Bombay HC acquits two domestic servants of murder charge

Holding that the prosecution had miserably failed to prove its case, the Bombay High Court has acquitted two men from the charge of murdering an elderly member of a family which employed them as domestic servants.

In 2006, Sunil Rana and Rudhirkumar Panda were sentenced to life imprisonment by a trial court for the murder of a woman. They were also given seven-year rigorous imprisonment for robbery (Sec 294 IPC) and causing hurt during the course of committing the offence (Sec 394 IPC).

The duo had filed an appeal against the order in the High Court.

Justices P D Kode and V K Tahilaramani observed that there was no eye-witness in this case, which was based entirely on circumstantial evidence.

The evidence pertaining to the recovery of stolen articles from the accused raised doubts and, hence, the convicts were being acquitted, the judges noted in their order on April 1.

Accordingly, they acquitted Rana and Panda from all the charges. Both had spent about six years in jail and were ordered to be released unless it was needed in other cases.

The duo worked in the home of Kashi, who was staying with his parents in suburban Bandra. In 2003, Kashi found his mother lying unconscious at home with a 'dupatta' tied around her mouth and nose. She was taken to hospital where she was found dead. The two men were immediately arrested.

As regards finger prints of the convicts found at some places in the house, the court held that this evidence cannot be relied upon because both were employed as servants, hence their finger impressions were bound to be found at various spots.

About the evidence given by a watchman that he had seen the duo running away after the incident, the court opined that this did not support the prosecution's case because it had happened late in the night.

The watchman had told the court he had seen them from a distance and they were facing the other side.

As regards the recovery of missing articles from the accused, the court held that the evidence of 'panch' witness was not reliable because he had acted as a panch at least eight times in this case on various occasions.

Also, the court noted that he had acted as a panch in 17 to 18 cases of the same police station.

"Thus he was a 'habitual' panch and very much under the thumb of police. In such a case, this panch cannot be considered as an independent witness and must be considered as a pliable witness in the hands of the police officers of Khar Police Station," the judges noted.

Therefore, the conviction of both the appellants cannot be sustained on the basis of the evidence of recovery of articles, the court held.

Another disturbing factor about the prosecution's case was that another panch had stated that both the accused were handcuffed at the time of giving their statements in the presence of police and panch witness.

"The fact that both the accused were handcuffed at the time of making statement, shows that the statement made by the accused persons was not a voluntary one," the judges said.

"Such evidence (when accused is handcuffed at the time of giving statement) is not admissible and also the evidence of this panch does not inspire confidence."

If the evidence on recoveries was excluded from consideration, there is no other credible and reliable material on record to sustain the conviction of both the accused, the bench observed while acquitting the duo.

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