The case of K.M. Nanavati v. the State of Maharashtra
is regarded as a
turning point in Indian legal history. As a result of this case, the Government
abolished the jury system in India. That's why this case is also known as the
last jury trial in India. This case simplifies an important concept known as
'Grave and Sudden Provocation.'
Numerous books and films have been inspired by this case. In this case, several
crucial legal issues have been raised, including the general exception plea, the
burden of proof, the sudden provocation test, and the authority of the high
court to determine the suitability of the reference made by the session judge.
Arguments made by the petitioner
- K.M. Nanavati, the accused in this case, was the second in command of an
Indian Naval ship. He married Sylvia in the registry office in Portsmouth,
England in 1949, and they have three children: a boy aged nine and a half
years, a girl aged five and a half years, and another boy aged three years.
Because of the nature of Nanavati's job, the couple has been living in
different places since their marriage. After all, they did eventually
relocate to Bombay.
- Prem Bhagwan Ahuja, a businessman, was living in the same city with his
sister. Ahuja and his sister were introduced to Nanavati in 1956 by Agniks,
who were mutual acquaintances of the Ahuja's and Nanavati's. Ahuja was
unmarried and approximately 34 years old when he died.
- When Nanavati was frequently away from Bombay on official duty for
extended periods of time, his wife Sylvia fell in love with Prem Ahuja and
began illicit relations with him.
- When Nanavati returned from his ship, he attempted to be affectionate to
his wife, but she was unresponsive on several occasions. On 27 April 1959,
Nanavati asked his wife if she had been faithful to him. She simply shook
her head to show that she was not. Sylvia confessed to her husband about her
illicit relationship with Prem Ahuja on same date.
- As a result of this, Nanavati became enraged and decided to settle the
matter with Ahuja. He then drove his car to his ship, where he took a
semi-automatic revolver and six cartridges and placed them in the brown
envelope on the false pretax.
- Then he went to Ahuja's office and when he didn't find him there,
Nanavati went to his house and entered Ahuja's bedroom and shut it from the
inside. Nanavati requested that Ahuja marry Sylvia and care for his
children. "Am I married to every woman I sleep with?" Ahuja responded. Then
a fight breaks out between Ahuja and Nanavati, during which Nanavati shoots
Ahuja. He then turned himself in to a nearby police station. K.M. Nanavati
has been charged.
- The accused, K.M. Nanavati, was initially found not guilty under
Section 302 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 by 8: 1 jury verdict.
- Then the case was referred to the Hon'ble High Court of Bombay by
the Sessions Judge under Section 307 of the Code of Criminal Procedure,
- The accused was found guilty under Section 302 of the Indian Penal
Code by the Hon'ble High Court.
- Finally, an appeal was filed in the Supreme Court.
Arguments made by the respondent:
- The defence put forth by Nanavati's counsel was that Nanavati wanted to
commit suicide after hearing Sylvia's confession, but his wife was able to
talk him out of it. She didn't let him know whether Ahuja wanted to marry
her or not, so he intended to find out. As a result, he drove to his ship
after dropping off his wife and two kids at the movie theatre.
- Nanavati told the officers of the ship that he was going to drive alone
to Ahmednagar by night and needed a revolver and six rounds, but his real
goal was to shoot himself. After receiving them, he put the revolver and six
cartridges inside a brown envelope.
- Then Nanavati drove to Ahuja's office, but when he wasn't there, he
drove to Ahuja's apartment. Ahuja's servant unlocked the flat then Nanavati
entered Ahuja's bedroom and shut the door behind him. The revolver's
envelope was also in his possession.
- When Nanavati entered Ahuja's bedroom, 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 the revolver
and come back.
- There was a fight between Nanavati and Ahuja, 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.
Trial by Jury
- The first point of contention was that Ahuja was still wearing a towel
after just exiting the shower. When his body was found, his towel was still
on it. In the case of a fight, it was quite unlikely that it would have
become loose or fallen off.
- 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
- Anjani, Ahuja's servant who was there at the time of the incident and
was a natural witness, testified that four shots were fired in rapid
succession and that the entire event occurred in less than a minute, ruling
out a scuffle.
- Nanavati left Ahuja's house without alerting his sister Mamie, who was
in another room, that there had been an accident.
- According to the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Nanavati admitted to
shooting Ahuja and even corrected a spelling error in the police record,
proving Nanavati's capacity to think normally.
As the case initially proceeded to session court, and where the jury trial on
this case was taking place. Nanavati was found not guilty by a jury finding of
8:1 under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. However, the Session Judge
was dissatisfied with the jury trial result, viewing it as perverse and
illogical, and referred the matter to the Division Bench of the Bombay High
Court under Section 307 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
Decision of Hon'ble High Court:
The High Court overruled the jury trial's result on the grounds that the
prosecutor's confession, or any specific incident in Ahuja's bedroom, or both,
did not amount to grave and sudden provocation.
Nanavati bore the burden of establishing that it was an accident rather than
The jury was not told that Nanavati's defence had to be proven beyond a
reasonable doubt in the opinion of a reasonable person. And the accused was
found guilty under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code of 1860. The accused
filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of India,
Decision of Hon'ble Supreme Court:
As the Supreme Court pointed out that the wife's confession of adultery was
grave, but Ahuja was not there at the moment the confession was made, so the
element of suddenness of murdering was missing. The Court ruled that a
reasonable man had had ample time to cool down since the provocation because
three hours had passed between the time of confession and the time of the
The Supreme Court concluded that the accused's conviction under Section 302 of
the Indian Penal Code and the High Court's sentence of life imprisonment are
valid, and there are no grounds for interference.
- According to the Hon'ble Supreme Court If the judge disagrees with the
jury's decision, he can refer the case to the High Court under subsection
(1) of Section 307 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.
The following two conditions must be met: (i) The judge must disagree with
the jury's judgment, and (ii) he must believe that the jury's verdict could
not have been reached by a reasonable person. The referral order will be
considered competent if and only if these two conditions are met; otherwise,
it will be ruled ineffective and rejected by the High Court.
- When the High Court rules that the order of reference is competent, it
must carry out the duties outlined in subsection (3) of Section 307 of the
Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. The High Court must consider all evidence,
give fair weight to the judge's and jury's opinions, and ultimately acquit
or condemn the accused under this section. The defendant's skilled counsel
argued that the opposite reading would violate the clause's goal.
- Shelat, J., having held that there were misdirections to the jury,
reviewed the entire evidence and came to the conclusion that the accused was
clearly guilty of the offence of murder, alternatively, he expressed the
view that the verdict of the jury was perverse, unreasonable and, in any
event, contrary to the weight of evidence.
The Court agreed with the High Court's findings regarding the Judge's claim
of misdirection. It stated that the question of whether a misdirection
tainted the jury's decision must be assessed in light of the misdirection's
anticipated influence on the lay jury. The Supreme Court went on to add that
the judge's charge to the jury's aim is to explain and convey to them the
facts and circumstances of the case. The Judge's role is to ensure that the
jury understands the law and its implications, as well as to present all of
the evidence to them in order for them to reach the best possible judgment.
- After evaluating all of the evidence, the Hon'ble Court concluded that
the appellant's actions were inconsistent with his defence that the dead was
shot by mistake. On the other hand, he had the mindset of someone who had
planned and plotted retribution on his wife's lover. He took the handgun and
marched into Ahuja's bedroom with a loaded firearm under a false pretence.
Despite repeated opportunities, he did not tell anyone that he accidentally
shot the deceased until his trial. The injuries discovered on the deceased's
body were consistent with a preplanned gunshot. As a result, the Court came
to the conclusion that no reasonable group of men could have reached the
same determination as the jury based on the evidence.
- The Court concluded after reviewing the case's facts that the
accused/appellant had gained self-control and was also thinking about the
future of his family. He had plenty of time to cool off after his wife told
him she had been unfaithful. His actions were plainly calculated and
purposeful. The case did not fall under the defence of, grave and sudden
provocation and that it was premeditated murder.
- In the second issue, the Supreme Court dismissed the Special Leave
Petition, holding that he cannot claim it unless he surrenders under Article
142 of the Constitution of India.
- The Supreme Court also ruled that the governor's pardon application and
the Special Leave Petition cannot be handled concurrently. If an Special
Leave Petition is filed, the Governor's power will be terminated.
- The Supreme Court ruled that the facts of the case do not fall under
Exception 1. of Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the accused
is guilty of murder under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and
the High Court's judgment of life imprisonment on the accused is correct,
with no grounds for interference. And the Supreme Court dismissed the
One of the most contentious cases handled by the Indian judiciary was the K.M.
Nanavati case. The case received tremendous media coverage from a jury judgment
of not guilty to being found guilty of murder by the Supreme Court, which most
likely had a substantial impact on the jury's decision.
This decision drew national attention due to the fact that the crime of adultery
resulted in murder but did not amount to culpable homicide.