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Bhajan Singh Vs. State of Punjab - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
CourtSupreme Court of India
Decided On
Case NumberCriminal Appeal No. 81 of 1972
Reported inAIR1977SC674; 1977CriLJ439; (1977)4SCC596a
AppellantBhajan Singh
RespondentState of Punjab
Appellant Advocate R.K. Garg,; R.K. Jain and; R.P. Singh, Advs
Respondent Advocate O.P. Sharma and ; Kusum Chardhary, Advs.
DispositionAppeal Allowed
Excerpt: to whether a person is or is not a tenant, the mamlatdar is not conferred with any power to grant negative declaration that the concerned person is not a tenant in respect of the disputed property. accordingly, the mamlatdar has the jurisdiction to declare a negative declaration, that is to say, a particular person is not a tenant under section 7 - his appeal to the high court having failed, the accused has preferred the present appeal by special leave challenging the order of conviction. nand singh did not suggest any thing to help him but told him to do whatever he thought best. ' if this was so, then clearly he had made up his mind about his course of action which is quite inconsistent with what he said in examination -in-chief he sought nand singh's (p. 7. it seems that the..........him to bhatinda to lodge a report with the vigilance inspector. they met vigilance inspector shiv narain (p.w. 12) at his office at about 4.30 p. m. when ajaib singh made a statement narrating the entire story. inspector shiv narain initialled four of ten currency notes of the denomination of rs. 100/- each which ajaib singh was carrying with him. thereafter ajaib singh, buta singh, inspector shiv narain, sub-inspectors gurchetan singh and parmanand and a constable all proceeded by a jeep which shiv narain hired at bhatinda toward the canal bridge. they went via village sarawan where the constable was made to get down and one amar singh (p.w. 9) joined the raiding party. the jeep was stopped at a distance of about one furlong from the bridge. it was then about 7 p. m. ajaib singh.....

A.C. Gupta, J.

1. On January 19, 1970 the appellant who at the material time was posted as Sectional Officer at Dhaipai Section of Feroze-pur Division of Sirhind Canal, In-charge of Romana Minor Distribu-tory, was convicted by the special Judge, Faridkot, under Section 5(1)(d) read with Section 5(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act and under. Section 161 of the Indian Penal Code and sentenced on the first charge to rigorous imprisonment for one year and a fine of Rs. 1000/-, in default to suffer rigorous imprisonment for another six months, and on the second count to rigorous imprisonment for one year. Both sentences were directed to run concurrently. His appeal to the High Court having failed, the accused has preferred the present appeal by special leave challenging the order of conviction.

2. The prosecution case is as follows: The fields of village Matt used to be irrigated from Romana minor distributary On May 13, 1969 at 7.15 P. M, Ajaib Singh (P.W. 5) had his turn of water from the distributary which was to continue for five hours. According to Ajaib Singh, at about 8.30 P. M. the flow of water stopped. Next morning at 8.15 A. M. the water again started flowing and Ajaib Singh resumed irrigating his fields. A few minutes later the appellant came to Ajaib Singh and informed him that the outlet had been damaged and told him to name the person responsible for the breach or he would report him (Ajaib Singh) to the police, adding that in case Ajaib Singh paid him Rs. 1500/- no action would be taken. Ajaib Singh denied that he had damaged the outlet but as the appellant seemed firm on making a report against him, he agreed to pay. The appellant then left the place. Ajaib Singh after taking his turn of water till 1.15 P. M. went back to his house and had a talk with Nand Singh (P.W. 10) of his village. Nand Singh did not suggest any thing to help him but told him to do whatever he thought best. ' Next day Ajaib Singh again saw Nand Singh and asked for his advice; Nand Singh then advised him to report the matter to the Vigilance Inspector at Bhatinda. This was on May 15, 1969. On May 16, Ajaib Singh saw the appellant at Dhaipai Rest House and 'settled the bargain at Rupees 1000/-.' The appellant asked Ajaib Singh to be present with money on the canal bridge at about 7 P. M. the same day. Ajaib Singh came back, collected Rs. 1000/- from his house, went to village Sarawan where he saw Buta Singh (P.W. 8), told him all about the demand made by the appellant and asked Buta Singh to accompany him to Bhatinda to lodge a report with the Vigilance Inspector. They met Vigilance Inspector Shiv Narain (P.W. 12) at his office at about 4.30 P. M. when Ajaib Singh made a statement narrating the entire story. Inspector Shiv Narain initialled four of ten currency notes of the denomination of Rs. 100/- each which Ajaib Singh was carrying with him. Thereafter Ajaib Singh, Buta Singh, Inspector Shiv Narain, Sub-Inspectors Gurchetan Singh and Parmanand and a constable all proceeded by a jeep which Shiv Narain hired at Bhatinda toward the canal bridge. They went via village Sarawan where the constable was made to get down and one Amar Singh (P.W. 9) joined the raiding party. The jeep was stopped at a distance of about one furlong from the bridge. It was then about 7 P. M. Ajaib Singh and Buta Singh got down, went up to the canal bridge and waited for the appellant who arrived there on a cycle after about half an hour. They walked together for a short distance before Ajaib Singh handed over the ten currency notes that he had brought with him to the appellant which the appellant put in the left pocket of his trousers. It was then that Inspector Shiv Narain along with the two Sub-Inspectors appeared at the spot and on seeing them the appellant put his hand in his left trouser pocket and tried to bring out the money. Inspector Shiv Narain caught hold of the appellant's left hand clutching the currency notes. The appellant was then put under arrest and a recovery memo of the things in his possession was prepared by Sub-Inspector Parma nand on the dictation of Inspector Shiv Narain.

3. The accused examined several witnesses in his defence including himself. The defence version appears from his own testimony as D. W. 3 and also from his statement under Section 342 of the CrPC, 1898. According to the appellant the case against him was false and inspired by Inspector Shiv Narain who bore a grudge against him as the appellant had declined his request for providing one Inspector Harbans Singh with illegal supply of canal water when the appellant was posted as Overseer, Canal Bhatinda Section. A few days after the appellant took charge at Dhaipai, two persons, Ranjit Singh and Karam Singh, came to see him with a request to allow them extra water from the canal which was illegal. The appellant turned down this request. On May 16, 1969 Buta Singh and Ajaib Singh met him at Dhaipai Rest House at about 7.15 P. M. and told him that the outlet supplying three villages had been damaged and wanted him to go and inspect the spot. He asked Buta Singh and Ajaib Singh to go back promising that he would follow a little later. After about twenty-five minutes the appellant started for the spot on a cycle and reaching there found a number of people waiting. Three or four from that group suddenly started a quarrel with him and in the scuffle the appellant's shirt was torn. Inspector Shiv Narain gave him two or three slaps and on his order a constable handcuffed the appellant.

4. It appears that several significant and important features of the case have not been noticed by either the trial Court or the High Court. What strikes one about this case is the apparent absurdity and the general vagueness of the story. Ajaib Singh says that the appellant told him either to name the person responsible for causing damage to the outlet or to pay Rs. 1500/- to him. The option said to have been given to Ajaib Singh seems unusual. If Ajaib Singh could name the man responsible for the breach, would he then have been spared by the appellant? Would the appellant in that event have gone to the man responsible for the damage to make his demand? And what made the appellant select Ajaib Singh for making the demand? According to Ajaib Singh the appellant had told him that the damage to the outlet had been done during his turn of water; but it is not clear what made Ajaib Singh accept that this was so. If the stoppage of supply of water was indicative of the damage, then the damage caused certainly did not help Ajaib Singh. What then does the resumption of supply the next morning signify? Was the breach mended in the meantime? The prosecution story prompts these queries but is too vague to suggest any possible answer to them. From his evidence it does not appear that Ajaib Singh was such a simple minded ignorant villager that he would be overawed by what the appellant told him and would readily agree to pay the entire sum of Rs. 1500/- himself without caring to ascertain if really the outlet was damaged, and knowing that, if it was, he was only one of the many beneficiaries of the excess supply of water as a result of the damage caused. In fact there is no evidence on record that on May 13, 1969 the outlet was tampered with. Counsel for the respondent. State of Punjab, drew our attention to Ext. P. B. which is a communication dated May 18, 1969 addressed by the Sub-Divisional Officer, Dhaipai, to Executive Engineer, Ferozepur. saying that on inspection he found the outlet damaged. This is no evidence that it was damaged on the 13th May. All these emphasize the need to scrutinise with care and caution the evidence of the witnesses for the prosecution.

5. In these circumstances it is significant to note that some of the prosecution witnesses have contradicted their earlier statements under Section 164 of the CrPC, 1898 and the contradictions suggest that the defence version might be true. P.W. 9 Amar Singh was confronted with his statement recorded under Section 164 of the CrPC where he appears to have stated that after the police party had reached the canal bank, Buta Singh and Ajaib Singh left the place and came back half an hour later with the appellant. That tallies with What the appellant had said in his defence. Amar Singh of course denied the correctness of that statement. P.W. 8 Buta Singh also appears to have made a similar statement when examined under Section 164. It is difficult to find any explanation for such 'error' in the earlier statements of both these witnesses. Another significant feature is this. We have referred to the defence case that the appellant was overpowered by three or four persons on the canal bank on the evening of the 16th May and in the scuffle his shirt was torn. P.W. 12 Inspector Shiv Narain said in his evidence that at the time when he lodged the accused in the police custody, the clothes the accused was wearing were not torn. It is not clear what made him note the condition of the appellant's wearing apparel that evening. But he went on to add that next day, on the 17th May, when the accused was brought before him he found that the 'shirt worn by the. accused was torn from the right arm and both the shoulders.' According to P.W. 12 he had the shirt removed from the person of the accused and took possession of the same. It is difficult to see why this was necessary. Counsel for the appellant [suggests that this story was introduced in anticipation of a defence case built on the torn shirt. We do (not think that this is an entirely baseless suggestion.

6. There are also certain other contradictions on material points in the evidence of some of |the prosecution witnesses. We will refer to only two of them. Ajaib Singh (P.W. 5) on cross-examination said that on May 14. 1969 he pleaded with the accused not to report against him to the police and agreed to pay the sum the accused wanted from him. only 'to put off the accused at the time and in order to get him entangled in a corruption case.' If this was so, then clearly he had made up his mind about his course of action which is quite inconsistent with what he said in examination -in-chief he sought Nand Singh's (P.W. 10) advice on two successive days, on the 14th and also on the 15th May, as to what he should do. Another significant discrepancy is in P.W. 8 Buta Singh's description of the recovery of the currency notes from the accused as made in court and as appearing in his statement recorded under Section 161 of the CrPC. In court he stated that Inspector Shiv Narain recovered ten currency notes from the right pocket of the trousers that the accused was wearing at the time. The witness was confronted with his earlier statement where he had said that the currency notes were recovered from the left pocket. On this contradiction the public prosecutor was. allowed to cross-examine the witness and on such cross-examination the witness said that the statement that he made before the police was correct. Memory is apt to get blurred with the passage of time and it is possible that the witness did not quite remember whether the money was recovered from the right pocket or the left pocket. What is remarkable is that on cross-examination by the public prosecutor the witness should say that the statement he had made before the police was correct. If he remembered that the earlier statement was correct, then it is not possible to explain how he could make a mistake on this fact in his examination-in-chief. It may also be noted that there is no evidence that any scientific test was applied to prove that the appellant had handled the currency notes.

7. It seems that the trial Court and the High Court both failed to take note of the serious infirmities in the prosecution case pointed out above. These infirmities cast a legitimate doubt on the truth of the prosecution story. We do not there fore find it possible to maintain the conviction of the appellant. Accordingly we allow the appeal and acquit the appellant The appellant is on bail, his bail bond is discharged.

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