Setting a Woman on Fire Clearly Shows Intention To Cause Death: Bombay HC

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A criminal appeal was heard by the division bench of the Bombay High Court consisting of Justice Ravindra V. Ghuge and Justice B.U. Debadwar on the ground that the decision given by the session court convicting the appellant under section 302 of IPC was bad in law as the court did not analyse the contradictions in the prosecution’s evidence.

Facts of the Case

In the present case, the appellant had been held guilty by the Ad Hoc Session judge of the session court under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code for murdering her daughter-in-law. The deceased was married to the son of the accused, and all the family members except the accused treated her badly since she had not conceived a child. One day, when the deceased was alone in the house cooking food for her sister, the accused came home in a drunken state and started hurling abuses at her. A fight broke out between them and as a result, the accused put kerosene on the girl and set her ablaze. She was rushed to the hospital where she succumbed to injuries after a few days. Before she died, she gave dying declarations to the police and the magistrate. 

An investigation was carried out and as a result, the accused was arrested. The trial against him started under section 498-A and section 302 of the IPC. The trial court found him guilty. The accused filed an appeal before the High Court against the judgment.

Appelant’s Arguments

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The counsel for the Appellant submitted that:

  1. The deceased gave multiple dying declarations and as a result, her dying declaration cannot be relied upon.
  2. The deceased suffered from 90% burns and as a result, the statement that she was well enough to give a dying declaration does not hold ground.
  3. One prosecution witness stated that the deceased suffered burn injuries accidentally while cooking in the kitchen and such a statement was not relied upon by the session judge.
  4. The spot panchnama does not support the case of the prosecution. Therefore the session judge should not have relied solely upon the statement of the investigation officer.

Respondent’s Arguments

The counsel for the respondent argued that:

  1. The dying declarations made by the deceased on different occasions are clear, cogent and sufficient to prove the guilt of the accused.
  2. The doctor in charge, while she was giving the declaration,  categorically stated that she was in a well conscious state to give declaration hence there is no reason for discarding the statement of the prosecution.
  3. Spot Panchnama and Investigation Officer Statement corroborate the prosecution’s case.
  4.  Under Section 106 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, the burden was on appellant-accused to explain how the incident took place as at the time of incidence, only he and the deceased were present.

Court’s Analysis

The court went through all the evidence in a detailed manner and made some inferences on the said evidence:

    1. The dying declaration given by the deceased at different times i.e. two dying declarations in an oral manner and one dying declaration in a written manner corroborates each other extensively and shows the role of the accused in putting kerosene on the deceased. Minor discrepancies in the declaration do not give ground to the accused to challenge the prosecution case as was held by the Supreme court in Rambai v. State of Chattisgarh.
    2. In the panchnama, it was mentioned that some amount of burnt sand, burnt materials, and a burnt Saree was found in one of the rooms and not in the kitchen. It showed that the deceased was set on fire in the room and not in the kitchen, thus ruling out the argument of the appellant that she got burned accidentally while cooking in the kitchen. 
    3. It’s true that one of the panchnama witnesses got hostile and supported the case of the appellant, but it cannot be said that the whole prosecution case should be thrown out. 
    4. Minor contradictions in the prosecution case do not mean that the whole prosecution case is a cooked up story. This is supported by the ratio laid down by the Supreme Court in the case of State of Uttar Pradesh v. Santosh Kumar
    5. The accused action squarely falls under section 300 IPC as he had full intention of killing his daughter-in-law while setting her on fire.

Court’s Decision

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After considering all the pieces of evidence, the court held that the decision of the Ad Hoc session judge is valid in law, and the appellant’s arguments do not hold ground. 


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