In the judgment of a case (Achyut Bhaskar Kale v. State of Maharashtra) of dowry death of a pregnant woman Sunita, while deciding three appeals including the one by State of Maharashtra on September 15,2021, Justice V.K.Jadhav and Justice Shrikant D. Kulkarni, at the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court, have very clearly ruled that silence of the inmates of the house about cause of death would become an additional link in chain of circumstances.
The HC has noted that the prosecution has been successful in proving that the deceased married woman met with unnatural death within two years of her marriage. She was subjected to harassment and cruelty to meet unlawful demand of dowry at the hands of the accused soon before her death.
The death of deceased Sunita falling in the category of unnatural death occurred in her matrimonial house when she was cohabiting with her husband and in-laws. No plausible explanation has been offered by the accused to explain the circumstances of her death. It is a case of dowry death as defined under section 304B IPC. Such crimes are generally committed in complete secrecy inside house. Nature and amount of evidence required to establish charge cannot be of same degree as required in other cases of circumstantial evidence.
Having regard to the entirety of material and careful scrutiny of the witnesses examined by the prosecution machinery and defence as well, the Court has reached the conclusion that the prosecution has succeeded in proving the guilt of all accused punishable under section 304B and 498A read with section 34 of IPC. It is a case of custodial death. she was four weeks pregnant and dreaming happy life after having baby, but unfortunately, met with unnatural death, in matrimonial house. The accused are responsible for such custodial death in view of section 304B of IPC coupled with provisions of section 113B of the Evidence Act, 1872.
After perusing the impugned judgment and order passed by the Additional Sessions Judge, Ahmednagar, whereby the accused-1, Achyut alone came to be convicted under section 304B IPC, the HC feels that the finding recorded by the trial court to that effect appears to be erroneous on facts in view of the evidence of the prosecution witnesses. The trial Judge has acquitted other three accused on same set of facts and evidence without assigning sufficient reasons for carving out them from charge under section 304B IPC.
The HC has stated that the appeal preferred by the State against the original accused 2 to 4 for their acquittal of the charge of dowry death is having merit and needs to be allowed. Late Sunita died of unnatural causes within two years of her marriage, having harassed by these accused persons for unlawful demand of dowry. These remaining accused are equally liable for being held guilty for the offence under section 304B read with section 34 of the IPC. They must be dealt with the same way as the accused –Achyut.
Referring to the other appeal filed by the State for enhancement of sentence, the HC has observed that having regard to the nature of the offence and considering the facts of the case, it would be upholding the conviction and sentence awarded by the trial court, but there is no need to enhance the sentence awarded to the accused. There is no merit in the State appeal for enhancement of the sentence.
The HC has rejected the prayer of the counsel of the appellant-accused for reduction in sentence observing that it does not find any circumstance to justify this prayer for reduction in sentence from RI for Life to ten years’ imprisonment. The accused 2 to 4 came to be acquitted by the trial court of the charge of dowry death under section 304B read with section 34 IPC. However, it convicted them for the offence under section498A read with section 34 of IPC and sentenced them to suffer RI for six months and to pay fine of Rs 2,000/- and in default of payment of fine, to suffer RI for one month. The sentences were directed to run concurrently.
In a recent judgment of the case – Preet Pal Singh v. State of U.P. and Another –(2021) 4 Mh.L.J. Cr. 509, the SC has held that where the ingredients of section 304B of IPC are satisfied, the deeming fiction of section 304B would be attracted and the husband or relatives shall be deemed to have caused the death of the bride/married woman.
The HC has stated that it has been held by it that Sunita died unnatural death within two years of her marriage. It was a custodial death. Soon before her death, she was subjected to cruelty at the hands of her husband and in-laws demanding dowry. The presumption as provided under 113-B of the Evidence Act comes into picture. The HC has stated that there are no circumstances to justify reduction in sentence of RI for life awarded to the accused-husband of Sunita by the trial court. However, if sentence of accused Nos 2 to 4 is reduced from lifer to RI for 10 years, it would meet the ends of justice, in view of facts of the case in hand.
In result, the HC has dismissed the appeal filed by the accused -1, Achyut B. Kale against his conviction and RI for life awarded to him by the trial court. It has also dismissed the State appeal by the Govt. of Maharashtra for enhancement of sentence.
The HC has allowed the State appeal against acquittal of the accused 2 to 4 by the trial court for the offence under section 304B (dowry death) of the IPC.
The HC has modified the impugned judgment delivered by the Trial Court judge at Ahmednagar as under:
Accused 1 to 4 have been convicted for the offence punishable under section 304B read with section 34 of the IPC. The HC has confirmed the sentence of RI for life awarded to the appellant-accused Achyut Kale. Accused 2 to 4 shall undergo RI for 10 years and pay fine of Rs 1,000/- each, and in default RI for one month for the offence under section 304B read with section 34 IPC.
The HC has confirmed the conviction of accused 2 to 4 for the offence under section 498-A read with section 34 IPC and sentence awarded to them by the trial court. These accused are on bail. They have been directed to surrender before the trial court to undergo the sentence awarded to them.