Khushal Rao v. State of Bombay [1958 SC]

This appeal on a certificate of fitness under Article 134(1)(c), granted by the High Court at Nagpur, is directed against the concurrent judgment and orders of the courts below, so far as the appellant Khushal is concerned, convicting and sentencing him to death under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, for the pre-meditated murder of Baboolal on the night of February 12, 1956, in one of the quarters of the city of Nagpur.

It appears that there are two rival factions in what has been called the mill area in Nagpur. The appellant and Tukaram who has been acquitted by the High Court, are the leaders of one of the factions, and Ramgopal, PW 4, and Tantu, PW 5, are said to be the leaders of the opposite faction. Before the time and date of the occurrence, there had been a number of incidents between the two rival factions The prosecution case is that the appellant Khushal was on bad terms with Baboolal who was on very friendly terms with the leaders of the opposite faction aforesaid. Being infuriated by the conduct of Baboolal in associating with the enemies of the party of the accused, Sampat, Mahadeo, Khushal and Tukaram suddenly attacked Baboolal with swords and spears and inflicted injuries on different parts of his body. The occurrence took place in a narrow lane of Nagpur at about 9 p.m. Baboolal was taken by his father and other persons to the Mayo hospital where he reached at about 9.25 p.m. The doctor in attendance Dr Kanikdale (PW 14) at once questioned him about the incident and Baboolal is said to have made a statement to the doctor which the latter noted in the bed-head ticket (Ex. P-17) that he had been assaulted by Khushal and Tukaram with swords and spears. After noting the statement aforesaid, of Baboolal, the doctor telephoned to the Ganeshpeth Police Station where the information was noted at 9.45 p.m.. On receiving the information Sub-Inspector A.K. Khan recorded and registered an offence under Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code, and immediately went to the Mayo hospital along with a head-constable and several constables. He found Baboolal in a serious condition and suspecting that he might not survive and apprehending that it might take time for the Magistrate to be informed and to be at the spot, to record the dying declaration, he consulted Dr Ingle, the attending doctor, whether Baboolal was in a fit condition to make a statement. The doctor advised him to have the dying declaration recorded by a Magistrate. The Sub-Inspector decided that it would be more advisable for him to record the dying declaration without any delay. Hence, he actually recorded Baboolal’s statement in answer to the questions put by him (Ex. P-2) at 10.15 p.m.

In the meantime, a Magistrate, First Class, was called in, and he recorded the dying declaration between 11.15 and 11.35 p.m., in the presence of Dr Ingle who certified that he had examined Baboolal and had found him mentally in a fit condition to make his dying declaration. Besides these three dying declarations recorded in quick succession, as aforesaid, by responsible public servants, Baboolal is said to have made oral statements to a number of persons, which it is not necessary to set out because the High Court has not acted upon those oral dying declarations. We shall have to advert, later, to the recorded dying declarations in some detail, in the course of this judgment. It is enough to say at this stage that the courts below have founded their orders of conviction of the appellant mainly on those dying declarations. Baboolal died the next morning at about 10 a.m. in hospital.

The legislature in its wisdom has enacted in Section 32(1) of the Evidence Act that “When the statement is made by a person as to the cause of his death, or as to any of the circumstances of the transaction which resulted in his death, in cases in which the cause of that person’s death comes into question”, such a statement written or verbal made by a person who is dead (omitting the unnecessary words) is itself a relevant fact.

This provision has been made by the legislature, advisedly, as a matter of sheer necessity by way of an exception to the general rule that hearsay is no evidence and that evidence which has not been tested by cross-examination, is not admissible. The purpose of cross-examination is to test the veracity of the statements made by a witness. In the view of the legislature, that test is supplied by the solemn occasion when it was made, namely, at a time when the person making the statement was in danger of losing his life. At such a serious and solemn moment, that person is not expected to tell lies; and secondly, the test of cross-examination would not be available. In such a case, the necessity of oath also has been dispensed with for the same reasons.

Thus, a statement made by a dying person as to the cause of death, has been accorded by the legislature, a special sanctity which should, on first principles, be respected unless there are clear circumstances brought out in the evidence to show that the person making the statement was not in expectation of death, not that that circumstance would affect the admissibility of the statement, but only its weight. It may also be shown by evidence that a dying declaration is not reliable because it was not made at the earliest opportunity, and, thus, there was a reasonable ground to believe its having been put into the mouth of the dying man, when his power of resistance against telling a falsehood, was ebbing away; or because the statement has not been properly recorded, for example, the statement had been recorded as a result of prompting by some interested parties or was in answer to leading questions put by the recording officer, or, by the person purporting to reproduce that statement. These may be some of the circumstances which can be said to detract from the value of a dying declaration.

But in our opinion, there is no absolute rule of law, or even a rule of prudence which has ripened into a rule of law, that a dying declaration unless corroborated by other independent evidence, is not fit to be acted upon, and made the basis of a conviction.

Sometimes, attempts have been made to equate a dying declaration with the evidence of an accomplice or the evidence furnished by a confession as against the maker, if it is retracted, and as against others, even though not retracted. But in our opinion, it is not right in principle to do so. Though under Section 133 of the Evidence Act, it is not illegal to convict aperson on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice, Illustration (b) to Section 114 of the Act, lays down as a rule of prudence based on experience, that an accomplice is unworthy of credit unless his evidence is corroborated in material particulars and this has now been accepted as a rule of law. The same cannot be said of a dying declaration because a dying declaration may not, unlike a confession, or the testimony of an approver, come from a tainted source. If a dying declaration has been made by a person whose antecedents are as doubtful as in the other cases, that may be a ground for looking upon it with suspicion, but generally speaking, the maker of a dying declaration cannot be tarnished with the same brush as the maker of a confession or an approver.

On a review of the relevant provisions of the Evidence Act, we have come to the conclusion (1) that it cannot be laid down as an absolute rule of law that a dying declaration cannot form the sole basis of conviction unless it is corroborated; (2) that each case must be determined on its own facts keeping in view the circumstances in which the dying declaration was made; (3) that it cannot be laid down as a general proposition that a dying declaration is a weaker kind of evidence than other pieces of evidence; (4) that a dying declaration stands on the same footing as another piece of evidence and has to be judged in the light of surrounding circumstances and with reference to the principles governing the weighing of evidence; (5) that a dying declaration which has been recorded by a competent Magistrate in the proper manner, that is to say, in the form of questions and answers, and, as far as practicable, in the words of the maker of the declaration, stands on a much higher footing than a dying declaration which depends upon oral testimony which may suffer from all the infirmities of human memory and human character, and (6) that in order to test the reliability of a dying declaration, the court has to keep in view, the circumstances like the opportunity of the dying man for observation, for example, whether there was sufficient light if the crime was committed at night; whether the capacity of the man to remember the facts stated, had not been impaired at the time he was making the statement, by circumstances beyond his control; that the statement has been consistent throughout if he had several opportunities of making a dying declaration apart from the official record of it; and that the statement had been made at the earliest opportunity and was not the result of tutoring by interested parties.

Hence, in order to pass the test of reliability, a dying declaration has to be subjected to a very close scrutiny, keeping in view the fact that the statement has been made in the absence of the accused who had no opportunity of testing the veracity of the statement by cross-examination.

But once, the court has come to the conclusion that the dying declaration was the truthful version as to the circumstances of the death and the assailants of the victim, there is no question of further corroboration. If, on the other hand, the court, after examining the dying declaration in all its aspects, and testing its veracity, has come to the conclusion that it is not reliable by itself, and that it suffers from an infirmity, then, without corroboration it cannot form the basis of a conviction.

Thus, the necessity for corroboration arises not from any inherent weakness of a dying declaration as a piece of evidence, as held in some of the reported cases, but from the fact that the court, in a given case, has come to the conclusion that that particular dying declaration was not free from the infirmities referred to above or from such other infirmities as may be disclosed in evidence in that case.

Let us examine the dying declarations now in question before us. The most remarkable fact which emerges from an examination of the three successive dying declarations made in the course of about two hours, by the deceased, is that he consistently named the appellant and Tukaram as the persons who had assaulted him with sword and spear. The injuries found on his person, namely, the punctured wounds and the incised wounds on different parts of his body, are entirely consistent with his statement that he was attacked by a number of persons with cutting and piercing weapons. No part of his dying declarations has been shown to be false.

The courts below also agreed in holding that Baboolal was in a position to see his assailants and to identify them in the light of the electric lamp nearby. They have also pointed out that there was no “coaching”. There is no doubt, therefore, that Baboolal had been consistent throughout in naming the appellant as one of his assailants, and he named him within less than half an hour of the occurrence and as soon as he reached the Mayo Hospital.

There was, thus, no opportunity or time to tutor the dying man to tell a lie. At all material times, he was in a proper state of mind in spite of multiple injuries on his person, to remember the names of his assailants. Hence, we have no reasons to doubt the truth of the dying declarations and their reliability. We have also no doubt that from the legal and from the practical points of view, the dying declarations of the deceased Baboolal are sufficient to sustain the appellant’s conviction for murder.

For the reasons given above, we uphold the judgment and order of the High Court convicting the appellant of murder and sentencing him to death.

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