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Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code

Prajjwal Gour ,
  07 December 2020       Share Bookmark

Court :
Supreme Court of India
Brief :
The following judgment primarily deals with Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which criminalizes the causing of dowry death. The present case is a Special Leave Petition filed by the accused who was convicted by the High Court under the said section.
Citation :
REFERENCE: SLP(Crl) No.1512-1513 of 2017)
  • JUDEGMENT SUMMARY: Sandeep Kumar and others v State of Uttarakhand and others
  • DATE OF JUDGEMENT: 2nd December, 2020
  • JUDGES: Justices R F Nariman, K M Joseph and Aniruddha Bose
  • PARTIES: Sandeep Kumar and others (Petitioner) vs. State of Uttarakhand and others (Respondent)

SUBJECT

The following judgment primarily deals with Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which criminalizes the causing of dowry death. The present case is a Special Leave Petition filed by the accused who was convicted by the High Court under the said section.

AN OVERVIEW

1. The present judgment analyses deals with application of Section 304B of the IPC which criminalizes the causing of dowry death. The case is a Special Leave Petition filed before the Supreme Court of India under Article 136 of the Constitution, by the accused who was convicted by the Uttarakhand High Court under the said section.

2. The Petitioner/Husband was charged before a trial court under Section 304B of the IPC for causing dowry death of his wife. After hearing out both- the prosecution and the defence, the trial court acquitted the Petitioner/Husband holding that the present facts do not satisfy the conditions under the section.

3. However, in the appeal filed by the deceased wife’s father (Respondent in the present case), the Uttarakhand High Court reversed the trial court’s judgment and convicted the Petitioner/Husband. Thereafter, the Petitioner filed this present SLP before the Supreme Court, which further reversed the High Court’s judgment and again acquitted the Petitioner/Husband, while emphasizing the conditions necessary for a case to attract section 304B of IPC.

IMPORTANT PROVISIONS:

Indian Penal Code, 1860

· Section 304B: (1) Where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage and it is shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, such death shall be called "dowry death", and such husband or relative shall be deemed to have caused her death.

Explanation- For the purpose of this sub-section, "dowry" shall have the same meaning. as in section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (28 of 1961).

(2) Whoever commits dowry death shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life.]

Indian Evidence Act, 1872

· Section113B: When the question is whether a person has committed the dowry death of a woman and it is shown that soon before her death such woman had been subjected by such person to cruelty or harassment for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, the Court shall presume that such person had caused the dowry death.

Explanation.- For the purposes of this section, "dowry death" shall have the same meaning as in section 304B of the Indian Penal Code(45 of 1860).

ISSUES

1. Whether the present case attracts Section 304B of IPC?

ANALYSIS OF THE JUDGMENT

The present judgment analyses deals with application of Section 304B of the IPC which criminalizes the causing of dowry death. The case is a Special Leave Petition filed before the Supreme Court of India under Article 136 of the Constitution, by the accused who was convicted by the Uttarakhand High Court under the said section.

1. The prosecution’s, i.e., the Respondent/Father’s prime contention was that the deseaced wife had died of poisoning. However, the Supreme Court, in line with the Trial Court, rejected this contention saying that the prosecution was unable to prove that the deceased wife had died due to poison. The Supreme Court noted that there was neither was any poison recovered from the Petitioner/Husband’s house nor was he found possessing it in any other manner. The Supreme Court also pointed out the autopsy report, which completely denied poisoning as the cause of death.

2. The Supreme Court also relied upon the judgments in Sarad Bhirdichand Surda v. State of Maharashtra,[i] and Anant Chintaman Lagu v. State of Bombay[ii] to bring out the following conditions which are sine qua non for proving that the death was caused due to poisoning:

“(1) there is a clear motive for an accused to administer poison to the deceased,

(2) That the deceased died of poison said to have been administered,

(3) That the accused had the poison in his possession,

(4) That he had an opportunity to administer the poison to the deceased.”

The Supreme Court had also pointed out that the doctors in their testimony before the Trial Court had suggested Tuberculosis as an alternate cause of death.

3. In regards to Section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, the Supreme Court observed that it may not apply in this case for the reason that in order that Section 113B applies, there must be evidence that soon before the death of the person, which proves that the person, who is alleged to have caused death, treated the deceased with cruelty or harassed her or in connection with a demand of dowry. We have noticed the state of the evidence in this regard. Section 113B deals with presumption as to dowry death. According to it, a death of a woman can be presumed to be a dowry death if it is shown that soon before her death such woman had been subjected by such person to cruelty or harassment for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry by the husband and/or relatives. The Supreme Court observed, “Section 113B of the Evidence Act comes to the rescue of the prosecutor by providing for a presumption that a person has caused dowry death if, it is shown that soon before her death, she was subjected by such person for cruelty or harassment for or in connection with demand for dowry.”

4. The Supreme Court also pointed out the variations, which the Trial Court had found in the respective testimonies of the brother and the father (Respondent) of the deceased wife, in relations the alleged demand of Rupees 10 lakh by the Petitioner/Husband. The Trial Court had held that since the demand of the said amount by the husband was for building a house, and that he had promised to pay it back to his deceased wife, it cannot be treated as dowry.

5. After hearing both sides, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Trial Court to acquit the Petitioner/Husband, while seriously castigating the Uttarakhand High Court for reversing it. The Supreme Court emphasized that the ingredients of an offence under Section 304B of IPC are well settled. It brought out the following conditions, which are also explicitly given under the section, and are a sine qua non for an offence to fall under the ambit of Section 304B:

  • A marriage performed within seven years before the death of the wife,
  • The death must be unnatural, and
  • Soon before the death, the deceased wife must have been at the receiving end of cruelty or harassment, on account of demand for dowry.

In conclusion, it held that the offence of dowry death under Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code cannot be made out if the cause of death has not been established as unnatural.

6. In rebuking the life sentence awarded by the Uttarakhand High Court, the Supreme Court said that it (the High Court) had clearly erred in interfering with the acquittal of the Petitioner/Husband and that it should not have exceeded the settled principle that an acquittal should not be interfered with, merely on the ground that two alternate views were possible regarding the evidences.

CONCLUSION

In setting aside the High Court’s decision to reverse the acquittal by the Trial Court, the Supreme Court took a more merciful approach, not by bringing out an entirely new principle of law, but by merely bringing out what was already provided in the existing law. It reprimanded the High Court for interfering with the acquittal merely because two possible views could exist while examining the evidences, and tacitly approved the Trial Court’s verdict. It acquitted the Petitioner/Husband on ground that the facts and circumstances do not fall within the ambit of Section 304B of IPC, on mere examination of evidences.

  • [i] 1984 AIR 1622
  • [ii] 1960 AIR SC 500
 
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