The Apex court, in this case, explained the scope of two parts of Section 149 of Indian Penal Code, 1860. 

 CASE NO.   CRL. NO. 651/2001

Section 149 of the Indian Penal Code provides that if an offence is committed by any member of an unlawful assembly in prosecution of the common object of that assembly, or such as the members of that assembly knew to be likely to be committed in prosecution of that object, every person who at the time of the committing of that offence, is a member of the same assembly is guilty of that offence. The two clauses of Section 149 vary in degree of certainty.

The first clause contemplates the commission of an offence by any member of an unlawful assembly which can be held to have been committed in prosecution of the common object of the assembly.

The second clause embraces within its fold the commission of an act which may not necessarily be the common object of the assembly, nevertheless, the members of the assembly had knowledge of likelihood of the commission of that offence in prosecution of the common object. The common object may be commission of one offence while there may be likelihood of the commission of yet another offence, the knowledge whereof is capable of being safely attributable to the members of the unlawful assembly. In either case, every member of the assembly would be vicariously liable for the offence actually committed by any other member of the assembly. A mere possibility of the commission of the offence would not necessarily enable the court to draw an inference that the likelihood of commission of such offence was within the knowledge of every member of the unlawful assembly.

It is difficult indeed, though not impossible, to collect direct evidence of such knowledge. An inference may be drawn from circumstances such as the background of the incident, the motive, the nature of the assembly, the nature of the arms carried by the members of the assembly, their common object and the behaviour of the members soon before, at or after the actual commission of the crime.

Unless the applicability of Section 149 — either clause — is attracted and the court is convinced, on facts and in law, both, of liability capable of being fastened vicariously by reference to either clause of Section 149 IPC, merely because a criminal act was committed by a member of the assembly every other member thereof would not necessarily become liable for such criminal act. The inference as to the likelihood of the commission of the given criminal act must be capable of being held to be within the knowledge of another member of the assembly who is sought to be held vicariously liable for the said criminal act.

If death has been caused in prosecution of common object of unlawful assembly, it is not necessary to record a definite and specific finding as to which particular accused out of the members of the unlawful assembly caused the fatal injury. Once an unlawful assembly has come into existence, each member of the assembly becomes vicariously liable for the criminal act of any other member of the assembly committed in prosecution of the common object of the assembly.

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