Can circumstantial evidence be the sole basis for conviction - Md. Younus Ali Tarafdar v State of West Bengal (Criminal Appeal No. 119/2010) - Case analysis
Lakshay Parmar 25 Feb 2020

Can circumstantial evidence be the sole basis for conviction - Md. Younus Ali Tarafdar v State of West Bengal (Criminal Appeal No. 119/2010) - Case analysis

Issue: Current case questions the Hon’ble Calcutta High Court judgment whereby the Appellant was convicted under Section-302 read with Section-34 and Section-201 read with Section-34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.


Background/Facts: A phone call was received by Rajarhat Police Station, stating that a dead body has been found inside a well.  The body was taken out the next morning as when the officers reached the site, it was dark. After the post-mortem of the dead body, it was concluded that the deceased died because of strangulation as the larynx and trachea were highly congested and the body was also partially decomposed.


As the investigation started, the apparels/clothes on the body were seized, photographs were taken of the body and the subsequently the body was cremated shortly as it was in a decomposed state. It was later identified that the body was of Becharam Dhara who was reported missing by his mother.


On information received in the investigation process the Appellant was arrested. Pursuant to the confession made by the Appellant, an Anglo-Swiss watch was seized from A.C. Watch Company.  Prosecution contends that the watch belongs to the brother of the deceased i.e. Kenaram Dhara. He stated that he gave his watch to the deceased when he left the house.


As the investigation completed, the Appellant along with three others were charged with committing the murder of Becharam Dhara and concealing the body.


Various submissions were given in the trial court (hereinafter referred to as “the court”), the sister of the deceased submitted that the deceased left the house by telling her that he was going to visit the Appellant.  Similarly, a relative of the deceased deposed that the deceased visited her house in the morning and left around afternoon informing her that he was going to meet the Appellant. It was also contended that the deceased and the Appellant were friends. On the basis of the evidence on record, the court concluded that there was sufficient evidence to show the Appellant's guilt.


According to the proprietor of the A.C. Watch Company, the Appellant gave a watch for repair one day before the body of the deceased was found. Recovery of the watch which belonged to the deceased’s brother and which was eventually given to the deceased while he was leaving home was taken as a circumstance to prove the involvement of the Appellant in the crime. The Appellant gave the watch to be repaired. The Appellant did not deny that the signature on the counterfoil of the receipt taken from the owner of the shop was his. He merely stated that the police had taken the signature illegally during the investigation. On the basis of that evidence, the Court concluded that the Appellant was guilty of the murder of Becharam Dhara. Upon reassessing the facts on record, the High Court upheld the conviction.


Furthermore, during the trial, the deceased’s brother told the court that one day before the body was discovered he saw the Appellant in a bus. When the Appellant saw him, he started trembling and alighted the bus one stop ahead of Baguihati (the original destination).


The Appellant's conviction is mainly based on the recovery of the watch which had been handed down to the deceased pursuant to the Appellant's confessional statement. The receipt given by the owner of the shop was confiscated from the appellant during the course of the investigation, according to the prosecution. His confessional statement was recorded on the basis of which the receipt was taken from his house. The watch was subsequently confiscated from the shop along with the counterfoil of the receipt on which the applicant's signature was found. The defense contends that the Appellant was compelled by the police to sign the counterfoil. It was also claimed that the receipt had not been taken from the Appellant's house. Also, the evidences on which the conviction is based are circumstantial and not direct.


Observations by the Supreme Court:

On an overall analysis of the recorded evidence, in particular the evidence provided by the family of the deceased would not lead us to believe that the appellant and the deceased were last seen together. That evidence only shows that the deceased had informed them that he would visit the Appellant. There is no recorded evidence to show that the last time the Appellant was seen was with the deceased. The facts of the case do not conform to section-106 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. The Appellant cannot be said to have failed to explain what happened after they were last seen together, especially when there is no evidence to show that they were last seen together.

A close examination of the recorded material would show that the circumstances on which the prosecution relied to prove the Appellant's guilt were not complete, and would not lead to the conclusion that the Appellant must have committed the murder in all likelihood. Therefore, setting the conviction aside and acquitting the Appellant from all charges.

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