IPC Section 304B- Statements with regards to involvement of a person in a crime, however justified, is not acceptable in the absence of proper evidence: Supreme Court of India

Wherever this aspect has been referred to, a sweeping statement has been made that the husband and in-laws of the deceased had inflicted cruelty or it has been stated that the husband and his mother had done so, without specifying their roles. However, the said evidence would only be sufficient to hold the husband guilty but same would be insufficient to hold the mother-in-law guilty. This was observed by Hon’ble A. S. Bopanna, J while deciding the matter of Kuljit Singh & Anr. v. The State of Punjab – [Criminal Appeal No. 572 of 2012].

This case is an appeal directed against a passed by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana, Chandigarh. By the said judgement the High Court dismissed the appeal filed by the appellants herein and upheld the conviction of the appellants ordered by the learned Sessions Judge, Amritsar registered for the offence under Section 304¬B of the IPC.  The   sentence   of   rigorous imprisonment for 8 years imposed on both the appellants by the learned Sessions Judge was however modified. In that regard, the period of imprisonment to be undergone by the appellant No.2 alone was reduced to 7 years. The appellants thus being aggrieved by   their   conviction   and sentence are before this Court in this appeal. The undisputed facts are that the appellant No.1 and the deceased were married. The incident in question leading to the death of Manju occurred on 02.03.1999 i.e., in a short span of about 2 years from the date of marriage. The death of Manju, the wife of the appellant No.1 was an unnatural death. The cause of death as spoken to by the expert witnesses was due to consumption of insecticide.

The circumstances provided under Section 304-B IPC to the extent of  death of the woman being caused otherwise than under normal circumstances and such death having occurred within 7 years of her marriage, would stand established. In that background, since the appellants were charged of having committed the offence under Section 304-B IPC, the factual aspects which were required to be established by the prosecution in the course of trial is about the deceased being subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any of his relatives and that such cruelty or harassment was for or in connection with demand for dowry. In the instant facts, to establish this aspect of the matter, the father and mother of the deceased along with another witness, were examined. From the evidence of the said witnesses, the trial court as well as the High Court noted that the demand for a television set and Rs. 10,000/- (Rupees ten thousand) was being put forth ever since the marriage of the deceased with the husband. The evidence tendered by the said witnesses has stood the test of cross-examination and has been rightly accepted by both the courts.  In that background, the evidence would establish that the death had occurred due to organo-phosphorous poisoning. Hence, as noted, the death was unnatural and there was demand for dowry. In that background, the evidence would establish that the death had occurred due to organo-phosphorous poisoning. Hence, as noted, the death was unnatural and there   was   demand   for   dowry. In those circumstances, and the further   evidence, the parents of the deceased would also refer to the circumstances when the deceased had been sent back to the parental home to secure fulfilment of the said demand, but the parents being unable to fulfil the demand, had counselled and sent her back. The question before the court was whether such evidence was be sufficient to hold both appellants guilty of committing the offence.

Supreme court after perusing the facts and evidences, held that- “Considering the fact that on all these aspects of the matter, the trial court has referred to the evidence in detail and the High Court has reappreciated the same, to the extent of both the courts holding the husband guilty, convicting him and imposing the sentence in the manner as done, is justified and does not call for interference. The only aspect which requires consideration herein is as to whether the conviction and sentence handed down to the mother-in-law is justified or not? The mother-in-law has denied any role and had also contended that she was not present in the house when death of her daughter-in-law had occurred. The presence of the husband was established through the statement of a witness, but the presence of the mother-in-law was not spoken about. There is no specific evidence with regard to dowry demands being made by the mother-in-law or cruelty being inflicted by her pursuant to such demand. Hence, the said evidence would be sufficient to hold the husband guilty   but   same   would   be insufficient to hold the mother-in-law guilty. Hence, we are of the opinion that the mother-in-law is entitled to be acquitted.”

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Judgement reviewed by Mehvish Alam


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