Name of the case: K. M. Nanavati v State of Maharashtra
Citation: AIR 1962 SC 605
Date of Judgment: 24 November 1961
Parties Involved: K.M. Nanavati (Petitioner) AND State of Maharashtra (Respondent)
Bench: K.Subbarao, S. K. Das, Raghubar Dayal
Laws and Acts Applied in the Case: Indian Penal Code, 1860 (sections 88, 300 part I, 302), Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, and Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
K.M. Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra was a landmark case in the criminal history of the Indian judiciary, where K.M. Nanavati, who was a naval commander, was tried for the murder of Prem Ahuja, his wife's lover. This incident received unparalleled media coverage and also spurred several books and movies. Nanavati was initially found not guilty, but the verdict was thrown out by the Bombay High Court and the case was retried as a bench trial. This case was the last to be heard as a jury trial in India as the government abolished jury trials after this case.
Brief facts of the case
Appellant K. M. Nanavati was a naval commander on the Indian naval ship "Mysore". He married a woman named Sylvia and also had three children with her. Nanavati and her family had lived in many different places before moving to Bombay, in terms of the nature of their service. They were first introduced to the late Prem Ahuja through mutual friends in Bombay.
Nanavati had to leave Bombay regularly for his service, leaving behind his wife and children. In his absence, a friendship developed between Sylvia and Prem Ahuja and later their relationship went beyond friendship as it took the form of an illicit relationship.
When Nanavati returned from his ship after April 18, 1959, he tried to adorn himself with his wife, but his wife did not respond. On April 27, 1959, he was once again met with no reply. But this time Nanavati asked his wife if she had been loyal to him. She shook her head to indicate that she was not faithful to him. He assumed that she was in a relationship with Prem Ahuja and decided to settle the matter with him.
First of all, Nanavati took his wife with their children to the movies. After this he went to his ship and took from there the revolver and six round bullets. He put all this in the brown envelope and went to Ahuja's office. When he couldn't find him there , he went to his flat. After receiving confirmation from Ahuja's servant for his presence, he went to Ahuja's room with a brown envelope containing the revolver.
Nanavati closes the bedroom door behind him and asks about his intentions for his wife and children. Failing to get the honorable and desired response, he was accused of shooting Ahuja which resulted in his death. From there, Nanavati arrived at the nearby police station to confess his crime.
Nanavati was found not guilty by a jury verdict of 8:1. However, the trial judge disagreed with the jury's decision and felt that no reasonable group of men could reach that verdict based on the evidence presented. This matter was referred to the Division Bench and Nanavati was found to be the culprit.
Whether the High Court had jurisdiction under section 307 of the CrPC to investigate the facts to determine eligibility for referral to the Court of Session?
Whether the court had the power to quash the jury’s decision on the charge of misdirection under section 307(3) of CrPc ?
Whether there was any misdirection in the charge ?
Whether the jury's decision such that a group of reasonable men could be reached on the basis of the facts which were presented to them?
Whether Nanavati shoot Ahuja in the "heat of the moment" or was it deliberate murder that would determine his punishment?
Whether the Governor's pardoning power and special leave petition be brought together?
The conflict raised by Nanavati's leadership was that after hearing Sylvia's admission, Nanavati wanted to commit suicide, but Sylvia figured out how to calm him down. Sylvia didn't tell him if Ahuja wanted to marry her or not, he planned to find out for himself.
In this way, he left his better half and his two children in the aisle of the movie and drove his vehicle to his boat, since he needed to buy medicine for his dog. He told the experts on the boat that he needed to get a gun and six rounds from the boat's stores, as he planned to drive alone to Ahmednagar after dark; however, the real object was to shoot him.
By taking out the gun and six cartridges, and putting it inside the brown envelope. Then, at that point, he drove his vehicle to Ahuja's office and, not finding him there, drove to Ahuja's level, which was opened by a worker, walked to Ahuja's room and closed the entrance behind him.
He also took with him the envelope containing the weapon. The defendant saw the deceased inside the bedroom and asked him if he would marry Sylvia and take care of the children. The late Ahuja replied, "Must I marry every lady I sleep with?" The defendant got angry , placed the envelope containing the weapon in a nearby bureau and took steps to whip the deceased.
The deceased took an unexpected action to get a handle on the envelope when the accused whipped out his pistol and advised him to get back. A battle followed between the two and during that battle, two shots went off unintentionally and hit Ahuja bringing about his demise.
After the shooting, the defendant returned to his vehicle and drove it to police headquarters where he turned himself in. Consequently, the defendant shot the deceased under serious and unexpected instigation, and in this sense, regardless of whether he had committed a crime, it would not be a homicide but a negligent homicide without the rank of homicide.
It was contended that through a special leave petition appellant approached the court to seek redressal, also an application was made to the governor by him under Article 161.
The prosecution's version of the story, and its counterpoints to the defense version, was based on witness responses and supported by evidence. The towel Ahuja was wearing was intact on her body and had not come loose or fallen off. In the event of a fight, it is highly unlikely that the towel would have remained intact. After Sylvia's confession, a calm and collected Nanavati left his family at the theater, drove to his naval base and, according to the Navy record, had purchased a gun and bullets under a false pretense. This indicated that the provocation was neither serious nor sudden and that Nanavati had planned the assassination.
Ahuja's servant, Anjani, testified that four shots were fired in quick succession and that the entire incident took less than a minute to occur, thus ruling out a fight. Nanavati walked out of Ahuja's residence, without explaining to her sister Mamie (who was present in another room in the flat) that it had been an accident. Then he unloaded the weapon, went first to the Provost and then to the police to confess his crime, thus ruling out that he was stunned. The deputy police commissioner testified that Nanavati confessed to shooting Ahuja dead and even corrected the misspelling of his name in the police record.
Therefore, the counsel on behalf of Respondent wanted to submits that it was premeditated murder. Accused should be liable to be punished under section 302 of IPC.
The case first went to session court where the jury trial in this case was taking place. In that jury trial the defendant was found not guilty with the verdict of 8:1 under section 304 of the Indian Penal Code 1860. The case was then referred to the Division Bench of Bombay High Court under Section 307 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
Judgment of Hon’ble high Court
The Hon’ble high Court summed up the case as -
● Whatever Happened In Ahuja's Bedroom did not amount to grave and sudden provocation.
● The burden of proof lies in the hands of Nanavati that the sad act was an accident and not premediated murder.
● The accused was held liable under sec.302 ,IPC. Being aggrieved with the decision , the accused had made an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Judgment of Hon’ble Supreme Court
● Regarding issue whether the High Court had jurisdiction under section 307 of the CrPC to investigate the facts to determine eligibility for referral to the Court of Session ,he Hon’ble Supreme Court held that in case the judge does not satisfied with the verdict of the jury members, the judge is authorized under section 307(1) of CrPC to refer the case to the High Court. But it must fulfill two conditions. Firstly, the judge shall disagree with the verdict of the jurors, and secondly.,he shall believe that the verdict of the jury was such that no reasonable man could have reached. If these any one of the conditions not satisfied than it would be termed as incompetent. Thus, as the seasoned Court judge wasn't satisfied with the jury's decision, it is eligible to refer the case to the High Court.
● The Apex court held that when the High Court determines that the order of reference is competent under section 307 (1) of CrPc then it must satisfy all the conditions set forth in subsection (3) of section 307 of the CrPC. Under this provision, the High Court must review all evidence presented, give due diligence to the judge’s and jury’s decision, and then decide whether to punish the accused or to acquit him .
● The burden of proving the guilt of the accused lies on the prosecution. But, when an accused relies on any exceptions enumerated from section 76 to section 106 of chapter IV of IPC, then the burden of proof shifts to the person exercising such protection as per Section 105 of evidence act. The Court shall presume against the accused and now the burden is shifted to him to reverse this presumption.
● The Hon'ble Court agreed with the conclusion of the High Court concerning misdirections of a charge made by the Judge. It stated that the question of whether a misdirection violated the verdict of the jury must be considered in light of the likely impact that the misdirection had on the lay jury. The Court further stated that the object of indicting the jury is to set forth and explain the facts and circumstances . It is the Judge's obligation to clearly explain the question of law, their impact and put forth all the evidence before the jury so as to arrive at the right decision.
● The Court conclude that According to the defence case, the accused was thinking of future of his wife and children, it indicate that he was in his senses.The time between the confession and causing murder was sufficient to regain one's self control.
● The Court dismissed the Special Leave Petition by stating that he cannot claim it unless he surrenders under Article 142 of Indian constitution. The Apex 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 shall cease to exist.
● The Apex court held that the accused didn't come under the ambit of Exception 1.to sec. 300 of the Indian Penal Code. The accused is liable for the murder under Sec.302 of the Indian Penal Code and sentence passed by High Court for life imprisonment is correct and also, held that there are no grounds for interference. And the Appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court.
K.M Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra case of 1956, was one of the most controversial cases in the history of Indian judiciary. This case from the beginning that is from the jury’s decision till the Supreme Court verdict gained huge media coverage. Initially, adultery was a criminal offense under section 497 of IPC. On 27 September 2018, the Supreme Court's five-judge bench unanimously ruled to revoke Section 497 and that is no longer a crime in India. But adultery shall still be one of the grounds for divorce as stated in Section 13 of Hindu Marriage Act.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court gave its judgment based on facts and circumstances and for equity , justice ànd good conscience.
This article is written by Nikita Sharma of Jayoti Vidhyapeeth Women's University.