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Raja Nandkumar

Raja Nand Kumar also called Nanda Kumar or Nuncomar born in 1705 at Bhadrapur, which is now in Birbhum. He was a Hindu Brahmin, a big zamindar and a very influential person of Bengal. Maharaja Nand Kumar handled various posts under the Nawab of Bengal, primarily, as a revenue collector. He was once a Governor of Hugli under Nawab Siraj-Ud-Daulah in 1756. He was very loyal to the English Company and because of that he was also known as Black Colonel during Clive's period[1]. He was the first person of India who was executed by hanging.

The title Maharaja was conferred on Nand Kumar by Shah Alam II in 1764. He learnt Vaishnavism[2] from Radhamohana Thakura. In the early 1775, He brought several charges of bribery and corruption against Governor-General Warren Hastings. This case revolves around Raja Nand Kumar[3].

Background Of The Case
There were four council members of Warren Hastings namely Francis, Clavering, Monson and Barewell in which first three were against Warren Hastings and the only person who was in favor was Barewell. The majority group of Francis, Clavering and Monson instigated Nand Kumar to bring charges of Bribery and Corruption against Warren Hastings before the council.

Nand Kumar
gave a letter to Francis mentioning the complaints against Hastings of Bribery and Corruption and said that Hastings accepted bribery from him of more than 1 lakh for appointing his son Gurudas, as Diwan. It was also said that Hastings had accepted rupees 2.5 lakhs from Munni begam as bribe for appointing her as the guardian of the minor Nawab Mubarak-ud-Daulah who was still a juvenile[4].

Francis placed the letter before the council in its meeting. Then Monson moved a motion that Nand Kumar should be called to appear before the council. But Warren Hastings who was presiding the council was against this. Mr. Barewell, the supporter of Warren Hastings put forth the suggestion that Nand Kumar should file his complaints before Supreme Court not here in this council because the court was competent to hear this case.[5]

But the majority of members objected to this action and elected Clavering to preside the meeting in the place of Hastings. Now Nand Kumar was called before the council to prove his charges against Hastings. The majority of council declared that the charges levelled against Hastings were proved right. And Hastings was directed to deposit the amount of Rs 3,54,105 in Treasury of the company. This event made Hastings a bitter enemy of Nand Kumar and now he looked for an opportunity to show him down. 

Facts Of The Case
  • Soon after Nand Kumar along with Fawkes and Radha Charan was charged and arrested for conspiracy at the instance of Hastings.
  • In order to bring further disgrace to Raja Nand Kumar, Hastings manipulated another case of Forgery against him, for which the punishment was death as per the provision of the English Act of 1729. 
  • The charge of forgery was with respect to a bond or deed claimed as an acknowledgement of debt from Bulaki Das, the banker, which it is said, was executed by him in 1765.[6]
  • Mohan Prasad produced charges of forgery on 6th May 1775 before the then Hon’ble justices of the peace for the town of Calcutta. 
  • Le Maistre and Hyde who presided over in the capacity of Magistrates, heard the case at length, probed & contemplated the evidence, on behalf of the prosecution till late night.
  • The Magistrates presided in the capacity of the justices of the peace, were contended with the evidence presented by the prosecution witnesses, in course of which they ordered the Sherriff & keeper of His Majesty’s prison at Calcutta to accommodate Raja Nand Kumar in safe custody until his release as per the necessary dictums of law. Mohan Prasad furnished a bond to prosecute & hold Nand Kumar in the Supreme Court 
    dated 7th May 1775 accountable, basis on which, his fateful trial was executed before the Chief Justice and three other puisne judges of the Supreme Court on 8th May 1775[7].
  • He was put on trial before the Supreme Court with a jury of 12 Englishmen presided over by Sir Elijah Impey who was the friend of Warren Hastings.
  • Supreme Court in its decision in 1775[8], fined Fawkes but reserved its judgement against Nand Kumar on the ground of pending fraud case. 
  • The trial began on 7th june 1775 and continued for a period of eight days without any adjournment and consequently the Supreme Court sentenced him to death under an Act of British Parliament called the Forgery Act passed in 1728. 
  • Serious efforts were made save the life of Nand Kumar and an application for granting leave to appeal to the king-in-council was moved in Supreme Court but the same was 
    rejected.
  • The sentence passed by the Supreme Court was duly executed by hanging Nand Kumar to death on August 5, 1775 at 8:00 a.m. at Cooly Bazar near Fort William[9]
.
Important Questions Raised
  1. Whether the Supreme Court had jurisdiction in this matter?
  2. Whether the English Act of 1729, which made forgery a capital offense, was extended to India?

The answer of first question is that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction to decide the case as before the establishment of Supreme Court in Calcutta, the Indiansin Bengal were tried by local Faujdari Adalats and in this case, the offense was committed before the establishment of Supreme Court.

On the Second question related to the applicability of the Act of 1729 to India, the opinions of the judges itself were different, but the majority views including Chief Justice Impey prevailed. The decision of Supreme Court in this case was very controversial and it showed the arbitrary state of the administration of justice in India. 

Decision
The Supreme Court held that the case of conspiracy was dismissed because they didn't have any strong evidence against Raja Nand Kumar. But he was held liable in the second case of forgery and was given Capital Punishment[10].

The court held that Raja Nand Kumar was guilty as charged with forgery and for the same he was given a capital punishment by the then Chief Justice Impey.

Certain Features Of The Trial
  • Every judge of Supreme Court cross examined the defense witnesses. The intention of the judges was to break down Nand Kumar's witnesses.
  • Nand Kumar committed the offence of forgery nearly five years ago in 1770 i.e. much before the establishment of the Supreme Court. The Act of 1728 under which Nand Kumar was tried had never been formally circulated in Calcutta and the People could not be expected to know anything about it.

Critical Appraisal
  • The trial of Nand Kumar disclosed that the institution of Supreme Court hardly commanded any respect from the natives as it wholly unsuited to their social conditions and customs.
  • Raja Nand Kumar was not a resident of Calcutta, therefore, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court over his trial was uncertain, because it was initiated on the complaint of Mohann Prasad who was also an Indian native.[11]
  • The witnesses of Nand Kumar were subjected to severe cross examination repeatedly by each of the judges of the Supreme Court. Consequently, the whole defense collapsed as the witnesses were not familiar to the procedure of English law and its technicalities hence they got confused.
  • The offence of forgery for which Nand Kumar was tried was committed in 1770, i.e. long before the establishment of the Supreme Court in 1774. This obviously meant that Nand Kumar was tried under an ex-post-facto law.
  • The trail has been characterized as judicial murder of Raja Nand Kumar which rudely shocked the mankind. Raja Nand Kumar's trail was certainly a case of murder of justice.

From my point of view, the decision of Chief justice Impey in the given case acted utmost inequitable and unfair for Raja Nand Kumar. Impey undertook this unethical endeavor in order to satiate Warren Hastings. The trial in its whole has been widely held as judicial murder of Raja Nand Kumar which by a thunder strike frightens the moral of mankind.

The money which Warren Hastings had absorbed under his umbrella literally fell under the terms and conditions of his agreement and oath to take no possible forms of concessional leeway or endowment or recompensed reparations from the Indian King, Nawab or Prince.

But he hasn't been punished for the breach of his oath. This indicates that the decision was biased. The Justice must be fair and equal to everyone.

End-Notes:
  1. https://web.archive.org/web/20190206200233/https://www.kolkataonwheels.com/hanging-of-nanda-kumar/
  2. Vaishnavism, one of the major forms of modern Hinduism, characterized by devotion to the god Vishnu and his incarnations (avatars)
  3. http://murshidabad.net/history/history-topic-kunjaghata-raj.html
  4. Mandal, Sanjay (9 November 2005). History that hangs fire -Nandakumar neglect. The Telegraph (Calcutta).
  5. https://www.studocu.com/in/document/university-of-lucknow/law-of-crime/mandatory assignments/history/4213818/view
  6. http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-1457-conflicts-of-dual-judicature-trial-of-raja-nand-kumar.html
  7. https://www.legalbites.in/working-court-raja-n-kumar-patna-cossijurah-cases/
  8. http://www.journal.lex-warrier.in/tag/raja-nandakumar-case/
  9. https://www.lawyersclubindia.com/forum/infamous-trial-of-raja-nand-kumar--5104.asp
  10. https://notesmilenge.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/regulating-act-of-1773-creation-of-supreme-court-at-calcutta-some-landmark-cases.pdf
  11. http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-1457-conflicts-of-dual-judicature-trial-of-raja-nand-kumar.html

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