K.M.NANAVATI V. THE STATE OF MAHARASHTRA
Author: M.Faizunisha, V year of B.A.,LL.B. from Government Law College Vellore
Introduction In the history of the Indian JudiciaryK.M.Nanavati v. The state of Maharashtra case is one of the landmark Judgements. This case was about a naval officer Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati, who was accused under section 302 for the murder of Prem Ahuja, his wife's paramour. An unprecedented media coverage was received by this case. The K.M.Nanavati case is also widely recognized as the last case to be heard as a Jury trial in India. As a result of this case the Government abolished the jury system. This case highlights important legal points such as grave and sudden provocation, the burden of proof and the plea of general exemption. The article analyzes the gripping details of this case. Facts of the case 1. The petitioner K.M.Nanavati was second in command of the Indian naval ship "Mysore". Due to the nature of his service, he shifted to Bombay with his wife Sylvia and their three children. 2. In Bombay they met through Agniks, a common friend of Nanawati and a Businessman named Prem Bhagwan Ahuja and his sister Mamie Ahuja. 3. As a part of his service Nanavati had to go frequently away from bombay for long durations leaving his wife and children behind. 4. In his absence, Sylvia and Prem Ahuja became close friends; they often spent time together later Ahuja became Sylvia's paramour. 5. When Nanavati returned from his ship after April 18, 1959. He tried to be affectionate to his wife on multiple occasions but she was not being responsive. 6. On 27 April 1959, Nanavati came to know about the illicit relationship his wife had. when he asked her whether she is faithful to him she indicatedhim by shaking her head as no. 7. In the heat of agony, Nanavati went to his ship and acquired a stacked pistol and then went to Prem Ahuja's office. 8. After discovering that he was not in the office, at that point he then headed to Ahuja's residence and shot him dead. 9. He then surrendered himself in the police station. 10. The jury with an 8 : 1 verdict declared K.M.Nanavati, the accused, not guilty under section 302. 11. However the Sessions Judge disagreed with the decision of the jury, the learned Sessions Judge submitted the case under Section 307 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 to the Bombay High court.
12. The Hon’bleHigh Court enumeratedthe accused guilty under section 302 of the IndianPenal Code, 1860. 13. Then throughthe SLP, an appeal was made to the Hon'bleSupreme Court , also an application was made to the governor under Article 161. Judgement Analysis The judgment evolved mainly around two issues and the first one was that of the sessions court referringthe matter to the Higher Court owing to the judge’s disagreement with the decisionof the jury.
Evidence was also proved in the form of letters written by Slyvia to Ahuja and Extra Judicial Confessions were taken into account. The jury however, reached the decision of him being found not guilty by majority of 8:1. This became the reason for the Sessions Judge for referring the case to the Hon’ble High Court of Bombay under Section 307 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1893.
Section 307: If in any such case the Judge disagrees with the verdict of the jurors or of a majority of jurors on which any accused person had been tried is clearly of opinion that it is necessary for the ends of justice to submit the case in respect of such accused person to the High Court. He shall submit the case accordingly recording the grounds of his opinion and when the verdict is one of acquittal stating the offence which he considered to have been committed and in such case if the accusedis further chargedunder the provisions such charge as if such verdict had been one of conviction.
On appeal to the High Court, it was contended on behalf of the appellant that under Section 307 of the Code of Criminal Procedure it was incumbent on the High Court to decide the competency of the reference on a perusal of the order of reference by Hon’ble Sessions Court. The fact that it had no jurisdiction to go into the evidence for the purpose that Hon’ble High Court was not empowered by Section 307(3) of the Code to set aside the verdict of the jury on the ground that the jury was wrong and that the verdict was perverse.
It was finally held that the contentions were without substance and the appeal must fail. The words "for the ends of justice" in section 307 indicate that the Judge disagreeing with the verdict must be of the opinion that the verdict was one which no reasonable body of men could reach on the evidence, coupled with the words clearly of the opinion gave the Judge a wide and comprehensive discretion to suit different situations.
Therefore, the Judge disagreed with the verdict and recorded the grounds of his opinion the referencewas competent, irrespective of the questionwhether the Judge was right in differing from the jury or forming such an opinion as to the verdict. There is nothing in Section 307(1) of the Code that lends support to the contention that though the Judge had complied with the necessaryconditions the High Court should reject the reference without going into the evidenceif the reasons given in the order of reference did not sustain the view expressed by the Judge.
Another issue before the appellate court was that of mens rea involved. Where the prosecution said that it was a planned murder, the defense went to contend that it was in the heat of the moment and that two shots went to hit the deceased while both the parties entered into a grave brawl. While the former was contending that the accusedshould be punished under Section 302 of the IndianPenal Code, the latter based its argumentson the exception of grave and sudden provocation as provided in section 300 of the Indian Penal Code.
The prosecution established mens rea by proving that the act of going to the Navy ship, procuring a gun and six cartridges and carrying them all in a brown envelope clearly indicate his intensionto conceal the fact that he was going to murder someone. In addition to this, the accused surrendering himself to the police indicates that he had planned to kill the deceased.
On the other hand, the defense has put forth its contention saying that on getting to know the relationship between his wife and Ahuja, the accusedwent to give him a proposal of marrying his wife to which he got an answer “Do I have to marry every woman that I sleep with” This reply of his, according to defense heated up an argument between two and subsequently the accused shot him in sudden provocation in the heat of the moment. Relying on the principle of presumption that accusedis innocent until proven guilty, the higher judiciary went through thorough examination of the witnesses as per the provisions of the Evidence Act and Code of Criminal Procedure.
Both the parties were given equal and sufficient chance with the Burden of Proof primarily being on the prosecution. In the light of contentions raised, arguments advanced and evidence adduced, On 24 November 1961, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction granted by the High Court and sentenced Nanavati to life imprisonment for culpable homicideamounting to murder.
The landmark judgment was able to grab the attention of the nation and media owing to the fact that the crime of adultery had given a birth to the crime of murder not amounting to culpablehomicide. The accused moreover was a decoratedofficer of IndianNavy and such crime committed by him got accepted by the society owing to the pitiful journalism towards him. The burden of proof upon the prosecution was released by establishing the facts to utmost claritywhich is indeed an essential in the process of adjudication.
Also, referring the case to higher judiciary and jury being incorrect on point of law was something that pointed out amount of corruption in judiciary resultant of which was abolition of jury system in succeeding Criminal procedure. The Supreme Court has thus once again shown that no one is above the law.