Acquittal in 304B by Supreme Court

Supreme Court: In an appeal against judgment passed by Karnataka High Court on 20-07-2022 affirming sentence convicting the appellants for offences punishable under Sections 498-A, 304-B read with Section 34 of Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC’), and Sections 3 and 4 of Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (‘DP Act’), the Division Bench of S. Ravindra Bhat and Aravind Kumar, JJ. modified the impugned order by acquitting for dowry death but convicting for offence punishable under Section 306 for abetment to suicide, in the absence of any charge framed, but appellants having knowledge of the acts being tried for.

Factual Background

The complainant’s third daughter was married on 16-05-2010 and a complaint was lodged on 20-12-2010. The prosecution alleged that dowry demands were made after two months of marriage, further alleging physical and mental torture to the deceased who could not bear the said behavior and committed suicide by self-immolating, namely by pouring kerosene and lighting fire. A dying declaration was recorded on 20-12-2010, while she succumbed to burn injuries on 24-12-2010. The mother-in-law expired on 28-02-2012 and proceedings against her stood abated.

Relying on the dying declaration, the Trial Court sentenced the husband, father-in-law to undergo 7 years of simple imprisonment for the offence under Section 304B, five years of simple imprisonment for the offence under Section 3 of Dowry Prohibition Act, one year of simple imprisonment for the offence under Section 498-A r/w Section 34 of IPC and one year of simple imprisonment for the offence under Section 4 of Dowry Prohibition Act with fine of Rs. 1000 for each of the offences under Section 498A, 304B and Section 4 of DP Act for each of the accused, all sentences to run concurrently.

The sentence was primarily challenged for dying declaration being the sole basis of conviction without corroboration since the deceased had suffered 70-80% burns, was not in a position to speak, and that Doctor who certified her ability to speak had not even recorded her blood pressure and pulse rate in the case-sheet, and admitted her poor condition during admission to the hospital. However, neither the Trial Court nor the High Court was convinced and confirmed their conviction.

Court’s Analysis

The Court noted that the parents of the deceased, including the complainant father, and none of the other witnesses who claimed to have knowledge of the deceased being ill-treated did not support the case of the prosecution. It was further noted that one of the two doctors allegedly competent to speak about the deceased’s medical treatment were not examined, while the other doctor’s evidence indicated that the deceased was treated by him for 4 days, but the pulse rate and blood pressure was not recorded on the day of admission, while poor general condition was admitted, conscious at times but not in a position to speak. The evidence of others countered the same, alleging that the deceased was fit to give a statement. The Court highlighted the reference by Trial Court with the belief that the rule requiring corroboration is merely a rule of prudence, and that non-mentioning of minute details cannot be a ground to reject the dying declaration.

Scrutiny of Dying Declaration

The Court perused the dying declaration of the deceased who self-immolated herself, on account of her inability to tolerate the torture meted out by the accused persons and she was not able to withstand the same. The Court expressed that “The physical disability suffered by her on account of the burn injuries sustained would not disentitle her to make statement, if said statement had been made consciously knowing the consequences thereof and such statement or declaration cannot be brushed aside only on the ground of burn injuries (in the instant case 70% to 80%) having been sustained by her.” The Court stated that the dying declaration could not be found faulty due to doctor’s conscious expression on the deceased’s mental capacity, placing reliance on Kamalavva v. State of Karnataka, (2009) 13 SCC 614.

The Court acknowledged the lack of prescribed format for recording the dying declaration, and found the instant dying declaration to be genuine, true and not tainted with doubt or shrouded with mystery, reflecting the maker to have stated the true story.

Acquittal in 304B by Supreme Court

On the question of sustainability of conviction under Section 304-B of IPC, the Court scrutinised the ingredients to be satisfied, with reference to Bansi Lal v. State of Haryana, (2011) 11 SCC 359, Sher Singh v. State of Haryana, (2015) 3 SCC 724. While noting the fact that the deceased’s parents as well as other witnesses turned hostile and did not support the prosecution case, the Court doubted any proximate nexus between the act of committing suicide on account of preceding demand for dowry and held that conviction under Section 304B could not be sustained.

IPC Section 498A Confirmed

While perusing the contents of Section 498-A of IPC, the Court referred to Dinesh Seth v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2008) 14 SCC 94 wherein, the scope of Sections 304B and 498A were differentiated. The Court expressed that “Irrespective of the fact that accused have been acquitted for the offence punishable under Section 304B, Section 498A would cover the cases in which the wife is subjected to cruelty by husband or relatives of the husband which may result in death by way of suicide or cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical).”

The Court upheld the conviction under Section 498-A of IPC while relying on the already accepted dying declaration whose contents disclosed her inability to withstand the torture meted out.

Clutches of IPC Section 306

Though not charged for the same, the Court considered the question of whether the accused could be convicted for an offence punishable under Section 306 IPC for abetment to suicide. The Court referred to Dalbir Singh v. State of U.P., (2004) 5 SCC 334 wherein, the offence under Section 306 was not framed against the accused but was convicted of the same to prevent the failure of justice. It further cited Dinesh Seth (supra) being cautious of the only exception to the said rule from Section 464 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.

The Court expressed that “The basic ingredients of an offence under Section 306 is suicidal death and its abetment thereof. To attract the ingredients of abetment, the intention of the accused to aid or instigate or abet the deceased to commit suicide would be necessary.” The Court went on to support that “omission to frame charge does not disable the court from convicting the accused for the offence which is found to have been proved on the evidence on record.”

The Court connected the dots that the torture which took place within the four walls was supported by the victim’s statement, proved by virtue of dying declaration accepted by the Court in the instant matter, and the said act led the deceased to commit suicide. While noting the charge framed under Section 304-B of IPC, the Court said that “it has been clearly mentioned that the accused has subjected the deceased to such cruelty and harassment as to drive her to commit suicide by self-immolation and as such non-framing of the specific charge would not be fatal in the instant case as no injustice is being caused to the accused.”

The Court further cited K. Prema S. Rao v. Yadla Srinivasa Rao, (2003) 1 SCC 217 and went on to examine whether the accused was aware of the basic ingredients of the offence for which they were being tried. Keeping up with the torture meted out which led the deceased to commit suicide, the Court opined that the accused persons were liable to be convicted under Section 306 IPC.


Therefore, the Court modified the impugned judgment and order acquitting the appellants for the offences punishable under Section 304-B IPC and Section 3 and 4 of DP Act but convicted for the offence punishable under Section 306 and Section 498A read with Section 34 IPC, sentenced to imprisonment for period already undergone, with fine of Rs 5000 each.

[Paranagouda v. State of Karnataka, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 1369, decided on 19-10-2023]

Judgment authored by: Justice Aravind Kumar

Know Thy Judge | Supreme Court of India: Justice Aravind Kumar

Advocates who appeared in this case :

For Petitioner: Advocate on Record Ganesh Kumar R., Advocate Manjunath Meled, Advocate Sandeep Sharma, Advocate Vijayalaxmi Udapudi

For Respondents: Advocate on Record D. L. Chidananda

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