Anant Chintaman Lagu V. The State Of Bombay

Anant Chintaman Lagu V. The State Of Bombay in India

Anant Chintaman Lagu V. The State Of Bombay [1959] Insc 150; Air 1960 Sc 500; 1960 (2) Scr 460 (14 December 1959)

Court Judgment Information

  • Year: 1959
  • Date: 14 December 1959
  • Court: Supreme Court of India
  • INSC: [1959] INSC 150

Text of the Court Opinion

14/12/1959 HIDAYATULLAH, M.





1960 AIR 500 1960 SCR (2) 460

Citator Info

F 1963 SC 74 (38) RF 1970 SC1321 (16) F 1972 SC1331 (32) D 1984 SC1622 (156,170) R 1988 SC1011 (9,27)


Criminal Law-Murder by poisoning-Circumstantial evidence -Poison not detected in body of deceased-Conduct of accused, both before and after-Conviction for murder.


At the trial of a person for murder by alleged poisoning, the fact of death by poisoning is provable by circumstantial evidence, notwithstanding that the autopsy as well as the chemical analysis fail to disclose any poison; though the cause of death may not appear to be established by direct evidence, the medical evidence of experts and the circumstances of the case may be sufficient to infer that the death must be the result of the administration to the victim of some unrecognised poison or drug which acts as a poison, and a conviction can be rested on circumstantial evidence provided that it is so decisive that the court can unhesitatingly hold that the death was not a natural one.

Per S. K. Das and M. Hidayatullah, jj.-Where the evidence showed that the appellant who was the medical adviser of the deceased, deliberately set about first to ingratiate himself in the good opinions of his patient and becoming her confidant, found out all about her affairs and gradually began managing her affairs, that all the time he was planning to get at her property and had forged her signature on a dividend warrant and had obtained undated cheque from her and then under the guise of helping her to have a consultation with a specialist in Bombay took her in a train, and then brought the patient unconscious to a hospital bereft of all property with which she had started from home and gave a wrong name to cover her identity and wrong history of her ailments, that after her death he abandoned the body to be dealt with by the hospital as an unclaimed body, spread the story that she was alive and made use of the situation to misappropriate all her properties, and that he tried by all means to avoid postmortem examination and when questioned gave false and conflicting statements, held that if the deceased died in circumstances which prima facie admit of either disease or homicide by poisoning one must look at the conduct of the appellant both before and after the death of the deceased, that the corpus delicti could be held to be proved by a number of facts which render the commission of the crime certain, and that the medical evidence in the case and the conduct of the appellant unerringly pointed to the conclusion that the death of the deceased was the result of the administration of some unrecognised poison or drug which would act as a poison and that the appellant was the person who administered it.

461 Per Sarkar, J.-If it could be established in this case that the deceased had died an unnatural death, the conclusion would be inevitable that unnatural death had been brought about by poison, but the circumstances were not such that from them the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn was that the deceased died an unnatural death. Held, that the prosecution had failed to prove the guilt of the appellant. Regina v. Onufrejczyk, [1955] 1 Q.B. 388, The King v. Horry, [1952] N.Z.L. 111, Mary Ann Nash’s case, (1911) 6 Cr. App.

R. 225 and Donnall’s case, (1817) 2 C.& K, 308n, considered and relied on.


Appelate Jurisdiction

Criminal Appeal No. 73 of 1959. Appeal by special leave from the judgment and order dated January 16/20th, 1959, of the Bombay High Court in Confirmation case No. 25 of 1958 with Criminal Appeal No. 1372 of 1958, arising out of. the judgment and order dated October 27, 1958, of the Sessions Judge, Poona, in Sessions Case No. 52 of 1958. A. S. R. Chtiri, S. N. Andley, J. B. Dadachanji and Rameshwar Nath, for the appellant. H. N. Seervai, Advocate-General for the State of Bombay, Porus A. Mehta and R. H. Dhebar, for the respondent.

1959. December 14. The Judgment of S. K. Das and Hidayatullah, JJ., was delivered by Hidayatullah, J. Sarkar, J., delivered a separate Judgment.

HIDAYATULLAH J.-This appeal by special leave is against the judgment of the Bombay High Court [J. C. Shah, J. (now of the Supreme Court) and V. S. Desai, J.] by which it maintained the conviction of the appellant, Lagu, under s.

302 of the Indian Penal Code, and confirmed the sentence of death passed on him by Shri V. A. Naik (now Naik, J.) Sessions Judge, Poona.

The appellant was tried for the murder of one Laxmibai Karve, and the charge held proved against him was that on or about the night between November 12 and 13, 1956, either at Poona or in the course of a railway journey between Poona and Bombay, he administered to the said Laxmibai Karve, some unrecognised poison or drug which would act as a poison, 59 462 with the intention of causing her death and which did cause her death.

Laxmibai Karve was a resident of Poona where she lived at 93-95, Shukrawar Peth. Before her marriage of she was known as Indumati, Indutai or Indu Ponkshe. In the year 1922, she married Anant Ramachandra Karve, a widower with a son by name, Vishnu. On her marriage, as is the custom, she was named Laxmibai by the family of her husband and was known as Laxmibai Karve. She was also known as Mai or Mai Karve. From Laxmibai there were born two sons, Ramachandra (P.W. 1) and Purshottam alias Arvind, who died in 1954. Anant Ramachandra Karve was a moderately rich man, who had been successful in business. He died in 1945 of pleurisy. He was attended till his death by the appellant and his brother, B. C. Lagu, both of whom are doctors. Anant Ramachandra Karve left a will dated February 28, 1944. Prior to the execution of the will, he had gifted Rs. 30,000 to his son, Vishnu, to set him up in business. By his will he gave the house No. 93-95, Shukrawar Peth, Poona to Ramachandra with a right of residence in at least three rooms to his widow, Laxmibai and a further right to her to receive Rs. 50 per month from the rent of the house. He assigned an insurance policy of Rs. 5,000 in her favour. The business was left to Ramachandra. The cash deposits in Bank, Post Office and with other persons together with the right to recover loans from debtors in the Bhor State were given to Purushottam alias Arvind. Certain bequests of lands and debentures were made to Visbnu’s children. Laxmibai was also declared owner of all her ornaments of about 60 tolas of gold and nose-ring and pearl bangles which were described in the will.

In addition to what she inherited from her husband, Laxmibai inherited about Rs. 25,000 invested in shares from her mother, Girjabai, and another 60 tolas of gold ornaments. In January 1954, Purushottam alias Arvind died at Poona. By Purushottam’s death Laxmibai also inherited all the property held by him.

463 Thus, at the time of her death, Laxmibai possessed of about 560 shares in diverse Electric’ Companies, debentures in South Madras Electric Supply Corporation and Mettur Chemical and Industrial Corporation, a sum of Rs. 7,882-15-0 at the Bank of Maharashtra, a sum of Rs. 35,000 in deposit with one Vasudeo Sadashiv Joshi, gold and pearl ornaments and sundry movables like clothes, house hold furniture, radio etc.

In the year 1946, Ramachandra, the elder son, started living separately. There were differences between the mother and son. The latter had suffered a loss in the business and had mortgaged the house with one Shinde, who filed a suit, and obtained a decree but Vishnu filed a suit for partition claiming that his onethird share was not affected. Before this, Ramachandra had closed his business in 195 1, and joined the military. He was posted at different places, but in spite of their differences, mother and son used to correspond with each other. In May, 1956, Laxmibai arranged and performed his marriage, and he went away in June, 1956. Laxmibai had contracted tuberculosis after the birth of Purushottam. That was about twenty years before her death.

The lesion, however, healed and till 1946 her health was not bad. From 1946 she suffered from diabetes. In 1948 she was operated for hysterectomy, and before her operation, she was getting hysterical fits. On June 15, 1950, she was examined by Dr, R. V, Sathe, who prescribed some treatment. In July, 1950, she was admitted in the Wanless Tuberculosis Sanatorium for pulmonary affection, and she was treated till November 15, 1950. Two stages of thoracoplasty operations were performed, but she left, though a third stage of operation was advised. In the operations, her leftside first rib and portions of 2nd to 6th ribs were removed.

Laxmibai was, however, treated with medicines, and the focus, it appears, was under control.

We now come to the events immediately preceding her death.

Laxmibai had, through the appellant, taken an appointment from Dr. Sathe of Bombay for 464 a consultation about her health, for November 13, 1956, at 3-30 p. m. It was to attend this appointment that she left Poona in the company of the appellant by Passenger train on the night of November 12,1956, for Bombay. The train arrived at Victoria Terminus Station at 5-10 a. m. thirtyfive minutes late. It is an admitted fact that Laxmibai was then deeply unconcious and was carried on a stretcher by the appellant to a taxi and later to the G. T. Hospital, where she was entered as an in-door patient at 5-45 a. m. She never regained consciousness and died at 11-30 a. m. Her body remained it the G.T. Hospital till the evening of the 14th, when it was sent to the J. J. Hospital morgue for preservation. Later, it was to be handed over under the orders of the Coroner to the Grant Medical College for the use of Medical Students. It was noticed there that she had a suspicious ligature mark on the neck, and the body was subjected to postmortem examination and the viscera to chemical analysis and then the body was disposed of. Both the autopsy as well as the chemical analysis failed to disclose any poison and the mark on the neck was found to be postmortem.

The appellant was the medical attendant and friend of the family. He and his brother (also a medical practitioner) attended on Anant Ramachandra Karve till his death. The appellant also treated Purshottam alias Arvind for two days prior to his death on January 18, 1954. He was also the medical attendant of Laxmibai and generally managed her affairs. In 1955, he started living in the main room of the suite occupied by Laxmibai, and if Ramachandra is to be believed, the reason for the quarrel between Laxmibai and himself was the influence which the appellant exercised over the mother to the disadvantage of the son. However that be, it is quite clear that the son left Poona in June, 1956, and did not see his mother alive again.

The death of Laxmibai was not known to the relatives or friends. The appellant also did not disclose this fact to any one. On the other hand, he kept it a close secret.

Soon afterwards, people began receiving 465 mysterious letters purporting to be from Laxmibai, stating that she had gone on pilgrimage, that she did not intend to return and that none should try to find her whereabouts.

She advised them to communicate with her through the newspaper ” Sakal “. Laxmibai also exhorted all persons to forget her, as she had married one Joshi and had settled at Rathodi, near Jaipur in Rajasthan. People who went to her rooms at first found them locked, but soon the doors were open and the meveable property was found to have been removed. Through these mysterious letters Laxmibai informed all concerned that she had herself removed these articles secretly and that none was to be blamed or suspected. It is the prosecution case that these letters were forgeries, and that the appellant misappropriated the properties of Laxmibai, including her shares, bank deposits etc.

The appellant has admitted his entire conduct after the death of Laxmibai, by which he managed to get hold of her property. His explanation was that he would have given the proceeds to some charitable institution according to her wishes adding some money of his own to round off the figure.

He led no evidence to prove that Laxmibai before she left Poona or at any time gave such instructions to him in the matter. Meanwhile, the continued disappearance of Laxmibai was causing uneasiness to her friends and relatives. On December 31, 1957, G. D. Bhave (P. W. 8) addressed a complaint to the Chief Minister, Bombay. Similarly , Dr. G.

N. Datar (P. W. 5) also addressed a letter to the Chief Minister, Bombay on February 16, 1958, and in both these petitions, doubts were expressed. Ramachandra too made a report, and in consequence of a preliminary investigation, the appellant was arrested on March 12,1958. He was subsequently tried and convicted by the Sessions Judge, Poona. His appeal was also dismissed, and the certificate of fitness having been refused, he obtained special leave from this Court and filed this appeal.

The appellant’s contention in this appeal is that the prosecution has not succeeded in proving that 466 Laxmibai was poisoned at all, or that there was any poison administered to her which would evade detection, yet cause death in the manner it actually took place. The appellant contends also that his conduct before the death of Laxmibai was bona fide and correct, that no inference of guilt can be drawn from all the circumstances of this case, and that his subsequent conduct, though suggestive of greed, was not proof of his guilt on the charge of murder.

The conviction of the appellant rests on circumstantial evidence, and his guilt has been inferred from medical evidence regarding the death of Laxmibai and his conduct.’ The two Courts below have held that the total evidence in this case unerringly points to the commission of the crime charged and every reasonable hypothesis compatible with the innocence of the appellant has been successfully repelled.

A criminal trial, of course, is not an enquiry into the conduct of an accused for any purpose other than to determine whether he is guilty of the offence charged. In this connection, that piece of conduct can be held to be incriminatory which has no reasonable explanation except on the hypothesis that he is guilty. Conduct which destroys the presumption of innocence can alone be considered as material. The contention of the appellant, briefly, is that the medical evidence is inconclusive, and that his-conduct is explainable on hypotheses other than his guilt.

Ordinarily, it is not the practice of this Court to reexamine the findings of fact reached by the High Court particularly in a case where there is concurrence of opinion between the two Courts below. But the case against the appellant is entirely based on circumstantial evidence, and there is no direct evidence that he administered a poison, and no poison has, in fact been detected by the doctor, who performed the postmortem examination, or by the Chemical Analyser. The inference of guilt having been drawn on an examination of a mass of evidence during which subsidiary findings were given by the two Courts below, we have felt it necessary, in view of the extraordinary nature of this case, to satisfy ourselves 467 whether each conclusion on the separate’ aspects of the case, is supported by evidence and is just and proper.

Ordinarily, this Court is not required to enter into an elaborate examination of the evidence, but we have departed from this rule in this particular case, in view of the variety of arguments that were addressed to us and the evidence of conduct which the appellant has sought to explain away on hypotheses suggesting innocence. These arguments, as we have stated in brief, covered both the factual as well as the medical aspects of the case, and have necessitated a close examination of the evidence once again, so that we may be in a position to say what are the facts found, on which our decision is rested.

That Laxmibai died within six hours of her admission in the G. T. Hospital is not questioned. Her body was identified by persons who knew her well from her photograph taken at the J. J. Hospital on November 19, 1956. In view of the contention of the appellant that she died of disease and/or wrong treatment, we have to determine first what was the state of her health before she went on the ill-fated journey. ,This enquiry takes us to the medical papers maintained at the institutions where she was treated in the past, the evidence of some of the doctors who dealt with her case, of the observation of witnesses who could depose to her outward state of health immediately before her departure, and lastly, the case papers maintained by the appellant as a medical adviser.

The earliest record of Laxmibai’s health is furnished by Dr.

K. C. Gharpure (P. W. 17), who treated her in 1948. According to Dr. Gharpure, she entered his Nursing Home on April 6, 1948, and stayed there till April 24, 1948. Laxmibai was then suffering from Menorrhagia and Metrorrhagia for about six years. In 1946 there was an operation for dilatation and also curettage. She had Diabetes from 1945 and hysterical fits since 1939. On admission in Dr. Gharpure’s Nursing Home, her blood pressure was found to be 140/80 and urine showed sugar + + , albumin nil. She was kept in the hospital and probably treated, and on the 11th, when a sub-total 468 hysterectomy was performed, she had blood pressure 110/75 and sugar traces (albumin nil) before the Laguoperation.

According to Dr. Gharpure, the operation was not for hysterical fits, and along with hysterectomy the right -ovary was cysticpunctured and the appendix was also removed. A certificate was issued by Dr. Gharpure (Ex.

121), in which the same history is given.

Laxmibai was next examined by Dr. Ramachandra Sathe (P.W.25) on June 15, 1950. He deposed from the case file which he had maintained about her complaints. A copy of the case papers shows that she was introduced to him by the appellant. At that time, her weight was 120 lbs. and her blood pressure, 140/90. Dr. Sathe noticed that diabetes had existed for four years, and that she was being given insulin for 8 months prior to his examination. He also noticed hysterectomy scar, and that she had a tubercular lesion on the left apex 20 years ago. According to the statement of the patient, she had trouble with tuberculosis from May 1949, and her teeth were extracted on account of pyorrhoea.

She was getting intermittent temperature from September 1949, and was receiving streptomycin and PAS irregularly.

She was then suffering from low temperature, slight cough and expectoration. On examination, the doctor found that there was infiltration in the left apex but no other septic focus was found. The evidence does not show the treatment which was given, and the doctor merely stated that he must have recommended a line of treatment to the patient, though he had no record of it.

On July 13, 1950, Laxmibai entered the Wanlesswadi T. B.

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