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Case number

Criminal Appeal No. 195 of 1960

Equivalent citation

AIR 1962 SC 605


Hon’ble Justice K. Subba Rao.

Date of Judgement

November 24, 1961.

Relevant Act(s)

The “Evidence Act, 1872”; the “Indian Penal Code, 1860”.

Facts of the case

K.M. Nanavati is the petitioner. He was an Indian naval Officer then. He was married in the year 1949, to Sylvia in England. They also had three children and had shifted to Bombay, after residing in a number of places. Prem Bhagwan Ahuja was a business who also resided in Bombay along with his sister. He had a business in automobiles. Nanavatis were introduced to the Ahujas through some common friends, the Agniks. Prem Ahuja was not married. The petitioner used to stay out of the station most of the time due to his profession. In his absence, Ahuja and Sylvia became friends, and soon she fell in love with him. This resulted in an illicit relationship between both of them. After a certain period of time, Sylvia began doubting Prem and felt that he would not get married to her. Hence, in 1959, on April 27th, Sylvia confessed to Nanavati about her love for Prem Ahuja. Nanavati was infuriated. He went to his naval base to take a semi-automatic pistol along with six cartridges, on a false pretext. He then arrived at Ahuja’s place, went to his bedroom, and asked him if he is ready to marry Sylvia and take responsibility for the children. Prem denied, as a result of which Nanavati shot him thrice and he died on spot. After this whole course of events, he surrendered himself to the police. As a result, he got arrested. He was committed to the Sessions under the charges of “Section 302” as well as “Section 304” of the “Indian Penal Code”. He was declared not guilty then by the jury by 8:1. The sessions judge disagreed with the jury’s decision, and under “Section 307” of the CrPC submitted the case in the Bombay High Court.


  1. Whether the Sessions Judge did not have jurisdiction to exercise “Section 307” of the CrPC?
  2. Whether the act committed can be considered as an act done in a “heated moment”?
  3. Was there any kind of misdirection?


Arguments made by the petitioner:
The counsel first mentioned that Nanavati wanted to kill himself. Sylvia calmed him down. Also, it was claimed that Nanavati had gone to Ahuja’s place just to ask him if he would get married to Sylvia or not. While taking the pistol and cartridges from the base, Nanavati told the ship authorities that since he would travel at night, he needed the pistol for his own safety; and he carried it in an envelope. In reality, he was going to shoot himself and not Ahuja.
When Nanavati arrived at Ahuja’s flat, he asked him if he would marry Sylvia, to which Ahuja denied blatantly. A heated argument took place, and Nanavati had just threatened to thrash Ahuja. He then kept the pistol on a table. Ahuja tried to grab the pistol but failed. In the meantime, the argument escalated between two men. Accidentally shots got fired in the scuffle and killed Prem Ahuja. Hence, Nanavati did not kill him intentionally, and it was not premeditated at all. Even if any crime was committed by Nanavati, it would not be murder and could amount to just culpable homicide.

Arguments made by the respondent:
The counsel for the respondent first mentioned that Ahuja had just come out of the washroom and was still in a towel when Nanavati entered. Therefore, there was no brawl between the two, since the towel did not fall off. Sylvia mentioned that they went to the movies, and Nanavati had dropped them. This shows that he was in a calm mind and was not enraged then. Thus, there was no chance of any “sudden provocation”. It was not an accident, because Ahuja’s sister was in the other room and Nanavati did not bother to inform her about the mishap. Instead, he just left.


Judgement of the Bombay High Court:
The case came to the Bombay High Court since the Sessions Judge did not agree to the jury’s decision in the Sessions court where Nanavati was declared not guilty. The case was heard by Hon’ble Justice Jaishanker Manilal Shelat, and Hon’ble Justice Naik. They decided that Nanavati should be convicted under “Section 302” of the “Indian Penal Code”, and gave the sentence of life imprisonment. The court mentioned that it was unreasonable on the jury’s part in the Sessions Court to declare Nanavati not guilty. No case was made to reduce the intensity of the event, i.e., from murder to culpable homicide.

Judgement of the Supreme Court:
The Supreme Court concluded that the concept of “suddenness” was not present in this case. This is because when Sylvia confessed to her illicit relationship with Nanavati, it was serious and grave, but Prem Ahuja was not present on the scene. According to the Hon’ble Supreme Court, since around three hours gap was present between the confession of the wife and the incident, Nanavati had enough time to cool down. Hence, the Apex Court decided in favour of the Bombay High Court’s decision of sentencing the petitioner to life imprisonment. The Court concluded that it was not an act of “grave and sudden provocation”. The Court decided that it was the judge’s duty to instruct the jury as to the legal ramifications. As per the court, the jury was misled due to the judge, which led to an unreasonable judgement by the jury. It was also held by the Court that the Sessions Judge did have jurisdiction to exercise “Section 307” of the CrPC.


This is an important case where the topic of “grave and sudden provocation” was discussed. This case also attracted huge media attention then. The whole nation was shocked by such a “crime of passion”. This case showed that no matter what position an individual holds in society, they would be punished by the law if they commit something unlawful. Another important part of this case was the jury trials. The jury trials were soon discontinued by the Government after this case, due to chances of such misled judgements.

This article is written by Aaratrika Bal student at National Law University Odisha.

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