K M NANAWATI VS. STATE OF MAHARASHTRA 1962 AIR 605, 1962 SCR Supl. (1) 567
Date of Judgment- 24 November 1961
K.M Nanavati case was one of the most famous jury trials in India which changed the Indian which changed the Indian Justice System forever. After the introduction of the new version of Criminal Procedural Code in 1974, the chapter of jury trials was closed. It was one of the last cases to be heard as a jury trial in India.
Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati, was a Parsi. He was Commander in Indian Navy. He married Sylvia in 1949 and had three children. They were settled in Mumbai. Sylvia and Prem Ahuja had affair. After that K M Nanavati came to know about the extra marital of his wife. He got angry after knowing it. He went to Ahuja’s home armed with a revolver. Nanvati asked Ahuja whether he would marry Sylvia & look after children Nanavati shot him when he said ‘Am I to marry every woman I sleep with’?
Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati, went to Ahuja’s home armed with a revolver. He barged into
Ahuja’s bedroom & shut the door behind him. Three gunshots were heard going off inside the room when Kawas came out, Ahuja was sprawled on the floor in a pool of blood . Thereafter the accused surrendered himself to the police. He was put under arrest & in due course he was committed to the sessions for facing a charge under section 302 of IPC. The defense put on full display letters written to Ahuja b his besotted lovers. Her adultery triggered at murder case which ended the jury system in India; set-off a fractious turf was between the judiciary & the executive.
The jury in the Greater Bombay Sessions Court had only task, to pronounce a person as ‘Guilty’ or ‘Not Guilty’ under the charges. They couldn’t indict any accused nor could punish the accused. The jury in Greater Bombay Sessions Court pronounced Nanavati as not guilty under section 302 of IPC under which Nanavati was charged with an 8:1 verdict.
Bombay High Court dismissed the jury’s verdict & the case was freshly heard in the High Court. It was claimed that jury had been influenced by media & was open to being misled the Government of India abolished jury trials soon after.
1. Whether it was premeditated murder or, ‘the heat of the moment’?
2. Whether the pardoning power of the Governor & the SLP can be moved?
Session Court released Nanavati. The question aroused is whether it was an accident or premeditated murder Session Court considered it as an accident & released Nanavati but High Court said that it could be an premeditated murder trial should go on. After the confession of
Sylvia about her marital affair KM Nanavati visited Ahuja’s house & asked whether he would marry Sylvia. Prem Ahuja denied to this question & he said ‘Am I to marry every woman I sleep with’? Nanavati was filed with anger after having this statement. There were scuffles between Ahuja and Nanavati. Later both of them tried to take out their pistol & in meanwhile Nanavati shot Prem Ahuja.
During the hearing Ram Jethmalani argued that if scuffles would have happened between Ahuja & Nanavati then how the towel was not removed which the Defense was claiming & he also said that the murder was premeditated. According to prosecution Nanavati went to his ship took his gun & then shot Ahuja from the distant. The same statement was made by the maid also. The deputy commissioner of police testified that Nanavati confessed that he had shot dead Ahuja and even corrected the misspelling of his name in the police record thereby showing Nanavati was not dazed.
High court agreed with the prosecution’s argument that the murder was premeditated & sentenced Nanavati to life imprisonment for culpable homicide amounting to murder. On 24th November 1961, Supreme Court upheld the conviction. Among the jurist Ram Jethmalani led the prosecution, while Karl Khandalavala represented Nanavati. Influential Parsis held regular rallies in Mumbai, to support the Governor’s decree that suspended Nanavati’s life sentence & put him under Naval Custody, until his appeal was heard by the supreme court. At that rally 3500 people filled the hall & around 5000 stood outside Nanavati also received backing from the Indian Navy & the Parsi Panchayat while Sindhi backed Ahuja. Within four hours governor of Bombay states issues unprecedented order suspending the sentenced until Nanavati’s appeal to Supreme Court is disposed of.
On the 2nd issue Supreme Court held that SLP & pardoning power cannot operate together. If SLP is filed then the power of the Governor in such condition will cease to exist. On 1st issue Supreme Court upheld the judgment of Bombay High court KM Nanavati guilty under Section 302 of the IPC & sentenced him to undergo life imprisonment.
Supreme Court gave decision on the basis of certain basis – there was time lapse between
Sylvia’s confession & murder of Prem Ahuja. That was sufficient to regain the self control. Since Nanavati asked Ahuja whether he would marry Sylvia & take care of the children, so he was thinking the future of his wife & children & it indicates that he had regained his senses. Before shooting Ahuja, Nanavati abused him which provoked an equally abusive reply. But this cannot be a provocation for murder.
Nanavati was pardoned by Governor Vijay Laxmi Pandit after 3 years in jail. This case was the last case to be heard as a jury trial in India. As now none was ready to believe jury trial after this case.
This article is written by Pallavi Singh of Bms College Of Law.