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Supreme Court sets aside dowry case conviction, life sentence of Haridwar family of 3

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The Supreme Court in a reportable judgement on Wednesday (December 2) set aside the conviction and life sentence awarded by the Uttarakhand High Court to three persons of the same family under Section 304B IPC.

The three-judge bench comprising Justice R.F. Nariman, Justice K.M. Joseph and Justice Aniruddha Bose passed this judgement while allowing an appeal filed against the judgment of the Uttarakhand High Court. The appellants, who were charged with the offence punishable under Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code, were acquitted of the said charge by sessions judge, Haridwar. In appeal carried by the complainant, the verdict of acquittal was set aside and the appellants after conviction under Section 304B of IPC to undergo imprisonment for life.

On the basis of the complaint, dated 23.01.2011 at 5.00 pm, an FIR was lodged. This led to the appellants finally being charge-sheeted for having committed the offence under Section 304B of the IPC. The daughter of the complainant was married to Sandeep Kumar on 10.12.2009. After a few days of the marriage, the appellants who are the husband, father-in-law and mother-in-law of his deceased daughter started harassing her for dowry. About one month ago, his daughter and son -in-law came to his house and remained there for two days. On both these days, Sandeep Kumar demanded from him, his sons and sons’ wives a sum of Rs 10 lakh within 10 to 15 days for the construction of the house. Seeing tears of his daughter who said that her parents must pay the amount otherwise they will kill her, she was sent away after being consoled.

Complainant daughter is alleged to have phoned him, his family and his relatives thereby informing them that her husband, mother-in-law and father-in-law were torturing her for money and they are provoking her to commit suicide. On 23.01.2011 at about 9.30 am, he received phone call from his deceased daughter to come to Haridwar otherwise they will kill her on that day. So, they went there. The dead body of the daughter was found in the car given by them in marriage. The death of the daughter was caused by poison and the appellants were responsible.

Siddharth Dave, senior counsel for the appellants, submitted that there is absolutely no basis for the High Court to reverse the judgment of acquittal rendered by the learned Sessions Judge, overlooking the well-settled principles in regard to the approach to be made by the Appellate Court, when there is an acquittal by the Trial Court. Apart from initial presumption, it is elementary that the acquittal of the accused by the Trial Court completely reinforces the presumption and there is a double presumption of innocence.

He further submitted that for a conviction under Section 304B, the fundamental basis is to be the unnatural death of the woman within seven years of her marriage among other elements. But in this case, the prosecution has not proved that the death was unnatural. She was taking treatment. The findings of the Sessions Judge to the effect that there was demand for dowry, could not be acted upon, has been jettisoned without any basis.

Krishnam Mishra, counsel for the State, pointed out that there was demand for dowry and harassment after few months of marriage. Even in the questioning by the Court under Section 313, the denial by the first appellant would show that he was complicit in the crime. The finding of the dead body in the rear of the car in front of the house, is emphasised.

Sanjay Kumar Dubey, counsel for the complainant, has referred to the entry in the General Diary indicating that the phone call was made on 23.01.2011 pointing to the events showing the complaint voiced over the phone by the deceased. He pointed out the affidavit by the appellant, wherein he states that the deceased died of poisoning. This suffices to show that the death was unnatural attracting Section 304B.

”In this case, there is no evidence at all that the deceased died of poisoning. Secondly, there is no evidence to show that the appellants had poison in their possession. Thus, even proceeding on the basis that being the wife and daughter-in-law who was living with them that the appellants may have had the opportunity to administer poison, the other two tests are not satisfied. The police did not recover any poison from the appellants or their house. As already noticed the FSL report categorically rules out the presence of any poison. As regards the appellants not being found with any poison, we no doubt notice the view taken by a Bench of two learned judges and reported in Bhupinder Singh v. State of Punjab,” the Court observed.

The Court also noted that there was an alternate cause of death suggested by the doctors as Tuberculosis. There was evidence of the victim undergoing treatment for Tuberculosis. That angle was not explored by the investigating officer.

There was no demand for dowry at the time of marriage. The trial court also had held that since the allegation was that the husband sought Rs 10 lakh for building a house on condition that he will pay it back, it cannot be regarded as dowry.

“Section 113B of Evidence Act 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,” the Bench remarked.

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”We find it certainly not a circumstance so as to draw an inference that the deceased died an unnatural death or that the appellants administered poison to her. We would think that the High Court has clearly erred in interfering with the acquittal of the appellants by the High Court. The appeals are only to be allowed. We thus allow the Appeals. The impugned judgment of the High Court is set aside and the judgment of the Sessions Judge is restored. The first appellant who is in custody shall be released unless his custody is required in any other case. As the appellants 2 and 3 are already on bail, their bail bonds shall stand discharged,” the judgment reads.

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