Double murder case: SC awards life term to former MP Prabhunath Singh, says state assisted accused

The Supreme Court has awarded life imprisonment to former Lok Sabha MP from Bihar Prabhunath Singh for the killing of two persons on polling day during assembly elections in Saran district in 1995, observing that the state had not prosecuted the case fairly and rather assisted the accused throughout.

On August 18, the apex court convicted Singh in the case, overturning the orders of the trial court and the Patna High Court that had acquitted him.

While sentencing Singh, an apex bench headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul also imposed a total fine of Rs 25 lakh on the RJD leader.

Referring to Section 357 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which deals with the order to pay compensation, the apex court noted that Clause (a) provides for defraying the expenses incurred in the prosecution.

“We are not inclined to grant any such expenses to the state considering the fact that the state in fact did not prosecute the case fairly, rather throughout assisted the accused,” the bench, also comprising justices Abhay S Oka and Vikram Nath, said in its judgement delivered on September 1.

It said considering the conduct of the state and also the amount of trauma and harassment faced by the victim’s family, it is of the view that in addition to the damages awarded under section 357 of CrPC, further compensation be awarded under section 357-A of CrPC.

“The state of Bihar will compensate the legal heirs of the two deceased and the injured if alive otherwise her legal heirs in the like amount of the fine awarded above i.e. Rs 10 lakh each to the legal heirs of the deceased Rajendra Rai and Daroga Rai and Rs five lakhs to the injured Devi or her legal heirs, as the case may be,” it said.

“Considering the facts and circumstances of the case and the findings recorded by us and also taking into consideration the fact that the incident is of the year 1995, almost 28 years old, awarding death sentence would not be appropriate and as such we award imprisonment for life to respondent no.2 (Singh) under section 302 (murder) IPC along with fine of Rs 20 lakh,” the bench said in its September 1 verdict.

The bench, which also sentenced Singh to seven years imprisonment for the offence of attempt to murder along with a fine of Rs five lakh, said both the sentences would run concurrently.

It said a fine of this magnitude has been awarded considering the “shocking facts and circumstances” of the case which were considered in detail and findings were recorded in the August 18 judgment.

The apex court directed the fine awarded to be paid as damages and Rs 10 lakh each be given to the legal heirs of the deceased.

It said the trial court will get a preliminary enquiry conducted with regard to the legal heirs of the two deceased and the amount will be disbursed to them as per law of succession.

The bench said a fine amount of Rs five lakh would be disbursed in the same manner by the trial court to the injured victim, if she is alive, and if not, to her legal heirs.

It said the amount of fine and compensation be deposited with the trial court within two months, failing which the same shall be recovered as arrears of land revenue by the trial court.

While convicting Singh, the apex court had observed that it was dealing with a case which was an “exceptionally painful episode of our criminal justice system”.

The top court had observed there was not even an iota of doubt that Singh was instrumental in making all possible efforts to “wipe out” the evidence against him.

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It had observed the three main stakeholders in a criminal trial — the investigating officer, the public prosecutor and the judiciary — have “utterly failed” to discharge the duties and responsibilities cast upon them.

It had noted that an FIR was registered on March 25, 1995 at Chapra on the statement of Rajendra Rai, who said that he along with eight-nine other villagers was returning after casting their votes when a car pulled over.

It was alleged that Singh, who was then contesting the assembly elections as a candidate of the Bihar People’s Party, was sitting in the car and enquired as to who they had voted for.

The FIR alleged when Rai answered that they had cast their votes in favour of another political party, Singh opened fire from his rifle and injured three people.

The offence of murder under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was added later as two out of the three injured, including Rajendra Rai, died during treatment.

The top court had delivered its August 18 verdict on an appeal challenging the December 2021 judgement of the Patna High Court which had dismissed a revision petition and confirmed the trial court order acquitting the accused in the case.

The apex court had not disturbed the acquittal of other accused in the case, saying their names were not reflected either in the dying declaration of Rajendra Rai or in the statement of his mother, who was a court witness.

Singh is currently lodged in Hazaribagh jail after his conviction in the murder of Janata Dal MLA Ashok Singh at the latter’s residence in the high-security zone of the Bihar capital in 1995.

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