A murder which occurred way back in 1937 in Berhampur and the subsequent conviction of the accused continues to enlighten law students on the nuances of the Indian Evidence Act.
The case, Pakala Narayana Swami vs Emperor, which has been included in law books for the students to study was a landmark judgement and it has travelled its way up in the judiciary through decisions of both lower courts and High Courts in convicting accused in murder cases and awarding death sentence.
On March 23, 1937 (Tuesday), the body of Kuree Nakaraju was found in a steel trunk in a third class compartment of a train at Puri railway station under the erstwhile Bengal Nagpur Railway. The trunk had been left unclaimed. The body had been cut into seven parts and the medical evidence left no doubt that the man had been murdered. The body of the deceased was later identified by his widow.
The investigation revealed that, the deceased had lent Rs 3000 as a loan to the wife of one Pakala Narayana Swami (Accused) from Berhampur and Swami had called the deceased to his place to collect the money with interest. That was the last time Nakaraju was seen alive before his body was recovered from a trunk a day later.
After hearing the evidence and examining evidence, the Magistrate court discharged the accused holding that there was no sufficient evidence to support the charge. Following his acquittal, a jubilant Swami threw a grand feast at his village. However, the judge was passing by and saw the feast which was accompanied by fireworks and decided to reopen the case on his own.
He issued a show cause notice on the accused asking why he should not be committed for trial, and in July, 1937, ordered the accused to be committed to the Court of Session to stand trial for offence under sections of the Indian Penal Code--120B (conspiring to murder) 302 (murder) and 201 (causing evidence of an offence to disappear).
In the trial, the Sessions Judge convicted the appellant of murder and sentenced him to Kalapani. The appeal was based on the admission of certain evidence said to be inadmissible under provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Indian Evidence Act; and was further maintained upon the contention that whether the disputed evidence be admitted or not? And certainly if it ought to have been rejected, there is no evidence sufficient to support this conviction.
The case raised an important question, whether the statement of the accused can be considered as a confession?
The wooden table on which Swami murdered Nakaraju has been kept at the Berhampur Bar Association as the only evidence left of the case.
Nirmal Sahu, a senior lawyer said, “The table has been kapt intact by the Ganjam Lawyer’s Association. We plan to donate it to a museum in the future. It is important because no judgement has been made to supercede this judgement since then.”
Pradip Behera, the Secretary of Berhampur Bar Association termed the table as a memory. “This table is a witness of the Section 27 of the Evidence Act. All the Universities in the country have taken this case and the students are reading this to gain knowledge.”