Allahabad High Court erred in rejecting evidence of independent eyewitnesses
Taking note of the increasing number of rape incidents in the country, the Supreme Court on Friday warned trial courts and High Courts not to let off the accused on technical grounds.
“The primary concern at both the national and international levels is about the devastating increase in rape cases and cases relating to crime against women in the world. India is no exception to it. Although the statutory provisions provide strict penal action against such offenders, it is for the courts to ultimately decide whether such an incident has occurred or not,” said a Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi.
Writing the judgment, Justice Sathasivam said: “The courts should be more cautious in appreciating the evidence and the accused should not be left scot-free merely on flimsy grounds. In the instant case, the accused had committed rape, which repels against moral conscience as he chose a girl of 11 years to satisfy his lust, and subsequently murdered her.”
Munesh was convicted and sentenced to death by the trial court in Uttar Pradesh. However, on his appeal, the Allahabad High Court acquitted him on technical grounds.
Allowing the Uttar Pradesh appeal against this judgment, the Supreme Court, after scrutiny of evidence and statements of witnesses, said: “We are satisfied that the alleged contradictions [in witness statements] are trivial in nature and have not affected the case of the prosecution.”
The Bench said: “In the light of the acceptable material in the form of oral and documentary evidence led in by the prosecution, particularly eyewitnesses PWs 2 and 3 who are independent witnesses, coupled with the evidence of the doctor (PW-4), we accept the conclusion of the trial court and disagree with the conclusion of the High Court. The analysis and the ultimate conclusion of the High Court are contrary to the acceptable and reliable material placed by the prosecution and we hold that the accused has first committed the offence of rape and then murdered the girl. We are satisfied that the prosecution has established both charges under Sections 376 and 302 of IPC.”
The Bench held that the High Court had committed an error in rejecting the evidence of independent witnesses who witnessed the occurrence from a short distance and there was no reason to disbelieve their version.
On the contention that the prosecution had failed to recover the chunni (dupatta) which was alleged to have been used for strangulating the girl, the Bench said: “It is true that the prosecution has not collected the same but, in the light of the material objects, the evidence of prosecution witnesses, the statement of the doctor who conducted post mortem, his opinion, etc. amply prove the prosecution case and we reject the claim of counsel for the respondent.”
The Bench, setting aside the High Court judgment, said: “Taking note of the fact that the incident occurred in 2002, we feel that rigorous imprisonment for life would meet the ends of justice.” It directed Munesh to surrender before the court concerned to serve the sentence.