Case BriefsHigh Courts

Chhattisgarh High Court: A Division Bench of Arvind Singh Chandel and Sanjay K. Agrawal, JJ. dismissed the acquittal appeal being devoid of merits.

The facts of the case are such that marriage between the deceased and the son of the Respondent/accused was solemnised in the month of April, 2018. In November the same year, Mahima Kaushik committed suicide by hanging herself. FIR was registered and charges were framed and the Trial Court acquitted the accused. Assailing this acquittal order, instant appeal was filed.

Counsel for the Appellant/State submits that the Sessions Judge has committed manifest illegality in acquitting the Respondent/accused of the charge under Section 304B IPC as all the ingredients constituting the offence have been duly established by the prosecution and, therefore, the judgment of acquittal deserves to be set aside.

The Court relied on judgment Anjanappa v. State of Karnataka, (2014) 2 SCC 776, it has been held by the Supreme Court as follows:

“9. It is well settled that an order of acquittal is not to be set aside lightly. If the view taken by the trial Court is a reasonably possible view, it is not to be disturbed. If two views are possible and if the view taken by the trial Court is a reasonably possible view, then the appellate Court should not disturb it just because it feels that another view of the matter is possible. However, an order of acquittal will have to be disturbed if it is perverse. We have examined the trial Court’s order of acquittal in light of above principles. We are of the considered opinion that the High Court was justified in setting it aside as it is perverse.

The Court after perusing evidence and facts observed that the finding of the Trial Court that the prosecution has failed to prove that soon before the death of the deceased she was subjected to cruelty on account of demand of dowry is totally based on the evidence available on record. Furthermore, from perusal of the evidence, it also appears that the fact regarding demand of dowry itself is suspicious.

The Court thus held “there is no manifest legal error in the judgment of acquittal recorded by the Learned Additional Sessions Judge and we do not consider it a fit case where this Court should re-appreciate the entire evidence on record or it is not a case where the view taken by the Additional Sessions Judge is so arbitrary or bears manifest error requiring interference.”

[State of Chhattisgarh v. Chameli Kaushik, 2022 SCC OnLine Chh 691, decided on 11-04-2022]


Appearances

For Appellant/State: Shri Kapil Maini


Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: Noting the brutality with wife a 22-year-old lady and mother of a one year’s infant child in causing her death, beating her cruelly by “her husband” Vikas Kunvar Srivastav, J. held that the said act was not only grave in nature but heinous also.

In the present matter, bail application was moved on behalf of the accused applicant involved in a crime under Sections 498-A, 304-B, 201 of Penal Code, 1860 and Section ¾ of Dowry Prohibition Act.

The investigating officer found out that the victim, the daughter of the complainant was burnt, and her dead body was buried at a secret place by the accused applicant and his family members for vanishing of the evidences.

The office of District Magistrate Lucknow issued a letter for permission to excavate the place of burial and exhume the dead body of the deceased. The dead body was exhumed from the place of burial and inquest proceedings was done before the witnesses. The dead body was exhumed from the place of burial and an inquest proceeding was done before the witnesses.

As per the facts and substances on record, it was noted that the deceased was married about 3 years ago from the date of the incident with the present accused applicant. Just after the marriage was solemnized, the in-laws of the deceased began to insist on additional dowry and to transfer a considerable amount of money from the deposits of the father.

Since the demand could not be fulfilled by reason of poverty and indigency of the father, the daughter was subjected to beatings. The complainant even requested the in-laws not to commit cruelty with his daughter as it was beyond his capacity to pay additional dowry by reason of his poverty.

On being convinced that the complainant would not be able to pay additional dowry, the in-laws of the decease collusively killed the daughter of the complainant and secretly cremated her body.

High Court observed that the facts that the accused-applicant was found to have committed willingly the death of his wife after beating her brutally in view of the demand of dowry soon before the death of the complainant’s daughter was prima facie established.

The dead body was burnt and buried at a secret place was also prima facie established, moreover, no information of death was given to the father and other family members of the deceased which reflected the criminal mens rea of the accused.

High Court remarked that,

“…the brutality with wife a 22 year old lady and mother of a one year’s infant child in causing her death, beating her cruelly by the present accused applicant “her husband” is not only grave in nature but heinous also, and is evident of callous greed of a heartless husband and self-centered irresponsible father of the infant child.”

Further, the Bench expressed that the cruel nature and instinct of the applicant in case of his release on bail would certainly adversely affect the witnesses.

Hence the bail application was rejected. [Bablu v. State of U.P., 2022 SCC OnLine All 76, decided on 27-1-2022]


Advocates before the Court:

Counsel for the Applicant: Neeta Singh Chandel

Counsel for the OP: G.A.

Legal RoundUpSupreme Court Roundups

“Merit is not solely of one‘s own making. The rhetoric surrounding merit obscures the way in which family, schooling, fortune and a gift of talents that the society currently values aids in one‘s advancement.”

Neil Aurelio Nunes v. Union of India, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 75


STORY OF THE MONTH


“Reservation is not at odds with merit”; Here’s why SC upheld OBC reservation in NEET PG and UG Admissions in AIQ quota

In a detailed judgment, the bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna, JJ has upheld the Constitutional validity of the reservation for OBC candidates in the AIQ seats for PG and UG  medical and dental courses and noticed that while an open competitive exam may ensure formal equality where everyone has an equal opportunity to participate, however, widespread inequalities in the availability of and access to educational facilities will result in the deprivation of certain classes of people who would be unable to effectively compete in such a system.

Read more…


UNMISSABLE STORIES


COVID-19/Omicron surge yet again forces Supreme Court to extend period of limitation for filing of cases

After the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association approached the Court in light of the spread of Omicron, the new variant of the COVID-19 and the drastic surge in the number of COVID cases across the country, the 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, CJ and L. Nageswara Rao and Surya Kant, JJ restored the order dated 23.03.2020 and directed that the period from 15.03.2020 till 28.02.2022 shall stand excluded for the purposes of limitation as may be prescribed under any general or special laws in respect of all judicial or quasi judicial proceedings.

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PM Modi Security Lapse: “War of words no solution”; SC appoints Committee headed by Justice Indu Malhotra to look into the matter

After a massive security lapse that left Prime Minister Narendra Modi stuck on a highway in Punjab for 20 minutes on January 5, 2022, the 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, CJ and Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, JJ has formed a committee to be chaired by Justice Indu Malhotra, former Supreme Court Judge.

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NEET 2021-22: Supreme Court allows Counselling with 27% Quota for OBCs and 10% Quota for EWS in All India Quota

 Considering the urgent need to commence the process of Counselling, the bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud* and AS Bopanna, JJ, has directed that counselling on the basis of NEET-PG 2021 and NEET- UG 2021 shall be conducted by giving effect to the reservation as provided by the notice dated 29 July 2021, including the 27 per cent reservation for the OBC category and 10 per cent reservation for EWS category in the All India Quota seats.

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Suspension of 12 Maharashtra BJP MLAs for one year “grossly illegal”; worse than expulsion, disqualification or resignation

In a big relief to the 12 BJP MLAs who were suspended by the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, by resolution dated 05.07.2021, for a period of 1 year due to “indisciplined and unbecoming behavior resulting in maligning the dignity of the House”, the 3-judge bench of AM Khanwilkar*, Dinesh Maheshwari and CT Ravikumar, JJ has held that the said resolution is unconstitutional, grossly illegal and irrational to the extent of period of suspension beyond the remainder of the concerned (ongoing) Session.

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“Can’t allow Devas and its shareholders to reap the benefits of their fraudulent action”; SC upholds NCLAT’s order to wind up Devas  

“If the seeds of the commercial relationship between Antrix and Devas were a product of fraud perpetrated by Devas, every part of the plant that grew out of those seeds, such as the Agreement, the disputes, arbitral awards etc., are all infected with the poison of fraud.”

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Arcelor Mittal Nippon Steel India Limited to pay the purchase tax of Rs. 480 Crores as SC sets aside Gujarat HC verdict

In a major blow to Essar Steel Limited, now Arcelor Mittal Nippon Steel India Limited), the bench of MR Shah* and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ has set aside the Gujarat High Court verdict wherein it was held that Essar was entitled to the exemption from payment of purchase tax as per the Notification dated 05.03.1992, which was issued under Section 49(2) of the Gujarat Sales Tax Act, 1969. As a result Essar will now have to pay the purchase tax of Rs.480.99 crores.

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Dowry Death| Woman meting out cruelty to another woman deserves no leniency. Mother-in-law must protect daughter-in-law, not harass her: SC

“Being a lady, the appellant, who was the mother-in-law, ought to have been more sensitive vis-à-vis her daughter-in-law.”

Read more…

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Can Demand of Money for Construction of a House be Treated as a Dowry Demand? SC answers in a 2002 case where a 5-months pregnant woman set herself on fire

“A push in the right direction is required to accomplish the task of eradicating this evil which has become deeply entrenched in our society.”

Read more…

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Pension is not a bounty; Lack of financial resources no excuse for taking away vested rights by way of retrospective amendments

The bench of Ajay Rastogi and Abhay S. Oka, JJ has held that an amendment having retrospective operation which has the effect of taking away the benefit already available to the employee under the existing rule indeed would divest the employee from his vested or accrued rights and that being so, it would be held to be violative of the rights guaranteed under Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution.

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Cal HC had no jurisdiction to quash CAT Principle Bench’s transfer order in Alapan Bandhopadhyay Case, holds SC, based on this Constitution Bench Law holding ground since 1997

The 2-judge bench of AM Khanwilkar and CT Ravikumar, JJ has reiterated the position laid down by the Constitution Bench in L. Chandra Kumar v. Union of India, (1997) 3 SCC 261, that any decision of such a Tribunal, including the one passed under Section 25 of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 could be subjected to scrutiny only before a Division Bench of a High Court within whose jurisdiction the Tribunal concerned falls.

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EXPLAINERS



MORE STORIES


“Not a case of lack of promotional opportunities”; No financial upgradation to employee refusing regular promotion for personal reasons

The bench of R. Subhash Reddy and Hrishikesh Roy*, JJ has held that if a regular promotion is offered but is refused by the employee before becoming entitled to a financial upgradation, she/he shall not be entitled to financial upgradation only because she/he has suffered stagnation.

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Life cannot be breathed into the stillborn charge memorandum; SC holds where prior approval is the rule the defect cannot be cured by post-facto approval

“What is non-existent in the eye of the law cannot be revived retrospectively.”

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Cheque gets deposited to the account of account holder with strikingly similar name. Bank blames customer. Read why SC was “surprised” at NCDRC’s ruling

In an interesting case where one SBI account holder was left with a balance of Rs. 59/- only in his account due to the existence of another bank account with strikingly similar name in the same branch, the bench of Sanjiv Khanna and Bela M. Trivedi*, JJ has set aside the “highly erroneous” impugned order passed by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission solely relying upon the suo-moto report called for from SBI during the pendency of the revision application.

Read more…

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Reservation in promotion: The 6 issues settled by Supreme Court on collection of quantifiable data on inadequacy of representation

The 3-judge bench of L. Nageswara Rao*, Sanjiv Khanna and BR Gavai has answered 6 crucial questions in relation to quantifiable data showing inadequacy of representation in promotional posts.

Read more…

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Delinquent employee doesn’t have an absolute right to be represented in departmental proceedings by the agent of his choice

In a case where the Rajasthan High Court had permitted the respondent employee who is facing disciplinary proceedings to represent through ex-employee of the Bank, the bench of MR Shah* and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ has interpreted Regulation 44 of the Rajasthan Marudhara Gramin Bank (Officers and Employees) Service Regulation, 2010 read with clause 8.2 of the Handbook Procedure to hold that the delinquent employee has no absolute right to avail the services by ex-employee of the Bank as his DR in the departmental proceedings.

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COVID-19| A Biological Weapon? Most misconceived! SC rules it is for the elected Government to take necessary action if any

While addressing a petition making bizarre claim that virgin Coconut Oil can dissolve Covid-19 virus, the Division Bench of Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M.M. Sundresh, JJ., held that it cannot let every person who believes that he has some solution to the virus, to come up in a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution.

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High Court’s Revisional jurisdiction under Section 401 Cr.P.C re power to reverse acquittal. SC answers important questions

“Though the High Court has revisional power to examine whether there is manifest error of law or procedure etc., however, after giving its own findings on the findings recorded by the court acquitting the accused and after setting aside the order of acquittal, the High Court has to remit the matter to the trial Court and/or the first appellate Court, as the case may be.”

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P&H HC directs State to provide sports quota of 3% in Government Medical/Dental Colleges instead of 1% provided in policy decision. Such mandamus impermissible, holds SC

Explaining the scope of writ jurisdiction, the bench of MR Shah* and BV Nagarathna, JJ has held that the State Government’s action taking a policy decision to prescribe a particular percentage of reservation/quota for a particular category of persons, cannot be interfered with by issuance of a writ of mandamus, directing the State Government to provide for a particular percentage of reservation for a particular category of persons other than what has been provided in the policy decision taken by the State Government.

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Person with 54% disability pinned to the ground, throttled by neck and consequently killed by strangulation; SC cancels HC order granting bail to the accused

Finding the order of the High Court cryptic and casual, de hors coherent reasoning, the Bench invoked the latin maxim “cessante ratione legis cessat ipsa lex” to hold that “reason is the soul of the law, and when the reason of any particular law ceases, so does the law itself”.

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Civil Court has no jurisdiction in dispute relating to property governed by the Haryana (Control of Rent & Eviction) Act, 1973: SC

The Court was deciding the dispute relating to suit property situated within the municipal limits of Kaithal which is governed by the Haryana (Control of Rent & Eviction) Act, 1973.

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Traffic blockage due to agitation, failure to deliver consignment within validity period of e-way bill; SC imposes cost of Rs. 59000 on Sales Tax Officer for illegally imposing penalty

“When the undeniable facts, including the traffic blockage due to agitation, are taken into consideration, the State alone remains responsible for not providing smooth passage of traffic.”

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Whether adoption of parent Government Resolution by an undertaking leads to automatic adoption of subsequent modifying resolutions?

“There are limitations or qualifications to the applicability of the doctrine of ‘equal pay for equal work’.”

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State ‘exclusivity’ for disallowance of certain fee, charge, etc. is to be viewed from the nature, not the number of undertakings on which the levy is imposed

The Division Bench of R. Subhash Reddy* and Hrishikesh Roy, JJ., held that to determine State Monopoly for disallowance of certain fee, charge, etc. in the case of State Government Undertakings the aspect of ‘exclusivity’ has to be viewed from the nature of undertaking on which levy is imposed and not on the number of undertakings on which the levy is imposed.

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Failure to provide occupancy certificate a deficiency in service under the Consumer Protection Act and also a continuing wrong

The bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud* and AS Bopanna, JJ has held that failure on the part of the builder to provide occupancy certificate is a continuing breach under the Maharashtra Ownership Flats (Regulation of the Promotion of Construction, Sale, Management and Transfer) Act 1963 and amounts to a continuing wrong.

Read more…

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Whether charitable education institutions exempted from levy of electricity duty under Maharashtra Electricity Act, 2016? Supreme Court interprets

The Division Bench comprising of M. R. Shah* and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ., reversed the impugned order of the High Court whereby the High Court had held that education institutions run by charitable societies are exempted from payment of electricity duty.

Read more…

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Non-consideration for subsequent preference post after being declared ineligible for first post preference: Is it unjust? Supreme Court answers

While addressing the issue as to whether a candidate is entitled to claim appointment on a subsequent post in his preference list after having being considered for his first preference and being declared not suitable for the said post due to non-fulfilment of physical requirements, the Division Bench of Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and A.S. Bopanna*, JJ., replied in negative.

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“Democratic interests cannot be judicially aborted to preserve unfettered freedom to conduct business, of the few”; Govt. decision to ban MTTs in PPE products ensures adequate PPE in India: SC

“This Court must be circumspect that the rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution do not become a weapon in the arsenal of private businesses to disable regulation enacted in the public interest.”

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Order de hors reasoning cannot result in grant of bail! SC holds informant has a right to assail bail orders bereft of reasons before a higher forum

“It would be only a non speaking order which is an instance of violation of principles of natural justice. In such a case the prosecution or the informant has a right to assail the order before a higher forum.”

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Scrap picker beaten to death; incident recorded in CCTV: State failed to protect victim’s rights by not challenging Guj HC’s order releasing accused on bail; SC cancels bail

In a case where a scrap picker was beaten to death and the Gujarat High Court had released one of the accused on bail despite the entire incident been recorded in the CCTV footages and the mobile phone, the bench of MR Shah and BV Nagarathna, JJ has cancelled the bail and has observed that by not filing the appeals by the State against the impugned judgments and orders releasing the accused on bail in such a serious matter, the State has failed to protect the rights of the victim.

Read more…

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Gift deed by an old illiterate woman: SC approves not legalistic but holistic approach by lower courts to determine validity of deed. HC’s verdict set aside

In an issue relating to the alleged gift deed by an old illiterate woman, the bench of MR Shah and Sanjiv Khanna*, JJ has held that when a person obtains any benefit from another, the court would call upon the person who wishes to maintain the right to gift to discharge the burden of proving that he exerted no influence for the purpose of obtaining the document.

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No more uncertainty over fixation of percentage of reservation for OBC and SC/ST candidates; SC interprets Section 3 Second Proviso of CEI Act, 2006

The bench of L. Nageswara Rao and Hima Kohli, JJ has held that the formulae for fixing the percentage of reservation for the SC and ST candidates and for determining the percentage of seats to be reserved for OBC candidates under the second proviso of Section 3 of the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006, ought to be gathered from the same source and any other interpretation would lead to uncertainty.

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3-year old raped and strangulated to death; Read why Supreme Court commuted Death Sentence to life imprisonment

The Fast Track Court, Raigarh had convicted the appellant for the offences punishable under Sections 363, 366, 376(2)(i), 377, 201, 302 read with Section 376A of the Penal Code, 1860 and Section 6 of the POCSO Act, 2012 and vide the same judgment and order, the appellant was sentenced to death for the offence punishable under Section 302 of the IPC. Subsequently, vide the impugned judgment and order, the High Court had confirmed the death penalty.

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Mere recommendation of the SP at the initial stage not sufficient to claim a right for promotion: SC explains Punjab Police Rules, 1934

In a case where a Constable’s name was recommended by the Superintendent of Police but the same was dropped down by the Inspector General of Police for promotion under the 10% quota of outstanding performance for inclusion in the B-I List for promotion to the post of Head Constable in the year 2004, the bench of KM Joseph and PS Narsimha, JJ has held that mere recommendation of the SP at the initial stage is not sufficient to claim a right for promotion.

Read more…

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No scaling down of sentence to 10 years as per NDPS Act for man sentenced to 26 years in prison by Mauritius SC for being in possession of over 150 gms of heroin

In a case where a man was arrested in Mauritius after being found to be in possession of 152.8 grams of heroin and was sentenced to 26 years in prison by the Supreme Court of Mauritius, the bench of L. Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai has upheld the Central Government’s decision rejecting the request for scaling down the sentence from 26 years to 10 years and has found it to be in accordance with the provisions of the Repatriation of Prisoners Act, 2003 and the agreement entered into between India and Mauritius.

Read more…

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No Pensionary Benefits To WALMI Employees; Employees Of Autonomous Bodies Can’t Claim Benefits On A Par With Government Employees As Matter Of Right

“… the employees of the autonomous bodies cannot claim, as a matter of right, the same service benefits on par with the Government employees.”

Read more…

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Whether the term “school children” includes university students while interpreting Government Memo exempting buses carrying school children from Passengers Tax? SC clarifies

While holding that the term “school children” will include college and university as well while interpreting government memo exempting passengers tax in respect of Stage Carriage (buses) owned by educational institution and used for the transportation of children to and from such institutions, the Division Bench of Dinesh Maheshwari and Vikram Nath, JJ., remarked,

“It gets perforce reiterated that the broad expression “children”, obviously, refers to the students taking instructions in educational institutions, irrespective of their class or standard or level.”

Read more…


CASES REPORTED IN SCC


2021 SCC Vol. 9 Part 1

Ranging from Arbitration, Service Law to Family Law, this Volume 9 Part 1 brings in some very carefully and expertly analysed Judgments

2021 SCC Vol. 9 Part 2

In this part read a very interesting decision expertly analysed by our editors. Supreme Court ruled that the trustees are required to

SCC Snippets

Are Clients Or Courts Bound By Lawyer’s Statements Or Admissions As To Matters Of Law Or Legal Conclusions?


Case BriefsHigh Courts

Rajasthan High Court: A Division Bench of Sandeep Mehta and Sameer Jain, JJ. allowed the appeal and quashed and set aside the impugned judgment.

The appellant Mohanlal was married to Smt. Jhamka (hereinafter referred to as ‘the deceased’) daughter of Sanwla Ram about 5 years before the incident. Smt. Jhamka was inflicted injuries at her matrimonial home on 05-07-2013 and was taken to the hospital where, she was declared dead. on account of demand of dowry. The accused Mohanlal took a specific plea of insanity in his explanation and stated that he was suffering from a bout of schizophrenia on the date of the incident. The appellant herein has been convicted and sentenced as below vide judgment. Being aggrieved of his conviction and sentences, the appellant has preferred the instant appeal under Section 374(2) Cr.P.C.

Counsel for appellant submitted that the accused was suffering from insanity well before and even on the day of the incident and thus, he is entitled to the benefit of plea of insanity by virtue of Section 84 of the IPC which was corroborated by witnesses and medical expert and thus the benefit of Section 84 IPC be given.

Counsel for respondents submitted that based on the evidence produced before the court especially the blood samples collected from the place of the alleged crime were subjected to Forensic examination and all tested positive for presence of ‘B’ Group human blood which establishes beyond all manner of doubt that the accused appellant was responsible for inflicting the fatal injuries to Smt. Jhamka. He contended that the murder was committed inside the matrimonial home and as the presence of the accused in the house has been established by unimpeachable evidence, by virtue of Section 106 of the Indian Evidence Act, the burden would shift on to the accused.

As per the evidence and by resorting to the reverse burden of proof under Section 106 of the Indian Evidence Act, the Court observed that the appellant inflicted the fatal sharp weapon injuries to his wife. Hence, we have no hesitation in concluding that the trial court was perfectly justified in holding that the appellant herein inflicted the blows by a sharp weapon to Smt. Jhamka thereby causing her death. Thus, the injuries were sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death and hence, the offence punishable under Section 302 IPC is well established from the material placed on record by the prosecution.

The Court further observed that having considered the entirety of material available on the record, the evidence of the medical experts and the prescription slips which have been proved by these experts, there is unimpeachable documentary as well as oral evidence which establishes beyond all manner of doubt that the accused was being provided treatment for the mental ailment since the year 2010 onwards. A Medical Board was constituted to examine the accused under the order of the court in the year 2016, and even at that time, he was found suffering from Psychosis NOS.

What is Psychosis NOS?

Psychosis, Not Otherwise Specified (NOS) is a categorization of symptoms within general diagnosis of Psychosis. Modi’s Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology grades Psychosis as an acutely severe mental disorder, where the patient loses contact with reality along with absolute lack of empathy and absence of insight.

The Court relied on judgment Devidas Loka Rathod v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 2018 SC 3093 and observed that the burden on the defence to prove the plea of insanity is only to the extent of establishing the same by preponderance of probabilities and such a defence need not be proved beyond all manner of doubt. Thus, the conclusion drawn by the trial court that the defence failed to prove that the accused was affected with such mental ailment, which prevented him from understanding the consequences of his acts, is totally unjustified.

The Court held “In wake of the discussion made herein above, we are persuaded to accept the plea of insanity advanced on behalf of the appellant to overturn his conviction as recorded by the trial court by the impugned Judgment.”

The Court further directed “The appellant is acquitted of the charges. He is in custody. He shall be released from prison forthwith if not wanted in any other case. After his release from prison, the appellant shall be provided care and support befitting his right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.” [Mohan Lal v. State, 2022 SCC OnLine Raj 185, decided on 27-01-2022]


Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.


Appearances:

For Appellant(s): Mr. Dinesh Vishnoi.

For Respondent(s): Mr. B.R. Bishnoi

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Jammu and Kashmir High Court: In a case alleging dowry death, Rajnesh Oswal, J., clarified the scope and applicability of Jammu and Kashmir Dowry Restraint Act 1960. Observing that the Trial Court had conducted mini trial at the stage of framing of charge, the Bench expressed,

 “The trial court was considering issue with regard to framing of charge under section 304-B RPC but the trial court got swayed by the definition of dowry as defined under the Act of 1960 forgetting the legislative intent behind making the amendment, more when the definition was elastic even for the purpose of Act of 1960 by the use of expression “In this Act unless the context otherwise requires”.

The instant petition had been filed by the mother of the deceased against the impugned order of the Trial Court by which the respondents were discharged of offence under section 304-B RPC and instead charges were framed for offences under sections 306 and 498-A/34 RPC.

Background

The allegations against the respondents were that they used to demand dowry and a car from the deceased and although the amount of two lakhs was paid by the petitioner, neither the atrocities against the deceased came to an end nor the demand for dowry. The allegation was levelled that the husband, father in law, mother in law and brother in law had started beating the deceased and they also snatched her phone which had compelled the deceased to take her own life and she committed suicide.

The grievance of the petitioner was that the Trial Court had altered the charge from 304-B RPC to 306 and 498-A/34 RPC despite the fact that there was abundant evidence on record for framing of charge under section 304-B RPC.

Question of Law

Whether the definition of the dowry as defined under the J&K Dowry Restraint Act 1960 is entirely different vis-a-vis dowry as defined under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 that is applicable to the whole of the India excluding the then State of Jammu and Kashmir?

The controversy had arisen because the definition of the dowry as contained in the Dowry Restraint Act, 1960 as was applicable in the erstwhile State of J&K, was very restrictive in its application whereas the definition of a dowry as contained in the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 as applicable in rest of the India except the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir was of wider amplitude.

Observations of the Trial Court

As per definition of dowry as defined under the Dowry Restraint Act, 1960, dowry means any property transferred or agreed to be transferred as a part of any betrothal, marriage, pre-betrothal, post-marriage ceremony and other ceremonies such as Thaka, Rophera, Duphera, Phirsal, Phersuzen and like ceremonies.

The section contemplates the transfer of a property or agreement for transfer of a property as a part of contract in connection with the ceremonies. The Trial Court discharged the respondents on the premise that there was no such contract between the parties as such offence under section 304-B RPC was not made out and further that there was no evidence that the deceased was subjected to cruelty by the accused in relation to the demand of the dowry or a car soon before her death.

Analysis and Findings

Opining that the reasons furnished by the Trial Court for non-applicability of section 304-B RPC just because there was no contract within the meaning of section 2 of Dowry Restraint Act, 1960 were not convincing, the Bench clarified, the section 2 of the Dowry Restraint Act, 1960 begins with expression “In this Act unless the context otherwise requires” meaning thereby that the definition of “Dowry” used in the Act 1960, cannot be put in to straight jacket formula and if the Act of 1960 necessitates or requires, then the word “dowry” can contemplate other situations/persons as well.

If the interpretation of the trial court is accepted, then none other than the husband, his father and mother can be proceeded against under section 304-B RPC and it would do violence not only to the statue but also the legislative intent behind it.

Section 304-B RPC contemplates the death of woman with in the period of 7 years and also the persons who can be proceeded against under section 304-B i.e. husband and his relatives where as the section 2 of the Act 1960 contemplates persons to be proceeded against as party to the marriage or betrothal and father, mother and guardian of the party. The Bench expressed,

“Section 2 of the Dowry Restraint Act, 1960 begins with expression “In this Act unless the context otherwise requires” meaning thereby that the definition of “Dowry” used in the Act 1960, cannot be put in to straight jacket formula and if the Act of 1960 necessitates or requires, then the word ‘dowry’ can contemplate other situations/persons as well.”

Therefore, the Bench concluded that the definition of dowry under the Act, 1960 cannot be given stricter meaning so as to defeat the very purpose of the statute. On the issue, whether there was any evidence on record to justify framing of charge under section 304-B RPC with regard to the demand of dowry, the Bench cautioned that the court is not supposed to hold mini trial at this stage (framing of charges).

Considering that the deceased died because of suicide within the seven years of marriage and the presumption of dowry death was wrongly rejected by the Trial Court on the ground that there was no evidence that the deceased was subjected to cruelty by the accused in relation to the demand of the dowry or a car “soon before her death”, the Bench cited Satbir Singh v. State of Haryana, (2021) 6 SCC 1, to remind the Court that when the legislature used the words, “soon before” they did not mean “immediately before”.

Conclusion

In the light of above, the petition was allowed and the impugned order was set aside with the direction to the Trial Court to frame the charges for commission of offences under Section 304-B, 498-A/34 RPC against the respondent 2 to 4. [Shakuntla Devi v. Union Territory of J&K, 2021 SCC OnLine J&K 1002, decided on 10-12-2021]


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.


Appearance by:

For the Petitioner: Ajay Bakshi, Advocate

For the UT of J&K: Aseem Sawhney, AAG

For Respondents: Satinder Gupta, Advocate

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case where the Madhya Pradesh High Court had held that demand of money for construction of a house cannot be treated as a dowry demand, the 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, CJ and AS Bopanna and Hima Kohli*, JJ has found the said observation erroneous and has held that the word “Dowry” ought to be ascribed an expansive meaning so as to encompass any demand made on a woman, whether in respect of a property or a valuable security of any nature.

The Unfortunate Facts

The deceased, Geeta Bai, was 18 years old when she got married on 7th May, 1998. In less than four years of her marriage, Geeta Bai committed suicide at her matrimonial home by pouring kerosene oil and setting herself on fire. She was admitted in a burnt condition in the Community Health Centre, Baroda on 20th April, 2002 and breathed her last on the same day. At that time, she was five months pregnant. While the Mother-in-law and Brother-in-law were acquitted by the Trial Court, the husband and father-in-law of the deceased were convicted under Sections 304-B, 306 and 498-A IPC and were sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for life for the first offence, RI for a period of seven years with fine for the second offence and RI for three years with fine for the third offence.

The conviction and sentence imposed on the respondents was primarily based on the evidence maternal uncles of the deceased who stated that the respondents had been demanding money from the deceased for constructing a house which her family members were unable to give. As a result, she was constantly harassed and subjected to cruelty, finally leading to her committing suicide.

The High Court gave clean chit to the father-in-law and also set aside the order of conviction in respect of the husband under Sections 304B and 306 IPC. However, his conviction was sustained under Section 498-A IPC, but the sentence of RI for three years imposed on him was reduced to the period already undergone by him on the ground that the demand of money for construction of a house cannot be treated as a demand for dowry.

Analysis

Dowry

In a three Judge Bench decision of this Court in Rajinder Singh v. State of Punjab, (2015) 6 SCC 477, Section 2 of the Dowry Act was split into six distinct parts for a better understanding of the said provision, with the first part stating,

“ Dowry must first consist of any property or valuable security— the word “any” is a word of width and would, therefore, include within it property and valuable security of any kind whatsoever.”

Since the word “dowry” takes in its ambit any kind of property or valuable security, the Court held that the High Court fell into an error by holding that the demand of money for construction of a house cannot be treated as a dowry demand.

“The Latin maxim “Ut Res Magis Valeat Quam Pereat” i.e, a liberal construction should be put up on written instruments, so as to uphold them, if possible, and carry into effect, the intention of the parties, sums it up. Interpretation of a provision of law that will defeat the very intention of the legislature must be shunned in favour of an interpretation that will promote the object sought to be achieved through the legislation meant to uproot a social evil like dowry demand.”

The Court, hence, held that the word “Dowry” ought to be ascribed an expansive meaning so as to encompass any demand made on a woman, whether in respect of a property or a valuable security of any nature.

“When dealing with cases under Section 304-B IPC, a provision legislated to act as a deterrent in the society and curb the heinous crime of dowry demands, the shift in the approach of the courts ought to be from strict to liberal, from constricted to dilated. Any rigid meaning would tend to bring to naught, the real object of the provision. Therefore, a push in the right direction is required to accomplish the task of eradicating this evil which has become deeply entrenched in our society.”

Ingredients of Section 304-B IPC

The most fundamental constituent for attracting the provisions of Section 304-B IPC is that the death of the woman must be a dowry death. Four pre-requisites for convicting an accused for the offence punishable under Section 304- B are as follows:

  • that the death of a woman must have been caused by burns or bodily injury or occurred otherwise than under normal circumstance;
  • that such a death must have occurred within a period of seven years of her marriage;
  • that the woman must have been subjected to cruelty or harassment at the hands of her husband, soon before her death; and (
  • that such a cruelty or harassment must have been for or related to any demand for dowry

Key facts

  • The respondents had been constantly tormenting the deceased and asking her to approach her family members for money to build a house and it was only on their persistence and insistence that she was compelled to ask them to contribute some amount for constructing a house.
  • The marriage of the deceased and the respondent No.1 was conducted in a community marriage organization where some couples would have tied the knot goes to show that the parties were financially not so well off.
  • Before the marriage of the deceased also, her maternal uncle used to bear her expenses and that of her mother and brother as her father had abandoned them.

Ruling on facts

The Court hence held that the High Court fell in an error in drawing an inference that since the deceased had herself joined her husband and father-in-law, respondents herein and asked her mother or uncle to contribute money to construct a house, such demand cannot be treated as a “dowry demand”. On the contrary, it observed that the evidence brought on record showed that the deceased was pressurized to make such a request for money to her mother and uncle.

“It was not a case of complicity but a case of sheer helplessness faced by the deceased in such adverse circumstances.”

The Court held that such glairing circumstances, when viewed together, can hardly mitigate the offence of the respondents or take the case out of the purview of Section 304-B IPC, when all the four pre-requisites for invoking the said provision stand satisfied, namely,

  • that the death of Geeta Bai took place at her matrimonial home within seven years of her marriage;
  • that the said death took place in abnormal circumstances on account of burning and that too when she was five months pregnant;
  • that she had been subjected to cruelty and harassment by the respondents soon before her death and
  • such cruelty/harassment was in connection with demand for dowry.

[State of Madhya Pradesh v. Jogindra, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 33, decided on 11.01.2022]


*Judgment by: Justice Hima Kohli


Counsel For State: Advocate General Prashant Singh

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Despite a slipshod investigation in a case, the 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, Surya Kant and Hima Kohli*, JJ has upheld the conviction of a man guilty of killing his wife within a few months of the marriage on her failing to satisfy the demands of dowry. The deceased Fulwa Devi had gone missing from her matrimonial home and her body was found on the bank of river Barakar after a week.

What does the law state?

For convicting the accused for an offence punishable under Section 304B IPC, the following pre-requisites must be met:

  1. that the death of a woman must have been caused by burns or bodily injury or occured otherwise than under normal circumstance;
  2. that such a death must have occurred within a period of seven years of her marriage;
  3. that the woman must have been subjected to cruelty or harassment at the hands of her husband, soon before her death; and
  4. that such a cruelty or harassment must have been for or related to any demand for dowry.

Section 304B IPC read in conjunction with Section 113B of the Evidence Act shows that once the prosecution has been able to demonstrate that a woman has been subjected to cruelty or harassment for or in connection with any demand for dowry, soon before her death, the Court shall proceed on a presumption that the persons who have subjected her to cruelty or harassment in connection with the demand for dowry, have caused a dowry death within the meaning of Section 304B IPC. The said presumption is, however, rebuttable and can be dispelled on the accused being able to demonstrate through cogent evidence that all the ingredients of Section 304B IPC have not been satisfied.

Facts, circumstances and investigation – Analysed

  • The Investigating Officer recorded the statements of the witnesses, prepared the inquest report of Fulwa Devi, testified about the two places of occurrence namely, the matrimonial home of the deceased at village Karni and the spot at the bank of river Barakar where the dead body was found, but failed to record the statements of any of the residents of the village that comprised of only twenty-five houses including the statement of the neighbours of the accused;
  • He also did not make any concerted effort to trace the dead body of the deceased. It was only on persistent efforts made by the father, brother and brother-in-law of the deceased, that the dead body was ultimately located after almost a week from the date Fulwa Devi had gone missing from her matrimonial home by which time, the body had got decomposed to a large extent.
  • failure to explain the circumstances under which the deceased had vanished from her matrimonial home.
  • failure to establish an illicit relationship between the deceased and her brother–in-law or that she was living with him and not residing at her matrimonial home.
  • The plea raised on behalf of the accused that the body recovered from the banks of Barakar river was unidentifiable, was also found devoid of merits when the father of the deceased testified that he could recognize the dead body as that of Fulwa Devi, from a part of the face that had remained intact and from the clothes that were found on the body.

Two Hypothesis of the crime – Analysed

No eye witness has been produced who could testify as to how the body of the deceased was found on the banks of river Barakar. Hence, the Court observed the following two hypothesis:

  1. the deceased was done away with within the four walls of her matrimonial home, her dead body was smuggled out and dumped into the river.
  2. the deceased was alive when she was taken to the river-side under some pretext and pushed in, leading to her death by drowning.

If the first assumption is taken to be correct, then surely, some villager would have seen the accused persons carrying the dead body to the river where it was finally dumped. However, the prosecution had not produced any villager who was a witness to the body of the deceased being taken out of the matrimonial home and carried to the river. Therefore, this version would have to be discarded in favour of the second one which is that the deceased was alive, when she was accompanied to the river and then she was forcibly pushed in and could not emerge alive from the watery grave. The latter assumption also gains strength from the post mortem report which records that there were no signs of any ante mortem injury on the body. If the deceased was killed in the house, then the body would certainly have revealed some signs of struggle.

Conclusion

Recovery of the body from the banks of the river clearly indicates that Fulwa Devi had died under abnormal circumstances that could only be explained by her husband and in-laws, as she was residing at her matrimonial home when she suddenly disappeared and no plausible explanation was offered for her disappearance.

Hence, despite the shoddy investigation conducted by the prosecution, the Court was of the view that the circumstances set out in Section 304B of the IPC have been established in the light of the abovementioned facts.

“The circumstances put together, unerringly point to his guilt in extinguishing the life of his wife within a few months of the marriage on her failing to satisfy the demands of dowry.”

Hence, the appellant who is presently on bail, was directed to surrender before the Trial Court/Superintendent of Jail within four weeks to undergo the remaining period of his sentence.

The Court however acquitted Fulwa Devi’s mother-in-law as, from the evidence on record only certain omnibus allegations have been made against her with respect to dowry demands, however, the prosecution was not able to indicate any specific allegations, nor point to any specific evidence or testimony against her. She was, hence, directed to be released forthwith, if not required to be detained in any other case.

[Parvati Devi v. State of Bihar, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1285, decided on 17.12.2021]


*Judgment by: Justice Hima Kohli

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, CJ and Surya Kant* and Hima Kohli, JJ has explained the principles governing cancellation of bail and has held that it is necessary that ‘cogent and overwhelming reasons’ are present for the cancellation of bail.

“Conventionally, there can be supervening circumstances which may develop post the grant of bail and are non-conducive to fair trial, making it necessary to cancel the bail.”

Principles governing the cancellation of bail

Daulat Ram v. State of Haryana, (1995) 1 SCC 349

“Rejection of bail in a non¬bailable case at the initial stage and the cancellation of bail so granted, have to be considered and dealt with on different basis. Very cogent and overwhelming circumstances are necessary for an order directing the cancellation of the bail, already granted. Generally speaking, the grounds for cancellation of bail, broadly (illustrative and not exhaustive) are: interference or attempt to interfere with the due course of administration of Justice or evasion or attempt to evade the due course of justice or abuse of the concession granted to the accused in any manner. The satisfaction of the court, on the basis of material placed on the record of the possibility of the accused absconding is yet another reason justifying the cancellation of bail. However, bail once granted should not be cancelled in a mechanical manner without considering whether any supervening circumstances have rendered it no longer conducive to a fair trial to allow the accused to retain his freedom by enjoying the concession of bail during the trial.”

Adding to the abovementioned position, the Court, in the present case, said that

“… bail can also be revoked where the court has considered irrelevant factors or has ignored relevant material available on record which renders the order granting bail legally untenable. The gravity of the offence, conduct of the accused and societal impact of an undue indulgence by Court when the investigation is at the threshold, are also amongst a few situations, where a Superior Court can interfere in an order of bail to prevent the miscarriage of justice and to bolster the administration of criminal justice system.”

What was the case about?

The Court was hearing the case wherein the mother-in-law of the deceased was charged under Sections 304B, 302 read with 120B fter the deceased’s father alleged that, just two months into her marriage with the accused, his daughter died an unnatural death in suspicious circumstances . In these twi months, the accused family members harassed and physically tortured the deceased on the pretext of dowry demands.

After two failed failed attempts of seeking anticipatory bail, the mother-in-law went on a run and was declared an absconder. She continued to evade arrest until Supreme Court granted bail to her younger son i.e. deceased’s brother-in-law.

Taking advantage of this subsequent event and presenting the same as a material change in  circumstance, she filed two petitions before the High Court, seeking quashing of the order that declared her a ‘proclaimed offender’ and further sought the relief of anticipatory bail on the ground of parity.

The Supreme Court noticed that

“… the High   Court   seems   to   have   been primarily swayed by the fact that the Respondent-Accused was ‘co-operating’ with investigation. This is, however, contrary to the record as the Respondent¬Accused remained absconding for more than two years after being declared a proclaimed offender on 23.04.2018. She chose to join investigation only after securing interim bail from the High Court. She kept on hiding from the Investigating Agency as well as Magistrate’s Court till she got protection against arrest from the High Court in the 2nd round of bail proceedings.”

On procedural irregularity in declaring the deceased’s mother-in-law as an absconder

The Court held that even if there was any procedural irregularity in declaring the Respondent-Accused   as an absconder, that by itself was not a justifiable ground to grant pre-arrest bail in a case of grave offence save where the High Court on perusal of case-diary and other material on record is, prima facie, satisfied that it is a case of false or overexaggerated accusation. Such being not the case here, the High Court went on a wrong premise in granting anticipatory bail to the Respondent-Accused.

On ground of parity with the deceased’s brother in law

The allegations in the FIR against the Respondent¬Mother¬in-Law and her younger son are materially different. While some of the allegations against all the family members are common but there are   other specific allegations accusing the Respondent¬ Mother¬in-Law of playing a key role in the alleged offence.

“The conduct of the Respondent¬Accused in absconding for more than two years without any justifiable reason should have weighed in mind while granting her any discretionary relief. These facts put her on a starkly different pedestal than the co0accused with whom she seeks parity.”

Conclusion

“The offence alleged in the instant case is heinous and protrudes our medieval social   structure which   still wails for reforms despite multiple efforts made by Legislation and Judiciary.”

The Court noticed that it has to be borne in mind that the deceased met with a tragic end within three   months of her marriage and a young life came to an abrupt end befor realizing any of her dreams which were grimly shattered.   She having died an unnatural death in her matrimonial home, the Investigating Agency, deserves a free hand to investigate the role of the Respondent-Mother-in-law, if any, in the unnatural and untimely death of her daughter in-law.

[Vipin Kumar Dhir v. State of Punjab,  2021 SCC OnLine SC 854, decided on 04.10.2021]


*Judgment by: Justice Surya Kant

Know Thy Judge | Justice Surya Kant

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court of India: In an appeal regarding dowry death case the Division Bench of Navin Sinha and R. Subhash Reddy, JJ., granted acquittal to an old aged couple. Opining that the Courts below had failed to consider the evidences available on the standard of “beyond reasonable doubt” The Bench stated,

“Conviction of the appellants was not maintainable on a probability in absence of direct evidence. The benefit of doubt ought to have been given to the appellants.”

The instant appeal had been filed by an elderly couple, appellant 1, 77 years old and appellant 2, 69 years old who was stated to be bed ridden. The case of the appellants was that they had been wrongfully convicted under Section 498A IPC leading to three years of imprisonment with fine and a default stipulation in relation to the death of their daughter-in-law.

Counsel for the appellant, Mr. S. Nagamuthu submitted that their appeal had been dismissed by the High Court of Madras. It was further contended by the counsel that there was no evidence to support the conviction of the appellants; therefore, the Trial Court should have given benefit of doubt to the appellants. Contending that the husband of the deceased was already in custody having been convicted under Sections 304-B and 498A IPC, and there being no evidence to establish the involvement of the appellants, the counsel argued that their conviction was not sustainable in law.

On the other hand, the State opposed the appeal on the ground that the appellants were residing under the same roof. The parents of the deceased had met the appellants also and complained with regard to the harassment being meted to the deceased. The failure of the appellants to take steps to remedy the situation had made their complicity very evident. Therefore, conviction being based on concurrent findings of their complicity by two Courts the same should not be interfered.

Whether merely residing in the same house makes in-laws accomplice in a dowry death case? 

Considering the submissions made on behalf of the parties and after going through the evidence and the order of the Trial Court as well as of the High Court, the Bench opined that the allegations against the appellants were generalised in nature. Therefore, the Trial Court came to the conclusion that though they were living in a separate portion of the house, their conduct amounted to indirect harassment of the deceased.

Noticeably, while discussing that the appellants allegedly fed the ears of their son against the deceased, the conclusion of the Trial Court was that these were normal wear and tear of married life and that they probably (emphasis) added fuel to the fire. The High Court had not even bothered to discuss the nature of evidence available against the appellants and the reasoning of the Trial Court for conviction.

Hence, the Division Bench opined that the conviction of the appellants was not maintainable on a probability in absence of direct evidence. The benefit of doubt ought to have been given to the appellants. Consequently, the conviction of the appellants was set aside. Noticing that appellant 2 had already been granted exemption from surrendering on account of her medical condition, the Bench directed release of appellant 1 as well from the custody.

[R. Natarajan v. State of T.N., 2021 SCC OnLine SC 455, decided on 01-07-2021]


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together 

Appearance before the Court by:

For Petitioners: S. Nagamuthu, Sr. Adv., B. Mohanraj, Adv., K. Kanagaraj, Adv. and K. Krishna Kumar, AOR

For Respondent(s): D. Kumanan, AOR, Pulkit Tare, Adv. and M. Yogesh Kanna, AOR

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: Dinesh Pathak, J., addressed a matter of dowry death and upheld the lower court’s decision.

Factual Matrix

An FIR was filed by the informant (PW-1) with regard to the dowry death of his daughter who was allegedly killed by her in-laws.

Accused was married to the informant’s daughter and at the time of marriage, he had received Rs 1 lakh cash as well as goods worth Rs 1 lakh. That apart, he had given one golden chain and golden ring to the groom, but in-laws of his daughter were not satisfied with the dowry.

Due to non-fulfilment of dowry demand, in-laws of the informant’s daughter attempted several times to kill her and later kicked her out of their house. She was subjected to cruelty and later in June, 2015 the police informed her about the death of the daughter.

Analysis, Law and Decision

High Court noted that the present matter pertained to the dowry death of the lady who had been allegedly hanged by her in-laws.

Bench stated that the case is of circumstantial evidence. Trial Court concluded that demand for dowry was the root cause and drew the victim to take a drastic step of ending her life.

Section 304-B IPC and Section 113-B of Evidence Act are decisive provisions to ascertain the unnatural death as dowry death.

Conjoint reading of Section 304-B IPC and presumptive provision of Section 113-B of the Evidence Act, one of the essential ingredients, amongst others, is that the woman must have been soon before her death subjected to cruelty and harassment for or in connection with demand of dowry. On the proof of essentials as mentioned in the aforesaid sections, it becomes obligatory on the Court to raise a presumption that the accused caused the dowry death.

“…it becomes obligatory on the Court to raise a presumption that the accused caused the dowry death.”

Supreme Court expounded the legal presumption qua dowry death in Sher Singh v. State of Haryana, (2015) 3 SCC 724.

It was expressed in the present matter that in case of dowry death initial burden lies upon the prosecution to prove the ingredients of Section 304-B IPC by a preponderance of probability.

In the matter in hand, prosecution witnesses of fact i.e. PWs-1, 2 and 3 were consistent in their depositions qua cruel attitude of husband and his family member in connection with demand of dowry.

Main ingredients of dowry death are harassment and cruelty for the demand of dowry.

Main Question:

Whether the victim had died otherwise than under normal circumstances and it was shown that soon before her death, she was subjected to cruelty and harassment by her husband or his relatives for, or in connection with, any demand of dowry.

Matter in hand relates to dowry death of victim, which is obviously a case of death other than under normal circumstances.

Bench noted that it may be a matter of dispute as to whether she had been forcibly hanged to death or hanged herself to death but there was no doubt that she had ended her life under extreme pressure created by her on laws.

After careful consideration of evidences of prosecution witnesses and defence witnesses, Trial Court has taken a pragmatic view that involvement of parents of husband (i.e. appellant herein) is not made out on the facts and circumstances of the present case, who were living separately from their son but the involvement of husband cannot be ruled out.

Adding to the above analysis, it was stated that from the evidence on record it is proved that appellant was living with his wife, therefore, his claim for acquittal on the ground of acquittal of his relatives (i.e. parents) was not sustainable and being cohabitant with his wife, his complicity in the commission of a crime could easily be inferred.

High Court concluded that there was persistent demand of dowry made by the accused from the victim who was subjected to cruelty and harassment and ultimately she had ended her life in suspicious circumstances wherein injury inflicted on her forehead suggested some violence soon before her death.

Prosecution successfully discharged its duty and it is obligatory on the Court to raise a presumption that the accused caused the dowry death.

Hence, the present appeal was dismissed and the decision of the lower court was upheld. [Deepak v. State of U.P., 2021 SCC OnLine All 190, decided on 3-03-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

Counsel for Appellant:- Ashok Kumar Yadav, Rakesh Dube

Counsel for Respondent :- A.G.A.

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case relating to dowry death, where it was argued by the accused that without any charges under Section 498A, IPC a conviction under Section 304-B, IPC cannot be sustained, the 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, CJI and Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose, JJ has rejected the contention and has explained,

“Although cruelty is a common thread existing in both the offences, however the ingredients of each offence are distinct and must be proved separately by the prosecution. If a case is made out, there can be a conviction under both the sections.”

Provisions in question

Section 304-B. Dowry death.—(1) Where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage and it is shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, such death shall be called “dowry death”, and such husband or relative shall be deemed to have caused her death.

Explanation.—For the purpose of this sub-section, “dowry” shall have the same meaning as in Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (28 of 1961).

(2) Whoever commits dowry death shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life.

Section 498-A. Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty.—Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation.—For the purposes of this section, “cruelty” means—

(a) any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or

(b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.

Background

The deceased got married to the accused in November, 2004 and gave birth to child in 2006. The death of the deceased occurred in 2008 after she consumed poison in her matrimonial home.

Both, the trial court and the Punjab and Haryana High Court, convicted the husband under Section 304-B for dowry death.

The counsel appearing on behalf of the accused-appellant argued that “the Courts below have, as a matter of routine, applied the presumption u/s 113B of Evidence Act in the instant case wherein even the basic and essential ingredient of Section 304-B, IPC are not satisfied.”

It was submitted that just because the death of the deceased occurred within seven years of marriage, by no stretch of imagination can it be said that the deceased soon before her death was subjected to cruelty in connection with the demand of dowry.

“The fact that the deceased was happy with the appellant is clearly evident as she lived with him and bore his child, and never mentioned any harassment or cruelty being meted out by the appellant. Furthermore, the gifts received by the appellant-husband were voluntarily given by the complainant and his family.”

It was also argued that without any charges under Section 498A, IPC a conviction under Section 304-B, IPC cannot be sustained.

Analysis

Section 304-B(1), IPC defines ‘dowry death’ of a woman. It provides that ‘dowry death’ is where death of a woman is caused by burning or bodily injuries or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances, within seven years of marriage, and it is shown that soon before her death, she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband, in connection with demand for dowry.

Considering the aforementioned said law, the Court noted that since,

  • the marriage between the deceased and the accused-appellant took place on 23.11.2004, and
  • the death of the deceased occurred in 2008 after she consumed poison in her matrimonial home,

therefore, the first two ingredients as to death under otherwise than ‘normal circumstances’ within seven years of marriage stand satisfied.

Coming to the next ingredient necessary for establishing the existence of dowry demand i.e. “soon before her death”, the Court noticed that,

  • the deceased had expressed her unhappiness due to the constant harassment and dowry demands, to her father.
  • The father also stated as to how the families attempted to mediate the dispute themselves and on multiple occasions the father of deceased gave certain gifts to the accused and his family to ameliorate the situation.
  • Further, the mother of the deceased had informed the father 15-20 days prior to the incident about the continuing harassment of the deceased on account of dowry.
  • Finally, on 08.08.2008, the father-in-law of the deceased informed this witness about the consumption of poison by the deceased.

It is also important to note that both the Trial Court and the High Court found the above evidence of the father of the deceased to be reliable and consistent despite a thorough cross-examination. No evidence was produced by the appellant to disregard the aforesaid testimony.

On the defence of the accused is that his family and family of the deceased shared a cordial relationship, and in fact, the appellant had helped the mother of deceased in getting treatment of cancer, the Trial Court, after a thorough examination of the evidences- both oral and documentary, concluded that the accused-appellant, who was working as a technician in a hospital, has forged the hospital records to prove the existence of cordial relationship between the families of the deceased and the accused.

It was hence concluded that necessary ingredients under Section 304-B, IPC stood satisfied.

Explaining the difference between offences under Section 498-A and Section 304-B, IPC, the Court note of the judgment in Kamesh Panjiyar v. State of Bihar, (2005) 2 SCC 388, wherein it was held,

“… Sections 304- B and 498-A IPC cannot be held to be mutually inclusive. These provisions deal with two distinct offences. It is true that cruelty is a common essential to both the sections and that has to be proved. The Explanation to Section 498-A gives the meaning of “cruelty”. In Section 304-B there is no such explanation about the meaning of “cruelty”. But having regard to the common background to these offences it has to be taken that the meaning of “cruelty” or “harassment” is the same as prescribed in the Explanation to Section 498-A under which “cruelty” by itself amounts to an offence. Under Section 304-B it is “dowry death” that is punishable and such death should have occurred within seven years of marriage. No such period is mentioned in Section 498-A. If the case is established, there can be a conviction under both the sections.”

[Gurmeet Singh v. State of Punjab, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 403, decided on 28.05.2021]


Judgement by: CJI NV Ramana

Know Thy Judge| Justice N.V. Ramana

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case relating to dowry death, the bench of NV Ramana*, CJ and Aniruddha Bose, J has said that judges need to be extra careful while conducting criminal trials relating to Section 304-B, IPC. The Court went on to summarise the law under Section 304­B, IPC read with Section 113­B, Evidence Act and the guidelines to be followed by the Courts while conducting trials in such cases.

The Court noticed that, often, Trial Courts record the statement of an accused under Section 313, CrPC in a very casual and cursory manner, without specifically questioning the accused as to his defense.

“It ought to be noted that the examination of an accused under Section 313, CrPC cannot be treated as a mere procedural formality, as it is based on the fundamental principle of fairness.”

Hence, the Court must put incriminating circumstances before the accused and seek his response. A duty is also cast on the counsel of the accused to prepare his defense, since the inception of the trial, with due caution, keeping in consideration the peculiarities of Section 304¬B, IPC read with Section 113-B, Evidence Act.

Dowry deaths – Facts and Figures

A study titled “Global study on Homicide: Gender-related killing of women and girls”, published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, highlighted that in 2018 female dowry deaths account for 40 to 50 percent of all female homicides recorded annually in India. The dismal truth is that from the period 1999 to 2016, these figures have remained constant.

The latest data furnished by the National Crime Records Bureau indicates that in 2019 itself, 7115 cases were registered under Section 304-B, IPC alone.

Law on dowry death – The trajectory

Section 304¬B, IPC is one among many legislative initiatives undertaken by Parliament to remedy a long-standing social evil of dowry death. The pestiferous nature of dowry harassment, wherein married women   are   being   subjected   to   cruelty   because   of   covetous demands by husband and his relatives has not gone unnoticed. The Parliament enacted the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 as a first step to eradicate this social evil. Further, as the measures were   found   to   be   insufficient,   the   Criminal   Law   (Second Amendment) Act, 1983 (Act 46 of 1983) was passed wherein Chapter XX-A was introduced in the IPC, containing Section 498¬A.

The need for a stringent law to curb dowry deaths was suo motu taken up by the Law Commission in its 91st Law Commission Report. The Law Commission recognized that the IPC, as it existed at that relevant time, was insufficient to tackle the issue of dowry deaths due to the nature and modus of the crime.

The Parliament, then, introduced amendments to the Dowry Prohibition Act, as well as the IPC by enacting Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 1986 (Act 43 of 1986). By way of this amendment, Section 304-B, IPC was specifically introduced in the IPC, as a stringent provision to curb the menace of dowry death in India.

Margaret Alva, who presented the Amendment Bill before Rajya Sabha observed:

“You have never really heard of a girl being burnt while cooking in her mother’s  house or her husband’s  house. It is always in the mother-in-law’s house that she catches fire and is burnt in the kitchen. Therefore, getting evidence immediately becomes a great bit problem. Therefore, we have brought in a couple of amendments which give certain presumptions where the burden of proof shifts to the husband and to his people to show that it was not a dowry death or that it was not deliberately done.”

Dowry Death and Criminal Trial – Law Summarised

  1. Section 304¬B, IPC must be interpreted keeping in mind the legislative intent to curb the social evil of bride burning and dowry demand.
  2. The prosecution must at first establish the existence of the necessary ingredients for constituting an offence under Section 304-B, IPC. Once these ingredients are satisfied, the rebuttable presumption of causality, provided under Section 113¬B, Evidence Act operates against the accused.
  3. The phrase “soon before” as appearing in Section 304¬B, IPC cannot be construed to mean ‘immediately before’. The prosecution must establish existence of “proximate and live link” between the dowry death and cruelty or harassment for dowry demand by the husband or his relatives.
  4. Section 304-B, IPC does not take a pigeonhole approach in categorizing death as homicidal or suicidal or accidental. The reason for such non categorization is due to the fact that death occurring “otherwise than under normal circumstances” can, in cases, be homicidal or suicidal or accidental.
  5. Due to the precarious nature of Section 304-B, IPC read with 113¬B, Evidence Act, Judges, prosecution and defence should be careful during conduction of trial.
  6. It is a matter of grave concern that, often, Trial Courts record the statement under Section 313, CrPC in a very casual and cursory manner, without specifically questioning the accused as to his defense. It ought to be noted that the examination of an accused under Section 313, CrPC cannot be treated as a mere procedural formality, as it based on the fundamental principle of fairness. This aforesaid provision incorporates the valuable principle of natural justice “audi alteram partem” as it enables the accused to offer an explanation for the incriminatory material appearing against him. Therefore, it imposes an obligation on the court to question the accused fairly, with care and caution.
  7. The Court must put incriminating circumstances before the accused and seek his response. A duty is also cast on the counsel of the accused to prepare his defense since the inception of the Trial with due caution, keeping   in consideration the peculiarities of Section 304-B, IPC read with Section 113¬B, Evidence Act.
  8. Section 232, CrPC provides that, “If, after taking the evidence for the prosecution, examining   the accused and hearing the prosecution and the defence on the point, the Judge considers that there is no evidence that the accused committed the offence, the Judge shall record an order of acquittal”. Such discretion must be utilized by the Trial Courts as an obligation of best efforts.
  9. Once the Trial Court decides that the accused is not eligible to be acquitted as per the provisions of Section 232, CrPC, it must move on and fix hearings specifically for ‘defence evidence’, calling upon the accused to present his defense as per the procedure provided under Section 233, CrPC, which is also an invaluable right provided to the accused.
  10. In the same breath, Trial Courts need to balance other important considerations such as the right to a speedy trial.
  11. The presiding Judge should follow the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court while sentencing and imposing appropriate punishment.
  12. Undoubtedly, the menace of dowry death is increasing day by day, however, sometimes family members of the husband are roped in, even though they have no active role in commission of the offence and are residing at distant places. In these cases, the Court need to be cautious in its approach.

[Satbir Singh v. State of Haryana, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 404, decided on 28.05.2021]


Judgment by: Chief Justice of India NV Ramana 

Know Thy Judge| Justice N.V. Ramana

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case where a woman died of burn injuries one year into her marriage, the bench of NV Ramana*, CJ and Aniruddha Bose, J has held that Courts should use their discretion to determine if the period between the cruelty or harassment and the death of the victim   would come within the term “soon before” as the factum of cruelty or harassment differs from case to case.

“When the legislature used the words, “soon before” they did not mean “immediately before”. Rather, they left its determination in the hands of the courts.”

Background

A woman got married to a man in July, 1994. As fate would have it, she died exactly after year after receiving burn injuries, allegedly after she set herself ablaze due to being subjected to cruelty and dowry demand at the hands of her husband and in-laws. The appellants were convicted by the Trial Court in December, 1997 for the offences under Sections 304¬B and 306, IPC and were sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for seven years for the offence punishable under Section 304-B, IPC and to undergo rigorous imprisonment for five years for the offence punishable under Section 306, IPC.

In November, 2008, the Punjab and Haryana High Court also  upheld the order of the Trial Court and dismissed the appeal filed by the appellants.

Analysis

Was the offence under Section 304-B IPC made out?

“Soon before” – Interpretation

When the legislature used the words, “soon before” they did not mean “immediately before”. Rather, they left its determination in the hands of the courts. The factum of cruelty or harassment differs from case to case. Even the spectrum of cruelty is quite varied, as it can range from physical, verbal or even emotional. This list is certainly not exhaustive. Therefore, Courts should use their discretion to determine if the period between the cruelty or harassment and the death of the victim   would come within the term “soon before”.

“What is pivotal to the above determination, is the establishment of a “proximate and live link” between the cruelty and the consequential death of the victim.”

When the prosecution shows that ‘soon before her death such woman has been subjected by such person to cruelty or harassment for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry’, a presumption of causation arises against the accused under Section 113-B of the Evidence Act. Thereafter, the accused has to rebut this statutory presumption.

Further, Section 304-B, IPC does not take a pigeonhole approach in categorizing death as homicidal   or suicidal or accidental, as was done earlier. The reason for such non categorization is due to the fact that death occurring “otherwise than under normal circumstances” can, in cases, be homicidal or suicidal or accidental. However, the Section 304-B, IPC endeavors to also address those situations wherein murders or suicide are masqueraded as accidents.

“Therefore, if all the other ingredients of Section 304¬B IPC are fulfilled, any death whether caused by burns or by bodily injury or occurring otherwise than under normal circumstances shall, as per the legislative mandate, be called a “dowry death” and the woman’s husband or his relative “shall be deemed to have caused her death” unless proved otherwise.”

Chain of circumstances  – Where did it lead?

  • The deceased and accused were married on 01.07.1994, and the death of the lady occurred on 31.07.1995.
  • According to the evidence of the doctor, the entire body of the deceased was doused with kerosene oil. Therefore, the possibility of an accident was ruled out.
  • The Deceased had disclosed to her brother, within a month after her marriage that the accused, husband and mother-in-law, used to physically harass her on the account of bringing insufficient dowry. Furthermore, the accused persons had made a specific demand of a scooter. Pursuant to this disclosure, she was brought back to her paternal house.
  • Only a month prior to her death, the deceased had returned to her matrimonial house. However, the accused still used to harass the deceased for dowry. The aforesaid fact was revealed by the deceased to her father, when she had come to visit him.
  • Just a week before the death, on the occasion of Teej festival, another brother of the deceased had visited her while she was in her matrimonial home. The deceased had reiterated her plight to her
  • On 31.07.1995, the father of the deceased was informed by some villagers that his daughter has been admitted in the hospital. Upon reaching, the father discovered that the deceased succumbed to burn injuries.

“The aforesaid chain of circumstances proves that there existed a live and proximate link between the instances of demand of dowry and the death of the deceased.”

The court noticed that since the ingredients of Section 304¬B, IPC stoodsatisfied, the presumption under 113¬B, Evidence Act operated against the appellants, who are deemed to have caused the offence specified under Section 304-B of IPC. The burden therefore shifted on the accused to rebut the aforesaid presumption, who in turn, failed to make out a case for acquittal.

Was the offence under Section 306 IPC made out?

A bare reading of the provision indicates that for the offence under Section 306, IPC the prosecution needs to first establish that a suicide has been committed. Secondly, the prosecution must also prove that the person who is said to have abetted the commission of suicide, has played an active role in the same.

With respect to this latter requirement, Section 113¬A, Evidence Act creates a presumption against the husband and/or his relative with respect to the abetment of suicide of a married woman, under certain conditions. Not going into the other conditions, a perusal of the provision indicates that such presumption shall be attracted only if the factum of suicide has been established by the prosecution first.

However, in the present case, the conclusion reached by the Courts below was based on assumptions, as there is no evidence on record to support the same.

The reasoning of the Trial Court in this regard was:

“Further, there is no direct evidence having been adduced by the prosecution the (sic) any of the accused caused death by sprinkling kerosene on the body of the deceased, the only possibility is that Meena Kumari put an end to her life by sprinkling kerosene on her body.”

Hence, since there was insufficient evidence to prove the factum of suicide beyond reasonable doubt, the presumption under Section 113-A, Evidence Act, is not of much help for the prosecution. The essential ingredient of deceased committing suicide has not been proved by the prosecution by adducing sufficient evidence.

“In the present case, the prosecution has failed to establish that the death occurred due to suicide. Therefore, we are of the opinion that the finding of the Courts below convicting the appellants under Section 306, IPC merits interference by this Court.”

Conclusion

Conviction under Section 304-B IPC was upheld and conviction and sentence under Section 306, IPC was set aside.

[Satbir Singh v. State of Haryana, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 404, decided on 28.05.2021]


Judgment by: Chief Justice of India NV Ramana

Know Thy Judge| Justice N.V. Ramana

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of Navin Sinha and Krishan Murari, JJ has held that there cannot be any rigid standard or yardstick for acceptance or rejection of a dying declaration and whether or not it will be admissible in evidence will depend upon the fact of each case.

The Court was hearing a case dating back to 1991 where a married woman succumbed to 95% burn injuries. The case became complicated as there was no eye-witness account and the prosecution had based it’s case of circumstantial evidence involving the dying declaration of the deceased. The husband and the sister-in-law of the deceased were acquitted as the dying declaration did not inspire confidence.  “It vacillated between blaming the husband and the sister¬in-law, coupled with the absence of any certificate by the Doctor that the deceased was in a fit state of mind when she made the dying declaration.”

Explaining the law relating to admissibility of dying declaration under Section 32 of the Evidence Act, 1872, the Court held that it alone can also form the basis for conviction if it has been made voluntarily and inspires confidence.  However,

“If there are contradictions, variations, creating doubts about its truthfulness, affecting its veracity and credibility or if the dying declaration is suspect, or the accused is able to create a doubt not only with regard to the dying declaration but also with regard to the nature and manner of death, the benefit of doubt shall have to be given to the accused. Therefore, much shall depend on the facts of a case.”

Applying this principle the Court took note of the following facts at hand:

  • The statement of the deceased was based on hearsay evidence that the deceased was set on fire by her husband. There was no reference to sister-in-law in this statement and neither had she said anything about dowry demand.
  • The next statement of the deceased blamed the sister-in-law. This statement was not signed by anybody and the Doctor who recorded the statement has not been examined. Merely because his signature has been identified by the record clerk of the hospital cannot establish the correctness of its contents.
  • The third statement of the deceased was recorded by the Assistant Sub­Inspector blaming sister-in-law alone without any allegation against the husband, and on the contrary states that she was brought to the hospital by her husband. “It again does not disclose any dowry demand.”
  • Assistant Sub­Inspector who recorded the dying declaration does not state that the deceased was in a fit state of mind to make the statement. He states that the Doctor had certified fitness of mind of the deceased, when the dying declaration itself contains no such statement. In cross examination he acknowledges that the fitness of the deceased was certified by a resident junior doctor separately but whose signature and endorsement is not available on the dying declaration. The record clerk of the hospital also made a statement that the Doctor had not signed in his presence and that at times doctors would come and put their signatures in the record room.

In such facts and circumstances, considering that the statements of the deceased have vacillated, the Court noticed that there is no evidence about the fitness of mind of the deceased to make the dying declaration including the presence of the Doctor, the veracity and truthfulness of the dying declaration remains suspect. Hence,

“it would not be safe to simply reject the probable defence of suicide, to reverse the acquittal and convict the respondents.”

[Naresh Kumar v. Kalawati, CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 35 OF 2013, decided on 25.03.2021]


*Judgment by Justice Navin Sinha

Know Thy Judge| Justice Navin Sinha

Appearances before the Court by

For appellant: Advocate Rajendra Singhvi

For respondents: Senior Advocate Ramesh Gupta

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Subramonium Prasad, J., expressed that:

“Courts must not close its eyes to the fact that it is the victim who knocks the doors of the Court and seeks justice must not left high and dry with the feeling that the accused have escaped due to the perfunctory/faulty/defective investigation.”

Instant petition as directed against the decision of Additional Sessions Judge that discharged the respondent 4 and 5 for the offences under Sections 306/34 of the Penal Code, 1860.

Petitioners are the parents of the deceased who was married to respondent 3. The deceased was found hanging by the neck from the ceiling fan in her matrimonial house within two and a half years of her marriage.

Statements before the SDM

Petitioner 1 i.e. the mother of the deceased stated that the deceased was not happy in her marriage and her mother-in-law and sister-in-law were responsible for the suicide. Though the deceased’s father said that he did not have any grievances or any complaints against any persons and that no one was responsible for the death of the deceased.

No FIR was registered against respondent 4 and 5.

After about 10 months of the death of the deceased, an FIR was registered under Sections 306/34 IPC.

Additional Sessions Judge found that the statements of parents before the SDM did not bear any stamp and that they were also not signed by the petitioners. Prima Facie no material was found to proceed against the accused persons for charges under Sections 306/34 IPC, hence the accused were discharged.

Though the Additional Sessions Judge found investigational lapses that required due probe and further directed for a copy of the order to be sent to the Screening Committee for appropriate action.

The above-said order has been challenged in the present petition.

Analysis, Law and Decision

“…charge-sheet in the instant case bleeds of wounds inflicted by the Police.”

No explanation on why FIR was registered after 10 months of the death

Bench noted that the investigation was oriented in order to give a closure report. And filing of FIR after ten months of the incident was contrary to law.

Petitioner 1 stated that the respondent 4 and 5 demanded dowry, hence there was no reason, whatsoever, not to lodge an FIR for an offence under Section 304B IPC.

It was also stated that IO told the petitioners to give statements as per his will and suggestions and threatened her. Petitioner 1’s letter to the Commissioner of police revealed that IO was forcing the parents of the deceased to enter into a compromise with the respondents.

To construe an offence under Section 304 B i.e. dowry death, the death of the women could have been caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage and it is shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband in connection with, any demand for dowry.

 Ingredients for constituting Section 304 B were made out but surprisingly no FIR was registered.

In the instant matter, the death occurred within 7 years of marriage and allegations of dowry death were also present against the respondent 4 and 5. Deceased died by committing suicide.

Bench expressed that unfortunately neither the Magistrate nor the ASJ orders a further investigation after commenting on glaring loopholes with the investigation.

Sufficient material on record was placed stating that the deceased was subjected to cruelty/harassment with the demand of dowry by respondent 4 and 5 and hence presumption under Section 113(b) of the Indian Evidence Act will apply.

Defective Investigation

 It is well settled that where there has been negligence on the part of the investigating agencies or omissions either negligently or with a design to favour the accused, then it becomes the obligation of the Court to ensure that proper investigation is carried out.

Supreme Court’s decision in Vinubhai Haribhai Malaviya v. State of Gujarat, (2019) 17 SCC 1, Vinay Tyagi v. Irshad Ali, (2013) 5 SCC 762 were relied upon by the Court.

In the present matter, investigation was conducted in an extremely shoddy manner. 

High Court elaborating more on the present matter stated that the ASJ while passing the impugned judgment on noticing the glaring inconsistencies should have ordered for further investigation.

Hence, impugned Judgment was set aside. High Court directed police to conduct an investigation on the basis of petitioners’ statements and the same to be conducted by a different investigation officer. [Saroj Bhola v. State of NCT of Delhi, 2021 SCC OnLine Del 1497, decided on 05-04-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

For the Petitioners: Chanan Parwani, Advocate

For the Respondents: Kusum Dhalla, APP for the State and respondent 2

Charanjeet Singh, Advocate for respondents 3 to 6

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case where withing a couple of days of the alleged dowry death of a doctor in Agra, a suicide note was leaked to the newspapers of the city, the 3-judge bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud*, Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee, JJ has said that selective disclosures to the media affect the rights of the accused in some cases and the rights of victims families in others.

“The media does have a legitimate stake in fair reporting. But events such as what has happened in this case show how the selective divulging of information, including the disclosure of material which may eventually form a crucial part of the evidentiary record at the criminal trial, can be used to derail the administration of criminal justice.”

Background

The deceased, a doctor by profession, married the accused, also a doctor, in 2014. Over Rs.1.50 crores were spent by the deceased’s father for conducting the marriage. It was alleged that even thereafter, deceased’s husband, his parents, brother-in-law and sister-in-law misbehaved with the deceased on account of dowry. Deceased’s father alleges to have paid money on several occasions by cheque to her in-laws. Also, she was severely assaulted in 2017. In the meantime, the deceased suffered miscarriages on two occasions and ultimately, adopted a daughter. The FIR states,

“… dowry greedy people killed Dipti in [xxx] for non-receipt of dowry and non-fulfilment of the demands, and admitted Dipti in their hospital itself in the almost dead condition, in order to save themselves, but she was not allowed any treatment with the intention of killing her. In order to save the life of Dipti, the applicant took her away to the Sarvodaya hospital Faridabad for treatment, at the earlies.” (sic)

While the Sessions Judge denied anticipatory bail on 21 August 2020, the single judge of Allahabad High Court held that

(a) the FIR prima facie appears to be engineered to implicate the applicants;

(b) there is no corelation in between the various allegations leveled in the FIR; and

(c) the allegations “are general in nature” with no specific role being assigned to the accused.

Analysis

On FIR being “engineered” to implicate the spouse of the deceased and his family

Finding the judgment of the Single Judge of the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad unsustainable, the Court held that the FIR contained a recital of allegations bearing on the role of the accused in demanding dowry, of the prior incidents of assault and the payment of moneys by cheque to the in-laws of the deceased. It aslo referred to the telephone calls which were received both from the father-in-law of the deceased on the morning of 3 August 2020 and from the deceased on two occasions on the same day- a few hours before her body was found.

“The grant of anticipatory bail in such a serious offence would operate to obstruct the investigation. The FIR by a father who has suffered the death of his daughter in these circumstances cannot be regarded as “engineered” to falsely implicate the spouse of the deceased and his family.”

On publicity of the alleged suicide by media

“This is not fair to the accused because it pulls the rug below the presumption of innocence. It is not fair to the victims of crime, if they have survived the crime, and where they have not, to their families.”

The investigating officer has a duty to investigate when information about the commission of a cognizable offence is brought to their attention. Unfortunately, this role is being compromised by the manner in which selective leaks take place in the public realm. Neither the victims nor their families have a platform to answer the publication of lurid details about their lives and circumstances.

“The daughter of the appellant had died in mysterious circumstances. The family had completed the last rites. To expect that they should be scouring the pages of the print and electronic media before reporting the crime is a mockery of the human condition.”

Further, the apprehension of the appellant that the deceased’s husband and his family have a prominent social status in Agra and may have used their position in society to thwart a proper investigation cannot be regarded to be unjustified.

On transfer of investigation to CBI

“The investigation by the UP Police in the present case leaves much to be desired.”

The Court said that it would be a travesty if it were to ignore the glaring deficiencies in the investigation conducted so far. Further,

“The status of the accused as propertied and wealthy persons of influence in Agra and the conduct of the investigation thus far diminishes this Court’s faith in directing a further investigation by the same authorities. The cause of justice would not be served if the Court were to confine the scope of its examination to the wisdom of granting anticipatory bail and ignore the possibility of a trial being concluded on the basis of a deficient investigation at best or a biased one at worst.”

Hence, it is necessary to entrust a further investigation of the case to the CBI in exercise of the powers of this Court under Article 142 of the Constitution.

Directions

(i) The order passed by the Single Judge of the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad allowing the applications for anticipatory bail by the respondents-accused set aside and the bail granted to them stands cancelled; and

(ii) The CBI is directed to conduct a further investigation in the matter.

[Dr. Naresh Kumar Mangla v. Anita Agarwal,  2020 SCC OnLine SC 1031, decided on 17.12.2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of NV Ramana* and Surya Kant, JJ has acquitted a man convicted under Section 498­A read with Section 34 IPC for the death of his brother’s wife after it was found that the case against him was not proved beyond doubt.

Allegedly, after several instances of abuse at her matrimonial home, the deceased went to live with her parents. On the fateful day, her husband came to visit her and took her for a walk but came back alone and hurriedly packed his belongings to leave. When confronted about the whereabouts of the deceased, he said   that the deceased was attending the call of nature and would be back soon. He left thereafter. When the deceased did not return after an hour, the complainant started searching for her and she was   ultimately found dead, near a canal with strangulation marks on her neck.

Deceased’s husband, Brother-in-law (the appellant herein) and Father-in-law were convicted under Section 498-A read with Section 34 IPC.

In the present appeal, the deceased’s brother-in-law contended that the prosecution story comprises of vague allegations, unsubstantiated by evidence and that the entire family has been roped in this case. Thus, the conviction of the appellant cannot be sustained.

The prosecution had alleged that the appellant in the present case, had, along with his brother and father, demanded dowry of Rs. 10,000 from the family of the deceased at the time of the vidai ceremony and had continued to harass her for the non-payment of the same.

On perusal of the testimonies of the witnesses, the Court noticed that deceased’s father had named the appellant-accused in the same breath along with other accused persons and their family members accusing them of troubling the deceased for demand of dowry of Rs. 10,000/-.

However, apart from the vague allegations, no specific instance of hostile attitude or persistent demands of dowry have been pointed out by any of the witnesses. All other independent witnesses have turned hostile and have not supported the prosecution story. Also, the paternal uncle of the deceased and a witness named in the FIR, has not supported the prosecution story.

The Court, hence, concluded that on consideration of the oral testimonies of the witnesses, the ingredients of Section 498-A IPC have not been proved against the appellant by the prosecution at the standard of beyond reasonable doubt and, hence, acquitted the appellant.

The Court also discharged the bail bonds of the appellant who is out on bail since September, 2010.

[Nimay Sah v. State of Jharkhand, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 982, 02.12.2020]


*Justice NV Ramana has penned this judgment. Read more about him here

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: J.J., Munir, J., addressed a matter wherein the father of the minor children has been facing trial for criminal charges and has instituted the petition seeking custody of his minor children.

The instant petition was instituted for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of two minor children.

Minors’ Custody

It was stated that respondent 4 and respondent 5 be directed to produce the two minor-children detenues before the Court and minors be given into the father’s custody who has instituted the instant petition.

Digvijay Singh, counsel for the petitioners and Pankaj Kumar Tyagi, counsel appearing on behalf of respondent 4 and Sri Jhamman Ram, Additional Government Advocate appearing on behalf of the State.

Analysis and Decision

The issue of minor’s custody in the present matter came into light after the unnatural death of their mother, regarding which Awadesh Gautam (husband) and four others of his family were reported to the police by the respondent 4 charging them with murder and destruction of evidence.

It was alleged that the minors were taken forcibly by respondent 4 when the husband of the deceased was sent to jail.

Bench on perusal of the above stated observed that the question regarding maintainability of a habeas corpus writ petition to decide issues regarding custody of children or guardianship between a parent snd some other kindred, or between two parents, both of whom are natural guardians, all of this has been fairly well-settled. The stated issue came up for consideration before the Supreme Court in Syed Saleemuddin v. Dr Rukhsana, (2001) 5 SCC 247 wherein it was held that:

“…in an application seeking a writ of Habeas Corpus for custody of minor children the principal consideration for the Court is to ascertain whether the custody of the children can be said to be unlawful or illegal and whether the welfare of the children requires that present custody should be changed and the children should be left in care and custody of somebody else. The principle is well settled that in a matter of custody of a child the welfare of the child is of paramount consideration of the Court.”

In Tejaswini Gaud v. Shekhar Jagdish Prasad Tewari, (2019) 7 SCC 42 it was held that:

“19. Habeas corpus proceedings is not to justify or examine the legality of the custody. Habeas corpus proceedings is a medium through which the custody of the child is addressed to the discretion of the Court. Habeas corpus is a prerogative writ which is an extraordinary remedy and the writ is issued where in the circumstances of the particular case, ordinary remedy provided by the law is either not available or is ineffective; otherwise a writ will not be issued. In child custody matters, the power of the High Court in granting the writ is qualified only in cases where the detention of a minor by a person who is not entitled to his legal custody. In view of the pronouncement on the issue in question by the Supreme Court and the High Courts, in our view, in child custody matters, the writ of habeas corpus is maintainable where it is proved that the detention of a minor child by a parent or others was illegal and without any authority of law.

20. In child custody matters, the ordinary remedy lies only under the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act or the Guardians and Wards Act as the case may be. In cases arising out of the proceedings under the Guardians and Wards Act, the jurisdiction of the court is determined by whether the minor ordinarily resides within the area on which the court exercises such jurisdiction. There are significant differences between the enquiry under the Guardians and Wards Act and the exercise of powers by a writ court which is summary in nature. What is important is the welfare of the child. In the writ court, rights are determined only on the basis of affidavits. Where the court is of the view that a detailed enquiry is required, the court may decline to exercise the extraordinary jurisdiction and direct the parties to approach the civil court. It is only in exceptional cases, the rights of the parties to the custody of the minor will be determined in exercise of extraordinary jurisdiction on a petition for habeas corpus.”

In the present matter, Court stated that the custody cannot be termed as unlawful. Respondent 4 is the minors’ grandmother who has been given custody of the minors’ by Neeraj Gautam, the cousin or relative of Awadhesh’s in the presence of the Station House Officer.

Awadhesh who is the father of the minors’ could say that being the natural guardian of the two minors’ he has the right to seek their custody from the grandmother.

It is precisely this right which Awadhesh asserts, by virtue of Section 6 (a) of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956. He says he is the sole natural surviving guardian, and therefore, entitled to the minors’ custody. It is, no doubt, true that Awadhesh is the minors’ natural guardian under Section 6 (a) of Act, 1956, but the issue about the minors’ custody is not so much about the right of one who claims it, as it is about the minors’ welfare.

The issue of welfare of the child cannot be mechanically determined. It is to be sensitively approached, taking into consideration both broad and subtle factors that would ensure it best.

The principle governing custody of minor children, apart from other issues, fell for consideration of the Supreme Court in Nil Ratan Kundu v. Abhijit Kundu, (2008) 9 SCC 413.

In the above-cited case, the facts disclose that the father, who claimed the minors’ custody from his maternal grandfather and grandmother was like her, an accused in a case relating to his wife’s dowry death. Fathers’ involvement in a case relating to wifes’ dowry death was regarded by the Supreme Court as an important factor to be carefully addressed.

“…fact about the involvement of a natural guardian, in a criminal case relating to the death of a spouse, was held to be an important consideration while determining the question of welfare of the minor.”

Court interacted with the eldest amongst the minors’ who expressed that he is not disturbed at all about the fact that his maternal grandmother has placed him and his sister at Sri Braddhanand Bal Ashram. 

Further, the child added that he does not wish to go back to his father or stay with him. On being asked the reason, he says that he fears for his life. He also said that he wishes to stay at the hostel. During the course of the conversation, the child emotionally brokedown and wept. He insisted upon staying with the hostel and refused to go back to his father.

Later the Court looked into the allegations for which the father was facing trial, wherein it was noted that the wife had called up her mother stating that there was a conspiracy afoot, where she could be crushed to death under the wheels of a tractor. Later on, she was found dead near portraying it as an accident.

The totality of the circumstances on record shows that unless acquitted, it would not be appropriate to place the two minor children in their father’s custody.

Bench held that the father is not entitled to the minors’ custody when he is facing criminal charges. Once he is acquitted, it would be open to him to make an appropriate application seeking their custody to the Court of competent jurisdiction under the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890.

In the totality of the circumstances obtaining for the present, this Court did not find it appropriate to grant any visitation rights to Awadhesh Gautam.[Shaurya Gautam v. State of U.P., 2020 SCC OnLine All 1372, decided on 10-11-2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court:  In a case where the appellant had challenged his conviction under Section 306 IPC for driving his wife to suicide, the 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, Surya Kant and Hrishikesh Roy, JJ set aside the verdict of the Trial Court and the Punjab and Haryana High Court and held that the conclusion that the deceased was driven to commit suicide, by the circumstances or atmosphere in the matrimonial home was nothing more than an inference, without any material support and the same cannot be the basis for sustaining conviction of the appellant, under section 306 of the IPC.

KEY FACTS CONSIDERED BY COURTS

  • The appellant was married to the deceased and they had a son (21/4 years) and a daughter (8/9 months), when the mother committed suicide on 12.8.1997. According to the prosecution case, the deceased was harassed after marriage, for insufficient dowry. The appellant along with his parents was charged under sections 304B and 498A read with section 34 of the IPC.
  • The father of the deceased submitted that “cash loan” of 20,000/- was asked from him by the family of the appellant.
  • appellant is the only son of his parents and they are the owner of a big house with a vegetable garden. The appellant and his father were drivers with Punjab police.
  • during delivery time, the deceased was admitted in the hospital for 10/12 days in November 1996 and her medical treatment was arranged by the husband and the father-in-law.
  • No evidence of any dispute relating to dowry demand or maltreatment of the deceased, during three years of marriage was seen.

TRIAL COURT AND HIGH COURT’s VERDICT

Even while declaring that there is insufficient material to convict anyone under section 304B & 498A IPC, the trial Court opined that although no charge of abetment was framed against the husband Gurcharan Singh, he can be convicted for abetting suicide of his wife, under section 306 IPC.

The Trial Court also concluded even if Rs. 20,000/- was asked for purchase of plot three years after marriage and few days later the unnatural death takes place, the death cannot be related to demand of dowry.

However, posing a question to itself as to why a young lady with two small children would commit suicide unless she has been pushed to do so, by the circumstances in the matrimonial home, the Trial Court observed that the expectation of a married woman will be love and affection and financial security at the hands of her husband and if her hopes are frustrated by the act or by wilful negligence of the husband, it would constitute abetment within the meaning of section 107 IPC, warranting conviction under section 306 IPC.

The High Court also endorsed the Trial Court’s view that deceased was pushed to commit suicide by the circumstances and the atmosphere in the matrimonial home.

SUPREME COURT’s OBSERVATION

On ingredients to establish offence of abetment under Section 107

As in all crimes, mens rea has to be established. To prove the offence of abetment, as specified under Sec 107 of the IPC, the state of mind to commit a particular crime must be visible, to determine the culpability. In order to prove mens rea, there has to be something on record to establish or show that the appellant herein had a guilty mind and in furtherance of that state of mind, abetted the suicide of the deceased. The ingredient of mens rea cannot be assumed to be ostensibly present but has to be visible and conspicuous.

“In order to give the finding of abetment under section 107 IPC, the accused should instigate a person either by act of omission or commission and only then, a case of abetment is made out.”

On facts and circumstances of the case

Cruelty

In the present case there is no direct evidence of cruelty against the husband or the in-laws. There is nothing on record to show which particular hope or expectation of the deceased was frustrated by the husband. Evidence is also lacking on wilful neglect of the appellant, which led to the suicidal death.

Whereas contrary evidence is available to suggest that care and treatment was given to the deceased in the matrimonial home and in the hospital, and during the three years of marriage, there was no instance of maltreatment, attributable to dowry demand.”

Dowry

The demand of Rs. 20,000/- for purchase of a plot (in front of the residence which might have incidentally become available for sale just at that time), after three years of marriage, was ruled out by the trial Court as the possible cause for the suicidal death.

“Thus, a loan may have been sought by the accused which could not be given. But there is nothing to show that the deceased was harassed on this count, in the matrimonial home.”

Expectations from husband and in-laws

Insofar as the possible reason for a young married lady with two minor children committing suicide, in the absence of evidence, conjectures cannot be drawn that she was pushed to take her life, by the circumstances and atmosphere in the matrimonial home.

“What might have been the level of expectation of the deceased from her husband and in-laws and the degree of her frustration, if any, is not found through any evidence on record. More significantly, wilful negligence by the husband could not be shown by the prosecution.”

It must also be noted that both children born to deceased are being brought up by the appellant’s family ever since the death of the mother on 12.8.1997. The maternal grandparents, even while pointing fingers against the accused, never raised any issue on their grandchildren being brought up in the home where their daughter died an unnatural death.

Conclusion

The Court noticed that in the present matter both the Trial Court as well as the High Court never examined whether appellant had the mens rea for the crime, he is held to have committed.

“The conviction of Appellant by the Trial Court as well as the High Court on the theory that the woman with two young kids might have committed suicide, possibly because of the harassment faced by her in the matrimonial house, is not at all borne out by the evidence in the case.”

On the other hand, it is apparent that no overt act or illegal omission is seen from the appellant’s side, in taking due care of his deceased wife. The evidence also does not indicate that the deceased faced persistent harassment from her husband.

“The Trial Court and the High Court speculated on the unnatural death and without any evidence concluded only through conjectures, that the appellant is guilty of abetting the suicide of his wife.”

Hence, the conviction of the appellant, under section 306 of the IPC cannot be sustained.

[Gurcharan Singh v. State of Punjab, CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.40 OF 2011, decided on 02.10.2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Gujarat High Court: A.J. Desai, J., allowed an application of anticipatory bail in connection with the FIR registered for the offences punishable under Sections 498A, 304(B), 506(2) and 114 of the Penal Code, 1860.

The counsel for the applicant submitted that the nature of allegations were such for which custodial interrogation at this stage was not necessary.

The Court while allowing the anticipatory bail application considered the facts of the case, nature of allegations which were general in nature, gravity of offences, role attributed to the accused and the fact that the present applicant who happened to be mother in law of the deceased was permanent resident of Uttar Pradesh as also the fact that the FIR had been lodged after a period of almost six months from the date of incident and the fact that the coordinate Bench had considered the case of co-accused and considered the age of the applicant who was aged 66 years reiterating the law laid down in Siddharam Satlingappa Mhetre v. State of Maharashtra, (2011) 1 SCC 694. [Binasinh Dayaramsinh Raghuvanshi v. State of Gujarat, 2020 SCC OnLine Guj 1143, decided on 18-08-2020]


*Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has put this story together