Minor contradictions cannot be a ground to discredit the testimony of the witnesses: Supreme Court

ON Friday, a Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice of India, N.V.Ramana and Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli, in two connected Criminal Appeals of Anuj Singh @ Ramanuj Singh @ Seth Singh vs. The State of Bihar with Manoj Singh vs. The State of Bihar,  held that prosecution witnesses cannot be discredited on account of minor contradictions or omissions in their testimonies.   Justice Krishna Murari authored the judgment.

The Court, in this case, was hearing the Criminal Appeals against the judgment of Patna’s High Court that modified the judgment of the Trial Court and sentenced the appellants to undergo two years of rigorous imprisonment with a fine of five thousand rupees and three months imprisonment in case of default under section 324 (voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means) of the IPC, and three years of rigorous imprisonment under section 27 (punishment for using arms, etc.) of the Arms Act. The Trial Court had previously convicted the appellants under section 307 (attempt to murder) of the IPC read with section 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) and section 27 of the Arms Act.

In the instant case,  the appellant, Manoj Singh, and the informant – both neighbours – got involved in a dispute,  when the informant was repairing the kaccha mud wall on the land, which he claimed, belonged to him.  When the informant refused to stop the repair work, as urged by Manoj Singh, the appellants allegedly returned armed with guns and fired shots.  The bullet shot fired by  Manoj Singh hit the informant’s left leg, and the one fired by  Anuj Singh struck the informant’s hand.  The incident happened in October 1999, under the jurisdiction of the Police Station, Lakhi Sarai, Bihar.    The trial court convicted the appellants in 2006 while the Patna High Court passed the judgment in January 2018.

It was the contention of the Senior Counsel appearing for the appellants, Anjana Prakash, that the contradictions in the statement of the prosecution witnesses “…cast a serious shadow of doubt on the genuineness of the prosecution story and, thus, the appellants have been wrongly convicted…”   Anjana Prakash vehemently submitted that though the conviction is under Section 27 of the Arms Act but there is no material available on record to indicate recovery of any  gun or any seizure memo showing recovery of any bullet or pellets from the spot. She also pointed out that even though the fardbeyan was recorded on October 10, 1999 and First Information Report was registered on the same day but the same was sent to the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate on October 12, 1999 and in the absence of any explanation for delayed submission of FIR, the whole prosecution story became doubtful.

The Supreme Court found that there are minor contradictions with respect to the time of the occurrence or injuries attributed on hand or foot but the constant narrative of the witnesses is that the appellants were present at the place of occurrence armed with guns and they caused the injury on informant PW-6.

In paragraph 17, the Court relied on the observation made in the case of Narayan Chetanram Chaudhary & Anr. vs. State of Maharashtra, that only contradiction in material particulars, and not minor contradictions, can be a ground to discredit the testimony of the witnesses.

On the importance of medical evidence and its corroborative value, the Court, in paragraph 19, stated, “the evidentiary value of a medical witness is very crucial to corroborate the case of prosecution and it is not merely a check upon testimony of eyewitnesses, it is also independent testimony, because it may establish certain facts, quite apart from the oral evidence”. It relied the testimony of Dr. Himkar, a prosecution witness, that all the injuries on the informant were on account of firearms.

The court, thus, observed that the evidence of the prosecution stands corroborated with regard to the hurt on the body of the informant, as well as the previous enmity between the parties due to land dispute. Confirming the conviction of the appellants under section 324 of the IPC and section 27 of the Arms Act, it observed, “once the charge against the appellants under Section 324 IPC of voluntarily causing injuries by firearms, which is a dangerous weapon stands established, they cannot escape the punishment for using arms prescribed by Section 27 of the Arms Act”.

Click here to view the Supreme Court’s judgment.