Observing that it was dealing with a case which was an “exceptionally painful episode of our criminal justice system”, the Supreme Court Friday convicted former Lok Sabha MP from Bihar Prabhunath Singh in a 1995 double murder case, overturning the orders of the trial court and the Patna High Court acquitting him.
It is rare, if not unprecedented, for the Supreme Court, which is the top-most appellate court in the country, to convict a person. It usually upholds or rejects the conviction of a person for an offence on appeal.
The apex court, while convicting Singh, a multiple-term former MP from Bihar’s Maharajganj, 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. It said the prosecution machinery, as also the presiding officer of the trial court, were used as a tool of his “highhandedness”.
The case involved the killing of two people on the day of polling for assembly elections in Chapra in Saran district in March 1995.
The top court 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.
A bench headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul convicted Singh, also a former MLA, for the murders of Daroga Rai and Rajendra Rai and for attempting to kill a woman.
The bench, also comprising Justices Abhay S Oka and Vikram Nath, noted that an FIR was registered on March 25, 1995 at Chapra on the statement of Rajendra Rai, who said he along with eight-nine others of his village were returning after casting their votes when a car pull 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.
“Everything was going as per the plan and wish of the main accused Prabhunath Singh, a political leader and a sitting Member of Parliament at the relevant time as he had mustered full support of the administration and the investigating agency; he had influenced and won over almost all the witnesses of fact mentioned in the charge sheet (who were declared hostile)….,” the bench said in its 143-page judgement.
The apex court noted that while relevant formal witnesses, including the investigating officer, were not produced in the trial by the prosecution, the public prosecutor was “supporting the defence” and the presiding officers were “completely insensitive towards their pious duty”.
The court delivered its 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.
“In the case with which we are dealing, there is no iota of doubt that the accused-respondent no.2 (Singh) was instrumental in making all possible efforts to wipe out the evidence against him and the prosecution machinery as also the presiding officer of the trial court, if we may say so, was used as a tool of his highhandedness,” the bench said.
“In the present case, the FIR, being a public document and a dying declaration of the informant, is the foundation of the entire prosecution case. However, in the present matter, we have to find out the ‘evidence of those persons who can vouchsafe for the truth of the facts in issue,” the bench said.
It said, “We have noticed that the three main stakeholders in a criminal trial, namely the investigating officer that is the part of the police of the state of Bihar, the public prosecutor, and the judiciary, have all utterly failed to keep up their respective duties and responsibilities cast upon them”.
The bench said the trial court and the high court had miserably failed to notice the sensitivity and intricacies of the case and both the courts “completely shut their eyes” to the manner of the investigation, the prosecutor’s role and the highhandedness of the accused, as also the conduct of the presiding officer of the trial court.
“Accused-respondent no.2 (Singh) is thus convicted under sections 302 and 307 IPC for the murders of Daroga Rai and Rajendra Rai and also for attempt to murder of injured Devi,” the bench said.
It directed the Secretary, Department of Home, Bihar and the Director General of Police of the state to ensure that Singh is taken into custody forthwith and produced before the apex court to be heard on the question of sentence.
“Let the matter be listed again on September 1, 2023. On the said date, accused Prabhunath Singh (respondent no. 2) be produced before this court in custody for the aforesaid purpose,” it said.
The apex court did not disturb 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.