A Bombay High Court Bench at Aurangabad comprising Justice Vibha Kankanwadi and Justice Abhay S Waghwase has made observations regarding the admissibility of the testimony of related witnesses. In that regard, the Court has reiterated that, "An interested witness is the one who is desirous of falsely implicating the accused with an intention of ensuring their conviction. Merely being a relative would not make the statement of such witness equivalent to that of an interested witness. The statement of a related witness can safely be relied upon by the Court, as long as it is trustworthy, truthful and duly corroborated by other prosecution evidence."

The Court also cautioned that, "a Court should examine the evidence of a related interested witness having an interest in seeing the accused punished and also having some enmity with the accused with greater care and caution than the evidence of a third-party disinterested and unrelated witness. Therefore, the evidence of a related or interested witness should be meticulously and carefully examined. In a case where the related and interested witness may have some enmity with the assailant, the bar would need to be raised and the evidence of the witness would have to be examined by applying a standard of discerning scrutiny. However, this is only a rule of prudence and not one of law."

Counsel Gajanan G Kadam appeared for the appellant, while APP VS Choudhari appeared for the respondent-State.

In this case, the appeal was filed by the original accused challenging his conviction in a case where he was found guilty of committing an offence under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. The conviction was handed down by the Additional Sessions Judge for the murder of Bhaurao Bapunath Shinde, a 25-year-old.

A dispute had arisen between Dharmanna Laxman Chavan and Tanaji Taterao Shinde on the previous night, which was settled by Bhaurao and his brother Uttam. The following day, Bhaurao, his brother-in-law Bapunath Siddhu Shegar, and Shivnath Khandu Chavan went to a hotel for tea. Bhimrao Tatenath Shinde, the appellant, approached Bhaurao and accused him of taking Dharmanna's side in the previous night's dispute. Bhimrao struck Bhaurao on the head with a wooden log, causing a severe injury that rendered Bhaurao unconscious. Bhimrao fled the scene after the attack.

Witnesses at the hotel saw the incident, and Bhaurao was taken to the Government Hospital where he ultimately succumbed to his injuries. The police were informed, leading to the registration of an offence under Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code. Later, when Bhaurao passed away, Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code was added. The inquest panchanama and postmortem were carried out, and the investigation progressed with statements being recorded.

The prosecution examined eleven witnesses to establish the accused's guilt. Following the trial, where evidence was considered and arguments heard, the Trial Judge concluded that the prosecution had proven the accused's guilt beyond reasonable doubt. As a result, the appellant was sentenced to life imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 1000, with a default sentence of rigorous imprisonment for one month.

The Court observed that the prosecution's case depended on the testimony of three eyewitnesses and was supported by medical evidence and the discovery of the murder weapon, which necessitated the need to check whether the testimony of the witnesses supported each other.

On determining the veracity of the testimonies, the Court also observed that although Uttam and Bapunath were related to the deceased, it could not be said that they were interested witnesses. The Court placed reliance on the case on Raju Alias Balchandran and others Vs. State of Tamil Nadu and Shahbuddin and another Vs. State of Assam.

Taking into consideration the 5 factors, i.e., (i) the earlier incident, (ii) accused coming armed with weapon, (iii) by uttering that he would kill Bhaurao the blow was given, (iv) the blow was on the head and, (v) the force of the blow was such that it had caused fracture, the Court observed -

"taking into consideration these five factors, it cannot be said that the incident took place at the spur of the moment. It is rather a premeditated act/ attack, therefore, the case would definitely fall under the category of homicidal death amounting to murder punishable under Section 302 of Indian Penal Code."

On re-appreciation and re-assessment of evidence, the Court concluded that no illegality or error was committed by the Trial Judge while convicting the appellant. The appeal was dismissed by the Court.

Cause Title: Bhimrao v. The State of Maharashtra

Click here to read/download the Judgment