Read Judgment: M. Nageswara Reddy & Anr. vs. State of Andhra Pradesh and Others

Pankaj Bajpai

New Delhi, March 8, 2022: While opining that the High Court had unnecessarily given weightage to some minor contradictions while acquitting the accused persons of the offences of murder & rioting, without appreciating that those contradictions couldnot affect the case of the prosecution as a whole, the Supreme Court has restored the order passed by the trial Court convicting the accused for the offences u/s 148 & 302 IPC and sentencing them to life imprisonment.

After considering that there were no major/material contradictions in their deposition, a Division Bench of Justice M.R Shah and Justice B.V Nagarathna observed that the delay of seven hours couldnot be said to be fatal to the prosecution case even when the FIR was sent to the Magistrate within 24 hours and the testimony of witnesses had fully supported the case of the prosecution.

Going by the background of the case, in 2007, all the accused persons forming an unlawful assembly armed with hunting sickles, came from behind a sumo vehicle and surrounded it near Dr. Kabir Clinic at Gayithri Estate, Kurnool, in which the deceased Rajasekhar Reddy and his brother M. Nageswara Reddy and other supporters- Shaik Akbar Basha, P. Sekhar and S. Venkagamuni were travelling, and S. Rajesh was the driver. The first to third accused forcibly dragged out the deceased and immediately hacked him with hunting sickles indiscriminately. 

The deceased Rajasekhar Reddy died on the spot whereas other prosecution witnesses were taken to Government General Hospital, Kurnool. During the course of the investigation, the investigating officer arrested all the accused. Later, a charge-sheet was filed against all the eleven accused for the offences u/s 147, 148, 324, 326, 307, 427 and 302 of the IPC. 

The accused pleaded not guilty and therefore all of them came to be tried by the Sessions Court. The case on behalf of the accused was that of total denial and that they were falsely implicated in the case because of their political rivalry and past enmity. The trial Court held accused persons guilty of the offences punishable u/s 148 & 302 IPC and sentenced them to undergo life imprisonment for the offence u/s 302 IPC and one year R.I. for the offence u/s 148 IPC. However, the trial Court acquitted the rest of the accused persons of all the charges levelled against them. The matter reached the High Court, which acquitted the accused of the offences punishable u/s 302 & 148 IPC. 

After considering the submissions, the Top Court noted that the findings recorded in respect of acquittal of the accused were on appreciation of evidence on record and the view taken by the trial Court acquitting the accused, which had been affirmed/confirmed by the High Court, was a plausible view and therefore the same were not required to be interfered with by this Court in exercise of powers under Article 136 of the Constitution of India.

It is required to be noted that in the present case the prosecution examined five important and relevant witnesses – PW1, PW3, PW5, PW6 & PW7, out of which PW1, PW3 & PW5 were the eyewitnesses and PW6 & PW7 were the injured eye-witnesses. Accused Nos. 1 to 3 were identified by PW1, PW3 & PW6. Though, the learned trial Court has disbelieved PW5, the High Court has not at all discussed and/or re-appreciated the evidence/deposition of PW5, which as a first appellate Court, the High Court was required to”, added the Court.

Speaking for the Bench, Justice Shah found that the High Court had observed that prosecution witnesses were planted witnesses merely on the ground that they were all interested witnesses being relatives of the deceased. 

However, merely because the witnesses were the relatives of the deceased, their evidence could not be discarded solely on the said ground and therefore, the High Court had materially erred in discarding the deposition/evidence of prosecution witnesses, added the Bench. 

Justice Shah elaborated that though one witness could not identify the assailants, however, the prosecution had been able to prove the incident from the deposition/evidence and the manner in which the incident took place.

One another reason given by the High Court is that the FIR was not registered at the time as claimed by the prosecution, but it was registered many hours after the occurrence and sent to the Magistrate with unexplained delay and according to the High Court, this facilitated the police to falsely implicate the accused after PW1 arrived at the police station. However, the FIR was lodged within seven hours. As per the prosecution, it was lodged immediately. The interpolation of the time of the incident, 0.30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., could not be explained as the same was not raised before the trial Court. No question on the same was asked to the concerned witnesses” added the Bench. 

Accordingly, the Apex Court quashed the judgment and order insofar as acquitting the first to third accused for the offences u/s 148 & 302 IPC was concerned.

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