In the Supreme Court of India

CITATION1962 AIR 605, 1962 SCR Supl. (1) 567
DATE OF THE CASE24th November 1961


The case has raised the crucial idea of “grave and sudden provocation.” The judgement also emphasises the governor’s power to grant pardons. This important case served as the inspiration for numerous films and books. Some of the films and web series that were influenced by this ruling include the 1973 film Achanak, the 2016 Akshay Kumar-starring film Rustom, and the 2019 web series “The Verdict.” This decision placed focus on several fundamental principles, making it a well-known case at the time that caught the public’s and media’s attention.[2]


In the Indian judiciary, there is a huge confusion between the concept of murder and culpable homicide. It is very difficult for advocates to prove whether the crime amounts to murder or culpable homicide. The same situation occurred in the present case. An Indian naval officer named Kawas Mankeshaw Nanavati was charged with killing Prem Ahuja, his wife’s lover, in this landmark case that the Supreme Court of India heard in 1959. And although this case’s verdict was delivered on November 24, 1961, it is still fresh in people’s memories. There are many books and films released by taking inspiration from this case. Additionally, this case was the final one in India to be decided by a jury trial. It was one of the significant cases which emphasised the difference between culpable homicide and murder.


  • “K. M. Nanavati was an Indian naval officer, in 1949 he got married to a girl named sylvia, and because of his nature of work, he was shifted to Bombay with his family (wife sylvia and their three children).
  • Prem Bhagwan Ahuja was a known businessman residing in the same city as his sister Mamie.
  • In 1956, Ahujas and Nanavatis met each other through their common friends who were Agniks.”[3]
  • Nanavati was often on his trips and away from home because of his work in that period his wife sylvia came close and got intimate with Prem Ahuja.
  • After returning from work Whenever Nanavati tries to get close to his wife she used to refuse and be rude and also behaves in a very strange way. Because of her behaviour, Nanavati got confused and he doubted.
  • On April 29, 1959, when Nanavati questioned and interrogated his wife sylvia about her loyalty and faithfulness towards him, she confessed everything that happened between her and Prem Ahuja.
  • In the sudden anger, Nanavati procure his loaded gun from his ship and went to find Prem Ahuja all around. Firstly, he checked Prem at his office but he was not there then Nanavati turned to his house.
  • After reaching he asked him to get married to his wife and look after his children as well but Ahuja said, he cannot marry every woman with whom he sleeps, after hearing this Nanavati got very angry he couldn’t control his anger and shot at him. Which led to his death. After that Nanavati surrendered himself to the police station. A case was filed against him.
  • The high court decided the case as Nanavati was held guilty of murder. The high court of Bombay referred this case under Section 307[4] of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.


  • “The counsel of Nanavati’s legal team put forth that Nanavati planned to commit suicide and end his own life after hearing Sylvia’s confession, but his wife was able to convince him to forget everything that happened and start again.”[5] She didn’t tell him whether she and Prem wanted to marry each other or not but Nanavati wanted the answer to this question. 
  • Further he stated that then Nanavati told his wife he is going to get some dog food he left for it and drop his wife and children at the cinema hall. Then he went to his ship where he used to work, he asked ship authorities for a revolver and six bullets and told them the reason that he is going by road to Ahmadnagar thus he wanted it for his safety.
  • After taking the revolver in the envelope he reached Ahuja’s office, but after not finding him he arrived at Ahuja’s flat, he knocked on the door, and the servant opened the door. He straightly marched to the bedroom of Prem to talk to him and closed the door. But he started provoking him.
  • Further their argument turned into a big fight Ahuja abruptly reached for the packet, but Nanavati pulled out his revolver and ordered him to put it back. Two shots were accidentally discharged during the struggle, which resulted in the death of Ahuja.
  • At last petitioner contended After this incident, Nanavati went to the police station and surrendered himself. Hence the act was a result of sudden and grave provocation thus it is culpable homicide, not murder.


  • The respondent contended that firstly, when the incident occurred, Ahuja was just finished taking a shower and wearing his towel. When his body was found by the police officers, his towel was well intact. If any fight had taken place then his towel would not be in its position. Thus there is no sign of any kind of fight.
  • Secondly, After the admission of Nanavati’s wife sylvia, a cool and collected Nanavati took his family for an outing and drop them off for a movie, and then under false pretences went to find his gun. This proves that he had sufficient time to cool down, that the incitement was not severe or unexpected, and that Nanavati had already in mind the plan to kill him.
  • As per the statement of the servant, Anjani who was alone natural witness told, them that she heard Four shots fired and this all happened in just one minute. Even Nanavati did not explain anything to the sister of Ahuja who was in another room of the same flat.
  • The dept. commissioner of police mentioned that Nanavati admitted his offence. Even told the correction of his name which describes his ability to understand.


  1. Whether the High Court lacks the authority required by Section 307[6] of the Code of Criminal Procedure to review the evidence and assess the suitability of the Sessions Judge’s recommendation.
  2. Whether Section 307(3)[7] of the Code of Criminal Procedure gave the High Court the authority to invalidate a verdict of the jury due to misdirection in the case.
  3. Whether the charge had any misdirections.
  4. Whether the murder was premeditated or carried out in “the heat of the moment”
  5. Can the pardoning authority of the governor and the Special Leave Petition be combined?


Shelat and Naik, JJ., made up a division bench of the aforementioned High Court that heard the case. The two erudite Judges reached different conclusions, but they all agreed that the accused should spend the remainder of his life in prison because he violated Indian Penal Code Section 302[8] by killing the victim.

Shelat, J. assessed all the available information after concluding that the jury had been misled and came to the conclusion that the accused was guilty of murder; alternatively, he expressed the view that the jury’s verdict was perverse, irrational, and, in any case, contrary to the weight of the evidence. Naik, J., decided to base his decision on the alternative claim that no sane person could have arrived at the jury’s verdict.[9]


  • The Hon’ble Supreme Court remarked that under paragraph (1) of section 307[10] of the CrPC, the judge may refer the case to the High Court if he disagrees with the jury’s verdict. The following two conditions must be satisfied:
  • The jury’s decision must be rejected by the court, and he must also think that no reasonable person could have arrived at the jury’s decision. If and only if these two requirements are satisfied, the referral order will be judged competent; if not, it will be deemed incompetent and rejected by the High Court. In the case Akhlakali Hayatalli vs The State of Bombay[11] and also in Ramanugrah Singh v. Emperor[12] it was stated by the high court that “Under sub-section (1), two conditions, are required to justify a reference. The first, that the Judge must disagree with the verdict of the jury, calls for no comment since it is the foundation for any Preference. The second, ‘that the judge must be “clearly of opinion that it is necessary for, the ‘ends of justice to submit the case” is important, and in their Lord, ships’ opinion provides a key to the ‘interpretation of the section.”
  • The duties outlined in paragraph (3) of section 307[13] of the Criminal Procedure Code must be carried out by the High Court after it decides the order of reference is competent. According to this clause, the High Court must evaluate all the evidence, give the jury and judge’s verdicts appropriate weight, and then declare the accused innocent or guilty. The defence attorney for the defendant argued that the opposite interpretation would defeat the purpose of this section.
  • The Supreme Court stated that even though the confession of the wife was serious, Prem Ahuja wasn’t present there when it was made, so the factor of the murder being unexpected was absent. The Court reasoned that a normal individual would have had plenty of time to calm down the provocation. The period was of three hours between the confession made by his wife and the incident happened.
  • Thus, The Court concluded that it was the act of deliberation and the concept of sudden provocation does not apply in this case. As per the supreme court, “the pardoning power of the governor under Art. 161[14] and Special Leave Petition (SLP) under Art. 136[15] of the Indian Constitution is interconnected to each other.
  • The Supreme Court held that the decision of the high is just and proper. Thus, it contended that the accused shall be sent for life imprisonment under the charge of murder.”[16]


This case was the most important and conceptual case decided by the judiciary of India. It firmly distinguished the concept of culpable homicide from murder. The approach of the high court and the supreme court was straight and clear. Punishments shouldn’t be undoubtedly presumed. The punishment for a crime should be commensurate with the offence. The Court’s decision was made solely on the gravity of the offence, not the man’s honour or place in society. Given the facts and circumstances of the current case, we must follow the Court’s ruling. Punishments shouldn’t be presumptively meted out or presumed. The punishment for a crime should be commensurate with the offence.

There are many aspects which are crucial for any justice system in India. This case teaches us how criminals can escape from the loopholes of the legislature. How to prevent them from doing so. It shows the need for knowledgeable and experienced judges for fair and just decisions. This all can happen only with thorough and deep study or research in the various legal fields and subjects.


[2] ‘KM Nanavati Vs State Of Maharashtra – Case Analysis’ (7 August 2022) <https://lawcorner.in/km-nanavati-vs-state-of-maharashtra-case-analysis/> accessed 21 June 2023.

[3] Rachit Garg, ‘K.M. Nanavati v. the State of Maharashtra: Case Analysis’ (iPleaders, 20 December 2021) <https://blog.ipleaders.in/k-m-nanavati-v-the-state-of-maharashtra-case-analysis/> accessed 15 June 2023.

[4] ‘Section 307 in The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973’ <https://indiankanoon.org/doc/647828/> accessed 23 June 2023.

[5] Ibid.

[6] ‘Section 307 in The Indian Penal Code’ <https://indiankanoon.org/doc/455468/> accessed 21 June 2023.

[7] Ibid.

[8] ‘Section 302 in The Indian Penal Code’ <https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1560742/> accessed 21 June 2023.

[9] ‘KM Nanavati Vs State Of Maharashtra – Case Analysis’ (n 2).

[10] ‘Section 307 in The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973’ (n 4).

[11] (1954) S.C.R. 435

[12] (1946) 48 BOMLR 768

[13] ibid.

[14] ‘Article 161 in The Constitution Of India 1949’ <https://indiankanoon.org/doc/873751/> accessed 21 June 2023.

[15] ‘Article 136 in The Constitution Of India 1949’ <https://indiankanoon.org/doc/427855/> accessed 21 June 2023.

[16] Garg (n 3).

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