Criminal Appeal No. 1066 of 2010
Date of Order:
August 25, 2022
Appellant- Ram Sharan Chaturvedi
Respondent- State of Madhya Pradesh
The appeal in the present case was challenging an order by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh convicting the appellant by confirming the order of the Additional Sessions Judge of Guna district. Rigorous imprisonment for four years along with a fine of Rs. 500 was also imposed. The Hon’ble Supreme Court analysed charges of conspiracy against the appellant. All three accused had already served their sentences. The Court held that any agreement to commit such offence, which was a necessity for proving charges of conspiracy under Section 120B of IPC was entirely missing. The judgements of Madhya Pradesh High Court and Additional Sessions Judge of Guna district were quashed and the appellant was acquitted of all charges.
a) Whoever is a party to a criminal conspiracy to commit an offence punishable with death, or rigorous imprisonment for a term of two years or upwards, shall, where no express provision is made in this Code for the punishment of such a conspiracy, be punished in the same manner as if he had abetted such offence.
b) Whoever is a party to a criminal conspiracy other than a criminal conspiracy to commit an offence punishable as aforesaid shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding six months, or with fine or with both.
- Section 201 IPC- This Section deals with punishment for causing the disappearance of evidence or giving false information to screen offenders. Whoever does these acts with the intention of protecting the offender, shall be punished according to the terms of punishment for the offence that he had knowledge of.
- In this case, the three accused were employees at the Guna Branch of the Central Bank of India. When the Manager-in-Charge was away another employee was given the additional charge. Though this was a small branch, everyone was aware of a deposit of fifteen lakhs that was made recently. After this transaction was made, on the very next day which was a Saturday, the bank closed and was reopened on Monday, between which the theft was committed.
- On Saturday, the Appellant assisted a customer in using the bank locker, after which he left the bank. On Monday, the staff found the bank registers, currency notes, and several documents in a burnt condition, in the strong room. An amount of six lakhs was missing. The keys to this room were in the possession of the Appellant.
- The appellant along with two others was charged with criminal conspiracy, theft, trespass, mischief by fire, hiding commission of an offence, and destruction of property.
- Whether circumstantial evidence based on statements by witnesses is sufficient grounds for charges of criminal conspiracy.
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY APPELLANT
- It was submitted that the entire money lost was recovered by showing that the accounts kept by the Bank did not reflect any variation in amount. It was submitted that the Trial Court and High Court were wrong in convicting the appellant of theft.
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY RESPONDENT
- The prosecution relied on circumstancial evidence to prove that theft and burning of notes took place in the presence of the accused.
- The appellant was in the exclusive custody of keys to the grill gate, strong room, and safe. Based on the statements of witnesses, it was submitted that the appellant was the custodian of keys and part of the conspiracy.
- The Court was not convinced by the appellant’s arguments that mere recovery of the amount does not negate the possibility of theft taking place. The currency notes recovered bore slips of different banks. However, just because the appellant was in possession of the keys does not make him the offender. Hence the conviction was merely based on charges of conspiracy.
- The court examined the dual lock system of the bank and the appellant’s authority to be in possession of the keys. According to the office manual, the cashier and bank manager were to be in possession of the keys. The purpose of the dual lock system was to prevent a single custodian of keys from entering.
- It was only after the room was tried to be opened by keys in possession of PW-10 that the appellant’s keys were used. The reason as to why the first set of keys did not work was not explained.
- The principal ingredient to charges of conspiracy is the agreement to commit an offence. This should be proven through direct or circumstancial evidence. The prosecution had failed to provide evidence as to such agreement between the appellant and the accused. As there was no physical manifestation of such concurrence, from surrounding circumstances, declarations, or conduct of the appellant, the Court acquitted the appellant of all charges.
On acquitting the appellant of all charges, the Court cautioned against placing mere suspicion as legal proof while charging criminal conspiracy. Physical evidence amounting to an agreement to commit the crime is an essential agreement. The Court held that even if it is an implied agreement it should have a basis on established principles.
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