Citation– 28th May 2021
Bench– 3- judges bench
1) Satbir Singh v. State of Haryana Criminal Appeal Nos. 1735-1736 of 2010
2) Rajinder Singh v. State of Punjab (2015) 6 SCC 477
Facts– The deceased person, d/o the complainant, was engaged with the appellant in 2004. After the engagement, in April 2004, the complainant left for Abu Dhabi and in the absence of complainant, the marriage was solemnized between the deceased and appellant on November 23rd, 2004. A child was born in 2006 from the wedlock. Soon after the return of the complainant in 2007, the deceased informed him that she was subjected to physically assault by her father-in-law, husband (appellant) and mother-in- law. Allegedly, a gold chain was given by the complainant to the accused. Thereafter, the complainant went to abroad and returned on July 21, 2008, after which the deceased disclosed that her in- laws demanding the money to buy a car. On failing to fulfil the demand and after few days, the deceased taken a poison and laying unconscious. Being taken to the hospital, the next day she was declared died by the hospital. On filing a case by the complainant the Trial Court, convicted the appellant-husband, father-in-law and mother-in-law for the offence under Section 304-B of Indian Penal Code and sentenced them to undergo rigorous imprisonment for seven years each and a fine of Rs.5000/- each. In default of payment of fine, the accused persons were directed to undergo rigorous imprisonment for one year each. On appealing the High Court by the appellant (husband), acquitted the father-in-law and the mother-in-law, but upheld the order of conviction and sentence passed against the accused appellant. The appellant approached the Supreme Court through appeal.
Judgment– The Supreme Court held that the deceased married to the appellant in 2004 and she had taken poison in 2008 during her matrimonial life, the first two ingredients of Section- 304- B of Indian Penal Code was stand satisfied and the death was not caused under ‘normal circumstances’. Taking the evidence on record, the court upheld the conviction of the accused and dismissed the appeal. The Court also held that the phrase “soon before” under Section 304-B of Indian Penal Code cannot be construed as “immediately before”. The prosecution must establish existence of “proximate and live link” between the dowry death and cruelty or harassment for dowry demand by the husband or his relatives.
The Supreme Court has reiterate the guidelines issued by this Court in Satbir Singh v. State of
Haryana (supra) relating to trial under Section- 304- B of IPC:
i. Section 304B, IPC must be interpreted keeping in mind the legislative intent to curb the social evil of bride burning and dowry demand.
ii. The prosecution must at first establish the existence of the necessary ingredients for constituting an offence under Section 304B, IPC. Once these ingredients are satisfied, the rebuttable presumption of causality, provided under Section 113B, Evidence Act operates against the accused.
iii. The phrase “soon before” as appearing in Section 304B, IPC cannot be construed to mean ‘immediately before’. The prosecution must establish existence of “proximate and live link” between the dowry death and cruelty or harassment for dowry demand by the husband or his relatives.
iv. Section 304B, IPC does not take a pigeonhole approach in categorizing death as homicidal or suicidal or accidental. The reason for such non categorization is due to the fact that death occurring “otherwise than under normal circumstances” can, in cases, be homicidal or suicidal or accidental.
v. Due to the precarious nature of Section 304B, IPC read with 113B, Evidence Act, Judges, prosecution and defence should be careful during conduction of trial.
vi. It is a matter of grave concern that, often, Trial Courts record the statement under Section 313, CrPC in a very casual and cursory manner, without specifically questioning the accused as to his defense. It ought to be noted that the examination of an accused under Section 313, CrPC cannot be treated as a mere procedural formality, as it based on the fundamental principle of fairness. This aforesaid provision incorporates the valuable principle of natural justice “audi alteram partem” as it enables the accused to offer an explanation for the incriminatory material appearing against him. Therefore, it imposes an obligation on the court to question the accused fairly, with care and caution.
vii. The Court must put incriminating circumstances before the accused and seek his response. A duty is also cast on the counsel of the accused to prepare his defense since the inception of the Trial with due caution, keeping in consideration the peculiarities of Section 304B, IPC read with Section 113B, Evidence Act.
viii. Section 232, CrPC provides that, “If, after taking the evidence for the prosecution, examining the accused and hearing the prosecution and the defence on the point, the Judge considers that there is no evidence that the accused committed the offence, the Judge shall record an order of acquittal”. Such discretion must be utilized by the Trial Courts as an obligation of best efforts.
ix. Once the Trial Court decides that the accused is not eligible to be acquitted as per the provisions of Section 232, CrPC, it must move on and fix hearings specifically for ‘defence evidence’, calling upon the accused to present his defense as per the procedure provided under Section 233, CrPC, which is also an invaluable right provided to the accused.
x. In the same breath, Trial Courts need to balance other important considerations such as the right to a speedy trial. In this regard, we may caution that the above provisions should not be allowed to be misused as delay tactics.
xi. Apart from the above, the presiding Judge should follow the guidelines laid down by this Court while sentencing and imposing appropriate punishment.
xii. Undoubtedly, as discussed above, the menace of dowry death is increasing day by day. However, it is also observed that sometimes family members of the husband are roped in, even though they have no active role in commission of the offence and are residing at distant places.
In these cases, the Court need to be cautious in its approach.