K.M Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra(1961): Case Comment.

Author: Shrankhala Parwar, School of law, DAVV, Indore.

K.M Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra(1961): Case Comment

Court: The Supreme Court of India 

Bench: Subbarao, K.Das, S.K Dayal Raghubar 

Decided On: 24.11.1961 

Citation: AIR 1962 SC 605, 1962 SCR Supl.(1) 567 

* The 2016 Bollywood film Rustom, starring Akshay Kumar, is a fictionalized account of the KM Nanavati case.

FACTS 

● The accused, Nanavati, at the time of the alleged murder, was second in command of the Indian Naval Ship “Mysore”. He married Sylvia in 1949 and had three children. 

● Since the time of marriage, the couple was living in different places, Finally, they shifted to Bombay. 

● In the same city the deceased Ahuja was doing business in automobiles and in the year 1956, Agniks, who were common friends of Nanavati’s and Ahujas, introduced Ahuja and his sister to Nanavati’s. Ahuja was unmarried and was about 34 years of age at the time of his death. 

● Nanavati, as a Naval Officer, was frequently going away from Bombay in his ship, leaving his wife and children in Bombay. 

● Gradually, the friendship developed between Ahuja and Sylvia, which culminated in illicit intimacy between them. 

● On April 27, 1959, Sylvia confessed to Nanavati of her illicit intimacy with Ahuja. 

● Enraged at the conduct of Ahuja, Nanavati went to his ship, took from the stores of the ship a semi-automatic revolver and six cartridges on a false pretext, loaded the same, went to the flat of Ahuja entered his bedroom and shot him dead. 

● Thereafter, the accused surrendered himself to the police. He was put under arrest and in due course, he was committed to the Sessions for facing a charge under s. 302 of the Indian Penal code. 

● Thereafter, he drove his wife, two of his children and a neighbor’s child in his car to a cinema, dropped them there and promised to come and pick them up at 6 P.M. when the show ended. He represented to the authorities in the ship, that he wanted to draw a revolver and six rounds from the stores of the ship as he was going to drive alone to Ahmednagar by night, though the real purpose was to shoot himself. 

● On receiving the revolver and six cartridges, and put it inside a brown envelope. Then he drove his car to Ahuja’s office, and not finding him there, he drove to Ahuja’s flat, rang the doorbell, and, when it was opened by a servant, walked to Ahuja’s bed-room, went into the bedroom and shut the door behind him. 

● He also carried with him the envelope containing the revolver. The accused saw the deceased inside the bed-room, called him a filthy swine and asked him whether he would marry Sylvia and look after the children. The deceased retorted, “Am I to marry every woman I sleep with?” The accused became enraged, put the envelope containing the revolver on a cabinet nearby, and threatened to thrash the deceased. 

● The deceased made a sudden move to grasp at the envelope when the accused whipped out his revolver and told him to get back. A struggle ensued between the two and during that struggle two shots went off accidentally and hit Ahuja resulting in his death. After the shooting, the accused went back to his car and drove it to the police station where he surrendered himself. 

● The trial court convicted under S.304 A of IPC and in appeal, the high court convert it into S.302 of IPC.

● So the accuse made an appeal before the SC and at the same time, he made an application to the governor under Art. 161.

ISSUES RAISED 

● Whether SLP(Special leave petition) can be entertained without fulfilling the order under Art. 142?

● Whether the pardoning power of governor and SLP(Special leave petition) can be moved together? 

Answer to issue 1: The SLP was dismissed by the supreme court, by the majority, holding that the appellant’s SLP could not be lisited for hearing unless he surrenders under Art. 142 (as per the judgment of HC). 

Answer to issue 2: The appellant has made SLP and an application of pardoning power to the governor. The governor reduced his sentence. The SC held that SLP and pardoning power cannot operate together both are different. If SLP is filed then the power of the governor in such condition will be ceased. 

● The further court held that the Art.142 and 161 are different in nature. The two Articles are reconcilable and should be reconciled. The rule of statutory coexistence stated that it is sometimes found that the 2 statute conflict, as their objective is different and language of each is restricted to its own object or subject, so they run parallel and never meet. 

SUBJECT: 

Ø Indian Penal Code 

LAW APPLIED

Code of Criminal Procedure(Act, 5 of 1898), 88. 307, 410, 417, 418 (1), 423(2), 297,155 (1), 162 

Indian Penal Code, 1860 (Act 45 of 1860), 88. 302, 300, Exception I 

Indian Evidence Act,1872 (1 of 1872), 8. 105. 

ARGUMENTS IN FAVOUR OF PETITIONER 

● The accused, at the time of the alleged murder, was second in command of the Indian Naval Ship “Mysore”. He married Sylvia in 1949 in the registry office at Portsmouth, England. They have three children by the marriage, a boy aged 9 and 1/2 years, a girl aged 5 and 1/2 years and another boy aged 3 years. Since the time of marriage, the couple was living at different places having regard to the exigencies of service of Nanavati. 

● Finally, they shifted to Bombay. In the same city, the deceased Ahuja was doing business in automobiles and was residing, along with his sister, in a building called “Shreyas” till 1957 and thereafter in another building called “Jivan Jyot” in Setalvad Road. In the year 1956, Agniks, who were common friends of Nanavati’s and Ahujas, introduced Ahuja and his sister to Nanavati’s. 

● Ahuja was unmarried and was about 34 years of age at the time of his death, Nanavati, as a Naval Officer, was frequently going away from Bombay in his ship, leaving his wife and children in Bombay. Gradually, a friendship developed between Ahuja and Sylvia, which culminated in illicit intimacy between them. 

● On April 27, 1959, Sylvia confessed to Nanavati of her illicit intimacy with Ahuja. Enraged at the conduct of Ahuja, Nanavati went to his ship, took from the stores of the ship a semi-automatic revolver and six cartridges on a false pretext, loaded the same, went to the flat of Ahuja entered his bedroom and shot him dead. Thereafter, the accused surrendered himself to the police. He was put under arrest and in due course, he was committed to the Sessions for facing a charge under 302 of the Indian Penal Code. 

ARGUMENTS IN FAVOUR OF DEFENDANT 

As disclosed in the Statement made by the accused before the Sessions Court under s. 342 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and his deposition in the said Court:

● The accused was away with his ship from April 6, 1959, to April 18, 1959. Immediately after returning to Bombay, he and his wife went to Ahmednagar for about three days in the company of his younger brother and his wife. Thereafter, they returned to Bombay and after a few days, his brother and his wife left them. 

● After they had left, the accused noticed that his wife was behaving strangely and was not responsive or affectionate to him. When questioned, she used to evade the issue. At noon on April 27, 1959, when they were sitting in the sitting-room for the lunch to be served, the accused put his arm around his wife affectionately, when she seemed to go tense and unresponsive. After lunch, when he questioned her about her fidelity, she shook her head to indicate that she was unfaithful to him. He guessed that her paramour was Ahuja. 

● As she did not even indicate clearly whether Ahuja would marry her and look after the children, he decided to settle the matter with him. Sylvia pleaded with him not go to Ahuja’s house, as he might shoot him. 

● Thereafter, he drove his wife, two of his children and a neighbor’s child in his car to a cinema, dropped them there and promised to come and pick them up at 6 P.M. when the show ended. He then drove his car to his ship, as he wanted to get medicine for his sick dog, he represented to the authorities in the ship, that he wanted to draw a revolver and six rounds from the stores of the ship as he was going to drive alone to Ahmednagar by night, though the real purpose was to shoot himself. 

● On receiving the revolver and six cartridges, and put it inside a brown envelope. Then he drove his car to Ahuja’s office, and not finding him there, he drove to Ahuja’s flat, rang the doorbell, and, when it was opened by a servant, walked to Ahuja’s bed-room, went into the bedroom and shut the door behind him. He also carried with him the envelope containing the revolver. 

● The accused saw the deceased inside the bed-room, called him a filthy swine and asked him whether he would marry Sylvia and look after the children. The deceased retorted, “Am I to marry every woman I sleep with?” 

● The accused became enraged, put the envelope containing the revolver on a cabinet nearby, and threatened to thrash the deceased. The deceased made a sudden move to grasp at the envelope when the accused whipped out his revolver and told him to get back. A struggle ensued between the two and during that struggle two shots went off accidentally and hit Ahuja resulting in his death. After the shooting the accused went back to his car and drove it to the police station where he surrendered himself. 

Judgment 

Proceedings at Sessions Court +Jury and High Court: 

● The appellant was charged under 302 as well as under s. 304, Part I, of the Indian Penal Code and was tried by the Sessions Judge, Greater Bombay, with the aid of a special jury. The jury brought in a verdict of “not guilty” by 8: 1 under both the sections; but the Sessions Judge did not agree with the verdict of the jury, as in his view the majority verdict of the jury was such that no reasonable body of men could, having regard to the evidence, bring in such a verdict. 

● The learned Sessions Judge submitted the case under 307 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to the Bombay High Court after recording the grounds for his 6 opinion. The said reference was heard by a division bench of the said High Court consisting of Shelat and Naik, JJ. The two learned Judges gave separate judgments but agreed in holding that the accused was guilty of the offence of murder under s. 302 of the Indian Penal Code and sentenced him to undergo rigorous imprisonment for life. 

Shelat, J., having held that there were misdirections to the jury, reviewed the entire evidence and came to the conclusion that the accused was clearly guilty of the offence of murder, alternatively, he expressed the view that the verdict of the jury was perverse, unreasonable and, in any event, contrary to the weight of evidence. 

Naik, J., preferred to base his conclusion on the alternative ground, namely, that no reasonable body of persons could have come to the conclusion arrived at by the jury. Both the learned Judges agreed that no case had been made out to reduce the offence from murder to culpable homicide not amounting to murder. 

Thereafter, the appeal had been preferred against the said conviction and sentence 

PROCEEDINGS AT SUPREME COURT 

Arguments advanced by Defence Counsel: 

Mr. G. S Pathak, learned counsel for the accused, raised the following points: 

● Under 307 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the High Court should decide whether a reference made by a Sessions Judge was competent only on a perusal of the order of reference made to it and it had no jurisdiction to consider the evidence and come to a conclusion whether the reference was competent or not. 

● Under s. 307(3) of the said Code, the High Court had no power to set aside the verdict of a jury on the ground that there were misdirections in the charge made by the Sessions Judge. 

I here was no misdirections at all in the charge made by the Sessions Judge, and indeed his charge was fair to the prosecution as well to the accused. 

The verdict of the jury was not perverse and it was such that a reasonable body of persons could arrive at it on the evidence placed before them. 

In any view, the accused shot at the deceased under grave and sudden provocation, and therefore even if he had committed an offence, it would not be murder but only culpable homicide not amounting to murder. 

OBSERVATIONS OF SUPREME COURT 

● The deceased seduced the wife of the accused. She had confessed to him of her illicit intimacy with the deceased. It was natural that the accused was enraged at the conduct of the deceased and had, therefore, sufficient motive to do away with the deceased. 

● He deliberately secured the revolver on a false pretext from the ship, drove to the flat of Ahuja, entered his bed-room unceremoniously with a loaded revolver in hand and in about a few seconds thereafter came out with the revolver in his hand. 

● The deceased was found dead in his bathroom with bullet injuries on his body. It is not disputed that the bullets that caused injuries to Ahuja emanated from the revolver that was in the hand of the accused. After the shooting, until his trial in the Sessions Court, he did not tell anybody that he shot the deceased by accident. Indeed, he confessed his guilt to the chowkidar Puransingh and practically admitted the same to his colleague Samuel. 

● His description of the struggle in the bathroom is highly artificial and is devoid of all necessary particulars. The injuries found on the body of the deceased are consistent with the intentional shooting and the main injuries are wholly inconsistent with accidental shooting when the victim and the assailant were in close grips. The other circumstances brought out in the evidence also established that there could not have been any fight or struggle between the accused and the deceased. 

The court held that the conduct of the accused clearly shows that the murder was a deliberate and calculated one and the facts of the case do not attract the provisions of Exceptions 1 of Sec 300 of IPC as the accused also failed to bring the case under General Exception of IPC by adducing evidence. As a result, the conviction of the accused under section 302 of IPC and sentenced him to imprisonment for life. 

CASE LAW REFERRED 

● Mancini v. Director of Public Prosecutions,L.R. (1942) A.C. I, 

● Holmes v. Director of Public Prosecutions, L. R. (1946) A.C. 588 Duffy’s case, 

● [1949]1 All. E. R. 932 and R. v. Thomas, 

(1837) 7C. & P. 817, considered

IMPACT 

● Abolition of Jury trials. 

● There was media scrutiny that brought about Nanavati as a victim of foul play, who even in worst hours stood for honour and well being of his family. 

● Nanavati was pardoned by the then Governor Vijay Lakshmi Pandit, after spending 3 years in jail. 

COMMENT 

● According to me, here, the judgment of the Supreme Court is right as the version given by the accused appears to be highly improbable. The story of his keeping the revolver on the cabinet is very unnatural. 

● The jury in the Greater Bombay sessions court pronounced Nanavati as not guilty under section 302 under which Nanavati was charged, with an 8–1 verdict. Mr. Ratilal Bhaichand Mehta (the sessions judge) considered the acquittal as perverse and referred the case to the Bombay High Court. 

● The prosecution argued that the jury had been misled by the presiding judge on four crucial points: 

1. The onus of proving that it was an accident and not premeditated murder was on Nanavati.

2. Was Sylvia’s confession grave provocation for Nanavati, or any specific incident in Ahuja’s bedroom or both? 

3. The judge wrongly told the jury that the provocation can also come from a third person.

4. The jury was not instructed that Nanavati’s defense had to be proved, to the extent that there is no reasonable doubt in the mind of a reasonable person. 

● The weekly tabloid Blitz , owned by R. K. Karanjia, a Parsi himself, publicized the story, published exclusive cover stories and openly supported Nanavati. They portrayed him as a wronged husband and upright officer, betrayed by a close friend. 

● Here, It was claimed that the jury had been influenced by media and was open to being misled, the Government of India abolished jury trials soon after in most cases except for Parsis who still have Jury Trials for their Matrimonial Disputes. 

● The aforementioned judgment was able to grab the attention of the nation owing to the fact that the crime of adultery had given birth to the crime of murder not amounting to culpable homicide. 

● As per the defense case, the accused was thinking of the future of his wife and children which indicates that he had not only regained his senses but also was planning for the future. 

● The time-lapse between the confession and murder was sufficient to regain his self-control. 

● The mere fact that before the shooting the accused abused the deceased and the abuse provoked an equally abusive reply could not conceivably be a provocation for the murder. 

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