Orissa High Court: A Division Bench of S.K Mishra and Savitri Ratho JJ. dismissed the appeal and directed to adjudication application for remission within 60 days of the receipt of the application.
The facts of the case are the deceased-Urmila had married the appellant-accused in 1994 during which a sum of Rs 20, 000 gold chain, ring etc., were given as per the demand made from the side of the appellant. After the marriage, the appellant further demanded a sum of Rs 10, 000 and he used to assault Urmila and force her to bring the said amount as dowry. The matter was settled by village heads on many different occasions until one night, on 07-07-2003 appellant set Urmila on fire after forcibly opening the door while she was sleeping with her son. Urmila had sustained extensive burn injuries and succumbed to death after recording her dying declaration before Basanta Kumar Jena, Officer-in-charge of Binjharpur P.S. where the FIR was lodged. All the circumstantial articles were collected for forensic examination and investigation. The Additional Sessions Judge convicted the appellant based on upon the dying declaration of the deceased which has been established beyond all reasonable doubt as there was no eye witness to prove the contrary. Aggrieved by the conviction, the appellant-accused has filed the instant appeal assailing the said conviction under Section 302 of the Penal Code, 1860 for acquittal or remission of sentence.
Counsel for the appellants Ramani Kanta Pattnaik and Savitri Ratho disputed the veracity of the dying declaration as the F.I.R. lodged implicates six persons including the appellant but in the dying declaration no such implication has been made out against five other persons, who happen to be the relations of the appellant. It was further submitted that no medical examination was conducted before the drying declaration was recorded to the effect that the deceased was in the right mental state to have recorded the same. It was further submitted that there is no independent corroboration of the dying declaration; it cannot be the sole basis of conviction and hence it is liable to be rejected.
Counsel for the respondents Subir Kumar Pallit submitted that if the dying declaration is accepted to be true and voluntary, conviction can be upheld on the basis of the uncorroborated testimony and uncorroborated dying declaration of the deceased. It was also submitted that it is a mere rule of prudence and not the ultimate test as to whether or not the dying declaration was truthful or voluntary. It was also argued that no format has been prescribed for recording a dying declaration.
The main issue in the instant case is whether the judgment of conviction recorded by the Additional Sessions Judge only on the basis of the dying declaration stands scrutiny or not.
The court relied on judgments Khushal Rao v. State of Bombay;  S.C.R. 552 and Paniben v. State of Gujarat (1992) 2 SCC 474 wherein it was held that
“Though a dying declaration is entitled to great weight, it is worthwhile to note that the accused has no power of cross-examination. Such a power is essential for eliciting the truth as an obligation of oath could be. This is the reason the Court also insists that the dying declaration should be of such a nature as to inspire full confidence of the Court in its correctness. The Court has to be on guard that the statement of deceased was not as a result of tutoring, prompting or a product of imagination. The Court must be further satisfied that the deceased was in a fit state of mind after a clear opportunity to observe and identify the assailants. Once the Court is satisfied that the declaration was true and voluntary, undoubtedly, it can base its conviction without any further corroboration. It cannot be laid down as an absolute rule of law that the dying declaration cannot form the sole basis of conviction unless it is corroborated. The rule requiring corroboration is merely a rule of prudence”
Comprehensive principles regarding dying declaration are
- There is neither rule of law nor of prudence that dying declaration cannot be acted upon without corroboration. [Mannu Raja v. State of M.P; (1976) 3 SCC 104]
- If the Court is satisfied that the dying declaration is true and voluntary it can base conviction on it, without corroboration. [State of U. P. v. Ram Sagar Yadav; (1985) 1 SCC 552]
- The Court has to scrutinize the dying declaration carefully and must ensure that the declaration is not the result of tutoring, prompting or imagination. The deceased had opportunity to observe and identify the assailants and was in a fit state to make the declaration. [Ram Chandra Reddy v. Public Prosecutor; (1976) 3 SCC 618]
- Where dying declaration is suspicious it should not be acted upon without corroborative evidence. [Rasheed Beg v. Sate of M P; (1974) 4 SCC 264]
- Where the deceased was unconscious and could never make any dying declaration the evidence with regard to it is to be rejected. [Kake Singh v. State of M. P.; 1981 Supp SCC 25]
- A dying declaration which suffers from infirmity cannot form the basis of conviction. [Ram Manorath v. State of U.P.; (1981) 2 SCC 654]
- Merely because a dying declaration does not contain the details as to the occurrence, it is not to be rejected. [State of Maharashtra v. Krishnamurthi Laxmipati Naidu; 1980 Supp SCC 455]
- Equally, merely because it is a brief statement, it is not be discarded. On the contrary, the shortness of the statement itself guarantees truth. [Surajdeo Ojha v. State of Bihar; 1980 Supp SCC 769]
- Normally the court in order to satisfy whether deceased was in a fit mental condition to make the dying declaration look up to the medical opinion. But where the eye witness has said that the deceased was in a fit and conscious state to make this dying declaration, the medical opinion cannot prevail. [Nanahau Ram v. State of M.P.; AIR 1988 SC 912]
- Where the prosecution version differs from the version as given in the dying declaration, the said declaration cannot be acted upon. [State of U.P. v. Madan Mohan; (1989) 3 SCC 390]
Issue 1: Dying Declaration
The Court thus observed based on the examination of the deceased and her statements and other documents available on record that the all the evidence read together leaves no doubt in the mind of the Court that the dying declaration is true and voluntary.
The Court thus held that dying declaration was relied upon by the Additional Sessions Judge, who had the opportunity of observing the demeanor of the witnesses when the evidence was recorded and therefore, this is not a case where the dying declaration should be viewed with suspicious and hence the impugned judgment with respect to conviction must prevail.
Issue 2: Remission of Sentence
The Court observed that Remission consists of two types, one where remission is earned by a prisoner under the Prison Rules or other relevant rules based on his/her good behaviour or such other stipulations prescribed therein. The other remission is the grant of it by the appropriate Government in exercise of its power under Section 432 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The Court further relied on judgment Swamy Sraddananda v. State of Karnataka; (2008) 13 SCC 767 and observed that the only right of the convict i.e. recognized is a right to apply to the competent authority and have his case considered in a fair and reasonable manner.
The Court held that it is open for appellant to make an application to the proper authority in the State of Odisha, the Principal Secretary, Department of Home, Government of Odisha. So, we give liberty to the appellant to make an application to that effect to the concerned authority for remission of his sentence to the period already undergone.
In view of the above, appeal was dismissed.[Shyam Sundar Jena v. State of Orissa, 2020 SCC OnLine Ori 934, decided on 16-12-2020]
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