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K.M. Nanavati v/s State of Maharashtra (1961)

This is a Landmark case in the criminal history of India as the case was held in 1959 by the Supreme Court of India where a Naval commander Kawas Mankeshaw Nanavati was accused of Murder of Prem Ahuja (his wife's paramour). And the judgement of this case was passed on 24th November 1961 but it is still fresh in the minds of people.

This case inspired several books and movies. There are some important legal points raised in this case such as plea of general exception, the burden of proof, sudden provocation test, power of high court in deciding the competence of reference made by Session Judge. Also, this case was the last case to be Judge by Jury Trail in India.

Petitioner: K.M. Nanavati v/s Respondant: State Of Maharashtra
Citation: Air 1962 Sc 605 - Date Of Judgment: 24 November, 1961
Bench: K. Subbarao, S.K. Das, Raghubar Dayal - Name Of Court: Supreme Court Of India

Laws And Acts Applied In The Case: Indian Penal Code,1860, Indian Evidence Act,1872, And Code Of Criminal Procedure,1898.

In this case accused K.M. Nanavati was second in command of Indian Naval ship. He married Sylvia in 1949 in the registry office at Portsmouth, England they have 3 children by the marriage a boy aged nine and half years, a girl of 5 and half years and another boy aged 3 year. Since the time of marriage, the couple was living at different places because of the nature of the job of Nanavati. Afterall, they finally shifted to Bombay.

Where they met Prem Ahuja and his sister through the Agniks the common friend of Ahuja's and Nanavati. As a Naval officer Nanavati was frequently going away from Bombay in his ship leaving his wife and children behind. In his absence of friendship developed between Sylvia and Ahuja which later on took the form of illicit relationship. On 18 April 1959 Nanavati returned from his ship. After returning he on several occasions tried to affectionate with his wife but she was behaving strangely to him.

On 27th April,1959 Sylvia tell Nanavati about her relationship with Ahuja. Due to this Nanavati angered and decided to settle that Matter with Ahuja. After this he drove his car to his ship and from there, he took a semi-Automatic revolver and six cartridges and put them in the brown envelope on the false pretax.

Then he went to Ahuja's Office, not finding him there Nanavati went to his house and he entered into the bedroom of Ahuja and shut it from inside. Nanavati asked Ahuja that he would marry sylvia and care after his children. Ahuja replied "Am I marry to every woman I sleep with?" Then a fight occurs between Ahuja and Nanavati, in this Nanavati shot Ahuja. After this he surrendered himself to nearby police station. Case was filed against K.M. Nanavati.

  1. Whether the accused shot Ahuja in grave and sudden provocation or whether it was a premediated murder?
  2. Whether SLP can be entertained without fulfilling the order under Article 142? 3. Whether the pardoning power of governor and SLP move together?

Petitioner's Argument
The argument made from petitioner's side is that when Nanavati heard about his wife's relationship with Ahuja, he wanted to commit suicide, but sylvia claimed she could clam him down. As sylvia did not mentioned that whether Ahuja would marry her or not and he plans to find out. So, he wanted to take medicine for his sick dog, and he left his wife and two of his children and one neighbor's child to cinema as well as promised to pick up them when show would end.

After this he went to his ship and told the ship authorities that he wanted to pull revolvers and six bullets from the stores of spacecrafts when driving alone to Ahmed Nagar at night. After receiving revolver and six cartridges, he put them in brown envelope. He drove his car to Ahuja's office but could not find him there. He drove his car to Ahuja's residence where the door opened by the Ahuja's servant and Nanavati walked into Ahuja's bedroom.

Where he carried the envelop with a revolver and he saw that Ahuja calling him dirty pig in the bedroom, he asked him that He would marry sylvia and take care of his children. Ahuja replied that "Am I marry to every woman I sleep with?" The accused angered and threatened to kill the deceased by putting envelope and a revolver in a nearby cabinet. The deceased suddenly took the action, and snatched the envelope, the accused said to take out therevolver and come back.

There was a fight between the two, and in that fight, two shots accidentally fell and killed Ahuja. After that shooting, the defendant returned to his car and went to the nearby police station to surrender. Therefore, the accusations against the dead were made with serious and sudden provocations, so even if you committed a crime it was not a murder, but a culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

Respondent's Argument
The first argument made by respondent's lawyer is that Ahuja came out of the shower with a towel. When his body found in his bedroom then his towel was still intact. It does not come loose or fall from deceased body, and is extremely rare when a fight occurs. Also, after sylvia's confession, the accused calmed them down and gather his family, brought them to cinema, left them to cinema and then went to his store to take the revolver. This shows that he has enough time to calm down, the provocation is not serious or sudden, and that Nanavati planned the murder.

Also, according to Ahuja's servant, Anjani, who was at Ahuja's home at the time of incident and he was a natural witness, a total of four shots were made in succession, and the and entire incident took less than a minute, excluding attacks. Nanavati came out of Ahuja's room and did not explain to his sister Mamie that his sister was in another room in the flat. The deputy director also testified that Nanavati did not feel confused by acknowledging that Nanavati had shot Ahuja and even correcting the spelling of his name in the police records.

Jury Trial

As the case first went to session court and where the jury trial was going on this case. In jury trial Nanavati was held not guilty with the verdict of 8:1under section 304 of Indian Penal Code,1860. But the Session Judge was not satisfied with the decision of jury trail and considered that decision as perverse and unreasonable and referred this case to Division Bench of Bombay High Court under Section 307 of the Code of Criminal procedure.

Verdict Of High Court
The High Court dismissed the verdict of the jury trial on the basis of following arguments made by the prosecutor
  1. Sylvia's confession, or any specific incident in Ahuja's bedroom, or both did not amount to grave and sudden provocation.
  2. The onus of proving that it was an accident and not premediated murder was on Nanavati.
  3. The jury was not instructed that Nanavati's defence had to be proved, to the extent that there is no reasonable doubt in the mind of a reasonable person. And the accused was held liable under sec.302 of Indian Penal Code,1860. An Appeal was made by the accused under the supreme court of India and here is the verdict of Supreme Court.

Verdict Of Supreme Court
Supreme court said that bearing the principles in mind, we have to look into the facts of this case i.e.
  1. As per the defence case, the accused was thinking of future of his wife and children, it implies that he had regained his senses.
  2. The time lapse between the confession and murder was sufficient to regain his self control.
  3. The mere fact that before the shooting the accused abused the deceased and abuse provoked an equally abusive reply could not conceivably be a provocation for murder.
  4. The Supreme Court in second issue dismissed the SLP stating that he cannot claim it unless he surrenders under Article 142.
  5. Supreme Court also held that the application made to the governor for pardon and the SLP cannot proceed parallelly. If SLP is filed, then power of governor in such case shall be ceased.
  6. Supreme court held that the facts of the case don't attract the provisions of Exception sec. 300 of the Indian Penal Court. And the accused is guilty for the murder under Sec.302 of the Indian Penal Code and sentence of life imprisonment on accused passed by High Court is correct and also, held that there are no grounds for interference. And the Appeal was dismissed by Supreme Court.

This judgment created nationwide attention owning to the fact that the crime of adultery had resulted into murder not amounting to culpable homicide. The was also a high rank officer of the Navy and owning to this fact and pitiful coverage by media, such crime was socially accepted.

The burden of proof upon the prosecution was released by establishing the facts to utmost clarity. Also, referring the case to higher judiciary and jury being erroneous on point of law was something that pointed out amount of corruption in judiciary which resulted in abolition of jury system in succeeding Criminal Procedure Amendment in 1973.

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