section is divided into two parts. The first is making evidence disappear, and the second is providing false information about the crime. The two essential criteria applicable to the said offences in Section 201 are:
- The accused should have had knowledge or reason to believe that an offence had been committed, and
- He should have then caused the disappearance of evidence of the commission of that offence or should have given false information.
The prosecution has to prove the above two essential elements for conviction under this provision.
Disappearance of evidence
- An offence must have been committed;
- A person must induce the disappearance of any evidence of the crime committed; and
- It must be done with the goal of screening or sparing the offender from punishment.
Commission of a crime
One of the primary requirements of Section 201 is proof of the actual commission of an offence. This is because the question of inducing the disappearance of evidence of a crime or concealing the criminal does not arise until an offence has been committed in the first place.
Palvinder Kaur v. State of Punjab (1952)
In Palvinder Kaur v. State of Punjab (1952), the prosecution claimed that the appellant had given her husband potassium cyanide and killed him and that she, along with another person with whom she had an illegitimate relationship, had put the deceased’s body in a trunk, loaded it into a jeep, and threw it into a well. The foul scent coming from the well was reported to the local officials, more than a month after the purported murder, and the body was found. A post-mortem examination was carried out. There were no signs of potassium cyanide poisoning, according to the post-mortem report.
According to the defence, the deceased enjoyed photography as a form of recreation and occasionally produced prints at home, for which he purchased liquid to work on the images. He had mistakenly drank the liquid on the day of the incident, believing it to be medicine that had been kept. The appellant was afraid to inform her in-laws since she already had a poor relationship with them. So, with the assistance of another, she placed the body in a trunk and tossed it into the well.
The trial court found her guilty under Section 302. Her conviction was overturned by the High Court on appeal, and she was found guilty under Section 201. The Supreme Court ruled on the appeal that the wife’s statement demonstrated that no crime had been committed because the death was unintentional. The Court concluded that a person could not be convicted based solely on suspicion, no matter how strong the suspicions were, in the absence of any additional proof.
- Under Section 201, mere suspicion is insufficient to convict the accused. There has to be some solid evidence on file to demonstrate that the accused dealt with the evidence in order to spare another person, known or unknown. He must be aware of or have reasonable grounds to suspect, that a crime has been committed.
- It is important to note, however, that the offence under Section 201 is distinct from the main offence in nature, even if it cannot be isolated from the body of the main offence. It is a serious offence. As a result, even if no one is convicted of the primary offence, a person might be found guilty under Section 201. Despite acquittal on the main charge, conviction under Section 201 is possible if the essential elements of the provision are met.
- It must also be proved that the person accused under Section 201 of the IPC had knowledge of the conduct of the offence or had information sufficient to lead him to think that the offence had been committed. The term ‘offence’ as used in this Section does not imply that the accused should be aware of the precise nature of the crime committed or the specific Section of the IPC under which the offence is classified. If there is the knowledge that a crime has been committed, it is sufficient.
Shamim Rahmani v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1975)
In Shamim Rahmani v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1975), Shamim, a college student, had an illegitimate affair with the deceased, a doctor. The deceased was a married man with three children. As the attention and commitment of the deceased towards their relationship reduced eventually, Shamim was enraged and shot him with a handgun in her home. Shamim’s younger brother informed his elder brother. Shamim’s elder brother told authorities that his younger brother informed him that it was unknown how Shamim brought out the gun and how it got fired but it shot the deceased and he had fallen and was bleeding. The prosecution said that Shamim’s brother was aware that his sister had committed a murder, but made this statement to protect her. The Supreme Court observed that Shamim’s elder brother’s understanding was based on information provided by his younger brother, and he was likely unaware if the deceased had died to his injuries. As a result, no offence under Section 201 was deemed to have been established. Shamim’s elder brother was found not guilty under Section 201 of the Indian Penal Code.
Person causing disappearance of evidence
The word ‘whoever’ is used in this Section. The conflict emerged as to whether the phrase ‘whoever’ encompassed the individual who is guilty of the crime for which evidence has been obliterated or if it applied to anybody other than the person charged with the principal offence.
In the case of Kalawati v. State of Himachal Pradesh (1953), the accused Kalawati was the deceased’s wife. The deceased had been cruel to her. She was accused of murdering her husband with the aid of another man, Ranjith Singh, with whom she had an extramarital affair. While they were all sleeping on their house’s terrace, the deceased was killed. Kalawati, the wife who was there, said that some unknown dacoits broke into her home, murdered her husband, and looted her valuables. Kalawati was accused of plotting to murder her husband as well as making a false statement with the intent of sparing Ranjit Singh. She was found not guilty of murder. It was argued before the Supreme Court that since she had been acquitted from the charge of murder, she could not be absolved of the offence under Section 201 of the IPC.
When confronted with the identical situation in V.L Tresa v. State of Kerala (2001), the Supreme Court relied on the Kalawati case to sustain the appellant’s conviction under Section 201, notwithstanding her acquittal on the charge of killing her husband.
If the circumstances of the case show that the accused committed first the offence and then took efforts to conceal the evidence, he can be convicted of both offences. If the primary offence is not proven against him, he cannot be convicted under Section 201. However, mere suspicion or the impossibility to declare with certainty that he committed the principal offence does not put him beyond the scope of Section 201.
Intention of sparing the offender
The cause of the disappearance of evidence in relation to a crime must be done with the goal of protecting the culprit from legal punishment under this Section. The Supreme Court has underlined in subsequent court proceedings that the heart of Section 201 is the disappearance of evidence with the purpose of safeguarding the offender from lawful punishment. The accused’s single and primary goal is to spare the criminal. In the absence of such purpose, the accused cannot be found guilty under Section 201 of the Indian Penal Code.
There was a property dispute between two families in Hanuman v. State of Rajasthan (1993). When the victim died under strange circumstances, the settlement discussions were well underway, but there was no proof as to how he died. The indictment against the defendants was that they incinerated the corpse to spare the offender. There was no proof that a murder had occurred, and if it had, who were the offenders of the crime? It must be proven that the accused incinerated the body “with the aim of screening the offender from lawful punishment” to maintain a prosecution under Section 201 of the IPC. The Supreme Court ruled that no charge under Section 201 of the Indian Penal Code was made out since no such conclusion was made.
Disappearance of evidence of the crime
The cause of the disappearance of evidence of the crime is one of the necessary elements of the offence under Section 201. However, under Section 201, IPC, mere knowledge that someone has caused the disappearance of evidence by disposing of a body is not a crime. It is not enough to just remove a corpse, it must also be proven that the removal was conducted with the intention of shielding the criminal from legal consequences.
A conflict arose in the case of State of Uttar Pradesh v. Mahendra Singh (1974), about the right to use water from a tube well. Five individuals were killed when an armed mob of over 20 people went to the deceased’s field and started a fire. The accused’s group then beheaded and cut the five deceased victims’ limbs. They took fuel from a vehicle, sprayed it on some wood, lit it on fire, and tossed the five bodies into the flames. The decapitated heads were taken home as mementoes. All of the defendants were found guilty of murder and causing the destruction of evidence proving the crimes.
Giving false information
- An offence must have been committed;
- He must be aware or have knowledge that the information he provides is false; and
- It must be done with the aim of screening the criminal.
Kodali Purnachandra Rao v. Public Prosecutor, Andhra Pradesh (1975)
Giving false information about the incidence of an offence is also a component of the offence under this Section. The first accused (A1) was an arrack contractor, while the second accused (A2) was a police sub-inspector in Kodali Purnachandra Rao v. Public Prosecutor, Andhra Pradesh (1975). The defendants, in this case, kidnapped, raped, and killed two young college girls before throwing their corpses into the sea. One of the bodies washed up on the beach within a few hours. When word of the corpse washing up on the coast reached the second accused, the sub-inspector, he decided to visit the scene and inquire. The first accused, who was also present at the police station, agreed that the second accused should conduct his own investigation. By that time, several people had gathered around the girl’s body. On the corpse’s forehead, there was a mark from which blood was seeping. There was a reddish abrasion on the deceased body’s thigh, as well as blood traces on his underpants. A2 did not conduct any inquests or keep any records. He told the residents in the area to bury the deceased.
In the meantime, Karnam had arrived. A2 chastised Karnam for being late but assured him that he had accomplished all the necessary tasks and had the body buried. When Karnam inquired why he did not submit the body for post mortem, despite the fact that A2 was aware of the identity of the college girl, he said that the body was that of a prostitute who had committed suicide. Despite the injuries on the corpse, A2 falsely said that the deceased’s body had no injuries. He also said incorrectly that the stomach was inflated as a result of water consumption. He also made up a bogus storey about a person who was later shown to be non-existent, claiming that he arrived in the hamlet with two prostitutes offering them film roles and that they got into a dispute after which both prostitutes left him. He determined that the body belonged to one of the prostitutes. The second body was discovered drifting approximately three kilometres from the coast by some fisherman. The victim’s wristwatch, ring, and earring were removed, but the body was allowed to float away. The articles were given over to the cops, who were able to identify the second female owing to them.
The Supreme Court ruled that A2, as a public servant is responsible for preparing an official record pertaining to the inquiry of the causes of death of both girls, had constructed the record in such a way that the true criminals were spared punishment. With the fraudulent and dishonest intent of fooling his superiors, he created phoney and counterfeit records. A1 had helped and assisted A2 in the fabrication of the fake and falsified record on purpose. The defendants were cleared of the charges of kidnapping, rape, and murder, but were found guilty of crimes under Sections 201, 318, and 468 of the Indian Penal Code.
Issues with Section 201 IPC
- Section 201 is a bit clumsily written because of the terms “knowing or having reason to believe” in the first paragraph and “knows or believes” in the second paragraph are interchangeable.
- Consider the example of an accused who has reasonable grounds to think that a crime has been committed. He is guilty of an offence under Section 201 if the other elements of the first paragraph are met.
- If it is assumed that the term ‘believes’ was used in a different sense from the statement ‘having reason to believe,’ it would be necessary to establish that the accused ‘believes’ in addition to ‘having cause to believe’ in order to penalise him.
- Unless some further fact or state of mind is proven, the legislature cannot be accused of intending for an accused who is found guilty of the offence under the first paragraph to avoid punishment under the second paragraph.
Measure of the punishment under Section 201 IPC
The severity of the offence is stated to rely on the punishment in the second, third, and fourth paragraphs.
- If the offender is protected from prosecution for a crime that is punishable by death, a maximum term of seven years and a fine is imposed.
- If the screening offence is one that carries a life sentence, the penalty is reduced to a maximum of three years in jail and a fine.
- If the shielded offence carries a penalty of less than 10 years, the sentence is one-fourth of the longest period of imprisonment allowed for the offence, or a fine, or both.
For instance, If an accused sees blood marks on the ground as a result of an offence punishable under Section 323 (for causing hurt), he erases the blood marks with the intent of screening the offender, whom he erroneously believes to have committed the offence of murder, he could be convicted only on the basis that an offence under Section 323 was committed and that he acted with the intention of screening such an offender believing that such an offence was committed. He could not, however, be found guilty just because he screened a murder or because he mistakenly believed that a murder had been committed. The accused’s erroneous belief in delusion would not be sufficient grounds for punishment, and he would not be subjected to a seven-year sentence under the second paragraph. It’s impossible to believe that the legislature intended for the minor offence of screening an offender under Section 201 to be punished more harshly than the primary offence committed by the main criminal.
To conclude, the first paragraph of Section 201 spells forth the essential elements of Section 201. It must first be established that an offence has occurred. Second, the accused must be aware of the crime or have reasonable grounds to suspect it has been done. Third, the accused must either erase any evidence related to the offence or provide any information about the crime that he knows or thinks to be false. Finally, the accused must have committed this with the goal of protecting the offender from legal consequences. The latter portion of the Section deals with the punishment. Punishment has been determined based on the magnitude or gravity of the offence, as well as whether or not evidence has been disappeared with or false information has been presented. The more serious the offence, the harsher the punishment.
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