Punishment for Disappearing Evidence and Giving False Information in India
If the offence in respect of which evidence is caused to disappear is a capital offence, punishment shall be imprisonment of either description upto 7 years and fine, in case of offence punishable with imprisonment for life or imprisonment upto 10 years it shall be imprisonment of either description upto 3 years and fine, and in offence punishable with less than 10 years imprisonment punishment may be fine or imprisonment upto one-fourth of the term provided for the offence or both fine and imprisonment.
To establish the charge under Section 201, the prosecution has to prove that an offence had been committed—not merely a suspicion that it might have been committed —and that the accused knowing or having reason to believe that such an offence had been committed, and with the intent to screen the offender from legal punishment, had caused the evidence thereof to disappear.
The proof of the commission of an offence is an essential requisite for bringing home the offence under Section 201, I.P.C. Before a conviction under Section 201 can be recorded, it must be shown to the satisfaction of the Court that the accused knew or had reason to believe that an offence had been committed and having got this knowledge, tried to screen the offender by disposing of the dead body.
There was absolutely no evidence in this case to prove that any of the accused had either any knowledge or reason to believe that any offence was committed in respect of deceased. Merely because accused were brothers, it could not be presumed as a matter of legal proof that they must be deemed to have the knowledge of the murder of deceased by her husband.
There must be direct and legal evidence to prove charge under Section 201 which was wholly wanting in this present case. Similarly in another case Supreme Court held that mere washing of car cannot be evidence of the factual ingredients of this section in regard to removal of blood.
In Sardar Singh v. Delhi Administration, the Supreme Court observed that the wife of the main accused cannot be punished under Section 201, I.P.C. if the prosecution fails to prove the case against wife with certain evidences beyond doubt.
The main accused was found guilty of committing murder, because the dead body was found into a pit near the house of main accused. The wife of the main accused was also convicted by the High Court under Section 201, I.P.C. for digging the pit and filling the soil into pit near the house. The case was not proved by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt. So the Supreme Court acquitted the wife of main accused.
Principle and Scope:
This is a section which presents a case of accession after the fact. An accessory after the fact, may be, where a person, knowing a felony to have been committed, receives reliefs, comforts, or assists the felon. In the opinion of the Bombay and Calcutta High Courts, the section does not relate to the principal offender but to persons other than the actual criminal who, by causing the evidence of the offence to disappear, assist the principal to escape the consequence of his crime.
In view of the Allahabad High Court, a person who has himself committed a crime is nonetheless guilty of removing the traces thereof if it can be proved against him that he has done so. Nagpur High Court held the view that Section 201 does not apply to criminal causing evidence of his own crime, to disappear but is applicable to a person who screens the actual offender and no question of abetment can possibly arise in such a case.
Supreme Court’s view is that Section 201 is not restricted to the case of a person who screens the actual offender, but it is applicable even to a person guilty of the main offence, though as a matter of practice a court will not convict a person both of the main offence and under Section 201.
Under Section 201 mere suspicion is not sufficient but it is necessary to prove “that an offence has been committed; that the accused knew or had reason to believe that such offence had been committed and with the requisite knowledge and with the intent to screen the offender from the legal punishment caused the evidence thereof to disappear or gave false information regarding such offences knowing or having reason to believe the same to be false”.
The Supreme Court held in Vijaya v. State of Maharashtra, that Section 201 of the Indian Penal Code requires that the accused must have had the intention of screening the offender. In other words the intention to screen the offender must be the primary and sole object of the accused.
In Prakash Dhawan Khairnar v. State of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court held that where the son destroyed evidence relating to murder with primary object of saving his father, his conviction was proper under Section 201 of the Indian Penal Code.
Causes any evidence to disappear:
The disappearance of the evidence must have been caused, and not merely suffered by the active assistance of the accused. Concealing, removing otherwise, and disposing of the body of murdered person amounts to causing the disappearance of the evidence.
The word “evidence” is here used in its primary and not in its extensive sense as it is used in the Indian Evidence Act. It means here anything that is likely to make the crime evident such as the existence of a wounded corpse, or blood stains, fabricated documents or similar material objects indicating that an offence has been committed.
One Mathew Manoranjan was the deceased in this case. His wife Y was friendly with the prime accused X. X used to visit V but her husband did not like it. X also used to take liquor in the company of V, the wife of the deceased.
Once X went to Y’s house and asked for liquor. Since it was not available. V started distillation of illicit liquor. In the meantime Mathew Manoranjan came to the house and abused X. X went to the kitchen and took out gun and shot at the deceased.
Deceased fell down and died. X then severed the head from the body and dead body was removed, and hidden thereafter. Y washed the floor with cow-dung to wipe out the bloodstains.
The whole incident was watched by the two children of Y and the deceased, who were proved to be satisfactory witnesses. In this case Y the widow of the deceased was held to be guilty of an offence under Section 201 as she tried to cause the disappearance of the evidence of an offence. i.e., murder of her husband.
Screening the offender from legal punishment:
The intention of causing the disappearance of any evidence must be to screen an offender from legal punishment. The section does not apply where the offender is acquitted or where the act done by the offender is that of suicide.
The offence does not arise when an accused person does not attempt to screen from legal punishment persons other than him.
Intentional omission to give information of offence by person bound to inform is punishable with imprisonment of either kind and upto 6 months or fine or both (Section 202), where no offence is established, conviction for omission to inform the offence is not sustainable.
The word “whoever” occurring in the opening part of Section 202 refers to a person other than the offender and has no application to the person who is alleged to have committed the principal offence. This is not because there is no law which casts a duty on a criminal to give information which would incriminate himself. Intentionally giving false information respecting an offence already committed is punishable with imprisonment of either kind upto 2 years or fine or both (Section 203).