Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of B.P. Dharmadhikari and Prakash D. Naik, JJ. allowed an appeal by a convict who was convicted for murder and voluntary throwing acid by a trial court under Sections 302 and 326-B of Penal Code, 1860 (herein ‘IPC’), and commuted his death sentence holding that the possibility of reformation, rehabilitation and social reintegration of young age convicts into society could not be neglected.
The victim was selected as Nursing Officer in Military Nursing Services and was supposed to join Naval office at Colaba, Mumbai. The accused-appellant, who had proposed to the victim, was rebuffed by her; and thus he threw sulphuric acid on her at Bandra railway station and fled from there. The victim succumbed to her injuries. A Special Women’s Court convicted the appellant for the offence of murder and sentenced him to death. Appellant was also convicted for the offence of voluntary throwing acid and sentenced to suffer rigorous imprisonment for five years and to pay fine of Rs 5,000, in default to suffer rigorous imprisonment for six months. This was the first such case where an accused convicted for the acid attack was given the death penalty. Accused-appellant filed an appeal against this order.
The counsels for the appellant, Trideep Pais, Vijay Hiremath, Anshu Raj Singh and Sanya Kumar, argued that the evidence of eyewitnesses was not consistent with each other. The counsels also asserted that the incident occurred in few seconds as stated by the witnesses who saw the appellant momentarily raising doubt about their ability to identify as the identification test was conducted after eight months from the date of the alleged incident. The prosecution claimed that CCTV footage was collected but the same was not relied upon or exhibited on the ground that footage was not clear. However, nothing was put on record to prove that CCTV footage was unclear. CCTV footage was not sent to Forensic Science laboratory (herein ‘FSL’) nor played in the Court. He also argued that the alibi of the appellant was not considered. The benefit of doubt ought to have been given to the appellant as no evidence was established to show the presence of the appellant on the train boarded by the victim. Moreover, assuming that charges of murder were proved, the trial court should not have awarded the capital punishment as the case cannot be termed as rarest of rare case. Therefore, he asserted that sentencing exercise undertaken by the trial court was improper and against the mandate. Further arguing against the death sentence, it was contended that the appellant had no intention of murdering victim but only wanted to injure her.
Learned Special Public Prosecutor A.M. Chimalkar, with Siddharth Jagushte and Tusshar Nirbhavne submitted that the prosecution had established the charges under Sections 302 and 326-B of IPC beyond all reasonable doubt. There was sufficient evidence to prove the guilt of the appellant. The trial court had analyzed the evidence in detail and had given findings of involvement of the appellant in the crime. The eyewitnesses gave an ocular account of the incident and there was no doubt to discard their evidence. The appellant was identified by the witnesses. Furthermore, he argued that the medical evidence supported the case of the prosecution. Learned Special Public Prosecutor submitted that the trial court was right to award death penalty. According to him, the evidence adduced indicate aggravating circumstances justifying no other punishment except the death penalty. The crime was brutal. The trial court examined the reasons for awarding death to the appellant and gave strong reasons for convicting the appellant and interference in the decision was not warranted.
The Court observed that prosecution had established its case beyond reasonable doubt and there was nothing to doubt the authenticity of the evidence and the witnesses examined. Reliance was laid upon S.K. Hasan v. State of Maharashtra, 2003 SCC OnLine Bom 1167 to state that when the appellant had taken a specific plea of alibi, the burden was on him to establish the same. The appellant had not led any evidence to substantiate his plea of alibi. So in the absence of establishing the plea of alibi for cogent evidence, a necessary consequence of adverse inference had to be drawn. The documentary evidence adduced by the prosecution formed a significant part of the case and proved his involvement in the crime.
However, it was opined that the age of the appellant was 23 years at the time of the commission of a crime and that there was a possibility to reform. The Court took note of the ruling in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, (1980) 2 SCC 684 to hold that a death sentence can be awarded only in the rarest of rare cases, only if an alternative option was unquestionably foreclosed and only after full consideration of all factors keeping in mind that a sentence of death was irrevocable and irretrievable upon execution. The Court remarked, “It should always be remembered that while the crime is important, the criminal is equally important insofar as the sentencing process is concerned.” It took into consideration the material on record including overall personality, subsequent events to commute the sentence of death awarded to the appellant and directed that he should not be released from custody for rest of his normal life. Furthermore, the Court held that trial court relied on collective conscience to hold that the appellant deserved death penalty but ignored the fact that the appellant was of young age at the time of commission of offence and there was nothing to indicate that the appellant was beyond reformation and rehabilitation, as mandated in the case of Bachan Singh. Although the conviction of the appellant was confirmed, the death sentence was commuted to imprisonment for life. Hence, the appeal was partly allowed.[State of Maharashtra v. Ankur Narayanlal Panwar, Criminal Confirmation Case No. 3 of 2016, decided on 12-06-2019]