Criminal Justice System’s Exceptionally Painful Episode: Apex Court Convicts RJD Leader & Former MP Prabhunath Singh In 1995 Double-Murder Case
The Supreme Court on Friday, pronounced its judgment convicting RJD Leader (the then ruling party) and Former Member of Parliament (MP) Prabhunath Singh in the 1995 double-murder case. The Court while convicting him, noted ‘a clear and deliberate lapse’ in the investigation and by the Prosecution. Consequentially, the bench dealt with this case as an ‘‘exceptionally painful episode of our Criminal Justice System’’.
It is pertinent to note that the present appeal was preferred by a victim, Harendra Rai assailing a judgment dated December 2, 2021 of a Single Judge Bench of the Patna High Court. The Court while acquitting Singh of all the charges, dismissed the review petition, and upheld the judgment of the Additional Sessions Judge, Fast Track Court III. It is also to be noted that the State did not oppose trial court’s order of acquittal.
While holding him guilty under Sections 302 and 307 IPC for committing culpable homicide amounting to murder and attempt to murder, the judgment authored by Justice Vikram Nath, very categorically noted, “Everything was going as per the plan and wish of the main accused Prabhunath Singh, a political leader and a sitting Member of Parliament at the relevant time as he had mustered full support of the Administration and the Investigating Agency; he had influenced and won over almost all the witnesses of fact mentioned in the chargesheet (who were declared hostile), the relevant formal witnesses including the Investigating Officer were not produced in the trial by the prosecution, the Public Prosecutor prosecuting the case was supporting the defence, the Presiding Officers were completely insensitive towards their pious duty, but everything turned upside down when he committed a glaring mistake and that one mistake cost him heavily. He got the court witness, Smt.Lalmuni Devi, mother of deceased Rajendra Rai abducted ten days before the date fixed for recording her statement. This led to filing of a Habeas Corpus Petition before the High Court…”
The bench was led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and also comprised Justice Abhay S. Oka.
AOR Abhay Kumar appeared for the appellant.
In the pertinent matter, an FIR was registered against Singh and other accused under Sections 147, 148, 149/307 of the Indian Penal Code, 18601 and Section 27 of the Arms Act. However, Section 302 IPC was also added as two out of the three injured died during treatment. The FIR in the matter was registered based on the statement of Rajendra Rai who after five months, subsequently succumbed to injuries. While Daroga Rai, another victim died soon after the incident.
As per the prosecution case, Singh who was the contesting candidate for Bihar People’s Party (BPP), had shot dead two persons for casting their votes in favour of Janta Dal Party (the rival party) having symbol of Chakrachap.
It is to be noted, only after 11 years that charges could be framed by the Trial Court on in 2006 against all the accused for offences under various Sections of IPC.
However, pursuant to the judgment dated March 13, 2007, the trial proceeded but ‘again in a most shabby manner’, which was absolutely not in compliance with the directions of the High Court. Meanwhile, the 7 prosecution witnesses turned hostile, and the another prime witness Lalmuni Devi (mother of deceased-Rajendra Rai) was abducted.
The Single judge bench of the High Court while dismissing the revision petition, had observed:
-Fard Bayan, turned into lodging of FIR, was not been proved by any witness. The officer who recorded the said statement, was not been produced as a witness.
-the doctor, who attended to the injured persons and had prepared the injury report, had stated that the three injured were unconscious. Hence, the deceased-Rajendra Rai was not in a position to make his statement
-Lalmuni Devi is not a hearsay witness, but is a tutored witness in view of her last two lines in cross-examination. Further that no other prosecution witness had corroborated her testimony.
-that the doctor who conducted the post mortem report of Rajendra Rai, was not produced in Court as a prosecution witness and therefore under Section 294 of CrPC, it could not be accepted.
Therefore, considering the manner in which the investigation was conducted, and the lackadaisical approach that was followed with, the bench observed that both the Trial Court and the High Court ‘failed miserably to notice the sensitivity and intricacies of the case’. It further noted that the Courts had ‘completely shut their eyes to the manner of the investigation, the Prosecutor’s role, and the highhandedness of the accused as also the conduct of the Presiding Officer of the Trial Court’, even when there were observations and findings by the Division Bench deciding Habeas Corpus petition.
“They continued with their classical rut of dealing with the evidence in a manner as if it was a normal trial. They failed to notice the conduct of the Public Prosecutor in not even examining the formal witnesses and also that the Public Prosecutor was acting to the advantage of the accused rather than prosecuting the accused with due diligence and honesty”, the judgment further read.
While reprimanding the courts, the bench noted that both the courts ignored administrative reports and the judgment of the High Court in the Habeas Corpus petition, while in fact should have taken judicial notice of the same.
“They completely failed to take into consideration the conduct of the accused subsequent to the incident, which was extremely relevant and material in view of Section 8 of the Evidence Act. They failed to draw any adverse inference against the accused with respect to their guilt”, the judgment further read.
While referring to the provisions under Section 311, 367, 391 CrPC, the bench also observed, “…unfortunately the Trial Court as well as the High Court failed to exercise their powers under the aforesaid provisions to summon the witnesses of the charge-sheet to prove the police papers. Despite applications being filed to summon persons who were not shown as witnesses to the charge-sheet, the Trial Court repeatedly rejected the said applications in 2006 and again in 2008 on the flimsy grounds that were not named in the charge-sheet or that the Public Prosecutor had not filed such application in gross violation of Section 311 CrPC”.
The bench, however, did not disturb the order of acquittal of other accused as their names were neither reflected in the dying declaration of the statement of the witness. The bench has listed the matter on September 1, 2023 and directed Singh to be produced before the Court in custody.
Cause Title: Harendra Rai v The State Of Bihar & Ors