New Delhi: Holding that minor variations in prosecution`s story cannot entitle the accused to acquittal, the Supreme Court has upheld the life term awarded to eight West Bengal natives for strangulating a man and chopping his body into pieces for not meeting their extortion demand.
A bench of Justices AK Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar also held that test identification parade (TIP) is not mandatory though it may help the investigating agency in corroborating the circumstantial and other material evidence and nailing the accused.
A trial court had awarded death penalty to Panchanan Tarafdar alias Chotka, Uttam Das, Manoranjan Debnath alias Behari, Dipak Das alias Mou, Bishu Saha alias Chor Bishu, Satyajit Das alias Sadhu, Ganesh Das and Shyamal Ghosh but the Calcutta High Court had commuted it to life term after which they had come to the apex court in appeal.
According to the prosecution, Archideb Bhattacharjee was strangulated and his body cut into several pieces at Patulia Barabagan, Barrakpore-Dum Dum Highway on September 29, 2003, after he expressed his inability to pay them Rs 40,000 on their extortion call.
The convicts argued they were convicted despite several variations in the prosecution`s claim including the witnesses` failure to identify Shyamal Ghosh, one of the convicts during TIP.
"Every variation may not be enough to adversely affect the case of the prosecution. Firstly, these witnesses are rickshaw pullers or illiterate or not highly educated persons whose statements had been recorded by the Police.
"Their statements in the Court were recorded after more than two years from the date of the incident. It will be unreasonable to attach motive to the witnesses or term the variations of 15-20 minutes in the timing of a particular event, as a material contradiction," Justice Swatanter Kumar said, writing the judgement for the bench.
The apex court rejected main appellant Shyamal Ghosh`s argument that the witnesses had not identified him in the TIP.
"The whole idea of a TIP is that witnesses who claim to have seen the culprits at the time of occurrence are to identify them from the midst of other persons without any aid or any other source. The test is done to check upon their veracity.
"It is equally correct that the CrPC does not oblige the investigating agency to necessarily hold the TIP. Failure to hold the TIP while in police custody, does not by itself render the evidence of identification in court inadmissible or unacceptable," the bench said.
The apex court also rejected the plea of the convicts that the prosecution`s claim cannot be believed as the family had not lodged any complaint of extortion although they were charged with visiting the house of the deceased a number of times prior to the murder.
"The fact that they did not inform the police while lodging the missing diary report about the illegal demand for money by the accused persons and that the accused had also threatened the deceased with dire consequences, is not a material omission.
"All the family members must have been under great mental stress as their husband/brother had not returned home," the bench added while upholding their conviction and lift term.