Case Summary: Nandini Satpathy v. P. L. Dani


Case title: Nandini Satpathy vs Dani (P.L.) And Anr on 7 April, 1978

Court: Supreme Court of India

Bench: J.  Jaswant Singh, V.D. Tulzapurkar and V.R. Krishna Iyer.


Petitioner: Nandini Satpathy

Respondent: DANI (P.L.) AND ANR.

Citation: 1978 AIR 1025, 1978 SCR (3) 608

Facts of the case:

A complaint was filed by the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Vigilance, against the appellant, the former Chief Minister of Orissa and one-time Minister at the National level under the under section 179 IPC before the Sub-divisional Judicial Magistrate Sadar, Cuttack, and was directed to appear before the Vigilance Police Station, Cuttack, in September, 1977 for examination. During the course of investigation, she was interrogated with reference to a long string of questions, given to her in writing. The major accusation against her was the acquisition of assets disproportionate to the known sources of income. Aggrieved by this the appellant moved to the High Court under Art. 226 of the Constitution as well as under section 401 of the Cr.P.C, challenging the validity of the  proceeding on the grounds that the charges against her was because of the appellant’s failure to police interrogation and that the appellant’s refusal to do so was covered under Article 20(3) of the Constitution and section 161(2) of Cr.P.C. The High Court dismissed the petition and the appellant preferred an appeal to the Supreme Court. The question is whether Nandini Satpathy had a right to silence and whether people can refuse to answer questions during investigation?


1. Does the right to remain silent extent to a person who is likely to be accused of crimes i.e. a suspect accused?

2.  Does the bar against self-incrimination operate not merely with reference to a particular accusation in regard to which the police investigator interrogates, or does it extend also to other pending or potential accusations outside the specific investigation which has led to the questioning?

3. Does the constitutional shield of silence swing into action only in Court or can it barricade the ‘accused’ against incriminating interrogation at the stages of police investigation?

4. What is the ambit of the cryptic expression ‘compelled to be a witness against himself’ occurring in Article 20(3) of the Constitution?

5.  Does being ‘a witness against oneself’ include testimonial tendency to incriminate or probative probability of guilt flowing from the answer?

6. What are the parameters of Section 161(2) of the CrPc?

7. Does ‘any person’ in Section 161 Cr. Procedure Code include an accused person or only a witness?

8. When does an answer self-incriminate or tend to expose one to a charge?

9.  Does mens rea form a necessary component of section 179 I.P.C., and, if so, what is its precise nature? Can a mere apprehension that any answer has a guilty potential salvage the accused or bring into play the exclusionary rule?

10. Where do we demarcate the boundaries of benefit of doubt in the setting of section 161(2) Cr.P.C and Section 179 I.P.C.?


By Appellant

 a) The term ‘any person in section 161(1) excludes an accused person.

(b) Questions which form links in the chain of the prosecution case-these include all except irrelevant ones-are prone to expose the accused to a criminal charge or charges since several other cases are in the offing or have been charge-sheeted against the appellant and

(c) The right against self-incrimination protects the accused from revealing any information that he might apprehend to be incriminating.

By Respondent

Article 20(3), unlike S.161(2), does not operate until the case goes to court.

Judgement  With respect to the first issue the hon’ble court concurred with The Privy Council and the Court itself have held in numerous cases that the scope of Section 161 does include actual accused and suspects. The Privy Council arrived at the same conclusion in Pakala Narayana Swami v. Emperor. The Supreme Court upheld the same in Mahabir Mandal v. State of Bihar [1972CriLJ860]. The Hon’ble Court held that: The appellant shall undertake to answer all questions put to her which do not materially incriminate her in the pending or imminent investigations or prosecutions. If she claims immunity regarding any questions she will, without disclosing details, briefly state in which case or offence in the offing makes her reasonably apprehend self- incrimination by her refused answers.

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The Hon’ble Court took into consideration M.P. Sharma’s case and held that the guarantee under Article 20(3) would be available to those persons against whom a First Information Report has been recorded as accused therein. It would extend to any compulsory process for production of evidentiary documents which are reasonably likely to support a prosecution against them. The prohibitive sweep of Article 20(3) goes back to the stage of police interrogation-not, as contended, commencing in court only.

While deciding the ambit of article 20(3) of the Constitution with regard to the fourth issue, the Hon’ble Court held that insistence on answering is a form of pressure especially in the atmosphere of the police station unless certain safeguards erasing duress are adhered to. Frequent threats of prosecution if there is failure to answer may take on the complexion of undue pressure violating Article 20(3). Legal penalty may by itself not amount to duress but the manner of mentioning it to the victim of interrogation may introduce an element of tension and tone of command perilously hovering near compulsion.

Not all relevant answers are criminatory and not all criminatory answers are confessions. Tendency to expose to a criminal charge is wider than actual exposure to such charge. When relevant questions are loaded with guilty inference in the event of an answer being supplied, the tendency to incriminate springs into existence. In determining the incriminatory character of an answer, the accused is entitled to consider-and the Court while adjudging will take note of the setting, the totality of circumstances, the equation, personal and social, which have a bearing on making an answer substantially innocent but in effect guilty in import. However, fanciful claims, unreasonable apprehensions and vague possibilities cannot be the hiding ground for an accused person.

The Hon’ble Court answered the ninth issue in the affirmative. Section 179 I.P.C. has a component of mens rea and where there is no willful refusal but only unwitting omission or innocent warding off, the offence is not made out. When there is reasonable doubt indicated by the accused’s explanation he is entitled to its benefit and cannot be forced to substantiate his ground lest, by this process, he is constrained to surrender the very privilege for which he is fighting. What may apparently be innocent information may really be nocent or noxious viewed in the wider setting.

The term section 161 of Cr. P. C includes accused persons as well as witnesses. Section 161(2) was held to be an extension of article 20(3) as it provides an accused the right against self-incrimination. The appeal was allowed and the prosecutor proceedings were quashed. 


Nandini Satpathy vs Dani (P.L.) And Anr on 7 April, 1978.

Chinnamma K.C. Case summary. Nandini satpathy vs. P L Dani & ors. Law Times Journal.

Aapka Consultant. RIGHT OD ACCUSED TO REMAIN SILENT. Dec 29 2017.


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