The word panchnama, although not defined anywhere in criminal code, but has a
significant value as it is used in almost all the police stations and criminal
courts across India. panchnama, is nothing, but an Inquest report by Police (in
some cases by Magistrate) as mandated by section 174 of Code pf Criminal
The sole objective of this report is to find out the cause of death. The fair
investigation in any criminal case is very much embedded in article 21 of
constitution. The panchnama or inquest report is preliminary step towards that
fair investigation. There are various concepts and theories about the objective,
role, procedure, evidentiary value and impact of non-filing of inquest report.
The authors take this occasion to unravel the correct approach and settled
position of law regarding panchnama (Inquest report).
Technically, Inquest report is explained in section 174 of CrPC. Although, under
section 176 of the code, there is provision of magisterial enquiry which is an
extension of section 174, but the scope of this article is limited to Inquest
The relevant portion of section 174 is reconstructed herein for reference and
better understanding to readers:
- When the officer in charge of a police station or some other police
officer specially empowered by the State Government in that behalf receives
information that a person has committed suicide, or has been killed by
another or by an animal or by machinery or by an accident, or has died under
circumstances raising a reasonable suspicion that some other person has
committed an offence, he shall immediately give intimation thereof to the
nearest Executive Magistrate empowered to hold inquests, and, unless
otherwise directed by any rule prescribed by the State Government, or by any
general or special order of the District or Sub- divisional Magistrate,
shall proceed to the place where the body
of such deceased person is, and there, in the presence of two' or more
respectable inhabitants of the neighbourhood, shall make an investigation,
and draw up a report of the apparent cause of death, describing such wounds,
fractures, bruises, and other marks of injury as may be found on the body,
and stating in what manner, or by what weapon or instrument (if any); such
marks appear to have been inflicted.
- The report shall be signed by such police officer and other persons, or
by so many of them as concur therein, and shall be forthwith forwarded to
the District Magistrate or the Sub- divisional Magistrate.
From the language of above-mentioned provision, it is clear that as and when
SHO or any police officer on that behalf, receives information of any death in
his jurisdiction, he shall immediately proceed to the place of dead body after
intimating Executive magistrate. He shall make a report explaining the cause of
death in presence of two or more inhabitants of that area.
The scope of inquest report is very limited as the main objective is merely to
ascertain whether person is died unnatural death or under unnatural
circumstances, and if so, then what are the causes of death. All other
information like how and by whom the person was assaulted, is irrelevant and
alien to section 174 of CrPC.
According to Cambridge dictionary inquest means, "an official process that tries
to find out how somebody died". As per Black Law dictionary, the term Inquest is
an enquiry conducted by the medical officers or sometime with the help of jury
into the manner of death of a person, who has died under suspicious
circumstances or has died in prison.
It can be safely inferred from section 174 that an inquest is an official public
enquiry, led by a police officer (and in some cases involving a magistrate) into
the circumstances of a sudden, unexplained or violent death. So, the police, can
make findings on-the identity of the deceased person, how, when and where the
death occurred and the circumstances surrounding the death.
The police officer who proceeds for the purpose of inquest report has following
responsibilities at the crime scene:
- Pronounce death and examine at what time the death was occurred.
- Investigation of scene.
- Take custody of body and make essential identifications of deceased.
- Immediately draw spot panchnama.
- Intimation to family members.
The panchnama should be drawn at the incident site. Supreme Court noted in
case of K.P.Rao vs Public Prosecutor (1975) that officer holding an inquest
on dead body must hold the proceeding on "SPOT"
A three judge bench of Hon'ble Supreme Court has given following guidelines to
all the state governments in respect of composition of Inquest report in the suo
moto case of In Re: To Issue Certain Guidelines regarding Inadequacies and
Deficiencies in Criminal Trial Vs State of Andhra Pradesh & Ors
- A site plan of the place of occurrence of an incident shall be appended by
the Investigating Officer to the scene mahazar or spot panchnama.
- The site plan shall be prepared by the Investigating Officer by hand,
and shall disclose at the place of occurrence:
- The place where the body (or bodies) was / were found.
- The place of material exhibits and/or weapons.
- Blood stains and/or body fluids had fallen.
- The place where bullet shells, if any, were found or have caused impact.
- The source of light, if any.
- Adjoining natural and man-made structures or features such as walls,
pits, fences, trees/bushes, if any.
- Elevation of structures and their location.
- The preparation of this sketch by the Investigating Officer shall be
followed by a scaled site plan prepared by police draftsman, if available,
or such other authorized or nominated draftsman by the State Government, who
shall prepare the scaled site plan after visiting the spot. iv. The relevant
details in the mahazar or panchnama shall be marked and correlated in the said site
Inquest Report and Post-mortem Report:
Although, the objective of inquest report and post-mortem report is same, but
there is difference between procedure and methodology of two. The inquest report
is primarily aimed at finding out the nature of injuries and the apparent cause
of death, but in post-mortem doctor examines the dead body with medico-legal
point of view.
The post-mortem report comprises the details and nature of
injuries ascertained through strict scientific examination. Section 174 CrPC was
amended in 1983 by inserting the sub-section (3) which empowered the police
officer to send the dead body to nearest civil surgeon for the purpose of
Primarily, the objective of this amendment was to deal with cases
of dowry death but it empowered the police to get the body examined by doctor,
when he has doubts regarding cause of death.
So now, it is possible that, there may be contradiction between inquest and
post-mortem report on cause of death. But in such scenario, courts have given
preference to post-mortem over inquest report being the former is done by an
expert. Apex court in the case of Javed Abdul Rajjaq Shaikh vs State of
Maharashtra (2011) held that:
"When there is difference of injuries in inquest panchnama and post-mortem
report, post-mortem will prevail over inquest panchnama because panch (witness)
are not experts like doctors. Accused cannot get benefit of inconsistencies."
Evidentiary Value of Inquest Report:
Inquest panchnama is a mere fact-finding report about cause of death during
course of investigation. It is not such a substantial piece of evidence on the
basis of which conviction can be brought home. In catena of judgments, apex
court has ruled that inquest panchnama is not an evidence but it can be used for
some other purposes like contradiction of prosecution theory by defence or
contradiction of witnesses of panchnama if they are called in witness box on
behalf of prosecution.
As we know, under section 175 CrPC, investigating officer of proceeding has the
power to call witnesses to inquest report (those two or more respectable persons
who signed the panchnama) and may record their statements. Such witnesses shall
be bound to appear and answer truly all questions other than questions the
answers to which would have a tendency to expose them to a criminal charge or to
a penalty or forfeiture.
Supreme Court in the case of Yogesh Singh vs Mahaveer Singh
that inquest panchnama is just part of an investigation proceeding unlike
inquiry or trial. It is not a substantive piece of evidence and it can only be
used for testing the veracity of witnesses on Inquest.
Similarly, in Tahsildar Singh Vs. State of Uttar Pradesh
(1959) top court
observed that "At the most, it can be used only as a previous statement to
corroborate or contradict the person making it, at the trial."
Same view was taken by Supreme Court in Mamta Vs. State of Madhya Pradesh
(2015), and held that:
"……. the statement of a witness recorded by the investigators during the inquest
under Section 174 would be within the inhibition of Section 162. Behind this
provision is a wholesome rule of public policy that witnesses at the trial
should be free to tell the truth unhampered by anything they might have been
made to say to the police. The statement under Section 174 of cannot be used as
a substantive piece of evidence."
In Rhea Chakraborty vs The State of Bihar
(2020), top court of India, tried to
distinct between the investigation under section 174 and 154 of CrPC.
Court held that "the proceeding under Section 174 CrPC is limited to the inquiry
carried out by the police to find out the apparent cause of unnatural death.
These are not in the nature of investigation, undertaken after filing of FIR
under Section 154 CrPC. Two inquest reports in the same case are not
maintainable, because there is no rule prescribed under the code."
Impact of Omissions in Inquest Panchnama:
As discussed above, the inquest panchnama is only a part of investigation and
meant only to identify the cause of death. It may be termed as a sub-specie of
post mortem report made by any non-scientific person. Legislation never intended
that the inquest report or panchnama under section 174 of CrPC should have each
minute details regarding the incident, accused or victim. The criminal courts in
India have also emphasised that the lapses in inquest report are bound to happen
and they cannot be fatal to prosecution case.
In Rhea Chakraborty (supra),
Supreme Court ruled that errors made during the
proceeding under section 174 is not fatal to the story of prosecution but at the
same time, it can be considered as a dubious incident.
In Shakila Khader vs Nausher Gama
(1975), the accused argued that the name of
eye witness was not mentioned in inquest report and therefore testimony of such
witness should not be relied upon. But court held that inquest report under
section 174 CrPC is concerned to establish the cause of death only and mere
omission of name of any witness is not fatal to testimony of that witness.
Similarly, in case of Eqbal Baig vs State of Andhra Pradesh (1987), it was held
that non-mentioning of name of eye witness in inquest report is not a ground to
reject the testimony of such eye witness. Court further observed that, even the
absence of name of accused in inquest report cannot lead to an inference that he
was not present at the time of commission of offence.
There is no requirement in
law under 174 CrPC that the details of FIR, names of accused or eye witness must
be mentioned. Neither the gist of statement of witness is mandatory to mention
in inquest report nor it is required to be signed by eye-witnesses.
From, the discussion above, it can be concluded that, though Inquest panchnama
has a major role to play in criminal justice system, but its uses are limited
only to the perspectives designed by legislation. The inquest panchnama should
be restricted to the objectives for which it was framed. It is not evidence in
The inquest panchnama aids the court to come to a conclusion about nature of
injuries and cause of death of victim and therefore, the concerned police
officer should report all the required details of injuries, weapons, cause and
nature of injuries, witnesses or any other relevant details. It is also
suggested that the police officer should be trained and regular workshops should
be conducted in order to teach them basics of human anatomy.
If the inquest report is properly made then it will help to meet the end of
justice. The culprits should not be allowed to take benefits of poorly framed
inquest report and this can be achieved only if lapses in such reports are
reduced to minimum.
Written By: Nirmala Singh
is Masters in Law & a Serving Delhi Police