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

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Telangana High Court: K. Lakshman, J.,  while addressing an issue, observed that,

there should be a perceptible nexus between the death of a woman and the dowry-related harassment or cruelty inflicted on her.

Deceased and accused 1 were married, wherein at the time of marriage parents of the deceased gave 15 tolas of gold, furniture and clothes.

Harassment

After 5 months of the marriage, appellants-accused started harassing the deceased physically and mentally by demanding additional dowry and motorcycle.

Accused had also threatened to perform a second marriage if the demands were not fulfilled.

Deceased parents informed the accused that they cannot fulfill the said demand and asked not to harass the deceased.

But the accused warned the parents and maternal uncles of the deceased that they would perform the marriage of accused 1 with another girl if they fail to accede to their demand.

Suicide

On the intervening night of 25/26-06-2003 parents of the deceased were informed that the deceased committed suicide hanging.

The mother of the deceased reported the event with instances of harassment that her daughter was subjected to the police.

Police registered a case under Section 304-B of Penal Code, 1860 and trial court framed the charge against the appellants and accused 4 under Section 304-B IPC.

Being aggrieved with the said conviction and imposition, the present appeal was filed.

Decision

Dowry death

Court observed that the post-mortem examination found the cause of the death of the deceased to be due to hanging.

Ingredients required for offence under Section 304-B IPC:

  • within 7 years of the marriage, there must happen the death of a woman (the wife)
  • the death must be caused by any burns or bodily injury, or the death must occur otherwise than under normal circumstances
  • it must be established that soon before her death, she was subjected to cruelty or harassment
  • the cruelty or harassment may be by her husband or any relative of her husband; and
  • the cruelty or harassment by the husband or relative of the husband must be for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry.

Section 113-B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 provides for presumption as to dowry death. When the question is whether the dowry death, namely, the death contemplated under Section 304-B of IPC has been committed by a person, if it is shown that soon before her death, the woman was subjected by such person to cruelty or harassment, for in connection with, any demand for dowry, the Court shall “presume” that such person had caused the dowry death.

It is, no doubt, a rebuttable presumption and it is open to the husband and his relatives to show the absence of the ingredients of Section 304-B of IPC.

Court observed that it is relevant to note that it is not enough that harassment or cruelty was caused to the woman with a demand for dowry at some time if Section 304-B of IPC is to be invoked but it should have happened “soon before her death”.

Bench held that the prosecution had proved the guilt of the accused’s and established the above-stated 5 ingredients of Section 304-B IPC.

To bring home charge under Section 304-B of IPC, the prosecution is required to establish that the death of the woman has been caused by burns or bodily injury or otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage and soon before her death, the woman is subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or his relative.

In the present matter, the fact that the incident had occurred 17 years ago and accused 1 got remarried and has to look after his children including the child born through the deceased and his old aged parents, hence Court took a lenient view with regard to the reduction of punishment.

Accordingly, the present criminal appeal was allowed.[Surender Singh v. State of A.P., 2020 SCC OnLine TS 874, decided on 06-07-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Karnataka High Court: A Division Bench of B.A. Patil and Hanchate Sanjeevkumar, JJ., upheld the decision of the trial court with regard to dowry death.

By the instant criminal appeal, the decision of the Additional Sessions Judge, Gulbarga has been challenged.

Counsel for the appellant-accused: Iswaraj S. Chowdapur and Additional State Public Prosecutor for respondent – State: Prakash Yeli.

Dowry | Cruelty

Parents of Dattamma at the time of the marriage had given one tola of gold as dowry. After one year of when the dowry was given, the accused started subjecting Dattamma to cruelty contending that she doesn’t know how to cook and used to ask her to bring cash and gold from her parent’s house.

The said fact of cruelty was conveyed by Dattamma to her parents who along with some elderly persons visited the accused and paid a sum of Rs 5000, but he continued to subject Dattamma to mental and physical cruelty.

Later the accused poured kerosene and lit fire on Dattamma with the intention to commit murder. Afterwhich, she was taken to the hospital and sustained burn injuries.

In view of the above-stated offence, the trial court had convicted the accused.

Analysis and Decision

Bench while analysing the set of circumstances and submission placed stated that,

When the prosecution establishes its case with regard to ill-treatment and harassment said to have been caused by the accused and admittedly the death of the decased has also taken place within 7 years after the marriage, under such circumsatnces, a duty cast upon the Court to draw a presumption under Section 113 A of the Evidence Act that is dowry death.

Demand of Dowry

In the present matter, Court relying on the proposition laid down in the decision of C.M. Girish Babu v. CBI, (2009) 3 SCC 779, held that the prosecution has established that there was ill-treatment and harassment caused by the accused for the demand of dowry.

Trial Court has rightly convicted the accused for the offences punishable under Section 498-A and 302 IPC and also under Section 3 of the Dowry Prohibition Act.

Accused’s Counsel contended that the imprisonment itself is harsh and severe punishment under such circumstances the imposition of a heavy fine to a poor agriculturist is not justifiable and it is excessive fine which ought not to have been imposed.

In view of the above stated, Court modified the fine imposed on the accused.

The sentence imposed by the trial court for the offences punishable under Sections 498A and 302 of IPC and under Section 3 of the Dowry Prohibition Act was confirmed. [Baswaraj v. State of Karnataka, Criminal Appeal No. 354 of 2013, decided on 10-08-2020]


Also Read:

Cruelty to Women [S. 498-A IPC and allied sections]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: K.R. Shriram, J., dismissed an appeal filed against the order of the trial court whereby it had acquitted of the offences punishable under Sections 498-A, 306, 201 read with Section 34 Penal Code, 1860.

The accused were the in-laws of the deceased. The complainant (father of the deceased)and harassed her due to the non-fulfilment of their demand. Further, it was alleged that subsequent to the harassment, the accused persons murder the deceased. However, during the trial, the charge of murder against the accused persons was altered to that of the abetment of suicide. At the conclusion of the trial, the trial court acquitted all the accused. Aggrieved thereby, the State approached the High Court in the instant appeal.

The High Court considered the findings of the trial court and held that the offence under Section 498-A (husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty) was not established as the demand of money, such as alleged by the complainant, could not be proved by the prosecution.

Coming to the charge under Section 306 (abetment of suicide), the High Court, relying on Sanju v. State of M.P., (2002) 5 SCC 371, explained: “Here is the case of abetment by instigation. The word ‘instigate’ means to goad or urge or forward or to provoke, incite, or encourage to do an untoward act which that person would have otherwise not done. It is also well settled that in order to amount to abetment, there must be mens rea. Without knowledge or intention, there can be no abetment and the knowledge and intention must relate to the act said to be abetted, i.e., suicide, in this case. In order to constitute ‘abetment by instigation’, there must be a direct incitement to do the culpable act. The word ‘instigate’ denotes incitement or urging to do some drastic or unadvisable action or to stimulate or incite. Presence of mens rea, therefore, is the necessary concomitant of instigation.”

It was noted that in the instant case, “There is no evidence to suggest or indicate that the accused knew or had reason to believe that deceased would commit suicide. Even if any acts or words uttered by the accused or their conduct are sufficient to demean or humiliate the deceased and even to drive the deceased to suicide, such acts will not amount to instigation or abetment of commission of suicide, unless it is established that the accused intended by their acts that the deceased must commit suicide. It is not enough if the acts of the accused cause persuasion in the mind of the deceased to commit suicide.”

The offence under Section 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender) was also held to be not proved. Therefore, the order of the trial court was upheld and the instant appeal was dismissed. [State of Maharashtra v. Vijay Maruti Bombale, 2019 SCC OnLine Bom 5985, decided on 19-12-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Gujarat High Court: R.P. Dholaria, J. whilst partly allowing the appeal reduced the sentence of the appellant.

In the present case, the deceased, Deepali committed suicide by setting herself on fire on 22-10-2014. The deceased’s marriage took place four months prior to the incident and since then the accused father-in-law picked up a quarrel for the promised dowry of Rs 30,000 of which Rs 10,000 had already been by paid by the deceased’s mother. The other two accused – husband and mother-in-law did not appeal.

Counsel for the appellant father-in-law, Shubha Tripathi confined to only challenging the conviction and pointed out that the appellant has already undergone a sentence of roughly five years and no acquittal is to be sought. The appellant’s prime concern is for a reduced sentence.

The Court observed from the facts and circumstances of the case that the grave allegations were levelled against the husband and mother-in-law alone. Therefore, it reduced the sentence to the extent of 5 years rigorous imprisonment for the offence punishable under Sections 304-B read with 114 IPC. [Aakash Madhukarbhai Egole v. State of Gujarat, 2019 SCC OnLine Guj 1288, decided on 01-07-2019]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: A bench of Abhay Manohar Sapre and Dinesh Maheshwari, JJ has held that

“the age of a case, by itself, cannot be decisive of the matter when a prayer is made for examination of a material witness.”

Factual Background

  • A woman died in Nigeria under unnatural circumstances and her mother moved an application under Section 311 CrPC seeking summoning of the Doctor who had conducted first postmortem of the dead-body of her daughter in Nigeria.
  • The dead-body of the daughter of appellant was brought to India and Medical Board was constituted for conducting the post-mortem but then, the Board found that no definite opinion could be given regarding the time and cause of death.
  • The investigating agency, for the reasons best known to it, did not cite the said doctor, who conducted the first post-mortem in Nigeria as a witness
  • The Trial Court rejected the application so moved by the appellant, essentially for reasons that the trial was pending for almost 8 years; and that it was not necessary to record the Doctor’s statement.

Ruling

Noticing that the discretionary powers like those under Section 311 CrPC are essentially intended to ensure that every necessary and appropriate measure is taken by the Court to keep the record straight and to clear any ambiguity in so far as the evidence is concerned as also to ensure that no prejudice is caused to anyone, the Bench said,

“the testimony of the said doctor who conducted the first post-mortem in Nigeria is germane to the questions involved in this matter; and for a just decision of the case with adequate opportunity to both the parties to put forward their case, the application under Section 311 CrPC ought to have been allowed.”

The Court said that the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case have either been ignored or have been cursorily dealt by the Trial Court with the observations that the effect of non-availability of the original post-mortem report would be considered at the time of the final disposal of the matter.

“In fact, the principal reason weighing with the Trial Court in declining the prayer for examination of the said witness had been that the case was pending since the year 2010. The High Court, on the other hand, chose not to exercise its powers under 8 Section 482 CrPC, with the only observation that the discretion so exercised by the Trial Court was not to be interfered with.”

The Court held that though it is expected that the trial of a sessions case should proceed with reasonable expedition and pendency of such a matter for about 8-9 years is not desirable but then, the length/duration of a case cannot displace the basic requirement of ensuring the just decision after taking all the necessary and material evidence on record.

[Manju Devi v. State of Rajasthan, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 552, decided on 16.04.2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Sanjeev Sachdeva, J., allowed a petition filed by in-laws of the deceased (wife) against the order of the trial court in pursuance of which charges were framed against them under Sections 304-B (dowry death) and 498-A (husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty) IPC.

As per the prosecution, the deceased had died within seven years of her marriage. It was alleged that on the fateful, she was brought to Sanjay Gandhi Hospital where she was declared brought dead. On the MLC, the doctor opined: “alleged history of hanging and declared brought dead”. Parents of the deceased stated that she was harassed for dowry by her husband and in-laws (petitioner). A case was registered and the trial court was of the view that a prima facie case was established against the husband and the in-laws. Accordingly, the charges were framed against all the accused. Aggrieved thereby, the in-laws filed the present petition.

Anunya Mehta and Akshay Deep Singhal, Advocates for the in-laws contended that the charges against them were based on omnibus allegations and the deceased was not residing with them for last several years as she was living separately in Rohini with her husband. They prayed for discharging the in-laws.

The High Court perused both the sections. It was noted that the allegations made by parents of the deceased were all against the husband. And there were a few very general allegations against the in-laws like that of ‘continuous bickering’. There was no allegation that they ever demanded dowry. It was stated, To constitute an offence under Sections 304-B and 498-A IPC, it not mere bickering which would amount to an offence but it should be harassment of such a nature that would drive a woman to commit suicide.” The Court held that allegations against the in-laws were not such a nature so as to qualify as an offence under the said sections. In such view of the matter, the petition was allowed and the in-laws were discharged.[Satbir Dalal v. State (NCT of Delhi), 2019 SCC OnLine Del 7006, dated 14-02-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

High Court of Himachal Pradesh: While deciding a criminal appeal preferred by the appellant-State challenging the judgment of the Trial Court, whereby the accused were acquitted for the offence punishable under Sections 498-A, 306 and 404 read with Section 34 of IPC, a two-Judge Bench of Tarlok Singh Chauhan, J. and Chander Bhusan Barowalia, J. held that the prosecution failed to prove the guilt of the accused beyond shadow of reasonable doubt and declined to interfere with the impugned judgment.

The respondents were accused of abetting the suicide of the deceased. Learned Additional Advocate General argued that the proof required under Section 498-A is not strict proof, but only preponderance of probabilities are required to be established. He further argued that the statements of the witnesses clearly established the guilt of the accused persons beyond reasonable doubt.

The Court, after perusing the arguments and the evidence, held that the prosecution failed to prove that cruel treatment was given to the deceased and under these circumstances the presumption that it was a dowry death within seven years of marriage does not arise at all. The fact of deceased’s being taken to hospital by the accused immediately on consuming medicines proved the good conduct of the accused persons. In the given circumstances, the appeal was held sans merit and was accordingly dismissed. [State of Himachal Pradesh v. Ashwani Kumar, 2017 SCC OnLine HP 1311, decided on September 1, 2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the light of the rising misuse of Section 498-A IPC dealing with dowry deaths, the bench of A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit, JJ gave the below mentioned directions to deal with the menace, except in case offences involving tangible physical injuries or death, and said that the below mentioned arrangement should be tried for at least 6 months or till 31.03.2018, after which the National Legal Services Authority will have to submit a report to the Court.

  • Family Welfare Committee:
  1. Atleast one committee to be constituted by the District Legal Services Authorities in every district, preferably comprising of three members who are para legal volunteers/social workers/retired persons/wives of working officers/other citizens who may be found suitable and willing.
  2. The constitution and working of such committees may be reviewed from time to time and at least once in a year by the District and Sessions Judge of the district who is also the Chairman of the District Legal Services Authority.
  3. The Committee members will not be called as witnesses.
  4. Every complaint under Section 498A received by the police or the Magistrate be referred to and looked into by such committee.
  5. Report and opinion of such committee be given to the Authority by whom the complaint is referred to it latest within one month from the date of receipt of complaint. No arrest should normally be effected before that.
  6. The report may be then considered by the Investigating Officer or the Magistrate on its own merit.
  • Investigating Officer: Complaints under Section 498A and other connected offences may be investigated only by a designated Investigating Officer of the area. He should undergo training of four months for such duration (not less than one week) as may be considered appropriate.
  • Bail: If a bail application is filed with at least one clear day’s notice to the Public Prosecutor/complainant, the same may be decided as far as possible on the same day. Recovery of disputed dowry items may not by itself be a ground for denial of bail if maintenance or other rights of wife/minor children can otherwise be protected.
  • NRIs: In respect of persons ordinarily residing out of India impounding of passports or issuance of Red Corner Notice should not be a routine.
  • Video Conferencing: Personal appearance of all family members and particularly outstation members may not be required and the trial court ought to grant exemption from personal appearance or permit appearance by video conferencing without adversely affecting progress of the trial.

The Court said that it is a matter of serious concern that large number of cases continue to be filed under Section 498A alleging harassment of married women and that most of such complaints are filed in the heat of the moment over trivial issues & many are not bona fide. The Court said that involvement of civil society in the aid of administration of justice can be one of the steps to remedy this situation, apart from the investigating officers and the concerned trial courts being sensitized. [Rajesh Sharma v. State of U.P., 2017 SCC OnLine SC 821, decided on 27.07.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the case where death penalty was sought for a man who allegedly set his 7-month pregnant wife on fire by pouring kerosene oil and also threw their 3-year-old son on the burning body of the deceased, the bench of P.C. Ghose and R.F. Nariman, JJ refused to award death penalty and held that confinement till natural life of the accused shall fulfill the requisite criteria of punishment in peculiar facts and circumstances of the case.

In the present case, the medical evidence had proved that the deceased met an unnatural death. Considering the fact that there is no other eye-witness to the incident as the accused and the deceased were alone at the house at the time of commission of offence, the Court noticed that the failure on the part of the accused to explain how his pregnant wife and their minor child met with unnatural death due to burn injuries sustained at their house leads to an inference which goes against the accused. The Court also took note of the the dying declarations of the deceased with consistent allegations about demand of dowry and modus operandi of the offence which resulted into the death of the declarant and her minor child and held that it is evident that each of the circumstances had been established, the cumulative effect whereof would show that all the links in the chain are complete and the conclusion of the guilt is fully established.

However, based on the recommendation of the Law Commission of India in the Report Number 262 where the abolition of death penalty for all the crimes other than terrorism related offences and waging war (offences affecting National Security) was recommended, the Court said that capital punishment has become a distinctive feature of death penalty apparatus in India which somehow breaches the reformative theory of punishment under criminal law and hence, refused to award the same in the peculiar facts and circumstances of the present case. [State of Maharashtra v. Nisar Ramzan Sayyed, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 356, decided on 07.04.2017]

 

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Acquitting the appellant of charges under Section 304-B read with 34 IPC, the Single Judge Bench of P.S. Teji, J. said that since the prosecution has failed to establish the necessary ingredient of dowry death i.e. cruelty or harassment meted out to the deceased by the appellant soon before her death, the presumption under Section 113-B of the  Evidence Act cannot be raised.

It was not in dispute that the deceased died due to burning within one year of her marriage and the bodily injuries resulted in death otherwise than under normal circumstances but the most important ingredient of Section 304-B that the deceased was subjected to cruelty and harassment on account of demand of dowry by her husband or any relative of her husband soon before her death could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt by the prosecution. The Court relied  on the ratio in Vipin Jaiswal v. State of A.P., 2013 STPL 198 SC where the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that in the absence of specific allegations like date, time and incident that too by public witnesses who were not found reliable and trustworthy, the prosecution had failed to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the deceased was meted with cruelty and harassment by the accused persons for or in connection with demand of dowry.

This Court further observed that it was necessary to establish the offence of Section 498-A IPC to prove the charges under Section 304-B IPC and thereafter the presumption under Section 113-B of the Evidence Act can be drawn. [Ramesh Chander v. State of Delhi, 2016 SCC OnLine Del 6473, decided on 21.12.2016]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the appeal filed by the in-laws of the deceased upon being aggrieved by the conversion of their acquittal into conviction by the High Court under Sections 498A and 304B IPC, the Court said if the prosecution fails to demonstrate by cogent coherent and persuasive evidence to prove such fact, the person accused of either of the above referred offences cannot be held guilty by taking refuge only of the presumption to cover up the shortfall in proof.

The bench of Dipak Misra and Amitava Roy, JJ explained that the expression “dowry” is ordained to have the same meaning as in Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. The expression “cruelty”, contains in its expanse, apart from the conduct of the tormentor, the consequences precipitated thereby qua the lady subjected thereto. Be that as it may, cruelty or harassment by the husband or any relative of his for or in connection with any demand of dowry to reiterate is the gravamen of the two offences.

In the present case, where the deceased was found hanging from the fan, the Court noticed that the family of the in-laws of the deceased was sufficiently well-off and did enjoy appreciable reputation in the society and no demand as imputed had ever been made. Considering the failure of the prosecution to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt, the Court said that the proof of cruelty or harassment by the husband or her relative or the person charged is the sine qua non to inspirit the statutory presumption, to draw the person charged within the coils thereof. The factum of unnatural death in the matrimonial home and that too within seven years of marriage therefore is thus ipso facto not sufficient to bring home the charge under Sections 304B and 498A of the Code against them. [Baijnath v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 1287, decided on 18.11.2016]

 

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Hearing the appeal by the husband and the in-laws of the victim of dowry death against the order of the High Court of Karnataka which had reversed the order of acquittal by the Trial Court, the bench of Dipak Misra and Shiva Kirti Singh, JJ upheld the order of the High Court and said that once the prosecution succeeds in establishing the component of cruelty leading to conviction under Section 498A, only in a rare case, the Court can refuse to invoke the presumption of abetment, if other requirements of Section 113A of the Evidence Act stand satisfied.

In the incident that occurred 2 decades ago, a 25-year-old women who had a 10-month old son and was mothering a life of twenty week in her womb committed suicide in the wake of dowry demands. However, the appellant had alleged that the suicide was an outcome of the victim being stopped from going to her mother’s place. The High Court, after going through the relevant oral and documentary evidence in the form of letters, conclude that the trial Judge failed to look for the relevant documents already available on the record.

The Court, agreeing with the High Court’s reasoning, held that the initial explanation that the deceased committed suicide because she was not permitted to go to her mother’s place does not inspire confidence and has rightly been rejected by the High Court as only for such a trivial matter, a hale and hearty young woman having a ten months old son and a pregnancy of twenty weeks is not at all expected to take her life. Also, no explanation was given by the accused for the injuries on the person of the victim. The Court, hence, upheld the order of the High Court and said that the order of the Trial Court was highly erroneous. [Satish Shetty v. State of Karnataka, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 589, Decided on 03.06.2016]