This article sheds light upon one of the renowned cases of criminal law, that is, Bachchan Lal v. The State, where the appellant is Bachchan Lal against the State. This case was settled in the High Court of Allahabad in the year 1956 by a two-judge bench comprising of Justice Raghubar Dayal and Justice Basil Reginald James. The case has been briefly explained below with all the sections and cases mentioned to reach the verdict.
In the High Court of Allahabad
|Name of the Case||Bachchan Lal v The State.|
|Year of the Case||1956|
|Bench/Judges||Raghubar Dayal and Basil Reginald James|
|Acts Involved||Indian Penal Code 1860|
|Important Sections||Indian Penal Code 1860, (IPC) – Section 147; Section 149; Section 201; Section 300; Section 302; Section 94.|
The appellant of the case, Bachchan Lal, appealed to the High Court of Allahabad against his conviction under Section 147 and Section 302, read with Section 149 of IPC. The appellant with three other accused, Uma Shanker, Pratap Singh, and Deopal Singh, was charged guilty for the murder of Nainsukh. This case deals with the issues of whether an accused can be punished if he does not have any common intentions or common objects with the other culprits, whether an accused can be charged for the offence committed under duress and whether an accused can be convicted solely on the statement made before the Court.
Background of the case
This case took place in the year 1955, in the second week of June, the accused with the deceased Nainsukh went to sleep on the cots outside the house and later in the night between 19th and 20th of June, Nainsukh’s wife, Shrimati Raghubansi found the accused and her husband missing from their cots. On the morning of 22nd June Raghubansi found the dead body of her husband lying in Gularia Har. Having learned about his husband’s death she sent Shyam Lal, the Chowkidar’s son to lodge the report. After the investigation of the crime scene, it was held by the Sessions Judge that the accused is guilty of murder and was sentenced to death. The case was referred to the High Court for the confirmation of the death sentence. The accused was given the opportunity to explain himself and how he was involved in the murder of Nainsukh. He provided all the details of the murder night and told the jury that he acted under duress and did not have any common intention with the other accused. The High Court took into consideration the statement of the accused and the facts presented by both parties.
Bachchan Lal alias Doctor was an agent for selling medicines in the district Farrukhabad. He began to reside at the house of Nainsukh in a village named Bakhrauli, P. S. Tathia. On the night between 19th and 20th of June the accused, Nainsukh and Nainsukh’s sons, Shiam Behari and Prem Baboo went outside to sleep on different cots outside the house. Later at night when Raghubansi, Nainsukh’s wife, woke up to look after the cattle, she found that her husband and the accused are not present there. However, she did not suspect anything at that moment because they used to go away for days without informing.
Later, on the morning of 22nd June, the dead body of Nainsukh was recognized by Raghubansi. She asked the Chaukidar’s son, Shyam Lal, to lodge the report. Shyam Lal went to the thana to lodge the report. On investigation of the case by Bhagwati Prasad Chaube, Bachchan was brought to him under arrest by a few private persons on the 23rd of October. The statement of Bhagwati was recorded on the 11th of December, 1955, and submitted the charge-sheet on 16th January, 1956 against Bachchan Lal and Harman Singh, who was acquitted by the learned Sessions Judge. The confession of the appellant was recorded on 9th February by Sri Sinpal Misra, Judicial Officer, in compliance with the orders of the District Magistrate. The judgement was passed by the lower court based on the confession of the accused.
The accused told in the High Court that one day, Nainsukh and himself were planning to hide a gun when Harnam Singh entered and they hid the gun in a sugarcane field. Harnam Singh told Raghubansi to ask her husband to return the gun which was kept by Gulzari under the fodder in the knowledge of Raghubansi, Gulzari, too asked Raghubansi to get back the gun from Nainsukh but he denied to return the gun and turned out Gulzari and Harnam Singh from his house. On the night between 19th and 20th, June Bachchan was asked by Narain Singh to bring Nainsukh to the grove and the accused had no prior knowledge that the murder was going to take place. On reaching there he found that Deopal, Rampal, Gulzari, Narain, Pratap, Bharat, Uma Shankar, and Harnam Singh were already there. They all demanded Nainsukh to return the gun but Nainsukh denied, after certain altercation Pratap Singh, Deopal Singh, and Uma Shankar felled down Nainsukh to which the accused objected.
Pratap Singh asked the accused to participate in the murder or else he would be killed too. The accused on account of fear caught hold of the legs of Nainsukh and Pratap Singh, Deopal Singh and Uma Shankar murdered him by cutting his throat with banka while Harnam Singh and the others were standing there to see if anyone was coming. After the murder, Narain and Bachchan took the corpse at a distance and hid it under the leaves as there was no time to reach to the canal. The accused also told that he was kept in the custody of Deopal for three to four days in order to prevent the accused from confessing and it was advised to him that he should flee from the village or else he would be murdered.
The issues involved were as follows:
- Whether an accused can be convicted solely on the statement made by him before the Court?
- Whether an accused can be charged for the offence committed under duress.
- Whether the accused was a member of an unlawful assembly in prosecution of the common object of that assembly.
- Whether the accused had common intentions with the other accused while committing the crime.
The accused was charged under Section 147 and Section 302, read with Section 149 of Indian Penal Code (IPC). Section 147 of IPC deals with the punishment of rioting[i], Section 302 of IPC deals with the punishment of murder and states that whoever is found guilty of murder shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life and be liable to pay fine[ii]. Whereas, Section 149 of IPC provides that if a person is a member of an unlawful assembly having the common objects with the assembly commits any crime, every member of the same assembly who had the knowledge of the offence shall be held liable for the same.[iii]
The High Court stated that the confession of the accused cannot be taken as evidence as a Magistrate can record a confession under Section 164 of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), during the investigation of a crime by the police and not subsequent to the closing of the investigation and the submission of the charge-sheet.[iv]
The accused was examined under Section 342 of the CrPC. The object of the examination under this section is to provide the accused an opportunity to explain away the circumstances which go against him and is not to elicit matter on the record about which there be no evidence.[v]
The court further took into consideration Section 94 of the IPC and held that if the accused committed the offence of abetment of murder under threats of being killed in case of non-compliance with the others, he commits no offence with respect to the provisions of this section.[vi]
The court held under Section 300 of IPC that the act of the accused was not so imminently dangerous that it would have caused the death in all probability. In fact, the death of Nainsukh was not due to his holding the legs. The others wanted the appellant to hold the legs merely to keep him in fright and to have his mouth gagged as it would be in his own interest not to divulge what he had seen. His conduct, therefore, would not amount to the offence of murder even under Section 300 (4) of IPC.[vii]
The accused said in his statement that he moved the corpse of the deceased after the murder which amounts to the offence of causing disappearance of the evidence under Section 201 of IPC. But the court held that the concealment of the evidence in this case by the accused does not amount to an offence as he acted in order to prevent himself from the apparent threat to his life by the other accused.[viii]
The Court while considering the case of State v. Ram Autar Chaudhry[ix], stated that the confession of the accused cannot be taken in evidence.
The court held that the accused commited no offence in view of the provisions of Section 94 of IPC as he has a reasonable cause to hold the legs of Nainsukh or else instant death would have been the result. However, to hold the legs under such circumstances is not an offence as it did not result in the commission of the offence of murder or any offence against the State punishable with death. Only such offences, even if committed under the apprehension of instant death, are not excused on the ground of committing them under such threat. This view is supported by the case Umadasi Dasi v. Emperor[x], where the court followed the same principles.
With reference to the intentions of the accused the court referred to the pertinent observations made in R. v. Steane[xi], in this case, Steane assisted the enemy under duress. It was held that he had not assisted the enemy with the intention to assist him. Similarly, in this case, the intentions of the accused could not be presumed from the natural consequences of his conduct and the conduct of the others who were acting with him at the same time.
It was questioned by the State that the appellant did not mention about any threat while carrying away the body of Nainsukh to which the court held that it was clear from the statement of the accused that Uma Shankar and others who originally threatened him with a gandasa to participate in the murder asked him to take the dead body and also, Deopal Singh kept him in his custody which implies that the threat to the life of the accused was still present and to avoid that he acted in compliance of their orders. In this connection, reference was made to the Privy Council case of Subramaniam v. Public Prosecutor[xii].
The Court held that the conviction of the appellant under Section 147 and Section 302, read with Section 149 of the Indian Penal Code is bad. Hence, the appellant was set free by the court. As the appellant acted under duress and he had only held the legs of the deceased which was not so imminently dangerous to cause the death alone. Also, the fact that the accused helped in the act of concealment of the dead body was conducted under the influence of the imminent threat to his life. Moreover, it was held that the accused did not have any common intentions with the other members involved. He was compelled to participate in the offence or else would have been murdered by Pratap Singh and others. It was also made clear by the court that murder is not excused but abetment to murder to murder is.
The major concepts highlighted in this case is that the court cannot hold an accused liable based solely upon the statement made by him before the Court. The accused should be given an opportunity to explain the facts which resulted in his involvement in the commission of the offence. The other concept stated was that an accused cannot be charged for the offence committed under duress and without having any common intentions with the other persons
- [i] Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, S. 147.
- [ii] Id. S. 302.
- [iii] Id. S. 149.
- [iv] Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), 1973, S. 164.
- [v] Id. S. 342.
- [vi] Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, S. 94.
- [vii] Id. S. 300 Cl. (4).
- [viii] Id. S. 201.
- [ix] State v. Ram Autar Chaudhry, AIR 1955 All 138.
- [x] Umadasi Dasi v. Emperor, AIR 1924 Cal 1031.
- [xi] R. v. Steane,1947, 1 All ER 813.
- [xii] Subramaniam v. Public Prosecutor, 1 WLR 965.