In the Supreme Court of India Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction Case No. AIR 1954 SC 660 Appellants Kedar Nath Bajoria and Ors. Respondent The State of West Bengal Decided on 23 April 1954 Bench Sudhi Ranjan Das; N. H. Bhagwati; B. Jagannadhadas
The present case is completely different from other cases because the judgment is not based on the interpretation and analysis of laws but only based on evidence. Here the importance of circumstantial evidence is given due consideration where there was huge reliance on the documents submitted on both sides, statements and deposition given by witnesses and exhibits marked. Moreover, the appreciation of evidence is done exemplarily by the Hon’ble Supreme Court by pointing out the evidences and interpretations missed by the lower Court. Every finding is well substantiated with reasoning found by the bench and explains the lacunas in the prosecution by pinpointing the flow of documents and necessity of strong corresponding incidents in case of circumstantial evidences.
Constitution and Statutory Provisions
- § 420 and 120B of Indian Penal Code, 1860
- 5(2) of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947
- Articles 14, 20 and 136 of Constitution of India, 1949.
- 342 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1898.
The appellants were the owners of the firm, Kedar Nath Mohanlal (firm) which was the managing agent for the Shiva Jute Press Ltd. Some of the godowns of the press were requisitioned by the government for the military purposes including the roofs of Nos. 19 and 20 which form one continuous space and were known as roof No. 20 of the Press. The military was in possession of the roof for 2 years and the charges arose out of the compensation claims made by the appellants to the military regarding the damage caused to the roofs due to the misuse and the damage of jute stock due to rain leaks through damaged roofs. The compensation accounts were calculated by the Area Lands and Hirings Disposals Officer namely Hari Ram, but the calculated accounts were said to be fraudulent by the succeeding officer.
The charges were made against four people including the appellants in the Special Court Alipur, Calcutta where two people were acquitted whereas the appellants were convicted and sentenced imprisonment and fine. Then the appellants have approached the Hon’ble High Court of Calcutta where the convictions were held affirmed by the common judgment. The case reached the constitutional bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court where the contentions were raised using Articles 14 and 21 of Constitution of India. Though Article 20 was accepted it only changed the fine imposed but not the imprisonment. Two special leave appeals have been made before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India under Article 136 of Constitution of India. The appellants have been charged under §§ 120B and 420 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 and §5(2) read with clause 1(d) of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947.
Issues which were in Challenge
- Whether there was actual damage in roof of Godowns of the firm?
- Whether the damage on roofs on godowns of the firm is caused by the military?
Contention of the Appellants
- The roof was in possession of military.
- The damage was caused to the roofs that were requisitioned by government.
- The rents and damages claimed were made of bonafide nature and thus they cannot be charged under these sections.
Contention of the Respondent
- The firms have already taken possession of the godowns and thus military need not pay for the damages.
- The roofs are said to be delivered to firms in good condition substantiated by bonafide certificate.
- The roof damage is due to intrinsic defect of the roof and also there arises no liability on the respondent to fault or liability of the appellants to keep the place secure based on report of Garrison Engineer.
- A lot of documents have been submitted on part of prosecution as the charges of criminal misconduct, cheating and criminal conspiracy have to be proved only based on the circumstances which necessitates appreciation of evidence. A series of letters has been made on part of the firm to bring to the notice that the roof was in good condition but due to the misuse of the military, it is prone to risk of damage and water tank leakage and rain season damaging jute. But the military replied that the Garrison Engineer was appointed to deal with the repairs.
- On examination of the Garrison Engineer, it was found that the roof was already defective and thus it will wear out due to natural consequences. Moreover, no damage was caused due to the roof of keeping the packing cases. It is also noted that there was no jute in godown and even in case of leakage there would be no chance of damaging of jutes.
- The report given by the Garrison Engineer states that Godown 19 was not in occupation of government and any cost or damage has to be dealt by the owners and also stated that proper and adequate intimation was given in this case. The copy of the letter was sent to D.A.D., Land and Hirings Calcutta which was followed by a slip.
- It was mentioned through the evidence that the Godowns were given in possession of the firm and the military is not responsible for some damage to which they have no possession. On examination it was found that portions of the roofs were damaged due to the deterioration of Tee iron pieces supporting the flat tiles. The damages are due to the inherent defects in the construction of the roofs and the military cannot be held responsible for the damages on the repair of these private godowns.
- It was said that in this case, there is no specific evidence in the nature of contemporaneous reports or the like as to the condition of the roof as when the roof was taken by military and when it was handed back to the firm. There is no direct and stacking the kind of materials for use to which being put during these periods. The conclusion has to be drawn out only through assertions, counter assertions and the subsequent conduct of the parties.
- It is also pertinent to note that continuous submissions wee made on part of the firm that there was misuse but the military has not denied it but put forth that it is not liable to pay compensation due to original defects and also due to liability of the firm to keep the premises in reasonably good conditions. Thus, it gives rise to the conclusion though the roofs are having some cuts and spaces, the heavy damage is caused during the military occupation. It is also to be noted that the damage may occur if the original situation prevails is not refusable.
- it cannot be held that the claim on reconstruction or repair is fully unreasonable as the activities of military also contributed to the damage of the roof.
- Heavy reliance has been placed on the bonafide certificate which says that the firm has taken possession of the property and thus the claims against the government stands baseless.
- No doubt the handing over of the possession of the roof in December, 1945, as not being repudiated and it doesnot appear that any rent was claimed by the firm on the footing of ignoring this delivery. It may therefore be reasonably assumed that H. P. das did receive possession on the firms’ behalf and to their knowledge that this certainly not by itself enough to make out the authority of H. P. Das to give clear discharge of liability with a binding recital that the roof had been taken back in good condition. The bae recital of the roof being then in good condition in such a document is clearly not admissible as proof thereof.
- It is significant that there is no proof of even a copy of this certificate having been sent to the firm. There is no proof at all that the appellant was aware of such a discharge certificate with these recitals having been given. It is also pertinent to note that the bonafide certificate given did not follow the rules prescribed.
- The two important circumstances which even on a careful scrutiny gives suspicion on appellants that a) extraordinary conduct of Vaid in processing the procedures for compensation b) huge claim for two-month rent (Rs 17, 240 which was reduced to 8,572Rs). Further was complete absence of claim by the firm for one complete year.
- The recommendation made by Officer Vaid is also not effused or brought to crucial scrutiny by the higher authorities believing in his honesty and reliability. But the higher authorities were not misled by an false representation as far in respect of rent was concerned.
- A person can be found guilty with reference to mere circumstantial evidence, each of the circumstances relied upon must be clearly established and the proved circumstances taken together must be such as reasonably to exclude the probability of innocence.
- The repot of one of them has disappeared from the relevant file. Thee is no explanation for this disappearance or of the non-examination of any of the officers concerned particularly of Col. Wood and Mukerjee. There is nothing to show that none was available for examination in person or even on Constitut
- The damage was in respect of property belonging to the Press Company which was maintaining accounts and getting them audited. It may, therefore, be expected that the loss would have been shown in their books of account. But the reference to the book of accounts is not made before nay letter or Court which also raises suspicion.
- There is a complete lack of any reference to these matters in the questions put to either of the appellants under Section 342 of Criminal Procedure Code. This undoubtedly is a serious irregularity and cannot be lightly ignored.
- The circumstances prove that there is criminal conspiracy but the charges under Sections 420 of Indian Penal code and Section 5(2) of Prevention of Corruption Act will not sustain.
- Since continuous warnings were given regarding the bad condition of the roofs, the military must have at least thought of doing some preliminary or urgent repairs. Moreover, attempt must have taken to give compensation for reconstruction purposes. In case of looking into the damages caused, it is not pertinent rely only on the subsequent damage.
- If the claims of the appellants are to be stated in Civil Court, there may be suspicion that the claims have been over-stated.
No dissenting judgment was given in this case.
The case has critically discussed the circumstances of the case to deliver to judgment. It is pertinent to note that the Special leave judgment was totally against the judgments rendered by the earlier courts. The conviction of the appellants was reduced to simple fine of Rs. 2500 and in case of default it is followed by simple imprisonment of 3 months. Moreover, the other appellant was asked to pay fine of 1000Rs. But still the enforceability of the case is still under question as it is in contradiction with the judgment rendered by the Constitutional Bench in the same case.
Hanumant v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 1953 Cri LJ 129.