By – Rashi Bisht
SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
|NAME OF THE CASE||Satbir Singh & Another v. State of Haryana|
|CITATION||Criminal Law Appeal Nos. 1735-1736 of 2010|
|DATE OF THE CASE||28 May 2121|
|APPELLANT||Satbir Singh & Another|
|RESPONDENT||State of Haryana|
|BENCH/ JUDGE||Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana and Justice Aniruddha Bose|
|STATUTES/ CONSTITUENTS INVOLVED||Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) IPC Section 304B. Dowry death IPC Section 306. Abetment of suicide|
|IMPORTANT SECTION/ ARTICLES||Section 304-B, Section 306 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (28 of 1961) Section 498-A of Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act, 1983 (Act 46 of 1983) Section 113-A, B of the Evidence Act, 1872 Section 232, 233, 313 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973|
According to the prosecution, the deceased committed suicide by setting herself on fire barely one year after her marriage and was exposed to mistreatment. The appellant was found guilty of an offence under Sections 304B and 306 of the IPC by both the Trial Court and the High Court. In the appeal, the Supreme Court ruled that the appellant was found guilty of an act under Section 304B but acquitted of an offence under Section 306 since there was no proof of the same.
The accused (appellant) and the dead are married. After a year of marriage, some persons notified the complainant/father deceased’s that his daughter had become extremely ill and had been admitted to the hospital. The complainant’s daughter (dead) had died from burn injuries before the complainant and his family arrived at the hospital. The prosecution stated that the deceased committed suicide by setting herself on fire after just one year of marriage and that she was exposed to cruelty and abuse by both the accused and her husband soon before her death because she brought less money.
The defendants were convicted by the Trial Court of offences punishable under Sections 304-B and 306 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The accused filed an appeal at the High Court, and the Trial Court’s decision was supported there as well. Following that, he filed an appeal with the Honorable Supreme Court of India, appealing the ruling.
Trial Court’s Decision –
The Trial Court found both appellants guilty of offences under Sections 304B and 306 of the Indian Penal Code 1860. The accused received—
- 7 years rigorous imprisonment for the offence under Section 304B I.P.C, and
- 5 years rigorous imprisonment for the offence punishable under Section 306 I.P.C.
Punjab and Haryana High Court decision-
The High Court dismissed the appellants’ appeals and maintained the trial court’s decision of conviction.
Facts of the case
- The current appeals are based on the impugned judgement dated 06.11.2008 given by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana in Chandigarh in a Criminal Appeal, in which the High Court refused the appellants’ appeals and upheld the Trial Court’s decision of conviction and sentence on 11.12.1999.
- The prosecution claims that the deceased and accused-appellant no. 1 married on July 1, 1994. On 31.7.1995, at 4 or 4.30 p.m., several persons notified the complainant that his daughter was unwell and had been admitted to the hospital.
- Based on this information, he, his wife, and their kid proceeded to the hospital, where they learned that the dead had died from burn injuries.
- The prosecution stated that the deceased committed suicide by setting herself on fire barely one year after her marriage and that she had been exposed to abuse and harassment by both defendants soon before her death because she brought less money.
- In a judgement dated 11.12.1997, the Trial Court found the appellants guilty of breaching Sections 304B and 306 of the IPC and sentenced them to seven years in prison for the offence punishable under Section 304B and five years in jail for the offence punishable under Section 306, IPC.
- In the impugned judgement of November 6, 2008, the High Court upheld the Trial Court’s ruling and rejected the appellants’ appeal.
Issues Raised Before the Court
- Is it lawful for the Trial Court and the High Court to convict the accused under Section 304B of the IPC?
- Was it lawful for the Trial Court and the High Court to convict the accused under Section 306, IPC?
Argument from the Appellant Side –
- The erudite attorney who appeared on behalf of the appellants argued that the possibility of an accidental fire in this case could not be ruled out. Furthermore, and above all, the prosecution failed to prove that there was a need for a dowry.
- Section 304B(1) defines the “dowry death” of a woman as defined by section 304B(1).
- Accordingly, in Major Singh v. State of Punjab, (2015) five SCC 201, a three-judge bench of this Court held as follows: “There isn’t any denying that such social evil is persisting even today.”
- Once the Trial Court comes to a decision that the accused isn’t always eligible to be acquitted as consistent with the provisions of Section 232, CrPC, it has to flow on and attach hearings, in particular for “defense evidence,” calling upon the accused to provide his protection as consistent with the technique furnished below Section 233, CrPC, which is likewise a useful proper furnished to the accused.
Argument from the Respondent Side –
- On the opposite hand, the found out suggest for the respondent State submitted that the appellants had now no longer been capping a position to reveal any fabric which could benefit the interference of this Court withinside the concurrent findings of the Courts below.
- The suggest mainly emphasized upon the truth that the suspicious loss of life of the deceased sufferer passed off inside nearly 1 yr.
- Section 304B IPC, which defines, and presents the punishment for dowry call for, reads as beneath Neath: To preserve the conviction beneath Neath Section 304B IPC, the subsequent critical substances are to be established:
- The loss of life of a lady needs to be resulting from burns or physical damage or in any other case than beneath Neath a ‘ordinary circumstance’.
- Any such loss of life needs to have passed off inside seven years of her marriage.
- However, in which strict interpretation results in absurdity or is going in opposition to the spirit of legislation, the courts may also in suitable instances area reliance upon the real import of the words, taken of their traditional experience to remedy such ambiguities.
- At this juncture, it’s far consequently important to adopt a observe of the legislative records of this Section, so that you can decide the purpose of the legislature at the back of the inclusion of Section 304B, IPC.
Indian Penal Code, 1860 (45 of 1860), 1860 (45 of 1860), Section 304-B – Evidence Act, 1872 (1 of 1872), Section 113-B .
i. Section 304-B, IPC must be interpreted keeping in mind the legislative intent to curb the social evil of bride burning and dowry demand.
ii. The prosecution must at first establish the existence of the necessary ingredients for constituting an
offence under Section 304-B, IPC. Once these ingredients are satisfied, the rebuttable presumption of causality, provided under Section 113-B, Evidence Act operates against the accused.
iii. The phrase “soon before” as appearing in Section 304-B, IPC cannot be construed to mean ‘immediately
before’. The prosecution must establish the existence of a “proximate and live link” between the dowry death and cruelty or harassment for dowry demand by the husband or his relatives.
iv. Section 304-B, IPC does not take a pigeonhole approach in categorizing death as homicidal or suicidal or accidental. The reason for such non-categorization is due to the fact that death occurring “otherwise than under normal circumstances” can, in cases, be homicidal or suicidal or accidental.
v. Due to the precarious nature of Section 304-B, IPC read with 113-B, Evidence Act, Judges, prosecution and defense should be careful during conduction of trial.
vi. It is a matter of grave concern that, often, Trial Courts record the statement under Section 313, CrPC in a very casual and cursory manner, without specifically questioning the accused as to his defence . It ought to be noted that the examination of an accused under Section 313, CrPC cannot be treated as a mere procedural formality, as it is based on the fundamental principle of fairness. This aforesaid provision incorporates the valuable principle of natural justice “audi alteram partem” as it enables the accused to offer an explanation for the incriminatory material appearing against him. Therefore, it imposes an obligation on the court to question the accused fairly, with care and caution.
vii. The Court must put incriminating circumstances before the accused and seek his response. A duty is also cast on the counsel of the accused to prepare his defense since the inception of the Trial with due caution, keeping in consideration the peculiarities of Section 304-B, IPC read with Section 113-B, Evidence Act.
viii. Section 232, CrPC provides that, “If, after taking the evidence for the prosecution, examining the accused and hearing the prosecution and the defense on the point, the Judge considers that there is no evidence that the accused committed the offence, the Judge shall record an order of acquittal”. Such discretion must be utilized by the Trial Courts as an obligation of best efforts.
ix. Once the Trial Court decides that the accused is not eligible to be acquitted as per the provisions of Section 232, CrPC, it must move on and fix hearings specifically for ‘defense evidence’, calling upon the accused to present his defense as per the procedure provided under Section 233, CrPC, which is also an invaluable right provided to the accused.
x. In the same breath, Trial Courts need to balance other important considerations such as the right to a speedy trial. In this regard, we may caution that the above provisions should not be allowed to be misused as delay tactics.
xi. Apart from the above, the presiding Judge should follow the guidelines laid down by this Court while sentencing and imposing appropriate punishment.
xii. Undoubtedly, as discussed above, the menace of dowry death is increasing day by day. However, it is also observed that sometimes family members of the husband are roped in, even though they have no active role in the commission of the offence and are residing at distant places. In these cases, the Court need to be cautious in its approach.
I.P.C. Section 304B Analysis-
• The Court examined Section 304B of the I.P.C., which allows for a woman’s “dowry death.” It stipulates:
• Dowry death is defined as the death of a woman caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage, and it is demonstrated that shortly before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband for, or in relation with, any dowry demand.
• Subsection (2) of Section 304B provides for the punishment of individuals who commit dowry death, which is imprisonment for a term of not less than seven years, but which may be extended to life imprisonment.
• The Court cited its decision in Major Singh v. the State of Punjab (2015), in which it was determined that the following key factors must be shown in order to maintain a conviction in dowry killing cases:
- A woman’s death must be caused by burns or bodily injury, or by something other than a “normal circumstance”.
- It must occur within seven years of her marriage.
- She must have been subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband.
- Such cruelty or harassment must be for or in connection with the demand for dowry.
- Such cruelty or harassment must have been meted out to the woman shortly before her death.
Interpretation of ‘Soon Before’ –
• The Court stated that criminal legislation must be rigorously construed unless the strict reading results in absurdity, in which case the courts may rely on the real import of the words, considered in their customary context, to resolve such difficulties.
The legislative history of Section 304B-
In order to comprehend the legislature’s aim behind the introduction of Section 304B, the court conducted research of the Section’s legislative history—
- The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 was the first step towards addressing the societal scourge of dowry. However, the Act was proving insufficient in addressing the dowry issue. As a result, the Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act of 1983 was passed, and Chapter XXA of the I.P.C. including Section 498A was added. Despite this, the number of young brides who died in dubious circumstances was on the rise.
- In its 91st Statute Commission Report, the Law Commission considered the necessity for a strong law to deal with dowry killings. The Commission found that the I.P.C., as it stood at the time, was insufficient to address the issue of dowry deaths owing to the nature and mode of crime.
- Following that, the Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act 1986 was passed, which amended the Dowry Prohibition Act and inserted Section 304B to the I.P.C. “Soon Before” Section 304B of the IPC Does Not Mean ‘Immediately Before’ The Court ruled that the expression “soon before” in Section 304B I.P.C. cannot be interpreted to mean “exactly before.”
- The Court determined that the phrase ‘soon before’ in Section 304B I.P.C. cannot be interpreted to imply ‘exactly before.’ The court ruled that the factum of cruelty or harassment varies from case to case and that no straitjacket formula can be established to define the word “soon before” and what it entails.
- The Court relied on the case of Kans Raj v. the State of Punjab (2000), which held that in cases of dowry death, the circumstances demonstrating the existence of cruelty or harassment to the deceased are not limited to a single instance but typically refer to a course of conduct that may span a period of time. The prosecution must establish a direct and ongoing relationship between the effect of cruelty based on dowry demand and the death of the deceased. The demand for dowry, or the brutality and harassment based on such a demand, should not be too far in the future.
- As a result, the Court determined that establishing a “proximate and living relationship” between the cruelty and the victim’s subsequent death is critical.
The presumption established by Section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act of,1872 –
- The Court ruled that when the prosecution establishes that “soon before the death of the women, she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by such person for or in connection with any demand for dowry,” an assumption of causality against the accused arises under Section 113B of the Evidence Act 1872. Following that, the accused must refute such statutory presumption.
- The Court cited the case of Bansi Lal v. the State of Haryana (2011), which stated that once the components of Section 304B are shown, the presumption under Section 113B becomes mandatory in the case.
- As a result, the Court decided that once all of the basic elements of Section 304B I.P.C. are met, Section 113B of the Evidence Act kicks in, and the court is obligated to create a presumption that the accused caused the dowry death. The accused can refute such a presumption of cause. The Court also issued some directions to the trial court regarding the recording of the accused’s remarks, which are discussed further below.
- The Trial Court and the High Court concluded that the aforementioned witnesses’ testimonies were corroborative and consistent after a comprehensive review. They found the witnesses credible and determined, based on their testimony, that the deceased was exposed to cruelty right before her death because she did not bring enough dowry. The conclusions of the Trial Court and the High Court are totally consistent with ours.
- Issue 1 – It is clear that the prosecution was successful in proving that the dead died from burn injuries within a year of her marriage.
- It has also been proved that she was subjected to harassment and brutality as a result of dowry demands soon before her death. The presumption under Section 113B of the Evidence Act operates against the appellants, who are presumed to have committed the act specified in Section 304B of the IPC since the components of Section 304B of the IPC were satisfied. The defendants in this case failed to offer any evidence to prove that the death was unrelated to them or was the result of an accident.
- Issue 2 – According to the Trial Court and the High Court in this case, the deceased committed suicide.
- We are of the considered opinion, however, that the Courts below reached a conclusion based on assumptions, since there is no evidence on record to support the same. The presumption under Section 113A of the Evidence Act is of little value to the prosecution since there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate the fact of suicide beyond a reasonable doubt.
- The prosecution has not shown sufficient evidence to establish the requisite component of the deceased committing suicide. In this instance, the prosecution was unable to show that the death was caused by suicide.
- As a result, we think this Court should intervene in the appellants’ convictions under Section 306 of the IPC by lower courts.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 7115 dowry death cases were filed in 2019. It is terribly regrettable that dowry deaths are still on the rise nowadays. Dowry is another deeply ingrained institution that has been a scourge for women. The Parliament can enact social legislation, but it cannot remedy everything. The state, judiciary, and society must all work together to put a stop to this atrocity. As a result, I think this Court should intervene in the appellants’ convictions under Section 306 of the IPC by lower courts.
 See The Indian Penal Code, 1860, 304-B
 See The Indian Penal Code, 1860, 306
 See The Indian Evidence Act, 1872, Sec. 113-A,B
 See The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, Sec.313
 See The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, Sec.232
 See The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, Sec.233
 (2015) 5 SCC 201 : (2015) 2 SCC (Cri) 768
 See The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, Sec.2
 See The Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act, 1983, Sec.498-A
 (2000) 5 SCC 207: 2000 SCC (Cri) 935
 (2011) 11 SCC 359 : (2011) 3 SCC (Cri) 188