K.M. Nanavati V. State of Maharashtra (1961) – Case Analysis

K.M. Nanavati V. State of Maharashtra – (1961)

This case analysis of “(K.M. Nanavati V. State of Maharashtra)-1961″is written by Renu Kulkarni,  a Third-year student of  BALLB ( Hons.) pursuing law from N.B.T. law college, Nasik.

Equivalent citations AIR 1962 SC 605

Bench:- Subbarao.k, Das.S.k. , Dayal Raghubar.

Laws & Act applied in case

Indian penal code,1860(section 88,302,300 execption I ), Code of criminal procedure, 1898( section 307(1), section 307(3) ), Indian evidence Act, 1872 .

The case was decided on 24.11.1961.


K.M. Nanavati V. State of Maharashtra (AIR 1962 SC 605 ) was a very important case in the history of Indian judiciary history. In that time this case got much fame due to the involvement of Media, Politics, Governor, Army, and the Public. It is a sensational murder case. That time’s pitiful journalism succeeded to grab public and emotional support for the Decorated Commander of the Indian Navy. This case is the last case of the Jury trial. After this case, the jury trial was abolished in India. There is a community clash that was also observed in this case which leads to interference of Politics.

 Facts of the case

  • Prosecution version
  1.  Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati was a Naval Commander. He married  Sylvia in the registry office of Portsmouth, England in 1949.  He always shifts to different cities due to his service. He shifted to Bombay on March 1[1]959 with his wife and 3 children and got to meet Prem Bhagwandas Ahuja, a businessman in Bombay at a party.
  2. In the absence of K.M.Nanavati, his wife Sylvia developed an illicit relationship with Prem Ahuja.
  3. On 27 April 1959, Nanavati returned home from an assignment in which he was second in command of the Indian Naval Ship ” Mysore”. He finds wife Sylvia cold and withdrawn.
  4. Sylvia confessed to him of her illicit intimacy with Prem Ahuja.
  5. Then he went to his ship, took a revolver and cartridges from its stores on the false pretext.
  6. He loaded the revolver, went to Ahuja’s flat and entered his bedroom, and shot him dead with three fatal shots.
  • Defensebelieve version:-
    1. Sylvia confessed to him of her illicit intimacy with Prem Ahuja and as she did not tell him,  was Prem Ahuja would marry her and take charge of their children? Then he decided to go and settle the matter with him.
  1. Nanavati drops his family at the metro cinema for a matinee show of Tom’s thumb, promises to pick them up by 6 pm.
  2. Then he drove to the ship and took a revolver and the cartridges on a false pretext intending to shoot himself.
  3. Then drove to Prem Ahuja’s office, but he was not there. Then he drove to his flat at Nepean sea road. He saw the deceased inside the bedroom, called him a filthy swine, and asked him whether he would marry Sylvia and look after the children. The deceased retorted, ” Am I to marry every woman I sleep with ?”
  4. After an altercation, a struggle ensued between the two, and in the course of that struggle, two shots went off accidentally and hit Ahuja.
  5. Then the accused surrendered to Gamadevi police station, asked for the Deputy Commissioner on duty. Confesses to crime.
  6. Then the trail starts in the court under the[2]e IPC section 304 i.e  Culpable homicide which leads to punishment of 10 years. This case includes the jury trial. The Defence argued gun went off accidentally during the scuffle.
  7. The jury returns a verdict of ‘ not guilty’ by a resounding 8:1.
  8. Session judge, the convinced jury was misguided and swayed by public opinion, declared the acquittal as perverse, and referred the case to The High Court under section 307 of the Code of criminal procedure. This leads to the scrapping of the jury system.
  9. On 24th November 1961, the division bench of the High court went on to declare the accused guilty under section 302 of the Indian penal code and sentenced him to undergo rigorous imprisonment for life. They find Nanavati guilty of homicide amounting to murder and sentenced him to life in prison.
  10. Thereafter, an appeal had been preferred against the said conviction and sentence before the Supreme Court and at the same time an application to the Governor of Maharashtra Vijaya Lakshmi pandit under Article 161.
  11. But, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the High Court and declined the order of the Governor. An appellate court held that there were misdirections in the Sessions Court.


The appellant was charged under section 302 as well as under section 304, part I  of the Indian penal code, and was tried by the sessions judge, Greater Bombay, with the aid of a special jury. The jury brought in a verdict of ” not guilty” by 8:1 under both the sections; but the sessions judge justice Ratilal Bhaichand Mehta did not agree with the verdict of the jury, it was such that no reasonable body of men could, having regard to the evidence, bring in such a verdict. The learned sessions judge submitted the case under section 307 of the code of criminal procedure to the Bombay High court after recording the grounds for his opinion.

The word ” for the ends of justice” in section 307(1) of the code, which indicates that the judge disagreeing with the verdict, must believe that the verdict was one which no reasonable body of men could reach on the evidence, coupled with the word ‘clearly of the opinion’ gave the judge wide and comprehensive discretion to suit the different situation. Therefore, the judge disagreed with the verdict and recorded the ground of his opinion, the reference was competent, irrespective of the question of whether the judge was right in so differing from[3] the jury or forming such an opinion as to the verdict.

In the High court some arguments present by the prosecution which leads to a decision, those are  1. The onus of proving that it was an accident and not premeditated murder was on Nanavati. 2. Sylvia’s confession did not amount to the grave and sudden provocation. 3. The judge wrongly told the jury that the provocation can also come from a third person which is not confidential. 4. The jury was not instructed that Nanavati’s defense had to be proved at the final level.

The said arguments were heard by a division bench of the High court consisting of Shelat and Naik. J.  The two learned judges gave separate judgments but agreed in holding that the accused was guilty of the offense of murder under section 302 of the Indian penal code and sentenced him to undergo rigorous imprisonment for life. Shelat. J ., having held that there were misdirections to the jury, received the entire evidence and come to the conclusion that the accused was guilty of the offense of murder, alternatively, he expressed the view that the verdict of the jury was perverse, unreasonable, and in any event, contrary to the weight of evidence.

Naik.J., preferred to base his conclusion on the alternative ground, namely, that no reasonable body of person could have to come to the conclusion arrived at by the jury. Both the learned judges agreed that no case had been made out to reduce the offense from murder to culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

After that by K.M.Nanavati, the appeal had been preferred against the said conviction and sentence before the supreme court and governor of Maharashtra under section 161.

According to the defense case, the accused was thinking of the future of his wife and children which indicates that he had not only regained his sense but also was planning for the future.

Another point was that the time lapse between the confession and murder was sufficient to regain his self-control. It is related to the heat of the moment. The mere fact that the accused abused the deceased and the abuse provoked an equally abusive reply could not be conceived as a provocation for the murder. Another reason for doubt is that the injuries found on the body of the deceased are consistent with the intentional shooting and the main injuries are wholly inconsistent with the accidental shooting. The letter was written by Sylvia to Ahuja and extra-judicial confessions both are taken into account by the court.

The act of going to the Navy ship, procuring a gun, and 6 cartridges and carrying them with false pretext indicate his intention which proves men’s rea.

Based on all these facts, the evidence adduced, contentions of the case do not attract the provisions of exception 1  to section 300 of the Indian penal code. As per the result, the conviction of the accused under section 302 of the Indian penal code and sentence of imprisonment for life passed on him by the high court is correct, and there are no grounds for interference.


This case and judgment both are a very landmark in the history of the Indian judiciary. It proves that all citizens are equal before the law by punishing a decorated commander of the navy. It also proves that by the interference of Media, politics, and the Governor is not able to change the decision. Pitiful journalism also doesn’t work before the court and section 307 becomes a turning point of this case.

[1] B P. Sinha, “K.M.Nanavati vs The state of Bombay on 5 September 1960”, Supreme court of India, www.indiankanoon.org.com

[2] Disha Gupta, “Landmark judgment Brief: KM Nanavati V. State of Maharashtra”, Into legal World,(14 December 2019, time 08:27 AM)  www.intolegalworld.com

[3] Akash Shah, “K.M.Nanavati V. State of Maharashtra”, Legal service India.com, www.legalserviceindia.com

Indian Penal Code

Code of Criminal Procedure