“Dying Declaration” is considered credible and trustworthy evidence based upon the general belief that most people who know that they are about to die do not lie. The Word “Dying Declaration” means a statement, written or verbal of relevant facts, made by a person who is dead. It is the statement of a person who had died explaining the circumstances of his death. This is based on the maxim ‘Nemo Mariturus Presumuntur Mentri’, namely, a man will not meet his maker (GOD) with lie on his mouth. Our Indian law recognizes this fact that ‘Truth alone sits upon the lips of a dying man.’
But, what happens nowadays in this modern era, is highly unethical and revengeful. Since the mind of every common man has been highly polluted, the theory of ‘Nemo Mariturus Presumuntur Mentri’,i.e. dying men would never lie, has become unfactual and untrustworthy. In the present scenario, a dying man, while on death bed, in fact creates an opportunity to implicate all his innocent rival people in the crime-occurrence, so as to revenge them even after his death. We will see such a dying declaration that shook the life of some police men of Ammappettai police station in Thanjavur district and a civilian who actually tapped door of that police station for his grievance.
When the new day dawned at the sun rise on 14.12.1992, Mr.Murthy,a school teacher in Udayarpalayam village nearby Ammappettai in Thanjavur district, was not aware that the new day would be going to fetch a bad-luck to his life carrier. In fact, the bad-luck came as a boomerang from his own petition filed in the police station against the suspects for the theft of his 1HP motor.
It was a case of motor-theft, occurred some days back in the house of Mr.Murthy, wherein his 1HP motor was stolen from the backyard of his house by some unknown persons. Later, he ascertained from some local residents that it was one Kumar of the same village, who committed theft of his motor, and sold it somewhere else for wrongful gain.
Mr.Asokan, who was an young sub-inspector, received the complaint from Mr.Murthy at about 6.00 PM on 14.12.1992, assigned just a petition receipt no:159/92, and entrusted the petition to his sub-ordinate head constable one Mr.Panneerselvam with instructions to produce the suspects of the motor theft for enquiry and thereafter left the police station.
On the same day around 09.30 PM, the head constable Panneerselvam, along with his assistant police constable,one Selvaraj, secured the suspect Kumar from a wine shop in Ammappettai town and brought him at about 09.45 PM to Ammappettai police station for enquiry.
Not knowing about the ‘satanic-show’ that was going to happen in few hours at the police station, the head constable Panneerselvam, simply directed the suspect, Kumar, to sleep at the police station verandah,wherein the SI and other police men would usually park their motor cycles.The head constable Panneerselvam told the suspect that the SI would hold enquiry on the next day morning. But, the head constable did not make any official records for doing so. The police constable, Sekar, who was on the sentry duty in the Ammappettai police station, was present at the front verandah of the police station.
The head constable Panneerselvam, who was the officer-in-charge of police station by that time, left everything to his sub-ordinate police constables and went inside the police men-waiting hall for sleeping. The other two police men, Selvaraj and Sekar, presuming that it was only the look out of the officer-in-charge to take responsibility of everything at the police station, had simply fallen asleep.
All those three police men, who had been actually present on duty by that time, were in fact merely marking their ‘dead’ physical presence alone at the police station, but falling asleep, leaving the suspect Kumar on his own accord at the police station.
At about 1.30 AM on 15.12.1992, viz. on the mid night of 14.12.1992, all of a sudden, there were distressing cries heard in the police station. Getting shocked over the distressing cries, all those three sleeping cops woke up and saw a man crying in flames and fumes, running helter-skelter within the police station. All those police men first of all quenched the fire and found the burned man, quivering in burn injuries, was none other than the suspect Kumar.
On hearing the hue and cries in the police station, the Inspector’s writer head constable, Chidambaram, who was actually sleeping on that night in the neibouring Inspector’s office after attending his writer’s work, also woke up and ran towards the police station for saving the injured from the flames of fire.
Immediately, all those police men, after quenching the fire, anxiously carried the injured Kumar and ran towards the nearby government primary health hospital at Ammapettai, so as to save his life by providing timely medical treatment for the burn injuries. When the duty medical officer examined the injured Kumar, he was found conscious, but suffering in pains due to 40% burn injuries all over his body. As a rule of practice in medico legal cases, the medical officer questioned the injured Kumar as to what happened and how did he sustain the burn injuries.
” Around 1.30 in the midnight, I myself poured kerosene on me and set fire to me for self immolation,” declared the injured Kumar to the duty doctor in the Government hospital, Ammappettai.
The medical officer entered the version of the injured Kumar, in verbatim, in the hospital register, known as the accident register for medico legal cases, provided necessary medical treatments and referred the injured to Thanjavur medical college hospital, for further treatment to save his life.
The Inspector’s writer head constable ran to the residence of the Inspector and SI and passed on the information, what was heard by him from the other police men in the station, for further action as per law. The family members of the injured Kumar were also informed about the attempt of self immolation by Kumar at the Ammappettai police station.
The anxious police men, without making a least delay at all, brought the injured Kumar and admitted at 4.45 AM on 15.12.1992 in the Thanjavur Medical College Hospital for further treatment. As usual, when the duty medical officer questioned the injured Kumar as to what happened, he repeated the same version as stated before the duty medical officer of Ammappettai.
“I burnt myself with petrol inside the police station while under custody on 15.12.1992 at 1.30 AM,” said the injured Kumar in conscious condition to the duty doctor who, in turn, entered the same in the hospital accident register of medico legal cases and admitted him as an inpatient for further treatment.
For the said unfortunate occurrence, happened in the Ammappettai police station, originally a case of attempt to commit suicide, under section 309 IPC, was registered against the ‘suspect’ Kumar on a report of the head constable Panneerselvam.
The head constable Panneerselvam had stated in his report: “On the direction of the sub-inspector, I brought the suspect Kumar to the police station for enquiry in connection with the petition lodged by one Murthy and directed the suspect Kumar to sleep at the police station verandah for that night as the enquiry would be held by the SI on the next day morning.”
“Around 1.30 AM in the midnight, I suddenly woke up on hearing the screaming voices, and found the suspect Kumar in flames of fire on his shirt and dhoti. At once, myself and all other police men quenched the fire on him. When I questioned Kumar as to how it happened, he informed that he took petrol from a motor cycle, parked within the police station, poured himself on his body and set fire himself.” This was how the head constable Panneerselvam presented a report, based on which the FIR was registered and the law was set in motion for an offence of attempt to commit suicide against the injured Kumar.
In accordance with the then procedures and guidelines, formulated under the police standing order 145, the FIR, registered by the SI, was forwarded to the Revenue Divisional Officer cum Executive First Class Magistrate, Kumbakonam for his enquiry. The RDO, Kumbakonam received the copy of FIR and straight away visited the Thanjavur Medical College Hospital on 16.12.1992 for enquiring the injured Kumar.
At this juncture, I would like to request the readers to re-read the contents of the paragraph 1 and 2 of this short story, so as to emphasize the main theme of the story. It is quite natural that all the patients of burn injuries would be conscious till death almost in all occasions and that all his family members and friends would have an opportunity to interact with the injured as to what happened and how it happened. In most of the cases, this interacting time would create an unexpected twists in deciding the fate of the case.
Such an unexpected twist happened in this case also. When the RDO enquired the injured Kumar on 16.12.1992 in the Thanjavur Medical College Hospital, he completely retracted his previous versions given to the duty medical officers, and freshly came out with a new theory that caused a havoc in the life of those police men.
“On the night of 14.12.1992 at about 9.30 PM, I was picked up from a wine shop at Ammappettai and brought to Ammappettai police station on that night itself by the head constable Panneerselvam and his assistant for an enquiry in connection with a motor- theft, following the complaint by one Murthy.”
“The head constable Panneerselvam, who was wearing lungi at the police station, threatened me to admit the theft of motor belonged to the teacher Murthy. The sentry police was also present at the police station. At that time, the teacher Murthy, who was found carrying a plastic can, was also present at the police station.”
“The head constable Panneerselvam enquired me in the presence of the teacher Murthy and threatened me to admit the motor theft. When I refused to admit the motor theft, the petitioner Murthy, all of a sudden, poured kerosene on me from the plastic can, he had kept in his hand.”
“Getting afraid of the kerosene poured on me, I ran towards the toilet room in the police station. At that moment, someone, either Murthy or the head constable Panneerselvam, set fire on my back at the police station. Soon I was engulfed by the flames of fire, and later got fainted at the police station,” stated the injured Kumar to the RDO who recorded the same in the presence of the ward medical officer.
In the meanwhile, around 12.10AM on 20.12.1992, the injured Kumar succumbed to the burn injuries, while undergoing medical treatment in the Thanjavur Medical College Hospital. Following the death intimation, the RDO held an inquest on the dead body of Kumar completed the enquiry and submitted an actionable report to the Government through the District Collector, Thanjavur.
Based on the RDO’s report, the Government issued a GO to initiate criminal prosecution against the four police men and one private individual Murthy, for the offences of wrongful custody, murder and giving false information to screen the original offenders, all with common intention. The Inspector’s writer, Chidambaram, who actually ran towards the police station from the Inspector’s office room for saving the injured from fire, was also included as an accused in this case for the reason of giving false information, as if it was a case of self immolation.
The case came up for trial in the court of Session, Thanjavur. The medical officers of Ammappettai and Thanjavur Medical college Hospital deposed in the court that the injured Kumar had originally informed them at first, while brought for medical treatment, that it was he who himself poured kerosene on him and set fire himself at the Ammappettai police station for self immolation, and that such version of Kumar was alone recorded in verbatim by them in the hospital medico legal records. The relevant medico legal accident register copies of Ammappettai hospital and the Thanjavur medical college hospital were also produced in the court in support of the doctor’s evidence.
Anyhow, the court discountenanced their evidences, but believed the statement of the deceased Kumar, that was recorded by the RDO in the TMC Hospital. The court was of the view that such a statement, recorded by the RDO from the deceased Kumar, had got to be taken into account and believed as a ‘dying declaration’, since it had all the legal veracity as a ‘dying declaration’.
In the end of the trial, the head constable Panneerselvam, constable Selvaraj, and the private individual Murthy were convicted and sentenced to undergo life imprisonment for the offence committed under section 302 IPC r/w 34 IPC and one year imprisonment each for the offences under section 348IPC (illegal custody) and 210 IPC ( giving false information to screen the original offender) r/w 34 IPC.
The sentry police constable Sekar and the Inspector’s writer Chidambaram were convicted and sentenced to undergo one year imprisonment for the offences under section 348 and 201 IPC r/w 34 IPC.
Later, in the appeal to the Hon’ble Madurai Bench of Madras High court, the Inspector’s writer Chidambaram, sentry police constable Sekar and another one constable Selvaraj were acquitted from all the charges, whereas the conviction against the head constable Panneerselvam and the private individual Murthy was confirmed.
After undergoing several years of imprisonment in the central jail, the appeal, made by the head constable Panneerselvam and the private person Murthy, came up for hearing before the Hon’ble Apex court. At last, the Almighty showed mercy on them. Yes..! they were acquitted from all the charges by the Apex court on the ground that the conviction, based on the mere dying declaration alone, without any substantial evidences to corroborate the same, was to be set aside.
During the trial, though the defense counsel claimed that the dying declaration given by Kumar to the RDO was only a tutored one, it was observed by the Hon’ble High Court, while confirming the conviction to the head constable Panneerselvam and the private person Murthy, that such a dying declaration given to the RDO had to be taken in to account and believed in view of the circumstances of the case.
The Hon’ble High court observed in its judgment that the circumstances of the case, wherein the suspect Kumar, against whom no case at all was registered and no arrest was at all made, was brought to police station and illegally detained for that night in the police station on a mere complaint of Murthy, fixed legal and moral responsibility on the head constable Panneerselvam to answer, if anything happened inside the police station and if anything happened wrong to the suspect Kumar.
When the defence counsel claimed that the head constable Panneerselvam was actually sleeping at the waiting room when the occurrence took place, the Hon’ble High Court rejected his claim, observing that it was not the case of the head constable Panneerselvam that at that time, when such an occurrence took place, he was sleeping inside the waiting room at the police station or not, as he was answerable for anything happened wrong to the life of Kumar inside the police station..
The overall proceedings of this case send a message to all the police men that it was not the dying declaration that played a main role in convicting the police men, but it was mere the slackness and the carefree attitude of the police men who actually slept well, leaving a stranger on his own accord at the police station, without having any social awareness.
Let this case must be a lesson to every police men in service for future guidance.