The Madhya Pradesh High Court on Tuesday set aside the conviction of the Appellant-accused, 23 years after the Additional Sessions Judge had found him guilty of abetting the suicide of his wife, punishable under Section 306 IPC.
"evidence on record does not reveal or conclusively establish the ingredients of abetment which are required under section 107 IPC. There is no allegations by any of the witnesses that the appellant had either acted by way of assistance, instigation or conspiracy so as to be guilty of having abetted the deceased in committing suicide," Justice Atul Sreedharan said.
The court observed that a singular instance of physical assault (considered as proved) could not be interpreted as instance of continuing cruelty against the deceased that too of such nature that she had no option but to commit suicide.
Thus the court observed that even though for different reasons, the trial court had rightly acquitted the Appellant from the charge of cruelty, punishable under Section 498A of IPC. However, an interesting proposition that came to be discussed in this regard was whether the word "wife" as used in Section 498-A IPC, includes only a legally wedded wife.
In the case at hand, the Appellant was previously married to another lady and he had clandestinely carried out the second marriage with the deceased without having given divorce to his first wife.
Asserting in favor of the proposition, the Appellant argued that the IPC being a penal statute and not social welfare legislation could not be interpreted broadly to include a person who was not legally wedded to the appellant but was cohabiting with him only under the belief that she was his legally wedded wife.
Making a contrary observation, the high court followed the dictum of the Supreme Court in Reema Aggarwal v. Anupam & Ors., (2004) 3 SCC 199, whereby it was held that the plea of invalid marriage would not exempt a husband from being charged for an offence under section 498A for cruelty.
"It would be appropriate to construe the expression 'husband' to cover a person who enters into marital relationship and under the colour of such proclaimed or feigned status of husband subjects the woman concerned to cruelty or coerce her in any manner or for any of the purposes enumerated in the relevant provisions Sections 304B/498A, whatever be the legitimacy of the marriage itself for the limited purpose of Sections 498A and 304B IPC. Such an interpretation, known and recognized as purposive construction has to come into play in a case of this nature. The absence of a definition of 'husband' to specifically include such persons who contract marriages ostensibly and cohabitate with such woman, in the purported exercise of his role and status as 'husband' is no ground to exclude them from the purview of Section 304B or 498A IPC, viewed in the context of the very object and aim of the legislations introducing those provisions," the Apex Court had held.
In view of the findings in Reema Aggarwal's case, the high court said,
"the issue is not longer res integra. However, in this case as the appellant has been acquitted of the offences under sections 498A and 304B IPC, there is no finding of guilt against the appellant of having acted with cruelty against the deceased wife.
…trial court has acquitted him of an offence under section 498-A IPC on the grounds that as he was being convicted under section 306 IPC there was no requirement to consider the case under section 498-A IPC."
Case Title: Dinesh Kumar Soni v. State of Madhya Pradesh
Case No.: Crl. Appl. No. 1936/1997
Quorum: Justice Atul Sreedharan
Appearance: Advocate Priyanka Mishra (for Appellant); Panel Advocate Piyush Bhatnagar (for State)
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