Had all the inmates in the house, where the newly-married young woman was found dead, been charged with the murder of the deceased by incorporating Section 34 IPC, the case would have stood on a different footing and they could have all been held liable to explain, by application of Section 106 of the Act of 1872, observed the high court.
The High Court of Manipur has set aside the conviction of a man, who was sentenced to rigorous life imprisonment for killing his wife by the Imphal West Sessions Court on 18 April 2018.
Setting accused Ngangbam Premjit Singh at liberty in the murder case, a division bench of high court Chief Justice Sanjay Kumar and Justice MV Muralidaran observed that the Sessions Court erred in applying Section 106 of the Act of 1872 in its judgement convicting the accused for killing his wife.
The case is in connection with the untimely death of Yumlembam (Ningol) Ngangbam (Ongbi) Latabi Devi, a newly wedded young woman of about 20 years of age, who died at her matrimonial home due to suspected strangulation on 2 March 2013. Her husband Ngangbam Premjit Singh was charged with her murder. Ngangbam Ibobi Singh and Ngangbam (Ongbi) Channou Devi, his parents, were charged with offences punishable under Section 109 IPC read with Section 34 IPC and Section 498-A IPC read with Section 34 IPC.
In its 3 November 2022 judgment, the high court observed that in the case on hand, though the Sessions Court pressed into service Section 106 of the Act of 1872 and held that the accused husband failed to explain as to what happened within the house where he was with the deceased wife after he returned home at about 9.30 am., this approach completely overlooked the fact that the accused husband was not alone at home with the deceased as his parents were also there with them.
The HC said, “It was not a case where he alone could have offered an explanation as to what happened within the four walls of the matrimonial home. All the more so, when he claimed that he had gone to the ground behind the house for some time and that claim remained untested. Unless it was shown, in no uncertain terms, that it was the accused husband alone who remained within the bedroom with his wife all through, the question of imposing the burden upon him under Section 106 of the Act of 1872 would not arise. The Sessions Court, therefore, erred in applying Section 106 of the Act of 1872.”
However, Public Prosecutor Athouba Khaidem contented that when an offence like murder is committed within the secrecy of a house, the initial burden to establish a case would be upon the prosecution but the nature and amount of evidence to be led by it to establish the charge cannot be of the same degree as is required in other cases of circumstantial evidence.
He cited Trimukh Maroti Kirkan vs. State of Maharastra [(2006) 10 SCC 681] in support of his contention. He pointed out that it was held in the judgment that the burden would be of a comparatively lighter character and in view of Section 106 of the Act of 1872, there would be a corresponding burden on the inmates of the house to give a cogent explanation as to how the crime was committed and they cannot get away by simply keeping quiet and offering no explanation on the supposed premise that the burden to establish the case lies entirely upon the prosecution.
“The Supreme Court also held that in a case based on circumstantial evidence where no eye-witness account is available, when incriminating circumstances are put to the accused but the accused either offers no explanation or offers an explanation which is found to be untrue, then the same becomes an additional link in the chain of circumstances to make it complete,” he asserted.
However, the high court observed that this decision is of no avail to the State as it was not only the accused husband who was within the house but also his parents. Significantly, they were not even charged with the offence of murder but only with abetment under Section 109 IPC. In terms of the law laid down by the Supreme Court, a duty is cast upon all the inmates to explain what had happened within the four walls of the house but when the charge against them was not the same, the picture is entirely different, it added.
The high court further said, “Had all the inmates been charged with the murder of the deceased by incorporating Section 34 IPC, the case would have stood on a different footing and they could have all been held liable to explain, by application of Section 106 of the Act of 1872.” That being not the case presently, the accused husband cannot alone be burdened with the duty of an explanation under Section 106 of the Act of 1872 and be saddled with guilt for failing to offer one, it added.
The court declared that the conviction of Ngangbam Premjit Singh for the offence punishable under Section 302 IPC in relation to the homicidal death of his wife, Latabi Devi, cannot be sustained. “The charge against him was not proved beyond reasonable doubt and he was entitled to claim the benefit of doubt,” it said, setting aside the judgment of conviction dated 17.04.2018 passed by the Sessions Judge, Imphal West, in Sessions Trial Case No.3 of 2015/10 of 2015
In consequence, the high court also set aside the judgment of the sentence dated 18.04.2018 passed against him by the Sessions Judge, Imphal West.
The high court ordered that the fine amount, if any, paid by him shall be refunded by the State, and Ngangbam Premjit Singh shall be set at liberty forthwith unless his continued incarceration is validly required in connection with any other case.