K M NANAVATI V. STATE OF MAHARASHTRA

Citation: AIR 1962 SC 605.

Date of Judgement: 24th November 1961

Bench: K. Subbarao, SK Das, Raghubar Dayal


Name of the parties

Petitioner: K M Nanavati

Respondent: State of Maharashtra


Introduction

K M Nanavati v. The State of Maharashtra is one of the landmark cases in the Indian history of criminal cases.

This particular case got unparalleled attention from the media as the case involved a high-ranked Navy officer who was alleged or murdering his wife’s paramour. This case came into the spotlight because of the involvement of the public due to its extraordinary publicity and because it was the last known case to have a jury trial as after this the jury trials were abolished.


Laws applied

Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) (Act 5 of 1898) 88, 307, 410, 417, 418(1), 423(2), 297, 155(1), 162

Indian Penal Code, 1860 (Act 45 of 1860) 88, 303, 300, Exception I

Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (1 of 1872) 8, 105


Facts of the case

● Kevas Manekshaw Nanavati, second in command of the Indian Naval Ship Mysore, shifted to Bombay in March 1959 with his wife, Sylvia, and three children.

● In 1956, they were introduced to Prem Bhagwan Ahuja and his wife who used to reside in the same city through a common acquaintance, Agniks.

● Due to the nature of his job, Nanavati used to stay away from home for long durations during this time Sylvia, his wife, got into illicit relationships with Prem Ahuja.

● Upon his return, Nanavati tried to be affectionate to his wife to which she was non-responsive.

● On 27 April 1959, he confronted his wife and she confessed about her relationship with Prem Ahuja.

● In the heat of agony, he went to the ship to procure a loaded revolver and then went to Prem Ahuja’s office but he was not there.


● Then he drove to Prem Ahuja’s residence and shot him dead.

● K.M. Nanavati was declared not guilty by the Jury with an 8:1 verdict under Section 302.

● The case was then referred to the Hon’ble High Court of Bombay under Section 307 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

● The bench of the High Court declared the accused guilty under Section 302 of IPC.

● The accused finally made an appeal to the Hon’ble Supreme Court.


Issue of the case

1. Whether Nanavati shot Prem Ahuja in “the heat of the moment” or it was a premeditated move?

2. Whether the SLP (Special Leave Petition) can be entertained without fulfilling the order under Article 142 of the Constitution? Whether the SLP and the pardon power of the governor be used together?


Judgment

High Court’s Judgement

● The division bench of the High Court, consisting of Shelat and Naik, JJ., heard the case.

● The court said that the onus was on Nanavati to prove that the death occurred in the heat of the moment and was not a premeditated murder.

● It was found that the jury was misled and the jury’s findings were perverse and irrational. No reasonable group of people could have reached that conclusion in light of the weight of evidence.

● Both the judges agreed with the prosecution’s argument that Nanavati was guilty of premeditated murder under Section 302 of the IPC and is sentenced to life imprisonment.

● The accused then appealed to the Supreme Court.


Supreme Court’s Judgement

● On the first issue, the Supreme Court upheld the judgement of the Bombay High court that Nanavati was guilty under Section 302 of the IPC & sentenced him to life imprisonment.

● The Supreme Court referred to the facts of the case which made the basis of its decision.

● There was sufficient time lapse between confession to the illicit relationship by Sylvia and the murder of Prem Ahuja. This was sufficient to regain self-control.

● Nanavati was thinking of the future of his wife and children as he asked Ahuja if he was ready to marry Sylvia and take responsibility for his three children, this implies that he had regained his senses.

● The bare fact that before shooting, Nanavati abused Ahuja which provoked an equally abusive reply could not be considered as a provocation for murder.

● The Supreme Court on the second issue held that the SLP can only be claimed if Nanavati surrenders under Article 142.

● It was also held by the court that the SLP and pardon power of the governor cannot be clubbed together.

● If SLP is filed, then the power of the governor to grant a pardon will cease to exist.


Conclusion

Nanavati was pardoned by Governor Vijay Laxmi Pandit after spending three years in jail. The case of K.M. Nanavati got nationwide attention and was one of the most contentious matters dealt with by the Indian judiciary. The constant media coverage did influence the verdict of the jury. But the penal rules are strictly interpreted by the court. A crime’s punishment should be in accordance with the intensity of the crime committed. The Court’s decision was not based on the man’s honour but on the nature of the offence committed by him. This case came to be known as the last case to be heard by jury trial in India as it was not possible to believe the judgement of the jury after this case.



This article is written by Jaanvi Garg of The University of Manchester.

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