The Gujarat High Court in a custodial death case has recently suspended the life sentence of two former and one serving IAF (Indian Air Force) personnel on the ground that there was no evidence as to the meeting of minds.

A Division Bench comprising Justice S.H. Vora and Justice S.V. Pinto held, “There is no evidence as to the meeting of minds of the applicants along with the other co-accused at any point of time to suggest any conspiracy and in the absence of any evidence, the judgment of the trial Court suffers from patent infirmities and the findings are erroneous and based on presumptions and assumptions. Even, at the cost of repetition, we may say that without re-examining and re-analyzing the evidence, we find that the order of conviction and sentence recorded on the basis of assumption and presumptions inconsistent with the evidence on record seems prima facie erroneous and warrants an order of suspension of sentence and grant of bail to the applicants – A-6, A-1 & A-5.”

The Bench noted that as per the case presented by the prosecution and accepted by the trial court, the applicants stand a fair chance of acquittal.

Senior Advocate Yogesh Lakhani, Advocates Nimit Y Shukla and Nandish H Thackar appeared for the petitioners while APP Tirthraj Pandya and Advocate RC Kodekar appeared for the respondents.

In this case, a special CBI court last year had convicted the petitioners and sentenced them to life imprisonment in a custodial death case, which took place at Jamnagar Air Force Station in Gujarat in 1995. The said petitioners were found guilty of killing a cook at Air Force-I, Jamnagar.

Out of the seven accused in this matter, three of the petitioners were convicted, one died during the course of the trial, while the other three were acquitted by the CBI court. By way of the applications under Section 389 of the CrPC, the petitioners sought suspension of their sentence being convicted for the offences punishable under Section 302, 331, 348, and 177 r/w Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code.

The High Court after hearing the contentions of the counsel observed, “The accused have been sentenced for the offence under Section 313, 348 and 177 read with Section 120-B of the IPC; but there is no evidence to show the presence of the applicants at the Main Guard Room and no witness who deposes that they have seen the applicants near the Main Guard Room trying to exhort confession from Mr.Girija Rawat to compel restoration of the liquor bottles or that the applicants had confined Mr.Girija Rawat in the Main Guard Room.”

The Court asserted that the conviction recorded under sections 302, 348, 177 read with Section 120-B of IPC is apparently erroneous and the same may not be sustainable.

“… we deem it fit to allow the present applications, pending hearing of conviction appeal by imposing suitable conditions. … The judgment and order of sentence rendered on 10.05.2022 in C.B.I. S.C. No.01/2016 by the learned Special Judge, CBI Court No.5, Ahmedabad is hereby suspended and the applicants- org. accused Nos.A-6, A-1 and A-5 are ordered to be released on bail, pending hearing of the appeal on furnishing bail bond of Rs.50,000/- each and surety of like amount each to the satisfaction of the learned Sessions Court”, directed the Court.

Accordingly, the Court allowed the pleas and suspended the conviction.

Cause Title- Mahender Singh Sheravat S/o Dungarsingh & Ors. v. State of Gujarat

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