Mere filing of a charge sheet by the police does not justify the framing of charges by the Trial Court

HIGH COURT OF MADHYA PRADESH AT JABALPUR

Cr. R. No. 608/2016

Ramnaresh & Ors.
– V/s –
State of M.P.

Present : Hon’ble Shri Justice Atul Sreedharan.

14/06/2016 The Petitioners have preferred the instant Criminal Revision being aggrieved by the order dated 13/01/16 passed by the Ld. Additional Sessions Judge, Rehli, District Sagar, in Sessions Trial No. 304/2015, wherein the Trial Court was pleased to frame charges against the Petitioners for an offence under section 306 IPC. The certified copy of the impugned order has been annexed to the petition as Annexure A/1 at page 12 of the revision petition. The Ld. Trial Court has noted that it has gone through the records of the case and heard both the sides and thereafter has come to the conclusion that there is prima facie material available on record to frame a charge u/s. 306 IPC against the Petitioners herein. The order further records that the charges have been framed and the accused persons (the Petitioners herein) have been informed about the charge against them which they have denied and demanded a trial.

2. The Petitioners have filed an interlocutory application being I.A No. 5671/2016 for taking additional documents on record which is a copy of the charge sheet and all the documents annexed therewith which, according to the Ld. Counsel for the Petitioners, are relevant for a just decision in this case. A copy of the same has been handed over to the office of the Advocate General prior to filing. For the reasons stated in paragraph 2 of the said application, I.A. No. 5671/2016 is allowed and the copy of the charge sheet and the documents filed therewith is taken on record.

3. According to the Ld. Counsel for the Petitioners, the genesis of the incident occurred on the night of 27-28/04/15 at village Chandpur where both, the Complainant and the Petitioners reside. The Counsel further states, that as per the FIR dated 03/05/15 of P.S. Rehli, District Sagar, the Petitioners are alleged to have put the deceased under undue duress and compelled him to commit suicide on account of enmity due to which the deceased Sahadev Setia, S/o. Bhagwandas Setia, committed suicide by hanging at his home.

4. It is further contended by the Ld. Counsel for the Petitioners that, in the Inquest Proceedings u/s. 174 Cr.P.C, information was given to the police by the members of the family of the deceased in which the reason for the deceased to have committed suicide is stated to be ‘not known’.

5. The Post Mortem that was done on 28/04/15, gave the cause of death as ‘cardio respiratory arrest as a result of asphyxia due to hanging’. As regards the external appearance of the dead body, the doctor notes ‘No any injury on body present’.

6. Thereafter, the Ld. Counsel for the Petitioner has drawn the attention of this Court to the statements of the witnesses u/s. 161 Cr.P.C which, according to the Petitioner’s Counsel was done after substantial and deliberate delay in order to tailor the statements of the witnesses so as to falsely implicate the Petitioners. The first statement is that of Dinesh, a resident of Chandpur village who on the night of 27/04/15 was standing at the Pan Shop of one Bhure, when around 10-11 in the night, in front of the temple of Radha Krishna, the Petitioners are alleged to have assaulted Vasudev and Umadev, the brothers of the deceased with kicks and blows and are also alleged to have hurled abuses at the two persons and threatened to kill them if they reported the case to the police. The witness further says that he and another witness Bhure interceded and broke up the fight. The Petitioners while leaving are alleged to have said that the deceased, brother of the Vasudev and Umadev, is not to be seen, lets find him and beat him too. The statement of this witness was recorded on 04/05/15.

7. The second statement under section 161 Cr.P.C is that of Bhure, who runs a Pan Shop for his livelihood at the Bus Stand. He also, like Dinesh, has stated about the alleged fight between the brothers of the deceased and the Petitioners herein on 27/04/15. He further states that he along with Dinesh had interceded and broke up the fight and as the Petitioners were leaving, they are alleged to have said that they will find the deceased and beat him also. The statement of this witness was also recorded by the police on 04/05/15.

8. The third statement under section 161 Cr.P.C is that of Gulab Bai, the mother of the deceased. She states that on the night of 27/04/15, she and the deceased Sahdev were at home when Vasudev and Umadev arrived there in an injured condition and upon being asked by her, Vasudev informed her that the Petitioners were plucking mangoes from their garden upon which Vasudev and Umadev objected and in retaliation, the Petitioners are alleged to have beaten Vasudev and Umadev with lathis, kicks and blows and that the Petitioners also said that the deceased, upon being found will also be beaten. Thereafter, this witness states that she along with Vasudev and Umadev went to the police station to register a complaint and the deceased was left behind at home. She states that on their way to the police station, she is said to have seen the Petitioners herein who were saying that ‘search for Sahadev and beat him also’. Upon returning from the police station, this witness states that she saw the deceased hanging. She further states that the Petitioners herein abused the deceased and assaulted him and brought to bear undue pressure upon him and on account of such harassment, the deceased Sahadev is said to have committed suicide. The statement of this witness was also recorded on 04/05/15.

9. The fourth statement is that of Umadev S/o. Bhagwandas Setia, the brother of the deceased. The opening part of his statement under section 161 Cr.P.C is a description of his family and the number of brothers and sisters he has. Thereafter, he describes the events of the night of 27/04/15, when between 10 and 11 pm, he is said to have objected to the Petitioners herein plucking mangoes from his grove when the Petitioners herein namely Ram Naresh Tiwari, Rohit@Juju, Mahendra Tiwari, Lalu Tiwari, Golu Tiwari and Arvind Mishra are said to have attacked Vasudev, the brother of the witness, with lathis and showered kicks and blows and abusing him at the same time. The witness further states that when he interceded to save his brother Vasudev from the alleged combined attack of all the Petitioners herein, the Petitioners are said to have attacked the witness and beat him up too. This witness then says that the Petitioners are said to have told each other that “lets search for their brother (the deceased) and beat him also”. Thereafter, this witness states that he along with his brother Vasudev and mother Gulab Bai went to the police station to lodge a report after leaving the deceased alone at home. After lodging the report, when this witness along with his brother and mother returned home later that night, he found his brother hanging on a rope. This witness lastly says that the Petitioners herein abused the deceased and brought pressure to bear upon him on account of which the deceased is said to have committed suicide. It is relevant to mention here that the last allegation is not based on this witness having seen such abuses being hurled on the deceased by the Petitioners or any such pressure being brought to bear upon the deceased by the Petitioners herein on account of which the deceased is said to have committed suicide.

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10. The fifth statement under section 161 Cr.P.C is of Vasudev Setia S/o. Bhagwandas Setia, the other brother of the deceased. This witness also states that in the evening of 27/04/15 between 6 and 6.30 pm, Ram Naresh was plucking mangoes from the trees in his grove and when objected to by this witness, the Petitioner No. 1 and 2 abused him and the Petitioner No.1 is said to have beaten the witness with a lathi which is said to have hit this witness on the left leg. Further, this witness states that around 10-11 pm, the Petitioners are alleged to have abused and beaten this witness and his brother Umadev near the bus stand next to the Radha Krishna temple. This witness also states that the Petitioner said amongst themselves that they would beat Sahdev (the deceased) wherever and whenever they meet him. Thereafter, the rest of the narrative of this witness is identical to that of his brother Umadev relating to the omnibus allegation/opinion that the Petitioners herein had threatened and compelled the deceased to commit suicide.

11. Ld. Counsel for Petitioners, after taking this Court through the statements of witnesses as mentioned above, stated that there is no credible material against the Petitioners. In order to point out to the lacuna in the inquest proceedings and the statements under section 161 Cr.P.C of the witnesses, the Ld. Counsel for the Petitioners stated that after intimation to the police, the police arrived at the scene and commenced inquest proceedings under section 174 Cr.P.C being Inquest Case No. 26/15. The informant, on whose statement the Inquest Proceedings were commenced was Umadev, the brother of the deceased. In the narrative of the Inquest Proceedings, the story stated above is reiterated and as to how the mother of the deceased saw the deceased hanging as she entered the house after she along with the Umadev and Vasudev returned home after having registered the FIR against the Petitioners herein arising from the altercation over the plucking of mangoes. Interestingly, Umadev says that he does not know the reason why his brother committed suicide by hanging, in the course of the Inquest Proceedings which is the first document written on 28/04/15. The Dehati Nalish (FIR recorded outside the Police Station, at the scene of crime) recorded on 28/04/15 upon the facts given by the witness Umadev discloses ignorance as to the cause that compelled the deceased to commit suicide. The Post Mortem report (hereinafter referred to as the “PMR”) of the deceased prepared on 28/04/15 gives the cause of death as Cardio Respiratory Arrest as a result of asphyxia due to hanging. The PMR clearly states that there are no external injuries on the body.

12. It has been argued by the Ld. Counsel for the Petitioners that there is no evidence at all against the Petitioners and that the material on record never made out a prima facie case for the framing of charges against the Petitioners herein. He has stated that even if the entire material of the prosecution is taken and accepted as gospel truth, even then the case would not pass muster of the standard required for framing charges against the Petitioners. The Ld. Counsel for the Petitioners has forcefully stated that the case against the Petitioners is one of no evidence and that they have been made accused on the basis of surmises and conjectures arising from the allaged altercation that they had earlier with the brothers of the deceased over the plucking of mangoes.

13. The Ld. Panel Advocate for the State on the other hand has vehemently argued that there is no defect in the order passed by the Ld. Trial Court and that the said order cannot be deemed to be bad only on the ground that the same has not discussed the material against the Petitioners. He further stated that at the stage of framing charges, the Court below has to only see if a prima facie case is made out against the accused and no reasons need to be cited for framing charges and that the Ld. Trial Court was only called upon to give reasons where it was discharging the accused persons. However, where the Trial Court felt that there existed enough material to frame charges against the accused, no elaborate reasons need to be given by it and neither is there a requirement under the law for discussing the material on which the charges are framed. According to him, the statements of all the witnesses taken holistically, make out a triable issue against the Petitioners. Under the circumstances, the Ld. Panel Advocate for the State has prayed that this Revision be dismissed.

14. Heard the parties to the petition and perused the copy of the charge sheet and material therewith. The impugned order dated 13/01/16 (Annexure A/1 to the petition from page 7 to 20), includes the record of proceedings of the Trial Court dated 13/01/16 (page 8 of the petition) which states that the Ld. Trial Court has heard the two sides and seen the records of the case and thereafter arrived at the opinion that there is adequate material to frame charge against the Petitioners herein under section 306 of the Indian Penal Code. The formal statement of charge dated 13/01/16 against each Petitioner herein, charges them of having abetted Sahdev to commit suicide, on account of which the deceased is said to have committed suicide, making the Petitioners punishable for an offence u/s. 306 IPC (pages 9 to 20 of the petition).

15. From a plain reading of the impugned order, it is evident that there is no discussion by the Ld. Trial Court on the material, based on which the Ld. Trial Court is said to have arrived at the opinion that the case is fit for trial. The contentions of the Prosecution and the Defence are also not recorded, but for the bare assertion that both sides have been heard. The Ld. Counsel for the Petitioners has indicted the said order for being perfunctory and pedestrian. He has stated that the order smacks of non-application of mind and has been passed in a very casual and routine manner without even perusing the statements of the witnesses u/s. 161 Cr.P.C and also without examining if the allegations, even if taken to be true for the sake of an argument, satisfy the ingredients of section 107 IPC in the wake of the judgements of the Supreme Court on this point, thus making out a prima facie case against the Petitioners.

16. The Ld. Trial Court has failed to appreciate that at the stage of framing of charges, though a meticulous examination of the material on record is not called for, it could not abdicate its function of at least examining the record for the purpose of ascertaining the existence of a prima facie case against the Petitioners. Though in this case, the Ld. Trial Court has recorded in the impugned order that it had heard both the sides and perused the case material, it did not even fleetingly refer to the material which disclosed the fact that the accused may have committed the offence they are charged with. It should have borne in mind the law laid down by the Supreme Court in Union of India Vs. Prafulla Kumar Samal & Anr – (1979) 3 SCC 4 and AIR 1979 Supreme Court 376 wherein the Supreme Court laid down that the Trial Court, at the stage of framing charges, would sift and weigh the evidence only for the limited purpose of concluding that there existed a prima facie case against the accused and that the Trial Court was well within its powers to discharge an accused if the material on record only raised “some suspicion” against the accused person as opposed to “grave suspicion” which would warrant the framing of charges. It also cautioned that the nature of suspicion would also depend upon the facts of each case and that there was no universal rule of thumb which could be applied across the board in all case. Most importantly the Supreme Court sought to evoke in the Trial Court, a sense of responsibility by explaining that the Trial Court should never consider itself as a “Post Officer or a mouth piece of the Prosecution”. The emphasis here is unmistakable. The mere filing of a charge sheet by the police does not justify the framing of charges by the Trial Court. Section 227 and 228 of the Cr.P.C make it incumbent upon the Session Court to consider the record of the case and the documents submitted therewith and thereafter having heard the accused and the prosecution, decide whether the accused shall be charged for the offence or discharged. Likewise, the duty on the Judicial Magistrate First Class under sections 239 and 240 Cr.P.C. However, if the Court is inclined to discharge the accused, be it the Court of Sessions under section 227 or the Court of the Magistrate under 239 Cr.P.C, the Court passing such an order shall record its reasons for doing so. No such reason is to be given if the Court is frames charges U/S. 228 or 240 Cr.P.C where all that the Trial Court has to do is mention that in its OPINION there exists sufficient material to frame a charge.

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17. The abovestated position was examined by a Two Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Kanti Bhadra Shah Vs. State of W.B – (2000) 1 SCC 722, wherein at paragraph 8 it was held “We wish to point out that if the trial court decides to frame a charge there is no legal requirement that he should pass an order specifying the reasons as to why he opts to do so. Framing of charge itself is prima facie order that the trial Judge has formed the opinion, upon considering the police report and other documents and after hearing both sides, that there is ground for presuming that the accused has committed the offence concerned”. Kanti Bhadra Shah’s case was referred to by another Two Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Lalu Prasad Yadav Vs. State of Bihar – (2007) 1 SCC 49, wherein at paragraph 15, the Supreme Court held “In Kanti Bhadra Shah v. State of W.B. [(2000) 1 SCC 722 : 2000 SCC (Cri) 303] again the question was examined. It was held that the moment the order of discharge is passed it is imperative to record the reasons. But for framing of charge the court is required to form an opinion that there is ground for presuming that the accused has committed the offence. In case of discharge of the accused the use of the expression “reasons” has been inserted in Sections 227, 239 and 245 of the Code. At the stage of framing of a charge the expression used is “opinion”. The reason is obvious. If the reasons are recorded in case of framing of charge, there is likelihood of prejudicing the case of the accused put on trial”. From the above it is clear that the Trial Court is only bound to record its reasons if it discharges the accused. But where, the Trial Court frames charges after forming an opinion about the existence of a prima facie case, no reasons are to be given by the Trial Court.

18. However, a Three Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in State of Maharashtra Vs. Som Nath Thapa – (1996) 4 SCC 659, in a case examining the legality of the order framing charges against certain accused persons by the Special Court (TADA) in the Bombay Blast Case of 1993, the Supreme Court held in paragraph 35 that “The legal question having been examined, we may advert to the facts of each appellant to decide whether a prima facie case against him exists, requiring framing of a charge, as has been ordered. Before we undertake this exercise, it may be pointed out that the learned Designated Court in his impugned judgment, instead of examining the merits of the prosecution case qua the charged accused, has given reasons as to why he discharged 26 accused. A grievance has, therefore, been made by all the learned counsel appearing for the accused that this was not the legal approach to be adopted. We find merit in this grievance inasmuch as the impugned order ought to have shown that the Designated Court applied its judicial mind to the materials placed on record against the charged accused. This was necessary because framing of charge substantially affects the liberty of the person concerned. Because of the large number of accused in the case (and this number being large as regards charged accused also), the court below might have adopted the approach he had chosen. But we do not think it was right in doing so. Be that as it may, now that we have been apprised by the prosecution regarding all the materials which were placed before the Designated Court against each of the appealing accused, we propose to examine, whether on the basis of such materials, it can reasonably be held that a case of charge exists. We would do so separately for each of the appellants”. From the above, the proposition that at the stage of framing of charges, (a) the Trial Court should apply its judicial mind to the materials placed on record as (b) framing of charges substantially affects the liberty of the person concerned, become clear.

19. From the above, it is clear that at the stage of framing charges, the Trial Court has to apply its “Judicial Mind to the Materials Placed on Record” as mandated by the Three Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Som Nath Thapa’s case. The question therefore arises as to how a Superior Court, sitting in Revision over the order framing charges passed by the Trial Court, can ascertain such “Application of Judicial Mind to the Materials Placed on Record” by the Trial Court, where the Trial Court does not have to give any reasons for framing charges, as has been laid down by the Supreme Court in Kanti Bhadra Shah’s case? The answer in my humble view lies in S. 228(1) of the Cr.P.C which reads as hereunder;

228. Framing of charge.- (1) If, after such consideration and hearing as aforesaid, the Judge is of opinion that there is ground for presuming that the accused has committed an offence which –
(a) …………
(b) …………
(2) …………
Section 228(1) Cr.P.C makes it essential for the Trial Court to arrive at the “opinion” that there is ground for presuming that the accused has committed an offence. The dictionary meaning of the word “Opinion” is “feelings or thoughts about somebody or something, rather than a fact” (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary). An opinion is formed on the “basis” of the existence of certain facts or circumstances. “Reason”, on the other hand has been defined as “a cause or an explanation for something that has happened or that somebody has done” (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary). In Kanti Bhadra Shah’s case, it is only the giving of “Reason” that the Supreme Court has held as being unnecessary, where the Trial Court frames charges against the accused. Therefore, an opinion in terms of section 228(1) can only be formed by the Trial Court, on the “basis” of the material on record. Therefore, it is absolutely essential for the Trial Court to summarily state the “basis” on which it forms an opinion justifying the framing of charges against an accused. This can be done without giving “Reasons”, elaborate or otherwise and it would suffice if the Trial Court refers to the evidence on record without any elaboration of its contents. Statements of witnesses can be referred to by the name of the witness without discussing the contents of the statements or how the same prima facie implicates the accused. This way, the Superior Court sitting in Revision over the order framing charges, when such orders are challenged, would at least be in a position to refer to the material adverted to by the Trial Court and assess if the same does indeed reveal a case against the accused. Thus briefly giving the “basis” for the “opinion” arrived at by the Trial Court at the stage of framing charges, will ensure compliance with the judgements of the Supreme Court in Kanti Bhadra Shah and in Som Nath Thapa’s case. Thus, the impugned order is deficient in not having given the basis for the opinion as to why charges u/s. 306 IPC ought to be framed against the Petitioners and therefore bad in law.

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20. In assisting the Trial Court at the stage of framing of charges, the pivotal role of the Public Prosecutor can never be adequately underscored. Speaking in glowing terms about the role of the Prosecutor in Centre for Public Interest Litigation Vs. Union of India – (2012) 3 SCC 117, the Supreme Court, in paragraph 23 of its judgement, extracted the words of a Senior Prosecutor of Britain named Christmas Humphreys from the 1955 Criminal Law Review wherein the Ld. Prosecutor observed about the role of the Prosecutor by saying “The Prosecutor has a duty to the State, to the accused and to the court. The Prosecutor is at all times a minister of justice, though seldom so described. It is not the duty of the prosecuting counsel to secure a conviction, nor should any prosecutor even feel pride or satisfaction in the mere fact of success”. In an Adversarial System of Criminal Justice Administration, it is not for the Trial Court to ferret out material against the accused from the charge sheet, the Court being a neutral arbiter. Section 226 Cr.P.C reserves this honour singularly for the Public Prosecutor and the same reads as hereunder;

226. Opening case for prosecution. – When the accused appears or is brought before the Court in pursuance of a commitment of the case under section 209, the prosecutor shall open his case by describing the charge brought against the accused and stating by what evidence he proposes to prove the guilt of the accused.
The provisions of section 226 above makes it mandatory for the Prosecutor to open the case against the accused. It is for the Prosecutor to lead the Trial Court through the evidence against the accused and assist the Court in the formation of its opinion that charges ought to be framed against the accused. The Prosecutor is present to assist the Trial Court in dispensing justice and not just to secure a conviction, come what may. If the Prosecutor is convinced that the material on record fail to establish a prima facie case, then the Prosecutor must assist the Court accordingly. The Prosecutor cannot take the stand that his case is whatever has been stated in the charge sheet filed by the police. Instead, the mandate of section 226 is that the Prosecutor would have to lead the Trial Court through the evidence on record on the basis of which the Prosecutor seeks to establish the guilt of the accused and thereby assist the Court in forming its opinion based on evidence on record with regard to framing of charges against the accused.

21. On facts specific to the case at hand, the Ld. Trial Court has failed to appreciate that the undisputed case as per the prosecution is (a) that earlier on the night of the incident, there was an altercation between the brothers of the deceased and the Petitioners herein relating to the plucking of mangoes from the grove of the deceased and his brothers in which the brothers of the deceased were allegedly beaten up by the Petitioners. (b) That there is no reference by any of the witnesses to the presence of the deceased at the scene of the altercation or that he was ever assaulted or beaten by the Petitioners. (c) That the Petitioners are alleged to have said that they would search for the deceased and beat him also whenever and wherever they find him. (d) That the brothers and the mother of the deceased went to the police station to report the assault on the brothers of the deceased allegedly by the Petitioners herein and (e) That the brothers and mother of the deceased found the deceased hanging at home when they returned.

22. None of the witnesses state that they had seen the Petitioners herein threatening the deceased with assault. None of the witnesses in fact state that they had ever seen the Petitioners anywhere near the deceased on that day. There is no suicide note left behind by the deceased which has imputed any role to the Petitioners herein. In fact, there is no evidence to show that the Petitioners were the proximate cause or that the Petitioners had goaded, instigated or assisted the deceased in committing suicide. Besides the glaring paucity of evidence to connect the Petitioners as the cause of the deceased committing suicide, the Ld. Trial Court also failed to appreciate that the statements of the brother of the deceased in the Inquest Proceedings and the Dehati Nalish, the two earliest documents of the prosecution, clearly state that the reason for the deceased having taken the drastic step is not known.

23. The evidence on record, even if the same is accepted as true and correct, only reflects that the Petitioners were allegedly searching for the deceased in order to give him a beating. Evidence is not suggestive whether the Petitioner actually ever found the deceased and beat him, as threatened by them. The PMR also does not reveal any external injuries on the body of the deceased which may have raised a slight suspicion that the Petitioners may have beaten the deceased.

24. There are a number of judgements of the Supreme Court wherein it is clearly laid down that to be charged for an offence u/s. 306 IPC, it would be essential for the prosecution to establish prima facie, that the actions of the accused were directly responsible for instigating that deceased to commit suicide. Such actions must satisfy the ingredients of S. 107 IPC whereby it should evident that the accused had instigated the deceased to commit suicide, or that the actions of the accused were of such nature that the victim had no other option but to commit suicide. In the instant case there is no evidence at all, let alone prima facie evidence that the Petitioners had even met the deceased prior to his committing suicide. The Ld. Trial Court failed to examine the statements of the witnesses in the backdrop of the law laid down by the Supreme Court for an offence u/s. 306 IPC and therefore erred in framing charges against the Petitioners herein u/s. 306 IPC. In the facts and circumstances of the instant case, it can be said that the Ld. Trial Court did become the mouth piece of the prosecution.

25. On the basis of the aforementioned, I allow the Criminal Revision filed by the Petitioners herein and set aside the impugned order dated 13/01/16 passed by the Court of the Ld. Additional Sessions Judge, Rehli, District Sagar, in Sessions Trial No. 304/2015, and discharge the Petitioners.

(Atul Sreedharan) Judge

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