Emperor v Mushnooru Suryanarayana Murthy

This article is written by Tulip Das, currently pursuing BBA L.L.B(H) from Amity University Kolkata.

Case Number

Criminal Appeal No. 522 of 1910 and 

Criminal Appeal No. 32 of 1912

Judges

Benson, J. Sundara Aiyar, J. and Rahim, J.

Decided On

02/01/1912

Citation

1912, 22 MLJR 333 (Mad)

Relevant Act

Section 26, 39, 299, 300, 301, 302, 303, 321, 323 and 324 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Section 429 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.

Facts

The accused, Mushnooru Suryanarayana Murthy, called Appala Narasimhulu to his brother-in-law`s house and with an intention to kill him, gave him some sweetmeat (halva) which contained arsenic and mercury poison in soluble form.

Appala Narasimhulu ate a portion of the sweetmeat and threw away the rest.

Rajalakshmi, the 8 or 9-year-old daughter of the accused`s brother-in-law, unknowingly ate some sweetmeat and also gave some to another little child to eat. However, this happened without the knowledge of the accused.

The two children who had eaten the poisoned sweetmeat, died from the effects of it, but Appala Narasimhulu, though the poison severely affected him, eventually recovered.

The accused has been sentenced to transpiration for life for having attempted to murder Appala Narasimhulu.

Procedural History

The accused, Mushnooru Suryanarayana Murthy had made large amounts of insurance on the life of Appala Narasimhulu without the knowledge of the latter. In order to obtain the sums for which he was insured, he wanted to murder Appala Narasimhulu. With an intention to do so, Mushnooru invited Narasimhulu to his brother-in-law`s house and offered the latter poisoned sweetmeat (halva) to eat. Narasimhulu ate a portion and then threw it. Later, Rajalakshmi, the 8 or 9-year-old daughter of Mushnooru Suryanarayana Murthy`s brother-in-law, unknowingly ate the same sweetmeat and also gave a portion of it to another child. This happened without the knowledge of the accused. Unfortunately, the two children died after eating the sweetmeat but Narasimhulu eventually recovered in spite of being affected by the poison. Therefore, the accused, Mushnooru Suryanarayana Murthy was acquitted and sentenced with an attempted to murder of Appala Narasimhulu.

Issues Raised

Whether the accused is guilty of the murder of Rajalakshmi and the other child?

Whether the accused is guilty under Section 302 of IPC?

Whether the accused was so indirectly or remotely connected to the death that he cannot be said to have caused it?

Whether the death of Rajalakshmi was caused by the accused`s act within the meaning of Section 299? 

Ratio Decedendi

The accused was convicted under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. The case has in itself, a number of sections mentioned. When we look into the definitions of the section, it reads as follows: –

The Indian Penal Code, 1860

Section 26. Reason to believe – A person is said to have “reason to believe” a thing, if he has sufficient cause to believe that thing but not otherwise.

Section 39. Voluntarily – A person is said to cause an effect “voluntarily” when he causes it by means whereby he intended to cause it, or by means which, at the time of employing those means, he knew or had reason to believe to be likely to cause it.

Section 299. Culpable homicide – Whoever causes death by doing an act with the intention of causing death, or with the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, or with the knowledge that he is likely by such act to cause death, commits the offence of culpable homicide.

Section 300. Murder – Except in the cases hereinafter excepted, culpable homicide is murder—

  1. If the act by which the death is caused is done with the intention of causing death, or
  2. If it is done with the intention of causing such bodily injury as the offender knows to be likely to cause the death of the person to whom the harm is caused, or
  3. If it is done with the intention of causing bodily injury to any person and the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death, or
  4. If the person committing the act knows that it is so imminently dangerous that it must, in all probability, cause death, or such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, and commits such act without any excuse for incurring the risk of causing death or such injury as aforesaid.

Section 301. Culpable homicide by causing death of person other than person whose death was intended – If a person, by doing anything which he intends or knows to be likely to cause death, commits culpable homicide by causing the death of any person, whose death he neither intends nor knows himself to be likely to cause, the culpable homicide committed by the offender is of the description of which it would have been if he had caused the death of the person whose death he intended or knew himself to he likely to cause.

Section 302. Punishment for Murder – Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.

Section 303. Punishment for murder by life-convict – Whoever, being under sentence of imprisonment for life, commits murder, shall be punished with death.

Section 321. Voluntarily causing hurt – Whoever does any act with the intention of thereby causing hurt to any person, or with the knowledge that he is likely thereby to cause hurt to any person, and does thereby cause hurt to any person, is said “voluntarily to cause hurt”.

Section 323. Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt – Whoever, except in the case provided for by section 334, voluntarily causes hurt, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.

Section 324. Voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means – Whoever, except in the case provided for by section 334, voluntarily causes hurt by means of any instrument for shooting, stabbing or cutting, or any instrument which, used as a weapon of offence, is likely to cause death, or by means of fire or any heated substance, or by means of any poison or any corrosive substance, or by means of any explosive substance or by means of any substance which it is deleterious to the human body to inhale, to swallow, or to receive into the blood, or by means of any animal, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.

Section 429. Absence of complainant – When the proceedings have been instituted upon complaint, and on any day fixed for the hearing of the case, the complainant is absent, and the offence may be lawfully compounded or is not a cognizable offence, the Magistrate may, in his discretion, notwithstanding anything hereinbefore contained, at any time before the charge has been framed, discharge the accused. 

Judgment of the Court

Benson, J.

Justice Benson is of the opinion that the accused did cause the death of Rajalakshmi and is guilty of her murder. Although the accused did not intend to cause the death of Rajalakshmi, and he did not know that his act was even likely to cause her death, but it is clear that he did intend to cause the death of Appala Narasimhulu. Therefore, he poisoned the sweetmeat for him. It was this act of the accused which caused the death of the girl, though no doubt her own action, in ignorantly picking up and eating the poison, contributed to bring about the result, backed by Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. It is to be observed that the section does not require that the offender should intend to kill any particular person. It is enough if he “causes the death” of any one by doing an act with the intention of “causing death” to any one, whether the person intended to be killed or anyone else. So it is neither Appala Narasimhulu`s act of throwing away the poisoned sweetmeat nor Rajalakshmi`s act of picking up and eating the poisoned sweetmeat caused the death of the latter. It was the act of poisoning the sweetmeat by the accused that caused the death of Rajalakshmi. So, it is clear that he is definitely guilty of the murder caused and this is also properly backed by Section 301 of the Indian Penal Code. 

The accused was originally sentenced to seven years’ rigorous imprisonment for having attempted to murder Appala Narasimhulu. This sentence was enhanced to one of transportation for life by this court acting as a court of revision in December, 1910, when this appeal was not before them. Looking to these facts Justice Benson impose a sentence of death, though it would have been appropriate if the accused had been convicted of murder at the original trial.

Sundara Aiyar, J. 

In this case the accused Suryanarayana Murthi was charged by the Sessions Court of Ganjam with the murder of a young girl named Rajalakshmi and with attempt to murder one Appala Narasimhulu by administering poison to each of them on the 9th February 1910. He was convicted by the Sessions Court on the latter count but was acquitted on the former count and was sentenced to seven years’ rigorous imprisonment. He appealed against the conviction and sentence in Criminal Appeal No. 522 of 1910, and this court confirmed the conviction and enhanced the sentence to transportation for life. The present appeal is by the Government against his acquittal on the charge of murdering Rajalakshmi. 

After statement of several witnesses, the conclusion drawn was that Suryanarayana Murthi had no intention to murder Rajalakshmi. This is because he had no reasons to believe that the poisoned halva will be thrown away by Narasimhulu and will be picked up and eaten by Rajalakshmi which will lead to her death. This statement is rightly backed Section 26 of the IPC. According to this, he had no sufficient cause to believe that poisoning the halva for Narasimhulu would cause the death of Rajalakshmi. The girl`s death could not have been caused but for the intervention of the prosecution’s 1st witness, i.e., Narasimhulu. The case, in his opinion, is not one covered by Section 301 of the Indian Penal Code. The conclusion, therefore, appears to follow that the accused is not guilty of culpable homicide by doing an act which caused the death of the girl. It is not contended that there was a legal duty on the part of the accused to prevent the girl from eating the halva and that he is therefore not guilty of murder by an illegal omission. 

 He upheld the finding of acquittal of the lower court and dismissed the appeal.

Benson J. would find the accused guilty of the murder of Rajalakshmi, while Sundara Aiyar J., agreeing with the Sessions Judge, holds a contrary view.

As both the lawyers differ in their opinion, the case was led before another judge with their agreed opinion under Section 429 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.

Rahim, J.

After a deeper investigation into the case and proper justifications of actions and the applied laws, Justice Rahim, therefore, agreeing with Benson J., set aside the order of the Sessions Judge acquitting the accused of the charge of murder and convict him of an offence under Section 302, Indian Penal Code. He also agreed with him that, in the circumstances of the case, it is not necessary to impose upon the accused the extreme penalty of the law, and he sentenced the accused under Section 303, Indian Penal Code, to transportation for life. 

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