Table of Contents
About The Article
This Article seeks to engage in an analysis of the case The State v. Sushil Sharma popularly known as the ‘Tandoor Murder Case’. The paper will discuss the series of events (facts) that led to the murder and the rules applied in the case. The analysis part of the paper is divided into three parts: Part I discusses how the Sessions and High Court convicted the appellant with a death sentence, Part II gives a perspective as to how the judgement was given by the court relying only on circumstantial evidence and Part III looks into how the Supreme Court turned death sentence to life imprisonment. This heinous crime still remains one of the most horrific and dreadful cases in the criminal justice system.
FACTS OF THE CASE
The brief facts of the case are, the accused Sushil Sharma was the former president of the Delhi Youth Congress and Naina Sahni was the former General Secretary of the Delhi Youth Congress, girls wing and both of them were said to work with the Delhi Youth Congress. The accused Sushil Sharma in the year 1992, bought a flat in Mandir Marg and the deceased used to visit the flat occasionally and is said to have married the accused Sushil Sharma in the flat “in their own way”.
The marriage of the deceased and the accused was considered to be a secret marriage and it was hidden from the Public. After their marriage, the deceased lived in the flat with Sushil Sharma. Sushil Sharma was a political person who wanted to keep their marriage secret but Naina Sahni hadn’t accepted it. He also suspected his wife’s character and thereby restricted her freedom. However, Naina Sahni was trying to leave Sushil Sharma and move to Australia with the help of a colleague Matloob Karim. After 3 years of increased tensions between the couple, on 2nd July 1995, when Sushil Sharma reached his flat in Mandir Marg, he found his wife to be in deep conversation with someone on the phone.
Sushil Sharma who always suspected his wife redialed the number from her phone and found that it was Matloob Karim. Sharma, being highly shocked, took out his revolver and shot Naina three times. Naina had died on the spot. After the murder was committed, the accused Sushil Sharma carried the body in his Maruti Car to his restaurant named Bagia Bar-be-que. The body was chopped into pieces and the accused with the help of co-accused Keshav Kumar, a restaurant employee, dumped it into the tandoor.
The body of the deceased being burnt in the tandoor gave out a huge amount of fire and smoke from the restaurant which came to the attention of two police constables who then informed the control room (100). The officers went to check the incident in the restaurant and found that there was a corpse of a woman with the intestines falling out and one of the limbs burnt. The police found bloodstains on Keshav Kumar’s clothes which were later seized. However, the first accused Sushil Sharma fled from the crime scene and went to various cities and finally surrendered in Bangalore on 10th July 1995.
Section 34 of IPC: “When a criminal act is done by several persons in furtherance of the common intention of all, each of such persons is liable for that act in the same manner as if it were done by him alone.”
Section 37 of IPC: “When an offence is committed by means of several acts, whoever intentionally co-operates in the commission of that offence by doing any one of those acts, either singly or jointly with any other person, commits that offence.”
Section 302 of IPC: “Whoever commits the offence of murder shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine.”
Section 201 of IPC: “Causing disappearance of evidence of an offence or giving false information to screen offenders”.
Section 120-B of IPC: (1) Whoever is a party to a criminal conspiracy to commit an offence punishable with death or rigorous imprisonment for a term of two years or upwards, shall, where no express provision is made in this Code for the punishment of such a conspiracy, be punished in the same manner as if he had abetted such offence.
Whether the chain of circumstance was complete because the case was mainly decided on circumstantial evidence and if the evidence shows clearly the guilt of the accused.
Whether the decision is given by the Supreme Court in giving the death sentence to life imprisonment is valid or not?
After the investigation was done, the case was taken up in the sessions court. Under the sessions court, A-2 Keshav Kumar confessed his guilt under Section 201 which is read with Section 120-B of the IPC. However, accused Keshav Kumar said that he did not murder the deceased but was following the orders given by the accused to burn the body and dump it into the tandoor. The appellant in the case stated that he was in Tirupati Balaji between 01/07/95 and 06/07/95 when the statement was recorded under Section 313 of CrPC. The appellant Sushil Sharma stated that when he called to his residence in Maurya Enclave in Delhi, he came to know that ACP Alok Kumar had removed his vehicle, licence revolver and bullets.
The ACP told the appellant that he should get an anticipatory bail otherwise will get arrested. He then obtained his anticipatory bail in Madras, but on 08/07/95, he was called for an inquiry at the Madras Police Station and was taken up by some Delhi Police officers to Bangalore where he was ultimately shown his arrest on 10/07/95. The appellant admitted that he was living with the deceased in his apartment at Mandir Marg and also stated that the white Maruti car numbered DL-2CA-1872 belonged to him. Having gone through all the evidence provided, the Additional Sessions Judge convicted the appellant and gave the death sentence to the appellant on 03rd November 2003.
The court however convicted Keshav Kumar only for an offence under section 201 of the IPC to undergo rigorous imprisonment for seven years and a fine of Rs.10,000. The learned additional judge referred to the Delhi High Court under Section 366 of the Code of Criminal Procedure,1973. In the case Jummon and Ors v. State of Punjab, the Hon’ble Supreme Court said that while dealing with death reference, the High Court has to consider proceedings in all their aspects and come to a conclusion after a fresh evaluation of the entire evidence. By doing this exercise, the High Court of Delhi was also of the same opinion and confirmed the death sentence on 19th February 2007. However, the appellant then challenged in the Supreme Court the order passed on 19/02/07 by the Delhi High Court confirming his death sentence.
The first issue that came up was whether the chain of circumstance was complete, and the evidence shows clearly the guilt of the accused. It has been proved by PW 12 (Matloob Karim), CW 1 (Jaswant Kaur), CW 2 (Harbhajan Singh) and PW 82 (Ram Niwas Dubey) that both the deceased and the appellant got married in 1992 and were staying together in the appellant’s flat at Mandir Marg. So, it was established that both of them were married and were living under the same roof. According to PW 11, Mrs Chaudhary and her husband, PW 9 M.L Chaudhary, the deceased was last seen with the appellant on the evening of 02/07/95 in the said flat. HC Amba Das who was the beat constable of the Mandir Marg Area said that the Maruti Car bearing No. DL 2 CA 1872, belonged to the appellant. Also, PW 82, Ram Niwas Dubey said that the appellant had asked him to watch over the deceased movements and also put restrictions on her movement.
He stated that there have been instances of fights between the deceased and the appellant and he used to beat her with fists and sticks. It can be concluded that the appellant was staying with the deceased and the deceased was last seen in the said flat with the appellant on the evening of the incident. To prove the presence of the appellant in the Bagiya Restaurant when the fire broke out, the court looked into various testimonies given by various individuals who were present at the place. The security staff, PW 35, Mahesh Prasad said that he had seen the appellant near the gate of the restaurant and subsequently informed PW 3, HC Kunju who was the constable of Connaught Place Police Station. PW 3 also identified as the same person he had seen at the Bagiya Restaurant.
Home Guard, Chander Pal, PW 4, says that he had seen the appellant standing near the gate of the restaurant in a white coloured kurta pyjama. He also states that the appellant had come near the tandoor and tried shuffling the fire with a wooden stick. PW 1 Phillip stated that he was working at the restaurant as a stage performer. He said that at around 9.30 p.m. when he had gone to see off a guest, he saw the appellant coming in his white Maruti car No. 1872. A few moments later, A-2 Keshav Kumar asked him to stop the program and that his duty was over. While he was leaving the restaurant, he saw the appellant sitting in his Maruti car which was parked near the gate. The court by going through all these testimonies concluded that the appellant was present at the restaurant. To further prove other circumstances, the court looked to the information provided by the Ballistic Expert, PW70, Roop Singh who provided that the shots fired to the deceased was a .32 Arminius revolver.
He said that the bullets extracted from the skull and neck of the deceased had been fired from the said .32 Arminius revolver which was owned with a license by the appellant. It can, therefore, be established that the chain of circumstances of the appellant’s commission of the offence was complete and clearly shows that the appellant was justified in killing the deceased without any reasonable doubt.
The second main issue in the case was whether the decision by the Supreme court in giving the death sentence to life imprisonment was valid or not. The constitution bench of the case believed that the case of the appellant does not fall under rarest of rare cases doctrine. The Bench believed that aggravating and mitigating factors should be considered while sentencing. The Supreme court looked into the case Bachan Singh v State of Punjab, where the court said that only mitigating and aggravating factors should be considered while considering the question of a death sentence.
The court found that only in the rarest of the rare cases should the death penalty be imposed. From the Bachan Singh case, the Supreme Court noted that the judges should never always look at hanging a criminal but should consider instances that serve society’s best interests. The death penalty should only apply if the offence is so serious and brutal that the appellant is unable to escape from such punishment. The Supreme court observed in the Bachan case that factors such as the age of the criminal, his social status, his background etc should be considered when the death penalty is imposed. Therefore, looking at the present case, regarding the offence committed by the appellant the Supreme Court said that it is not something that was against the State or society rather it was an outcome of a strained marriage.
The appellant in the case did not have any criminal background and was the only son to his parents, thus it’ll be very unfair to give the death penalty. The Supreme Court also stated that the medical evidence of the prosecution was not enough to prove that the deceased body was cut into pieces because according to the second post-mortem report the body was not clear cut. Also, there were no weapons found to show that the body was chopped. Therefore, the Supreme Court concluded that the death sentence of the appellant is converted to a life sentence. This life sentence was subject to the statutory powers of remission under Section 432 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, and constitutional powers under Articles 72 and 161. The Hon’ble court states, “Undoubtedly the offence is brutal, but the brutality alone would not justify the death sentence in this case”. It is clear that the appellant loved his wife and the murder happened only because of the fit of rage due to the suspicions on the wife’s fidelity.
According to my view, the decision given by the Supreme Court in the present case is somewhat flawed. Just because the crime committed was not against the State and was out of a strained relationship between the couple does not make the offence to be less heinous. It is a cold-blooded murder where the appellant tried to destroy the evidence by burning the corpse in a tandoor and it clearly shows a mindset of a true criminal. Perhaps the Sharma murder case is not horrific enough to be included in the rarest of the rare type. Maybe because we are surrounded by such crimes, we got immune to it. The appellant in the case after 23 years of imprisonment came out of jail after the Hon’ble court declared that he had served the maximum prescribed sentence.
The State v. Sushil Sharma, vol 4 SCC, 2014
Sushil Sharma V. State Of Delhi. HC 7415, 1996
Bachan Singh Vs. The state of Punjab. 2 SCC 684, 1980.
BY- M Koshy Mathen
Jindal Global Law School