26 April 1996
Supreme Court


Bench: KURDUKAR S.P. (J)
Case number: Appeal Criminal 160 of 1986






DATE OF JUDGMENT:       26/04/1996


CITATION:  JT 1996 (5)   582        1996 SCALE  (3)774



JUDGMENT:                       J U D G M E N T S.P. KURDUKAR, J.      This Criminal Appeal is preferred by Niranjan Singh s/o Bhan Singh,  the accused  No. 3 challenging the legality and correctness of  the judgment  and order  of conviction dated January 7,  1983 passed  by Punjab  & Haryana  High Court at Chandigarh. 2.   At the  outset it  may be  stated that  originally five accused persons  were tried  in Sessions  Case No.16/81  for various offence  punishable under  Sections 120-B,  148, 302 read with  149 and 201 IPC. The Sessions Judge, Sangrur vide judgment and  order dated  July 31,  1982, convicted accused No. 1,  Amrik Singh,  Bawa Singh  and  Niranjan  Singh,  the appellant before  us, for offences punishable under Sections 120-B, 302/34  and 201 IPC and sentenced each one of them on all these  three counts  for various  terms of imprisonments including  life   imprisonment.  The  learned  trial  Judge, however,  acquitted  the  accused  No.4,  Gobind  Singh  and accused No.5, Sainsi Singh. 3.   The convicted accused preferred Criminal Appeal No.531- DB of 1982 to the High Court of Punjab & Haryana against the order of  conviction and  sentence passed  by  the  Sessions Judge, Sangrur.  The State  of Punjab  also  filed  Criminal Appeal  No.   690-DBA  of  1982  challenging  the  order  of acquittal in  respect of  two other  acquitted accused. Both these appeals  were heard  together and  the High Court vide its Judgment  and order dated January 7, 1983 dismissed both the appeals.  The result,  therefore, is  that the  order of conviction and  sentence passed  by the trial court and also the order of acquittal came to be confirmed. 4.   The appellant alone has filed this appeal in this Court challenging   the legality  and correctness  of the order of conviction and sentence passed by the court below. 5.   The entire  prosecution case  rests on  the evidence of Gurjant Singh  (P.W.3) who  is an  approver  to  the  actual assault on  Harnek Singh  (since deceased).  The prosecution



has also  relied upon  the evidence  of other  witnesses  to prove several other incriminating circumstances to prove the guilt of  the accused the. prosecution story as disclosed at the trial is as under: 6.   Harnek Singh ( since deceased ) was said to be an Akali worker and  a Member  of village  Panchayat.  He  held  some status in  his political  party. He  was  also  said  to  be popular in  the village  and  was  becoming  more  and  more popular leader  in the  political field.  This popularity of Harnek Singh,  was a  matter of  concern to  the rival group headed  by  Amrik  Singh,  the  original  accused  No.1  and Niranjan Singh,  the appellant  before us.  In the  previous Panchayat election Harnek Singh got elected to the Panchayat whereas Niranjan  Singh was  defeated. Amrik  Singh was then elected Sarpanch of village Panchayat. It is the case of the prosecution that  Amrik Singh  received an  information that his office  as a  Sarpanch is  in danger  because of  Harnek singh .  It is  this suspicion  which provided motive to the accused persons  to hatch  a conspiracy to commit the murder of  Harnek   Singh.  This   conspiracy,  according   to  the prosecution, was  hatched by  Amrik Singh,  Niranjan  Singh, Bawa Singh, Sainsi Singh and Gurjant Singh, the approver. 7.    It  is alleged  by the  prosecution that  the  accused persons  were  waiting  for  an  opportunity  to  put  their conspiracy into action. The Bhog ceremony to mourn the death of  mother  of  one  Harnek  Singh,  the  Jathedar  gave  an opportunity to  work out  the said conspiracy, The said Bhog ceremony was to be performed at village Balran. Harnek Singh obviously was not aware of this conspiracy. Amrik Singh, the accused then  requested Harnek  Singh (deceased) to join him in distributing  the cards  of the  said  Bhog  ceremony  to various invites.  It is  the case  of the  prosecution  that Amrik Singh  and Harnek  Singh (deceased)  went to  Niranjan Singh (P.W.12) Sarpanch of Bhutal Kalan and delivered a card of Bhog  ceremony to him on 7.12.1980 and borrowed his Motor cycle No.C.H.O  5023, Both  of them  thus left  the house of Niranjan Singh  (P.W.12) on  the motor cycle and came to the house of  Amrik Singh.  By that  time it was already decided that there would be a wet dinner party at the house of Amrik Singh. Amrik  Singh then asked Harnek to stay with him for a night and  have a  dinner, In meantime other accused persons including Gurjant Singh (P.W.3) The approver also Joined the said wet  party. All  these persons  consumed the liquor and had their  meals at  the house  of Amrik Singh. While Harnek Singh was  asleep, it  is alleged  by the  prosecution  that Amrik Singh,  Niranjan Singh  (appellant) and  the  approver caused various  injuries on  the person  of Harnek Singh and thereafter  as   planned  earlier  by  Niranjan  Singh  (the appellant) Harnek  Singh was  taken on  a tractor-trolley to the railway  crossing at  the village  Chotian. Harnek Singh (deceased) and  the motor  cycle was  placed on  the railway track whereupon a train crushed Harnek Singh to death. It is alleged by  the prosecution  that the bedding and the cot on which Harnek  Singh was  removed, were  then amount  by  the approver and  the accused persons other then Amrik Singh and NiranJan Singh. 8.   The tractor  in which  Harnek Singh  was carried to the railway crossing  belonged to  Amrik Singh.  It caused  some trouble  at   the  railway  crossing  Chotian.  Amrik  Singh thereafter contacted  Ranjit  Singh  (P.W.5)  for  arranging another tractor so as to tow-chain his tractor. Ranjit Singh agreed for  the said  help and  the tractor and trolley were tow-chained to  the house  of  Gandur  Singh.  On  the  next morning Gandur  Singh noticed  blood on  the tractor-trolley and  had   asked  RanJit  Singh  to  get  the  same  removed



immediately.  On   the  same  evening  Niranjan  Singh,  the appellant and  Amrik Singh  came to  the village Chotian and removed the tractor-trolley. 9.   As stated  earlier Harnek  Singh (deceased) was crushed to death  during the  night intervening  between 7th  &  8th December, 1980.  On December  8, 1980  Jagiru Ram, Assistant Station Master,  Jakhal received  an  information  from  Ram Sarup, key-man  of Gang No. 17 about there being a dead body lying in  the track.  Assistant Station  Master then  sent a message  to   G.R.P.  Sangrur   and  the  Chief  Controller, Ferozepur about  the dead body. Head constable, Bachan Singh (P.W.18) visited  the place of incident and brought the dead body and the pieces of motor cycle to the police station. On 9.12.1980 the  dead body  was identified  by  Shri  Sukhwant Singh, Shri  Balwant Singh  and Shri Ajmer Singh, Advocates. The necessary  investigation then  commenced. The  dead body was sent  for postmortem  examination. At that stage no foul play  was  suspected  by  Sukhwant  Singh  and  others  and, Therefore, the  case  was  treated  to  be  one  of  railway accident . 10.  It  is   then  alleged   by  the  prosecution  that  on 16.12.1980 Shri  P.C. Verma (P.W.20) 20) D.S.P. (D) received an information  from a  reliable source and on that basis an F.I.R. EX.PO  was recorded wherein the accused were named as persons who  had committed  the murder  of Harnek Singh. The investigation was  entrusted to  Inspector Tek  Chand. It is alleged by  the prosecution  that Amrik Singh made an extra- judicial confession  about the  commission of offence by him and his  co-accused to Ex-Chairman of Ladal. At that time it is alleged by the prosecution that Gurjant Singh (P.W.3) the approver and  Bawa Singh were present and they confirmed the fact of murder of Harnek Singh. The said Niranjan Singh then produced these  three persons before Inspector Tek Chand and they came  to be  arrested. During interrogation Amrik Singh made certain disclosure statements which led to the recovery of certain incriminating articles including turban and shoes of deceased  Harnek Singh  which were identified by Jaswant, widow of Harnek Singh On 22.12.1980 Gobind Singh. and Sainsi Singh came to be arrested Niranjan Singh (appellant) despite police efforts  was not  available and ultimately he came to be arrested on 21.1,1981, in the Court-compound at Sunam. 11.  Dr. K.C  Goel (P.W.1)  the Medical  officer carried out postmortem, examination  on the  dead body  cf Harnek Singh. Dr. K.C.  Goel had noticed as many as 7 injuries on the dead body of Harnek Singh out of which six were lacerated wounds, Dr. K.C. Goel opined that all these injuries were antemortem and death was due to shock and haemorrhage, due to injuries. These  injuries  were  sufficient  to  cause  death  in  the ordinary course of nature. The duration between the injuries and death  was immediate  and duration between the death and the postmortem  was 24  to  72  hrs.  After  completing  the investigation the  accused were  put up for trial. As stated earlier accused Gurjant Singh (P.W.3) was granted pardon and he was examined by the prosecution as P.W.3. 12.  The   important    question   that   arises   for   our consideration is  whether there  is sufficient  evidence  in this case  to arrive  at a  conclusion that the approver and the appellant  were the  persons respective  for causing the murder  of  Harnek  Singh  (decease).  It  is  also  equally important to  find out  as to  whether evidence  of  Gurjant Singh (P.W.3)  the approver is trustworthy and can be relied upon to  sustain the  conviction of the appellant before us. It is  well settled  that the approver’s envidence must pass the double test of reliability and corroboration in material particulars. It  is  said,  that  the  approver  is  a  most



unworthy friend  and he  having arraigned  for his  immunity must prove his worthiness for credibility in Court. Firstly, we will  have    the  evidence  of  Gurjant  Singh  (P.W.3), approver carefully  to find  out as  to whether his evidence can be  accepted as  trustworthy. Secondly, once that hurdle is crossed  the story  given by  an approver  so far  as the accused on  trial is concerned, must implicate him in such a manner as  to give  rise to  a conclusion  of  guilt  beyond reasonable doubt.  Ordinarily, combined  effect of  Sections 133 and  114 of  the evidence  Act is that conviction can be based on  uncorroborated testimony  of an  approver but as a rule of  prudence it  is unsafe  to place  reliance  on  the uncorroborated  testimony   of  an   approver.  Section  114 illustration (b) incorporates a rule of caution to which the courts should  have regard.  See Suresh  Chandra   Bahri vs. State of Bihar 1995 Supp (1) SCC 80. 13.  Applying the  law laid  down by  this Court  as regards approver’s evidence we are of the opinion that having regard to the  facts and circumstances of this case the evidence of Gurjant Singh  (P.W.3) the  approver needs  corroboration in material particulars  bridging closely  the distance between the crime  and  the  criminal.  Certain  clinching  features disclosed by  Gurjant Singh (P.W.3) involving, the appellant directly in  the assault on Harnek Singh (deceased) if found trustworthy and  credible one  and corroborated  in material particulars from the evidence on the record, the appellant’s conviction under challenge can be upheld. 14.  The High Court in its impugned judgment has referred to several circumstances relating to the murder of Harnek Singh that are  deposed to  by Gurjant  Singh (P.W.3) the approver and for which the High Court sought corroboration from other evidence of independent and disinterested witnesses examined by the  prosecution, After going through the judgment of the High Court  and the record of the case we are of the opinion that an  important circumstance,  namely, the fact of actual assault on  Harnek Singh  (deceased) by the accused although deposed to  by Gurjant Singh (P.W.3) t the approver remained uncorroborated in material particulars. 15.  Reverting back to the evidence of Gurjant Singh (P.W.3) the approver, on the issue of conspiracy to eliminate Harnek Singh (deceased)  the  approver  has  stated  that  all  the accused were  to meet  at the house of Amrik Singh (accused) where he  was to bring Harnek Singh for dinner, The evidence of the  approver further shows that Amrik Singh and deceased Harnek Singh  went to Niranjan Singh (P.W.12) to deliver the Bhog ceremony card, Niranjan Singh (P.W.12) then stated that at the request of Amrik Singh he gave his motor cycle to him on which both of them went away. To this extent this part of the story  deposed to  by Gurjant Singh (P.W.3) the approver can be  accepted as it finds corroboration from the evidence of Niranjan  Singh (P.W.12). What happened the thereafter at the house  of Amrik  Singh (accused)  lacks corroboration to the  evidence   of  Gurjant   Singh  (P.W.3)  the  approver. According to  the evidence  of Gurjant  Singh (P.W.  3)  the approver, the accused Amrik Singh insisted upon Harnek singh (deceased) to  have the  dinner at his place and stay during that night,  It is further the evidence of the approver that Harnek Singh (deceased) agreed to the said suggestion.  They all had  liquor and  dinner thereafter.  The High  Court  in paragraph 18  of the  judgment has  set out  the evidence of Gurjant Singh,  (P.W. 3)  the approver in this behalf and it reads thus:           "Under the influence of liquor           Harnek Singh deceased opted to           stay at the place of the Amrik



         Sing, the  appellant where  he           was given some injuries on the           upper portion of his body". 16. In  paragraph 19  the High  Court has  referred  to  the evidence of Gurjant Singh (P.W. 3) the approver as under:           "The injuries  caused  by  the           accused were  on his  head and           neck .  The cumulative  effect           of  liquor   as  well  as  the           injuries could be and actually           was   the    cause   for   his           unconsciousness". 17.  Apart from  the aforesaid finding recorded by the  High Court we  have also  gone through  the evidence  of  Gurjant Singh (P.W.3)  the  approver  and  what  we  find  from  his evidence is  an omnibus  statement  that  Amrik  Singh,  the accused and  the other  accused also  assaulted Harnek Singh (deceased).  Only   from  this  omnibus  statement,  in  the absence of  any corroboration  to the  evidence  of  Gurjant Singh (P.W.3)  on  record  we  are  unable  to  sustain  the conviction of  the appellant under Section 302 IPC. The High Court did  refer to the law on this topic but, however, this circumstance does  not appear  to have  been well  projected before  the   High  Court   and,  therefore,   there  is  no discussion on  this aspect  of  the  case  in  the  impugned judgment. In  these circumstances  we are  unable to sustain the conviction  of the  appellant for  an offence punishable under Section  302 IPC  and consequently  the conviction and sentence of the appellant on that count is set aside. 18. It  may also  be stated  that the  evidence  of  Gurjant Singh (P.W.3)  the approver  shows  that  Amrik  Singh,  the accused was  the Sarpanch of the village and his position as a Sarpanch  was likely  to come in danger at the instance of Harnek Singh  (deceased), Naturally,  therefore, Amrik Singh the accused  may have  an axe  to grind against Harnek Singh (deceased) but  there  is  no  evidence  on  the  record  to indicate that  the appellant,  Niranjan Singh had any grudge against  Harnek  Singh.  It  is  true  that  the  appellant, Niranjan Singh  was said  to be the close associate of Amrik Singh but that by itself would not suggest any motive on the part of the appellant Niranjan Singh to commit the murder of Harnek Singh,  After considering  the  evidence  of  Gurjant Singh (P.  W. 3) the approver we are of the opinion that his evidence relating  to the  role of  the  appellant  Niranjan Singh has  remained uncorroborated  in material  particulars and  in  the  absence  of  such  corroboration  we  find  it difficult to  accept the  evidence of  the approver  in that behalf. 19.  It was  urged on  behalf of  the State  of Punjab  that there is sufficient evidence on record to hold the appellant guilty and  sustain the  conviction under Sections 120-B and 201 IPC.  Learned counsel  for the  State of Punjab drew our attention to  the evidence  of  GurJant  Singh  (P.W.3)  the approver and  the evidence  of  Gurnam  Singh  (P.W.6),  The evidence  of   Gurjant  Singh(P.W.3)   the  approver   finds sufficient corroboration  from the  evidence of Gurnam Sing, (P.W.6) who saw the appellant and other accused in a tractor during the  later part  of the night. The tractor was driven by Amrik  Singh, the  accused. Gurnam  Singh (P.W.6) further stated that  he saw  the appellant  and other accused with a motor cycle  and a  cot  on  the  trolley  attached  to  the tractor, Gurnam  Singh (P.W.6)  seeing the  tractor and  the accused persons in the trolley enquired from them the reason for their  presence at  this  odd  hour,  It  is  said  that Niranjan Singh,  the appellant  gave a  wrong explanation to



satisfy the  anxiety of  Gurnam Singh  (P.W.6) that  he  was carrying, his  relative who  suffered from  pneumonia.  This explanation by  the appellant Niranjan Singh was found to be untrue. The  trial Court  as well  as  the  High  Court  has accepted the  evidence of  Gurjant Singh  (P.W. 3)  and  the evidence  of   Gurnam  Singh   (P.W.6)  as  trustworthy  and accordingly  convicted   the  appellant   for   an   offence punishable under, Sections 120-B and 201 IPC. 20.  There is  also another  circumstance which supports the prosecution in this behalf, The tractor and trolley owned by Amrik Singh,  the accused developed a fault and was stranded near the railway track. and thereafter Amrik Singh contacted Gandoor Singh  (P.W.4) and Ranjit Singh (P.W.5) residents of village Chotian  to tow-chain  the said  tractor and trolley bring it  to the  village Chotian.  This all happened on 8th December, 1980  at about 5.00 a.m. Both these witnesses then brought the  tractor and  trolley to village Chotian. On the following day  Amrik Singh  and Niranjan Singh the appellant went to  the said  village and  after knowing  the suspicion entertained  by  Gandoor  Singh  (P.W.4)  and  Ranjit  Singh (P.W.5) as  regards the  foul play since the blood was found on the  trolley, Amrik  Singh and  Niranjan Singh  (accused) brought the  said tractor  to their village. The evidence of Gandoor Singh  (P.W.4) and Ranjit Singh (P.W.5) corroborates the evidence  of Gurjant  Singh, the approver on this issue. In these  circumstances we  are of the opinion that the High Court was right in upholding the conviction of the appellant under Sections  120-B, 201  of the  Indian  Penal  Code.  We accordingly uphold  the conviction  of the appellant for the offences punishable under Sections 120-B end 201 IPC. 21.  The High  Court has  upheld the conviction and sentence passed by this trial court on both these counts for one year and 9  months respectively.  We accordingly confirm the said conviction  and   sentence.  Appeal  is  partly  allowed  as indicated above. 22.  Niranjan Singh,  the appellant  has been  in  jail  and undergoing the  sentence of  life imprisonment for more than five years  we, therefore,  direct that  Niranjan Singh, the appellant (accused) be released forthwith if not required in any other case.