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Supreme Court Reiterates Principles Governing Dowry Death and Free Trial

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The said case deals with Section 304-B of the IPC and Section 113-B of the Indian Evidence Act. The Supreme Court reiterated the principles governing both the Sections and how to balance them with other principles to ensure a free and fair trial.

Brief Facts

The victim married the accused on 23.11.2004. In the year 2006, a child was born out of wedlock. In 2007, the victim informed her father, i.e., the Complainant, that her husband, mother-in-law and father-in-law physically assaulted her to push their demand for dowry. Further, on 27.2.2018, the victim informed the Complainant that her in-laws were pushing their demand for a car by meting out violence against her. On 8.8.2018, the Complainant received an intimation that her daughter had consumed poison and was being rushed to hospital.

On the same day, the victim left for a heavenly abode. The Trial Court convicted the deceased husband, mother-in-law and father-in-law under Section 304-B of the IPC and sentenced them to undergo rigorous imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs 5000/ each. Aggrieved by this decision, the accused approached the High Court, which via judgment dated 15.3.2010, acquitted the mother-in-law and father-in-law but the conviction of the accused husband stood. Aggrieved by this judgment, the accused approached the Supreme Court.

The contention of the Appellant 

The Appellant contended that the Courts below implied the presumption laid down under Section 113-B of the Indian Evidence Act, without fulfilling the ingredients of Section 304-B IPC. They further contended that just because death had taken place before 7 years, it could be presumed that the deceased was meted out with cruelty before her death and further argued that a cordial relationship existed between the families. The Appellant also contended that no charges could sustain under Section 304-B unless accompanied by Section 498-A of The IPC. 

The contention of the Respondent

The Respondent contended that the fact death had taken place within 4 years of marriage under mysterious circumstances could be overlooked. Further, the victim before her death informed the Complainant that her in-laws were pushing the demand for a car. The Respondent contended that the accused forged documents to allure the Court into believing that a cordial relationship existed between the families

The decision of the Court 

The Court upheld the decision of the High Court and the Criminal Appeal was disposed of. 

The reasoning for the Decision

The Court examined Section 304-B and concluded that 3 conditions that needed to be satisfied make out the offense under the Section were – 1)Death reported under unusual circumstances; 2) Death reported before 7 years of marriage; and 3) The existence of cruelty or harassment soon before the victim’s death. After all the three ingredients have been satisfied under this Section, only then rebuttable assumption under Section 113-B of the Evidence Act kicks in.

The Court then concluded that in the present case the first 2 conditions were satisfied as the death took place before 7 years and it was reported to have due to poisoning in the matrimonial home of the accused. Moving on to the third condition, the Court placed reliance on  Satbir Singh v State of Haryana, which ruled that soon before the victim’s death there should be a proximate and live link between cruelty and death of the victim, and in the present case, it had the required link as it had been proved in the Trial Court that just 15-20 days before her death, the victim informed the Complainant about the consistent demand of a car by her in-laws.

After satisfying the ingredients of Section 304-B, the rebuttable assumption of Section 113-B of Evidence Act was looked into and nothing had been presented before the Court to rebut this presumption by the Appellants. The Court negatived the contention of the Appellant that Section 304-B could not be invoked without invoking Section 498-A of the IPC by relying on Kamesh Panjiyar v State of Bihar, which ruled that both sections were not mutually inclusive and could be invoked separately. 

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