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When incident stood concluded within few minutes, exact version of incident revealing minute detail cannot be given by eyewitnesses: Supreme Court

The SC on July 23, 2021 {Lakshman Singh vs. State of Bihar (now Jharkhand)} held that  “the evidence of injured witnesses has greater evidentiary value and unless compelling reasons exist, their statements are not to be discarded lightly”. It was further observed that “minor discrepancies do not corrode the credibility of an otherwise acceptable evidence”. It was further observed that “mere non-mention of the name of an eyewitness does not render the prosecution version fragile”.

It was held by the Bench, comprising of Justice Dr. Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud  & Justice M.R. Shah that “in cases where there are large number of assailants, it can be difficult for witnesses to identify each assailant and attribute specific role to him”. It was further observed that “when incident stood concluded within few minutes, it is natural that exact version of incident revealing every minute detail, i.e., meticulous exactitude of individual acts, cannot be given by eyewitnesses”. It was further observed that “where witness to occurrence was himself injured in the incident, testimony of such witness is generally considered to be very reliable, as he is a witness that comes with an inbuilt guarantee of his presence at the scene of crime and is unlikely to spare his actual assailant(s) in order to falsely implicate someone”. It was further observed that “thus, deposition of injured witness should be relied upon unless there are strong grounds for rejection of his evidence on basis of major contradictions and discrepancies therein”.

It was also held by the SC that production of an injury report for the offence under Section 323 IPC is not a sine qua non for establishing the case for the offence under Section 323 IPC. It was held that Section 323 IPC is a punishable section for voluntarily causing hurt. It was held that “Hurt” is defined under Section 319 IPC and as per Section 319 IPC, whoever causes bodily pain, disease or infirmity to any person is said to cause “hurt”. Therefore, it was held that even causing bodily pain can be said to be causing “hurt”. 

Thus, it was held that once the unlawful assembly is established in prosecution of the common object, i.e., in the present case, “to snatch the voters list and to cast bogus voting”, each member of the unlawful assembly is guilty of the offence of rioting. It was held that the use of the force, even though it be the slightest possible character by any one member of the assembly, once established as unlawful constitutes rioting. It was held that it is not necessary that force or violence must be by all but the liability accrues to all the members of the unlawful assembly. It was held that as rightly submitted by the learned counsel appearing on behalf of the State, some may encourage by words, others by signs while others may actually cause hurt and yet all the members of the unlawful assembly would be equally guilty of rioting.

In view of the above, the SC held that the appellants were rightly convicted under Sections 323 and 147 IPC and sentenced to undergo six months simple imprisonment only for the said offences. 

However, it was observed by the Supreme Court that freedom of voting is a part of the freedom of expression. It was further observed that secrecy of casting vote is necessary for strengthening democracy. It was observed that democracy and free elections are a part of the basic structure of the Constitution.Therefore, it was held that any attempt of booth capturing and/or bogus voting should be dealt with iron hands because it ultimately affects the rule of law and democracy. It was held that nobody can be permitted to dilute the right to free and fair election. However, it was held that as the State has not preferred any appeal against imposing of only six months simple imprisonment, the SC rested the matter there.

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