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Accidental Death and 498A

                  IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

                 CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

                  CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.895 OF 2003

Rajbabu & Anr.                                          …. Appellants

                                   Versus

State of M.P.                                           …. Respondent

                               JUDGMENT
Dr. Mukundakam Sharma, J.

1. By this Judgment and order we propose to dispose of the appeal filed by

   the appellants against the judgment and order dated 23-9-2002 of the High

   Court of Madhya Pradesh at Jabalpur whereby the Learned Single Judge

   dismissed the appeal filed by the appellants against the judgment and

   order dated 17-6-1989 of the Learned Additional Sessions Judge, Khurai,

   convicting the appellants under the provisions of Sections 306 and 498A

   of the Indian Penal Code (for short `the IPC’) and sentencing each of them

   to undergo rigorous imprisonment for three years on each count.

2. The deceased, Shanti Bai, daughter of Janak Rani (PW.1) and       Gyan Das

   (PW.2) was married to Rajbabu-appellant No.1 two years prior to the date

of occurrence.     On 17.7.1988 Shanti Bai set herself on fire in her

matrimonial home and she died because of burn injuries received by her.

At the time when the occurrence took place the Appellant No.2, Smt.

Munnibai (mother-in-law of the deceased) had gone to fetch water from

the well. The husband of Appellant No.2, Shri Jagat Bandhu (father-in-

law of the deceased), who was acquitted by the trial court, was away to

some other place, whereas Appellant No.1 had gone for cutting wood

from the forest.   Appellant No.1 immediately coming to know about the

incident came back and lodged the first information report at police

station Bhangarh which was recorded by the Head Constable Narbada

Prasad, who was examined as PW.9 during the trial. The said report

which was lodged by the appellant No.1 was exhibited during the trial and

was marked as Ex. P.16. The deceased was carried to the railway station

Karonda for being taken to the Government Hospital at Bina for

treatment. The police station Incharge, Mr. Ashok Chourasia (PW.8), also

arrived at the railway station and recorded the dying declaration, wherein

it was noted that Shanti Bai died in the accidental fire while cooking food

in the house. In the said dying declaration the deceased exculpated all the

members of her matrimonial home. Immediately thereafter she died at the

railway station itself. The police thereafter sent the body for post mortem

   examination which was conducted and exhibited as Ex. P.20 during the

   trial. According to the said post mortem report the deceased suffered 90%

   burns which were found to be ante mortem. The police thereafter started

   investigation and on completion thereof, submitted a charge-sheet against

   Rajbabu-appellant No.1, Smt. Munnibai-appellant No. 2, who is mother of

   appellant No.1 and Jagat Bandhu, father of the appellant No.1 under

   Sections 306 and 498A of the IPC. On the basis of the aforesaid charge-

   sheet, charges were framed against all the three accused-appellants under

   Sections 306 and 498A of the IPC for treating the deceased with cruelty

   and abetting her to commit suicide as a result of which allegedly she

   committed suicide.

3. During the course of the trial, altogether eight witnesses were examined in

   order to prove the charges against the accused persons. Trial court after

   hearing the arguments and on appreciation of the evidence on record

   acquitted accused No.3, the father of the Appellant No.1, whereas an

   order was passed convicting appellant No.1 and appellant No.2 under

   Sections 306 and 498A of the IPC after holding that offences against both

   of them are proved beyond reasonable doubt. The learned trial court

   thereafter passed an order of sentence, sentencing both the appellants to

  undergo rigorous imprisonment for three years on each count. Both the

  sentences were to run concurrently. No fine was imposed. Against the

  aforesaid judgment both the appellants filed an appeal before the High

  Court which was dismissed by its judgment on 23rd September, 2002.

  Being aggrieved by the said judgment this appeal has been filed by the

  appellants. During the course of the trial they were granted bail. In the

  present appeal order was passed by this Court enlarging them on bail.

4. We have heard the learned counsel appearing for the appellants.

  However, counsel for the respondent-State did not appear in the hearing

  of the appeal although her name was shown in the daily cause list.

  Counsel appearing for the appellants at the very outset brought to our

  notice that Appellant No.1, namely, Rajbabu son of Jagat Bandhu had

  died on 27th September, 2005 at village Sabgah.       The said appellant

  having died, the appeal filed by him stands disposed off having been

  abated and therefore having been rendered infructuous.       This appeal,

  therefore, survives only so far as accused/appellant No.2, namely, Smt.

  Munni Bai is concerned.

5. Learned counsel appearing for the appellant, Smt. Munni Bai submitted

   that the deceased had died of burn injuries received by her while she was

   cooking food in the kitchen in her matrimonial home and that it is clearly

   established from the records that all the other members of the family, at

   the time of occurrence were not present. It was also submitted that the

   prosecution case itself indicates that appellant No. 2 had gone out of the

   house for fetching water and, therefore, she could not have been held

   guilty for an offence either under Section 306 or 498A of the IPC. He

   further submitted that the only incriminating evidence that could be said

   to be available against her is the letter which was allegedly written by the

   deceased and was exhibited as Ex. P.1 and a dying declaration which was

   recorded by Shri Ashok Choursia, the investigating officer who was

   examined as PW 8. It was submitted by him that none of the aforesaid

   documents pin point the guilt of the appellant in the act of commission of

   suicide by the deceased.

6. We have considered the aforesaid submissions in the light of the record

   including the evidence adduced on behalf of the prosecution. There is no

   eye witness to the occurrence of the act of suicide committed by the

   deceased who was the daughter-in-law as she was the only person

  available at the relevant time in the matrimonial home. At that point of

See also  498A Quash against MIL, FIL & BIL for General & Sweeping Allegations

  time she was cooking food for all the members of the family who had

  gone out of the house. Her husband, appellant No.1 had gone to the forest

  for collecting wood whereas her father-in-law, who was original accused

  No.3 had gone out of the house for some other work and whereas the sole

  appellant before us, had gone out of the house to fetch water. The only

  evidence that has been produced and was used for leveling accusations

  against the present appellant was the dying declaration and the contents of

  Ex. P.1 which is stated to be a letter written by the deceased. Some of the

  witnesses like PW 1 and PW 3, the family members of the parental home

  of the deceased have stated in their deposition about the alleged ill-

  treatment meted out to the deceased by the in-laws family. Let us therefore

  analyse and appreciate the said pieces of evidence as available on record.

7. The dying declaration was recorded on 17.7.1988 at about 12.45 hrs. by

  the investigating officer, PW 8 at the railway station from where the

  deceased was to be taken to the hospital for medical treatment. The

  incident had taken place at about 10.30 AM. Deceased had stated in the

  said dying declaration which was recorded in the presence of some of the

  villagers that while pouring kerosene oil, one end of her sari caught fire as

   she was cooking food and that in the aforesaid manner she got burnt. It is

   also stated by her in the said dying declaration that she did not set fire on

   her own and no body set fire on her and that while preparing meal her sari

   caught fire accidentally. She has categorically stated in the said dying

   declaration that no quarrel had taken place and that there was no problem

   in her matrimonial home. The said statement was read over to her and her

   thumb impression was put as she could not sign because of the burn

   injuries received by her.

8. The courts below have questioned the evidentiary value of the said dying

   declaration. A perusal of the said dying declaration would prove and

   establish that there is nothing incriminating in the said statement against

   the appellant and, therefore, the said dying declaration, which was

   exculpatory in nature, so far as the prosecution is concerned is of no

   relevance and would rather help the accused appellants. As there is

   nothing incriminating in the said document against the appellants, neither

   are we inclined nor are we required to go into the question of evidentiary

   value of the said document.

9. The other incriminating document against the accused appellants is the

  undated letter exhibited as exhibit P.1. The said letter appears to have

  been written by the deceased, addressing to father, mother and the

  younger brothers of the husband. In the said statement the deceased has

  stated that she is unable to tolerate the atmosphere in the family in her

  matrimonial home. She also stated that she prefer to live in hell because

  in-laws have done such acts with her which are of no use to mention. She

  has also stated that whatever has been done was all-right. In her letter she

  has stated that she had always considered her father-in-law and mother-in-

  law more than her parents and that even then they have treated her in such

  a manner which she never expected. It is mentioned therein that the

  matrimonial house was ruined after her arrival and that she was treated

  like an enemy. She has stated that her mother-in-law had told that if she

  (Shanti Bai) is kept in their house then nothing will remain. In that view

  of the matter she did not want to become burden on herself nor on her in-

  laws and that moment was the last time of her life. Of course, in the letter

  there is no date written but towards the end of the letter it was mentioned

  that it was the last day of her life. She also stated that she had a long life

  but the hard words had made her life incomplete and she has no further

  time to write further. The said letter appears to have been written on the

  date of occurrence and in the said letter she had given vent to all her

  expressions, feelings and contempt for the family. The said letter was

  found in the box seized from the room where the incident occurred.

10. The issue, therefore, that falls for our consideration is whether the

  conviction can be based against the appellant No. 2 on the basis of the

  said letter alone.

11. The prosecution has examined the mother of the deceased as PW 1. She

  had stated in her deposition that her daughter told her that in her in-laws

  house, her mother-in-law used to ask her to run hand flourmill. She also

  stated that her son-in-law Rajbabu also used to quarrel with her daughter

  and used to beat her. She has also stated that her daughter told her that

  her mother-in-law used to use filthy language for her father and brothers.

  It is further stated by her that once her husband had gone to bring Shanti

  Bai, at that time her mother-in-law did not send her rather she was beaten

  by her in his presence for not cleaning the utensils.       Thereafter her

  husband came back. In her cross examination she stated that her daughter

  wanted to become educated and wanted to go for employment.             Her

  daughter told her after coming back from the matrimonial home that her

  husband is not educated and the family is poor for which she had

  expressed pain. Her daughter told her that her life would be spoiled in

  that house and on that issue she was very unhappy. It was also stated by

  her that her daughter never sent any letter from her in-laws house. She

  further replied in her cross-examination that the deceased never told

  anything to her relatives and members of the society regarding her

See also  SC : Accused has the right to challenge a finding of guilt against him in an appeal against conviction even if he has not filed an appeal

  troubles because she never wanted to make her life public.

12. We have also on record the deposition of the sister-in-law of the

  deceased Smt. Kamla Rani who was examined as PW 3. She has also

  deposed that when Shanti Bai came back from her in-laws house for the

  first time she told her that her husband and mother-in-law are troubling

  her very much. She is forced to run hand driven flourmill which she was

  not habitual and when she was not able to run the flourmill, her mother-in-

  law and husband used to beat her.          It has also been stated in her

  deposition that after coming back from her in-laws house Shanti Bai told

  her that once there had been a quarrel between her and her mother-in-law

  and on the said issue her husband wanted to burn her but at that moment

  her mother-in-law stopped her husband not to do so at that time. It was

  further stated in her deposition that Shanti Bai told her not to narrate this
  story to any of her brothers. The contents of exhibit P.1 were approved by

  PW 3, stating that the said letter was written by the deceased Shanti Bai.

13.It appears from the statement of PW 1 and also corroborated by the

  statement of PW 3 (sister-in-law of the deceased) that the deceased

  studied upto XI standard and wanted to study further and wanted to be

  employed but since her husband was not literate and since the family was

  poor, they could not make arrangements for her further studies and they

  could not have even allowed her to go for employment, for which she was

  upset. In her statement PW 1 had, of course, brought in some allegations

  about the mother-in-law but only from that statement it cannot be said that

  she had directly any hand in the act of commission of suicide. So far as

  the evidence of PW 1 and PW 3 are concerned, there is only evidence to

  the extent that at times the deceased was not treated well by the appellant.

14.Of course, reliance is placed by the learned courts below on the

  provisions of Section 113A of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (for short

  `the Evidence Act’). Any person who abets the commission of suicide is

  liable to be punished under Section 306 IPC. Section 107 IPC lays down

  the ingredients of abetment which includes instigating any person to do a

  thing or engaging with one or more persons in any conspiracy for the

  doing of a thing, if an act or illegal omission takes place in pursuance of

  that conspiracy and in order to the doing of that thing, or intentional aid

  by any act or illegal omission to the doing of that thing.

15.In the instant case there is no direct evidence to establish that the

  appellant either aided or instigated the deceased to commit suicide or

  entered into any conspiracy to aid her in committing suicide. In the

  absence of direct evidence the prosecution has relied upon Section 113-A

  of the Evidence Act, under which the court may presume on proof of

  circumstances enumerated therein, and having regard to all the other

  circumstances of the case, that the suicide had been abetted by the

  accused. The explanation to Section 113-A further clarifies that cruelty

  shall have the same meaning as in Section 498-A of the IPC. Under

  Section 113-A of the Evidence Act, the prosecution has first to establish

  that the woman concerned committed suicide within a period of seven

  years from the date of her marriage and that her husband or any relative of

  her husband had subjected her to cruelty. Section 113-A gives a discretion

  to the court to raise such a presumption, having regard to all the other

  circumstances of the case, which means that where the allegation is of

cruelty it must consider the nature of cruelty to which the woman was

subjected, having regard to the meaning of the word “cruelty” in Section

498-A IPC. The mere fact that a woman committed suicide within seven

years of her marriage and that she had been subjected to cruelty by her

husband or any relative of her husband, does not automatically give rise to

the presumption that the suicide had been abetted by her husband or any

relative of her husband. The court is required to look into all the other

circumstances of the case. One of the circumstances which has to be

considered by the court is whether the alleged cruelty was of such nature

as was likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave

injury or danger to life, limb or health of the woman. The law has been

succinctly stated in Ramesh Kumar v. State of Chhattisgarh reported in

(2001) 9 SCC 618 wherein this Court observed:

   “12. This provision was introduced by the Criminal Law
   (Second) Amendment Act, 1983 with effect from 26-12-1983 to
   meet a social demand to resolve difficulty of proof where
   helpless married women were eliminated by being forced to
   commit suicide by the husband or in-laws and incriminating
   evidence was usually available within the four corners of the
   matrimonial home and hence was not available to anyone
   outside the occupants of the house. However, still it cannot be
   lost sight of that the presumption is intended to operate against
   the accused in the field of criminal law. Before the presumption
   may be raised, the foundation thereof must exist. A bare reading
   of Section 113-A shows that to attract applicability of Section
   113-A, it must be shown that (i) the woman has committed
   suicide, (ii) such suicide has been committed within a period of
   seven years from the date of her marriage, (iii) the husband or
   his relatives, who are charged had subjected her to cruelty. On
     existence and availability of the abovesaid circumstances, the
     court may presume that such suicide had been abetted by her
     husband or by such relatives of her husband. Parliament has
     chosen to sound a note of caution. Firstly, the presumption is not
     mandatory; it is only permissive as the employment of
     expression `may presume’ suggests. Secondly, the existence and
     availability of the abovesaid three circumstances shall not, like a
     formula, enable the presumption being drawn; before the
     presumption may be drawn the court shall have to have regard to
     `all the other circumstances of the case’. A consideration of all
     the other circumstances of the case may strengthen the
     presumption or may dictate the conscience of the court to abstain
     from drawing the presumption. The expression — `the other
     circumstances of the case’ used in Section 113-A suggests the
     need to reach a cause-and-effect relationship between the cruelty
     and the suicide for the purpose of raising a presumption. Last
     but not the least, the presumption is not an irrebuttable one. In
     spite of a presumption having been raised the evidence adduced
     in defence or the facts and circumstances otherwise available on
     record may destroy the presumption. The phrase `may presume’
     used in Section 113-A is defined in Section 4 of the Evidence
     Act, which says — `Whenever it is provided by this Act that the
     court may presume a fact, it may either regard such fact as
     proved, unless and until it is disproved, or may call for proof of
     it.’ ”
In State of W.B. v. Orilal Jaiswal reported in (1994) 1 SCC 73 this Court observed:

See also  Improved allegations, Sections 498A and 304-B, IPC. set aside

     “15. We are not oblivious that in a criminal trial the degree of
     proof is stricter than what is required in a civil proceedings. In a
     criminal trial however intriguing may be facts and circumstances
     of the case, the charges made against the accused must be
     proved beyond all reasonable doubts and the requirement of
     proof cannot lie in the realm of surmises and conjectures. The
     requirement of proof beyond reasonable doubt does not stand
     altered even after the introduction of Section 498-A IPC and
     Section 113-A of the Indian Evidence Act. Although, the court’s
     conscience must be satisfied that the accused is not held guilty
     when there are reasonable doubts about the complicity of the
     accused in respect of the offences alleged, it should be borne in
      mind that there is no absolute standard for proof in a criminal
      trial and the question whether the charges made against the
      accused have been proved beyond all reasonable doubts must
      depend upon the facts and circumstances of the case and the
      quality of the evidences adduced in the case and the materials
      placed on record. Lord Denning in Bater v. Bater (1950) 2 All
      ER 458 (All ER at p. 459) has observed that the doubt must be
      of a reasonable man and the standard adopted must be a standard
      adopted by a reasonable and just man for coming to a conclusion
      considering the particular subject-matter.”

16.Having regard to the principles aforesaid, we may now advert to the fact

   of the present case. Here is a case where the evidence on record discloses

   that the deceased wanted to be married in a literate family. She was not

   happy with the fact that her husband was illiterate and also with the status

   and condition of the family of her husband. She was also required to do

   some domestic work as the family was poor, for which she was not happy.

   The deceased was of the view point that her life has been spoiled by

   marrying Appellant No. 1. The letter reflects the attitude of the in-laws of

   the deceased towards the deceased. In the said letter there was no

   reference of any act or incident whereby the appellants were alleged to

   have committed any willful act or omission or intentionally aided or

   instigated the deceased to commit suicide.

17. On such slender evidence, therefore, we are not persuaded to invoke the

   presumption under Section 113-A of the Evidence Act to find the

   appellant guilty of the offence under Section 306 IPC.

18.The next question which remains for our consideration is whether an

   offence is made out under section 498A of IPC. Though the letter

   allegedly written by the deceased mentions the fact that the attitude of the

   family was not good towards the deceased and she was not treated well

   but there is no mentioned about any of such incident. PW1 and PW3 in

   their statements have emphasized that the mother-in-law of the deceased

   used to ask the deceased to run hand driven flourmill to which she was not

   habitual. In the year 1988 when the abovementioned incident occurred,

   the hand driven flourmills were generally used by women in the poor

   families in the villages and even till today one may find use of the same in

   some villages in the country. Thus asking one to run the same at that point

   of time may not amount to an act of cruelty.

19.In the said statements there is also a mention of an incidents were the

   deceased had been beaten by her husband. The mother-in-law (appellant

   No. 2) cannot be held liable for the said act; rather there is evidence on
   record of PW3 who had stated that appellant No. 2 had once restrained her

   son. Though in the statement of PW 1 there is mention of one or two

   incident when the present appellant had beaten the deceased but there

   appears to be possibility of embellishment. The father of the deceased

   (PW2), in his statement has not made any statement regarding cruelty

   being committed on his daughter in her in-laws house. After analyzing the

   said evidence and the statements made by PW1 and PW3 we are of the

   opinion that the benefit of doubt should be granted to appellant No. 2.

20.We, therefore, set aside the conviction under Sections 306 and 498A of

   the IPC passed against the appellant No. 2 and acquit her granting her

   benefit of doubt. The appeal is allowed in so far as appellant No. 2 is

   concerned.    The appeal has abated in so far as appellant No. 1 is

   concerned. The appellant No. 2 is already on bail. She is released from

   the terms of her bail bonds.

                                             …………………………..J.
                                             (R.V. Raveendran)
                                             ……………………………J.
                                             (Dr. Mukundakam Sharma)

New Delhi,
July 24, 2008

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