16 Sep 2022 3:30 AM GMT
The Madhya Pradesh High Court, Indore Bench recently, while interpreting the provisions under Section 113-B Evidence Act, held that if the alleged incident of cruelty is remote in time and has become stale enough not to disturb the mental equilibrium of the woman concerned, it would be of no consequence. Elaborating on the term "soon before her death" mentioned under Section 113-B...
The Madhya Pradesh High Court, Indore Bench recently, while interpreting the provisions under Section 113-B Evidence Act, held that if the alleged incident of cruelty is remote in time and has become stale enough not to disturb the mental equilibrium of the woman concerned, it would be of no consequence.
Elaborating on the term "soon before her death" mentioned under Section 113-B Evidence Act and under Section 304-B IPC, Justice R.K. Verma opined that the said term is relative in nature and that it would be hazardous to indicate any fixed period-
The expression "soon before" is very relevant where Section 113-B of Evidence act and Section 304-B of IPC are pressed into service. The prosecution has to establish that "soon before" the occurrence there was cruelty or harassment and only in that case, presumption arises. Evidence in this regard has to be led in by the prosecution. "Soon before" is a relative term an it would depend upon the circumstances of each case and no strait-jacket formula can be laid down as to what would constitute a period of soon before the occurrence. It would be hazardous to indicate any fixed period, and that brings in the importance of a proximity test both for the proof of an offence or dowry death as well as for raising a presumption under Section 113-B of Evidence Act.
Facts of the case were that the wife of the Appellant had succumbed to burn injuries. The Police registered a case against him for offence punishable under Section 304-B IPC and consequently, he was convicted for the said offence by the trial court. Aggrieved, he preferred an appeal before the Court to challenge his conviction.
The Appellant argued before the Court that he had no role to play in the unnatural death of his wife. He submitted that he had even tried to douse the fire and sustained burn injuries in the process. He had also taken her to the hospital immediately. He further contended before the Court that the Prosecution had failed to prove the ingredients required for conviction under Section 304-B IPC. It was also asserted by the Appellant that his case could travel only up to the offence punishable under Section 498-A IPC but not beyond that. Therefore, it was prayed that he may be convicted for offence punishable under Section 498-A IPC and that his sentence be reduced.
Per contra, the State submitted that prior to the incident, several complaints were made by the deceased to her parents and relatives and a report was also lodged regarding harassment and demand of dowry against the Appellant. It was further submitted that all the allegations levelled against the Appellant were proved before the trial Court. Hence, it was concluded that the Appellant was not entitled for any relief.
Examining the submissions of parties and documents on record, the Court noted that it was not the case wherein the Appellant himself had set the deceased on fire. Turning its attention to the provisions under Section 304-B IPC and under Section 113-B Evidence Act, the Court opined that presumption against an accused can be raised only when the elements of harassment and cruelty been established on record. Laying down the essentials under Section 113-B Evidence Act, the Court observed-
Presumption under Section 113-B of Evidence Act is presumption of law. On proof of the essentials of the Court to raise a presumption that the accused caused the dowry death. The presumption shall be raised only on proof of the following essentials;
(I) The question before the Court must be whether the accused has committed the dowry death of a woman. (This means that the presumption can be raised only if the accused is being tried to the offence under Section 304-B of IPC)
(II) The woman was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or his relatives;
(III) Such cruelty or harassment was for, or in connection with any demand of dowry;
(IV) Such cruelty or harassment was soon before her death.
The Court then observed that a conjoint reading of Section 113-B Evidence Act and Section 304-B IPC would reveal that there must be material to show that soon before her death, the victim was subjected to harassment. The prosecution has to rule out the possibility of a natural or accidental death so as to bring it within the purview of "death occurring otherwise than in normal circumstances".
Analysing the term "soon before her death" in the context of Section 113-B Evidence and Section 304-B IPC, the Court noted-
The expression "soon before her death" used in the substantive Section 304-B of IC and Section 113-B of Evidence Act is present with the idea of proximity test. No definite period has been indicated and the expression "soon before" is not defined anywhere. There must be the existence of proximity and live link between the effect of cruelty based on dowry demand and the death concerned. If the alleged incident of cruelty is remote in time and has become stale enough not to disturb the mental equilibrium of the woman concerned, it would be of no consequence.
Placing the aforesaid legal understanding within the factual matrix of the case, the Court held that lower court had not erred in convicting the Appellant. Therefore, the Court affirmed the trial court's decision, so far as it related to his conviction.
So far as the sentence was concerned, in view of the fact that the appeal was pending since 1999 and the incident took place in 1998, the Court observed that considering the facts and circumstances of the case, it would be appropriate if the sentence of the Appellant was reduced to minimum sentence prescribed under Section 304-B IPC. Accordingly, his sentence was reduced and the appeal was partly allowed.
Case Title: GOVIND VERSUS THE STATE OF M.P.
Case citation: 2022 LiveLaw (MP) 211
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