Dowry Death Case Transferred to CBI Due to Fallacies in Investigation: Supreme Court

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Excerpt

A Full Bench of the Supreme Court transferred a case involving the wife’s death within 7 years of marriage, allegedly owing to harassment for dowry, to the CBI. The Bench observed the flaws in the investigation and misplacement of significant evidence, coupled with the influence of the Respondent’s family in the local police’s actions.

A Full Bench of the Supreme Court transferred a case involving the wife’s death within 7 years of marriage, allegedly owing to harassment for dowry, to the CBI. The Bench observed the flaws in the investigation and misplacement of significant evidence and the influence of the Respondent’s family in the local police’s actions.

Brief facts of the case

The marriage between the deceased and the Respondent took place in 2014. On 7 August 2020, the Appellant (father of the deceased) lodged an FIR under Section 154 of the Cr.P.C. The FIR recorded that the deceased was a doctor and the Appellant spent an amount over Rs.1.50 crores for conducting the marriage. 

It was alleged that the Respondent and his parents, brother-in-law, and sister-in-law misbehaved with the deceased on account of dowry. The deceased was pressured to bring money. The FIR alleged that the Appellant had paid money on several occasions by cheque to the deceased’s in-laws. On account of the demand for dowry, she was severely assaulted in 2017, and the injuries were medically examined at the Government Hospital in Vrindavan. In the meantime, the deceased suffered miscarriages on two occasions and ultimately adopted a daughter.

By an order dated 21 August 2020, the Sessions Judge, Agra, declined anticipatory bail. 

The Sessions Judge noted that besides naming the accused specifically, there were also allegations against the four respondents in the FIR of torturing the deceased and making demands for dowry. On 9 September 2020, non-bailable warrants were issued against the four accused. Applications for anticipatory bail were filed on their behalf before the High Court.

Later, a Single Judge of the High Court of Allahabad, after noting the submissions, eventually granted anticipatory bail 

The husband of the deceased was taken into custody. The applicants for anticipatory bail were the parents-in-law, brother-in-law, and sister-in-law of the deceased. 

A Single Judge of the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad allowed the applications and granted them anticipatory bail. The father of the deceased had filed this appeal.

Appellant’s Arguments

There was no investigation by the police whether the death was homicidal and the deceased was murdered. Between 2015 and 2017, the deceased transferred an amount of Rs.24 lacs by bank transfer from her account to the account of her father-in-law.

There were specific allegations in the FIR of an incident in 2017 when the deceased was assaulted by her mother-in-law and by the elder brother of her husband (brother-in-law of the deceased) and his spouse (sister-in-law of the deceased).

In the charge-sheet, which has eventually been filed in 2020, the recovery panchnama of the suicide note did not find mention. Also, the suicide note was not in the handwriting of the deceased.

The Sessions Judge dismissed the applications for anticipatory bail filed by the Respondent-Accused. A non-bailable warrant was also issued. Despite the dismissal of the applications for anticipatory bail and the specific allegation that the deceased had been killed, only her spouse was taken in for custodial interrogation. The alleged murder had not been investigated. Though until 22 September 2020, the other accused were not protected from arrest, no effort was made by the police to trace them.

A charge-sheet was submitted to the competent Court hastily, without proper investigation of the crime.

Respondent’s Arguments

The deceased and her husband commenced living separately in 2018. The post mortem report indicated that the death occurred as a result of suicide by hanging. The absence of bodily injuries displaced the allegation that the in-laws are involved in the murder of the deceased.

While the deceased had transferred an amount of Rs.24 lacs from her account to her father-in-law between 2015 and 2017, this was part of the investment towards the construction of a hospital separately for the deceased and her husband.

Court’s Observations

The Bench observed that the judgment of the Single Judge of the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad was unsustainable. The FIR contained a recital of allegations bearing on the role of the accused in demanding dowry, the prior incidents of assault, and the payment of money by cheque to the deceased’s in-laws. The FIR had referred to the telephone calls received both from the deceased’s father-in-law on the morning of 3 August 2020 and the deceased on two occasions on the same day – a few hours before her body was found. 

The Bench opined that the grant of anticipatory bail in such a severe offence would operate to obstruct the investigation. The FIR by a father who has suffered his daughter’s death in these circumstances cannot be regarded as “engineered” to falsely implicate the spouse of the deceased and his family. 

The Bench further observed that it was necessary to entrust a further investigation of the case to the CBI in the exercise of this Court’s powers under Article 142 of the Constitution. The conduct of the investigating authorities from the stage of arriving at the scene of the occurrence to the filing of the charge-sheet did not inspire confidence in the process’s robustness.

A perusal of the charge-sheet evinced a perfunctory rendition of the investigating authorities” duty by a bare reference to the facts and the presumption under Section 304B of the IPC when the death occurs within seven years of the marriage. 

The stance taken by the Deputy Superintendent of Police in the Counter Affidavit filed a few days after forwarding the charge-sheet, travels beyond the scope of the investigation recorded in the charge-sheet concerning the veracity of the suicide note, medical examination of injuries, and the past miscarriages of the deceased. 

Critical facts of the money trail between the deceased, her father (the informant), and the accused; and their call history, the informant and the deceased are unexplored. 

No attempt at custodial interrogation of the applicants was made between the issuance of non-bailable warrants on 9 September 2020, and interim protection from arrest by the High Court granted on 22 September 2020. 

The Counsel for the State stated that no investigation on the allegation of murder had been conducted. It would indeed be a travesty if this Court were to ignore the glaring deficiencies in the investigation conducted so far, irrespective of the stage of the proceedings or the nature of the question before this Court. 

Thus far, the status of the accused as propertied and wealthy persons of influence in Agra and the conduct of the investigation diminished this Court’s faith in directing a further investigation by the same authorities. 

The cause of justice would not be served if the Court were to confine the scope of its examination to the wisdom of granting anticipatory bail and ignore the possibility of a trial being concluded based on a deficient investigation at best or a biased one at worst.

Court’s Decision

The Bench set aside the order and canceled the bail passed by the Single Judge of the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad, allowing the Respondents’ applications for anticipatory bail. Further, the Bench transferred the investigation of the case to CBI.

Click here to read Naresh Kumar Magla v. Anita Agarwal.


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