In the judgment of the case – Jayantilal Verma v. State of M.P. (Now Chhattisgarh), delivered on November 19, 2020, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Hrishikesh Roy, at the Supreme Court, have ruled that in the case of death of wife Sahodarabai in privacy of house, onus is on the residents of the house to give plausible explanation regarding the cause of death in the statement recorded under section 313 of the Cr.P.C. and mere denial could not be the answer in such a situation.
The Sessions Court at Rajnandgaon held all the 3 accused persons –appellant-husband herein, Jayantilal, his father Lalchand and mother Ahimanbai guilty of murder in terms of the judgment of July 21, 2000.The finding of the Trial Court was based on cause of death being asphyxia due to strangulation. The testimony of the prosecuting witness – doctor was relied upon to come to the conclusion that the death was homicidal as a result of strangulation. The conclusion was based on circumstancial evidence to convict the accused.
All the three accused filed appeal in the High Court. During pendency of the appeal, Lalchand-the father-in-law of the deceased passed away. The HC concluded that there was no legally admissible evidence to convict the mother-in-law of the deceased and hence she was acquitted. However, the conviction of the appellant –husband was upheld by the HC. The appellant filed this appeal before the Supreme Court with special leave of the Court on March 30, 2015.
On consideration of the evidence led by the prosecution and the concurrent findings by the two courts qua the appellant herein, the SC has stated that it was unable to find any reason to with the judgments of the courts below.
It is no doubt true that a large number of witnesses turned hostile and the Trial Court was also not happy with the manner, prosecution conducted the case. But that is not an unusual event in the long drawn out trials in our country and in absence of any witness protection regime substance, one has to examine whatever is the evidence which is capable of being considered, and then come to a finding whether it would suffice to convict the accused.
The rationale adopted for coming to the conclusion behind the reason for the real brother of the deceased turning hostile while step-brother stood his ground is also obvious and correctly appreciated, that is to preserve the close family ties which continued to exist by marriage in the instant case, in view of the siblings of the deceased and appellant herein being married. In the Indian context, there exists a continued relationship between two families wherein the daughter-in-law comes from another house.
The SC has stated that it is conscious of the prosecution case resting only on the testimony of PW-1, Kishore Kumar, the real brother of the deceased and the medical evidence. The Pw-1’s statement was consistent and cogent to the extent that in the earlier statements he had not mentioned the factum of the death being attributed to snakebite. However, that itself would not nullify the remaining part of his testimony. In fact, the said witness did not back out from the statement, but could not state the reason why the police did not record it in the FIR though it was mentioned.
The doctor opined the cause of death to be asphyxia due to strangulation. Thereafter he has stated that nature may be homicidal. This was so stated because asphyxia being the cause of death, the doctor himself could not have conclusively said whether it was homicidal or suicidal It was also voluntarily opined, that there had to be a minimum of 5 minutes of forceful pulling to cause the death.
In the SC’s view, the most important is aspect is where the death was caused and the body found. It was in the precincts of the house of the appellant herein where there were only family members staying. The HC also found that the location of the house and the surrounding buildings was such that there was no possibility of somebody from outside coming and strangulating the deceased and that too without any commotion being caused or any valuable /jewellery missing.
The SC has stated that it was confronted with a factual situation where the appellant before it, was alleged to have caused the death of his wife by strangulation. The fact that the family members were in the home sometime before was also quite obvious. No explanation was given as to how the wife could have received the injuries. This was a strong circumstance indicating that he was responsible for commission of the crime.(Trimukh Maroti Kirkan v. State of Maharashtra (2006) 10 SCC 681). The appellant herein was under an obligation to give a plausible explanation regarding the cause of death in the statement recorded under section 313 of the Cr.P.C. and mere denial could not be the answer in such a situation.
On the fateful day of August 24, 1999, the wife Sahodarabai was found dead on a cot in her matrimonial home located in village Uslapur of Rajnandgaon district in Madhya Pradesh (now in Chhattisgarh).A marg information was lodged with the police at the behest of her brother Kishore Kumar, who alleged that he had returned to Uslapur to see his sister, where he was informed by her in-laws that she had died. He related a prior incident that on August 19, 1999.the deceased had complained about harassment by her in-laws for the last 6 to 7 months.
The marriage between the appellant and the deceased had taken place about 8 years prior to the incident and there was a son born, who was a few months old.
The SC found no reason to interfere with the impugned judgment and dismissed the appeal with the direction to the respondent-State to examine whether the appellant herein has completed 14 years of actual sentence or not and if it is so, his case should be examined within a maximum period of two months for release in accordance with norms. If not, the exercise be undertaken within the same time on completion of 14 years of actual sentence.