Decided on 20th September 2010.
In the Supreme Court of India
Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction.
Criminal Appeal No (Arising out of S.L.P.): 6374 of 2010
Bench: Hon’ble Justice P. Sathasivam,
Hon’ble Justice Anil R. Dave.
Appellant(s): Sajjan Kumar.
Respondent(s): Central Bureau of Investigation
Counsel for the appellant: Mr. U.U. Lalit.
Counsel for the respondent: Mr. H.P. Rawal.
Counsel for the intervenor: Mr. Dushyant Dave.
The 1984 anti-Sikh Riots: The 1984 Sikh genocide marked a dark chapter in Indian History where thousands of Sikhs were killed after the assassination of our then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on 31st October 1984. The assassination was a result of a military operation passed by Indira Gandhi known as ‘Operation Blue Star’, which called for an attack on the Harmandir Saheb complex in Amritsar, Punjab in June 1984. What ensued after the assassination were a series of gruesome events and mass killings targeting the Sikh community. An estimated 2,800 Sikhs were killed in the nation’s capital Delhi and 3,350 nationwide. Indian national congress (INC), the ruling party at the time, was alleged to be complicit with the mob that organized the riots.
Sajjan Kumar: His political career began in 1977 when he was sworn in as Delhi Councilor. From there onwards his political career surged and he was again re-elected in Lok-Sabha in 2004 representing the Indian National Congress. Sajjan Kumar was alleged to have played a major part in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Some Sikh-riot survivors had directly accused Kumar of inciting violence against Sikhs and alleged that he had given Rs. 100 and a bottle of liquor to each rioter. In 2010, upon further investigation by the C.B.I, he was alleged to have directly incited these riots against Sikhs and was later tried at court for killing five Sikh people.
Nanavati Commission: It was established in 2000 and was headed by Justice G.T. Nanavati after the previous reports regarding the riots proved to be dissatisfactory. A report submitted in February 2004 stated that according to records and witnesses, local congress leaders and workers were involved in inciting or aiding the anti-Sikh riots in 1984. The Commission also directed a further probe into Sajjan Kumar’s involvement in the riots.
This case which was reopened again after a span of 25 years sparked nationwide controversy as a prominent political leader was alleged to have been behind the killings of a Sikh family. The case brought nationwide outrage as people demanded justice and wanted the perpetrators of the horrendous anti-Sikh riots to be punished.
Constitution and Statutory Provisions discussed: Article 21 and 136 of the Constitution of India. Section 161, 227 and 228 of Cr.P.C. (Code of Criminal Procedure). Section 109, 147, 148, 149, 153A, 295, 302, 396, 427, 436, 449, 505 and 201 of IPC (Indian Penal Code).
The present case was a result of the anti-Sikh riots. The investigation relating to the deaths of family members of Smt. Jagdish Kaur (PW-1) was re-opened in 2002 by the anti-Riot cell of Delhi Police. Pursuant to which a closure report was filed in the Court on 15/22.12.2005. Following the recommendation of Justice Nanavati Commission, the Government of India entrusted the case to C.B.I. After conducting a new investigation, a fresh charge sheet was filed by the C.B.I, and accordingly, charges were framed against Sajjan Kumar on 15.05.2010. The charge sheet filed by the C.B.I pertains, inter alia, to the murder of five people. He was charged for committing the offences under Section 109, 147, 148, 149, 153A, 295, 302, 396, 427, 436, 449, 505 and 201 of IPC (Indian Penal Code). The appellant had filed a petition before the special court at the same time for discharge, raising various grounds in support of this claim. The special court offered no relief in this matter, pursuant to which the appellant filed for revision before the High Court. The High Court dismissed the criminal revision on finding no merit in the case of the appellant and directed the Trial Court to complete the trial which was pending since 1984. This case comes before this court by way of Special Leave.
- Can observations made by the High Court be discarded if apprehended to change the outcome of a case’s decision?
- Can new evidence produced after a span of 25 years be permissible in law?
- Is the framing of the new charge sheet by the C.B.I in accordance with Section 227 and 228 of Cr. P.C?
- Is a considerable lapse of time a sufficient ground for discharge under Section 227 of C.R.P.C?
Contentions put forth by appellants:
- Mr. Lalit, senior counsel for the appellant contended that the statements made by Jagdish Kaur (PW-1) under Section 161 of Cr. P.C was of no merit as in the initial report she hadn’t disclosed the name of the accused. It was contended that her statements were fabricated to implicate the accused and hence, cannot be relied on.
- The statements of Jagsher Singh (PW-2) and Nirpeet Kaur (PW-10) cannot be relied upon as they were made only after a gap of 25 years. It was contended that the other witnesses for the prosecution hadn’t seen the appellant at the commission of the offense.
- It was submitted that the charge framed against the appellant after a span of 25 years was violative of his right to a speedy trial under Article 21. It was contended that filing of a new charge-sheet by the C.B.I based on fresh materials despite a closure report already submitted by the Delhi Police is impermissible in law.
- It was contended that the observations made by the High Court were based on conjectures and heresy and were made without evaluating the materials on record. It was submitted that if such observations are not deleted it would lead to an improper conviction of the appellant by the Trial Court without any decisive proof.
Contentions put forth by the respondent:
- Mr. H.P. Rawal, counsel for the respondents submitted that the investigation of this case was entrusted to the C.B.I after considerate deliberation by the Government of India. It was contended that the action of C.B.I and the subsequent charge sheets against the appellant were in accordance with Section 227 and 228 of Cr.P.C.
- It was submitted that if prima facie finding of sufficient material indicates grave suspicion, such findings would be enough to frame a charge. It was contended that at the stage of framing of charges, the material on record is not to be examined scrupulously and there was nothing illegal about the charge framed which was affirmed by the High Court.
- It was contended that the observations made by the High Court were not arbitrary and would not affect the merits of the case.
- Mr. Dushyant Dave, senior counsel of the intervenor reiterated the stand taken by the respondent and supported the framing of charges by the District Judge. He was also in favor of the High Court’s decision to dismiss the criminal revision appeal filed by the appellant.
- It was further submitted that the present matter was not a case for interference under Article 136 of the Constitution. It was contended that no prejudice was bound to occur to the appellant and hence, the appellant has to face trial. It was lastly contended that mere delay cannot be ground for interference.
Observation of the Court:
The jurisdiction regarding Section 227 and 228 were reiterated and whether the principles therein were sufficient to allow for framing of charge in the present case. The principles that emerged in the court were:
- The Judge while framing charge under Sec. 227 of Cr. P.C has the power to sift and weigh the evidence and determine whether a prima facie case can be made out against the accused. This would depend on the facts of the case.
- If the materials placed before the court disclose grave suspicion against the accused which has not been priorly examined, the court can proceed with framing a charge.
- The Court cannot act as the mouthpiece of the prosecution but has to consider the case in all probabilities bearing in mind the evidence and the documents produced. The court cannot conduct a roving inquiry into the pros and cons of the matter and weigh the evidence as if it was conducting a trial.
- If on the basis of material on record the court is convinced in framing a charge against the accused, it can do so. Though for conviction the conclusion has to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
- Before framing a charge, the court must apply its judicial mind and must be satisfied that commission of the offense by an accused was possible.
- The court is required to evaluate all the materials and evidence on record to find out if the facts emerging if taken at their face value are sufficient to disclose the ingredients necessary to constitute the alleged offense at the stage of Section 227 and 228.
- If two views are possible and only one of them gives rise to suspicion as opposed to grave suspicion, the trial Judge will be empowered to discharge the accused and at this stage, it should not be the concern of the judge whether the trial will end in conviction or acquittal.
Based on the above principles the court stated that according to the statements of the prosecution witnesses there was sufficient ground for the case to proceed. The court was aware of the discrepancies in the statements of the witnesses as stated by the counsel for the appellants and respondents. The court stated that ‘at the stage of framing of charge under Section 228 of the Cr.P.C. or while considering the discharge petition filed under Section 227, it is not for the Magistrate or a Judge concerned to analyze all the materials including pros and cons, reliability or acceptability, etc. At the trial, the judge concerned has to take into account the evidentiary value, credibility of the statements, and veracity of the documents. Following which it can pronounce its decision’.
Regarding the closure report by Delhi Police, the court observed that the Magistrate after going through the submissions and noting that the matter is under investigation by the C.B.I and is still pending closed the matter without passing any order. Thus, it gave no liberty to the prosecution to move the appropriate motion.
The case law of P. Vijayan vs. the State of Kerala and Another was mentioned to answer the question of whether a considerable lapse of time is ground for not letting the prosecution proceed with the case. In that case, the court while considering the scope of Section 227 of Cr.P.C. dismissed the petition filed for discharge and permitted the prosecution to proceed further even after a span of 28 years.
The court in the present case held that ‘though the delay is also a relevant factor and every accused is entitled to speedy justice in view of Article 21 of the Constitution, ultimately it depends upon various factors, reasons, and materials placed by the prosecution. The court held that merely on the ground of delay the case of prosecution can’t be closed.
The court to the question of whether observations made by the High Court could affect the outcome of the trial held that it is for the trial Judge to evaluate all the materials including the evidentiary value of the witnesses, the alleged contradictory statements, delay, and the conduct of the Delhi Police in filing the Status Report. Thus, the court clarified that the observations of the High Court would not affect the final analysis or verdict of the Trial judge.
The court concluded that the framing of charges against the appellant by the Trial Court was neither bad in law nor did it abuse the process of law. It held that the Trial Judge was free to analyze, evaluate the materials placed by both parties and arrive at a proper conclusion. The court directed the trial court to take sincere efforts for the completion of the case as early as possible. It directed both the prosecution and defense to render complete assistance for the completion of the case. With the above observation and direction, the appeal was disposed of.
The Trial Court in 2013 acquitted Sajjan Kumar of all charges on the ground of the statements of the prosecution witnesses being contradictory and unreliable. Consequently, C.B.I challenged the above judgment in Delhi High Court. In 2018, Delhi High Court set aside the acquittal of Sajjan Kumar and convicted him for all the offenses stated in the C.B.I charge sheet and sentenced him to life imprisonment. The Delhi High Court while delivering its judgment for the conviction stated that “It is important to assure those countless victims waiting patiently that despite the challenges, the truth will prevail and justice will be done”.
The above judgment has been challenged in the Supreme Court and the matter is still pending. The Supreme Court in March 2020 rejected an interim bail petition of Sajjan Kumar. Thus, the decision of the High Court and Supreme Court has aided in quenching the thirst for justice of countless victims of the heinous riots.