P.B. Sawant, G.N. Ray, K. Jayachandra Reddy
Whether the extreme punishment of imprisonment for life is warranted in the instant case?
• This was filed by the sole accused in the case against the judgment of the High Court of Punjab & Haryana confirming the conviction of the appellant under Section 304-B and 498-A I.P.C, and the sentence of imprisonment for life and two years respectively awarded thereunder by the trial court. The S.L.P. was dismissed by this Court at the notice stage. As against the same ReviewPetition was filed. This Court issued notice and the Review Petition was listed for hearing but by mistake, it was dismissed without hearing either party. hearing the respective counsel we allowed the Review Petition and restored the Special Leave Petition.
• The appellant Hem Chand married the deceased Saroj Bala on 24.5.1982. She stayed for two months in the matrimonial home and returned to her parents' house and told them that the accused was wanting more dowry in the form of a television and a fridge. Her father gave her Rs. 6000 and sent her back to her matrimonial home. The accused again demanded another sum of Rs. 25,000 for purchasing a plot.
• t. On 13.11.1984 the accused took his wife and left her in her parent,s' house thereby making them understand that the deceased could get back to the matrimonial home at Hissar with Rs. 25,000 and not otherwise. The appellant after undergoing one year's course in connection with his service took his wife back.
• On 20.5.1987 the deceased, however, went to her father and told him that her husband was wanting Rs, 25,000. She came back to her husband with Rs. 15,000 with a promise that the balance would be remitted by her father soon. On 16.6.1987 at about 11.15 A.M. the deceased died of strangulation that is to say that she died otherwise than in normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage. The father reached there and thereafter he complainedto the police that his daughter was murdered by the accused because of dowry. The police registered the crime, held the inquest over the dead body, and sent the same for post-mortem. As the dead body was highly decomposed, the Doctors referred the same to the Head of the Department of Forensic Medicine, Medical College, Rohtak. examined the body and found a ligature mark around the neck and on dissection of the ligature mark he found that ecchymosis was present, the trachea was congested and was containing bloody froth. He also found a contusion over the chin. The Doctor also found several other contusions on the hands, axilla, and other parts of the body. He opined that the death was due to strangulation. After completion of the investigation, the charge- sheet was laid.
• The plea of the accused was one of denial and he stated that when he returned from his office in the evening and entered the room, he found the deceased hanging from the hook in the ceiling. He got confused and with the help of the people, he took the dead body to his native Village Lakhan Majara, and that he also informed the police.
• The trial court has examined the evidence of the material witnesses held that this is a case of strangulation and therefore the death was unnatural and that there was a demand for dowry and there was cruelty on the part of the accused and accordingly convicted him under Sections 304-B and 498-A I.P.C. However, the trial court awarded a sentence of imprisonment for life for the offense punishable under Section 304-B I.P.C. On appeal, the High Court had examined the evidence agreed with the conclusions reached by the trial court and dismissed the appeal and the extreme punishment of imprisonment for life under Section 304-B I.P.C. was confirmed.
On considering all the matters in detail the court observed for this case, it should be accepted that it was an unnatural death. Though the case rests on circumstantial evidence, the presumption under Section 113-B of the Evidence Act has rightly been drawn and the appellant is convicted under Section 304-B I.P.C.
It can therefore be seen that irrespective of the fact whether the accused has any direct connection with the death or not, he shall be presumed to have committed the dowry death provided the other requirements mentioned above are satisfied. In the instant case no doubt the prosecution has proved that the deceased died an unnatural death namely due to strangulation, but there is no direct evidence connecting the accused. It is also important to note in this context that there is no charge under Section 302 I.P.C. The trial court also noted that there were two sets of medical evidence on the file in respect of the death of the deceased. Dr. Usha Rani, P.W. 6, and Dr.InduLatit, P.W. 7 gave one opinion. According to them, no injury was found on the dead body and that the same was highly decomposed. On the other hand, Dr. Dalbir Singh, P.W. 13 who also examined the dead body and gave his opinion, deposed that he noticed some injuries at the time of re-post mortem examination. Therefore at the most, it can be said that the prosecution proved that it was an unnatural death in which case also Section 304-B I.P.C. would be attracted. The trial court only found that the death was unnatural and the aspect of cruelty has been established, and therefore the offenses punishable under Sections 304-B and 201 I.P.C. had been established. The High Court in a very short judgment concluded that it was fully proved that the death of the deceased in her matrimonial home was a dowry death otherwise than in normal circumstances as a result of cruelty meted out to her and therefore an offense under Section 304-B I.P.C. was made out. Coming to the sentence the High Court pointed out that the accused-appellant was a police employee and instead of checking the crime he indulged therein and precipitated in it and that bride killing cases are on the increase and therefore a serious view has to be taken. As mentioned above Section 304-B I.P.C. only raises presumption and lays down that the minimum sentence should be seven years but it may extend to imprisonment for life. Thereforeawarding extreme punishment of imprisonment for life should be in rare cases and not in every case.
Hence, the court observed that a sentence of 10 years' Rigorous Imprisonment would meet the ends of justice.The conviction of the appellant under Section 304-B I.P.C. has reduced the sentence of imprisonment for life to 10 years' Rigorous Imprisonment. The other conviction and sentence passed against the appellant are, however, confirmed. As the result, the appeal is dismissed subject to the above modification of the sentence.
A reading of Section 304-B I.P.C would show that when a question arises whether a person has committed the offense of dowry death of a woman that all that is necessary is it should be shown that soon before her unnatural death, which took place within seven years of the marriage, the deceased had been subjected, by such person, to cruelty or harassment for or in connection with demand for dowry. If that was shown then the court shall presume that such a person has caused the dowry death. It can therefore be seen that irrespective of the fact whether such person is directly responsible for the death of the deceased or not by the presumption, he is deemed to have committed the dowry death if there were such cruelty or harassment and that if the unnatural death has occurred within seven years from the date of marriage. Likewise, there is a presumption under Section 113-B of the Evidence Act as to the dowry death. It lays down that the court shall presume that the person who has subjected the deceased wife to cruelty before her death shall presume to have caused the dowry death if it is shown that before her death, such woman had been subjected, by the accused, to cruelty or harassment in connection with any demand for dowry. Practically this is the presumption that has been incorporated in Section 304-B I.P.C. also.