It has been consistently laid down by Supreme Court that where a case rests squarely on circumstantial evidence, the inference of guilt can be justified only when all the incriminating facts and circumstances are found to be incompatible with the innocence of the accused or the guilt of any other person. (See Hukam Singh v. State of Rajasthan (AIR 1977 SC 1063); Eradu and Ors. v. State of Hyderabad (AIR 1956 SC 316); Earabhadrappa v. State of Karnataka (AIR 1983 SC 446); State of U.P. v. Sukhbasi and Ors. (AIR 1985 SC 1224); Balwinder Singh v. State of Punjab (AIR 1987 SC 350); Ashok Kumar Chatterjee v. State of M.P. (AIR 1989 SC 1890). The circumstances from which an inference as to the guilt of the accused is drawn have to be proved beyond reasonable doubt and have to be shown to be closely connected with the principal fact sought to be inferred from those circumstances. In Bhagat Ram v. State of Punjab (AIR 1954 SC 621), it was laid down that where the case depends upon the conclusion drawn from circumstances the cumulative effect of the circumstances must be such as to negative the innocence of the accused and bring the offences home beyond any reasonable doubt.
We may also make a reference to a decision of Supreme Court in C. Chenga Reddy and Ors. v. State of A.P. (1996) 10 SCC 193, wherein it has been observed thus:
“In a case based on circumstantial evidence, the settled law is that the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is drawn should be fully proved and such circumstances must be conclusive in nature. Moreover, all the circumstances should be complete and there should be no gap left in the chain of evidence. Further the proved circumstances must be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused and totally inconsistent with his innocence….”.
In Padala Veera Reddy v. State of A.P. and Ors. (AIR 1990 SC 79), it was laid down that when a case rests upon circumstantial evidence, such evidence must satisfy the following tests:
(1) the circumstances from which an inference of guilt is sought to be drawn, must be cogently and firmly established;
(2) those circumstances should be of a definite tendency unerringly pointing towards guilt of the accused;
(3) the circumstances, taken cumulatively should form a chain so complete that there is no escape from the conclusion that within all human probability the crime was committed by the accused and none else; and
(4) the circumstantial evidence in order to sustain conviction must be complete and incapable of explanation of any other hypothesis than that of the guilt of the accused and such evidence should not only be consistent with the guilt of the accused but should be inconsistent with his innocence.
In State of U.P. v. Ashok Kumar Srivastava, (AIR 1992 SC 840), it was pointed out that great care must be taken in evaluating circumstantial evidence and if the evidence relied on is reasonably capable of two inferences, the one in favour of the accused must be accepted. It was also pointed out that the circumstances relied upon must be found to have been fully established and the cumulative effect of all the facts so established must be consistent only with the hypothesis of guilt.
Sir Alfred Wills in his admirable book “Wills’ Circumstantial Evidence” (Chapter VI) lays down the following rules specially to be observed in the case of circumstantial evidence:
(1) the facts alleged as the basis of any legal inference must be clearly proved and beyond reasonable doubt connected with the factum probandum;
(2) the burden of proof is always on the party who asserts the existence of any fact, which infers legal accountability;
(3) in all cases, whether of direct or circumstantial evidence the best evidence must be adduced which the nature of the case admits;
(4) in order to justify the inference of guilt, the inculpatory facts must be incompatible with the innocence of the accused and incapable of explanation, upon any other reasonable hypothesis than that of his guilt,
(5) if there be any reasonable doubt of the guilt of the accused, he is entitled as of right to be acquitted”.
There is no doubt that conviction can be based solely on circumstantial evidence but it should be tested by the touch-stone of law relating to circumstantial evidence laid down by Supreme Court as far back as in 1952.
In Hanumant Govind Nargundkar and Anr. v. State of Madhya Pradesh, (AIR 1952 SC 343), wherein it was observed thus:
“It is well to remember that in cases where the evidence is of a circumstantial nature, the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn should be in the first instance be fully established and all the facts so established should be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused. Again, the circumstances should be of a conclusive nature and tendency and they should be such as to exclude every hypothesis but the one proposed to be proved. In other words, there must be a chain of evidence so far complete as not to leave any reasonable ground for a conclusion consistent with the innocence of the accused and it must be such as to show that within all human probability the act must have been done by the accused.”
A reference may be made to a later decision in Sharad Birdhichand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra, (AIR 1984 SC 1622). Therein, while dealing with circumstantial evidence, it has been held that onus was on the prosecution to prove that the chain is complete and the infirmity of lacuna in prosecution cannot be cured by false defence or plea. The conditions precedent in the words of Supreme Court, before conviction could be based on circumstantial evidence, must be fully established. They are:
(1) the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn should be fully established. The circumstances concerned must or should and not may be established;
(2) the facts so established should be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused, that is to say, they should not be explainable on any other hypothesis except that the accused is guilty;
(3) the circumstances should be of a conclusive nature and tendency;
(4) they should exclude every possible hypothesis except the one to be proved; and
(5) there must be a chain of evidence so compete as not to leave any reasonable ground for the conclusion consistent with the innocence of the accused and must show that in all human probability the act must have been done by the accused.
Examination of Circumstances in State of U.P. v. Ashok Kumar Srivastava, (AIR 1992 SC 840) : An evaluation
The circumstances relied upon by the prosecution and accepted by the courts below against the appellant are:
(i) that work of clearance of Juliflora jungle and uprooting of stumps was falsely allotted and without any work being done a cheque for Rs.15643/- was given to the contractor which was encashed by him;
(ii) that there has been flagrant violations of provisions of PWD Codes etc. in the matter of preparation of estimate; accord of sanction; drawing up of the agreement and allotment of work on nomination basis to the appellant;
(iii) that in the measurement book the area where work had been done was recorded by the officials in excess to help the appellant, without having actually visited the site;
(iv) that the allotment of work by nomination was irregular and in violation of codal rules. Major work had been split up so as to bring up the allotment of work within the pecuniary jurisdiction of the Executive Engineers;
(v) the terms of the agreement Ex. P5 concluded between A1 and A4 are ambiguous;
(vi) preparation of bill and making of separate payment for removal of stumps and clearance of jungle was in breach of the codal provisions.
Strictly speaking the above cannot be called “circumstances” against the appellant as the same are more in the nature of “allegations” of the prosecution against the accused. Even otherwise, so far as circumstances 2 to 6 (supra) are concerned, they concern the officials of the department, and may be relevant in the case of the appellant, if the charge of conspiracy can be said to have been established. The charge of conspiracy against the accused was that without any work being done by him, payment was made to him and various documents fabricated to justify the payment, which was misappropriated. Circumstances 1 and 3 derive their colour and content from the aforesaid circumstances.
In appreciating the Supreme court observed therein :
The circumstance relied upon must be found to have been fully established and the cumulative effect of all the facts so established must be consistent only with the hypothesis of guilt But this is not to say that the prosecution must meet any and every hypothesis put forward by the accused however far-fetched and fanciful it might be. Nor does it mean that prosecution vidence must be rejected on the slightest loubt because the law permits rejection if the doubt is reasonable and not otherwise. We are also conscious of the fact that the presumption of innocence is strengthened, certainly not weakened, by their acquittal by the High Court and ordinarily this Court is slow to interfere with an order of acquittal in exercise of its extraordinary powers under S. 136 of the Constitution. However, in the present case the facts found proved as discussed earlier are (i) the accused were unhappy about the cash and articles given by way of dowry at the time of the ‘tilak’ ceremony, (ii) the accused tatinted, tormented and tortured Meera for the insufficiency of the dowry amount, (iii) a few days before the incident while at Banaras there was a heated argument and then Ashok returned to Lucknow without Meera, (iv) Meera entreated her father-in-law to permit her to join Ashok but the latter refused saying she will have to rot at Banaras alone unless the dowry amount was made good, (v) ignoring her father-in-law’s refusal Meera went to Lucknow, (vi) the two accused Rajendra Lal and Sudha followed her to Lucknow, (vii) while at Lucknow all the three illtreated her, (viii) Meera was found on fire at about 2.30 or 2.45 a.m., (ix) while she was burning the three accused who alone were inside came out of the room and stood in the verandah chit-chatting unconcerned about her plight, (x) none of them tried to help Meeral (xi) soon after that the house was locked and the accused could not be found, (xii) while the two accused were apprehended on the 23rd Ashok could not be traced till he surrendered on 5th September, 1974, and (xiii) false explanation or statements were made to explain away their conduct.