While reiterating that the accused cannot be convicted with the help of Section 149 of IPC where common object of an unlawful assembly is not proved, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has acquitted the Appellants-accused in a murder case since the prosecution has failed to prove the charges against them.

Noting that the accused had been charge-sheeted and held guilty for commission of offence of murder, the Division Bench of Justice Ritu Bahri and Justice Manisha Batra observed that “Section 149 of IPC has its foundation on constructive liability which is the sine qua non for its operation. The emphasis is on the common object under this provision. Mere presence of an unlawful assembly cannot render a person liable unless it is proved that there was a common object and they were actuated by that common object and the said object was to commit some offence as set out in Section 141 of IPC.”

Senior Advocate Bipan Ghai appeared for the Appellant, whereas AAG Punjab, Alankar Narula appeared for the Respondent.

Going by the background of the case, the complainant (Baghail Singh) informed that he along with Sukhjit Singh was present in his fields when his brother Subegh Singh was seen coming as a pillion rider from Fatehgarh Churian side on a two-wheeler, which was driven by Sanjiv Kumar. When Subegh Singh and Sanjiv Kumar reached near the fields, suddenly two bolero vehicles reached there. One was driven by accused Billa and Excise Contractor Nirmal Singh Randhawa was seen sitting beside him. Accused Aman, Jagtar Singh and Surjit Singh were sitting on the rear seats. In the second bolero, four workers of Excise Contractor Nirmal Singh Randhawa, not known by name to the complainant were found sitting. The accused struck their bolero vehicle against the Activa of Subegh Singh and Sanjiv Kumar due to which both suffered injuries and died at the spot. Therefore, based on the complaint, a case under Sections 302, 427, 148 and 149 of IPC was registered. The Additional Sessions Judge held the Appellants guilty and sentenced them. Hence, present appeal challenging the judgment on quantum of sentence.

On the issue of delay in lodging the FIR, the Bench observed that the delay quite often results in embellishment which is a creature of afterthought, and on account of delay, report not only gets bereft of the advantage of spontaneity, but danger also creeps in of the introduction of colour version, exaggerated account or concocted story as a result of deliberation and consultation.

The Bench further observed that the delay in registering the complaint when the police was present right from the inception was indeed a mystery and would, therefore, not justify either the actions of the complainant or of the police when the case was actually registered.

Reiterating that any information derived from the witnesses during investigation and recorded in the index of a map must be proved by the witnesses concerned and not by the Investigating Officer, the High Court held that since, in this case, the information was sought to be proved by the evidence of Investigating Officer only, the same manifestly offended against the provisions of Section 162 of CrPC and could not be considered as admissible.

Non-existence of any crush injury on the dead bodies of the victims rules out the possibility that it was a case of murder. More so, as the evidence led by PW-1 and PW-2 about eye-witnessing the occurrence has not found to be creditworthy, it cannot be stated beyond doubt that it was a case of murder”, added the Court.

The Bench then considered the issue of motive as according to the prosecution case, the victims were partners of Ramdass liquor shops whereas the Appellants were working with rival liquor contractor and due to business rivalry, the Appellants had motive to eliminate the victims, and therefore held that the motive could not be established by leading any satisfactory evidence and this fact had also created a serious dent in the prosecution story.

Thus, the Bench observed that the prosecution had failed to prove the charges against the Appellants to the hilt as obligated in law and, therefore, they were entitled to be given benefit of doubt.

Cause Title: Jagtar Singh and Ors. v. State of Punjab [Neutral Citation No.2023: PHHC: 075694-DB]

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