Mumbai: Observing that evidence was not supporting the prosecution`s case, the Bombay High Court has set aside a lower court judgement sentencing a city resident to seven-year rigorous imprisonment under section 304 B(1) of IPC for the death of his wife due to burn injuries.
The lower court had held the husband guilty under section 304 B(1) of IPC where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage and shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband in connection with or any demand for dowry.
However, Justice R C Chavan upheld the lower court`s order finding Manohar Patil guilty for offences of `cruelty` under section 498-A of IPC and abetment of suicide under section 306 of IPC for which he has to undergo three years` RI.
The high court agreed with the trial judge that the appellant abetted commission of suicide by the victim and held that his conviction for this offence punishable under section 306 of IPC would have to be maintained.
The victim married Patil on May 13, 1990. In the marriage there was a demand of certain articles which included a wrist watch. While the demand for a gold ring was fulfilled, the watch, however, had not been supplied. This led to ill-treatment to the victim at the hands of the appellant.
On May 29, the victim came to her brother`s house and told her family about the ill-treatment meted out to her by her husband. On June 13, 1990, when the victim`s family members had gone to the see her, they found that the victim had burn injuries on her body. They were told that she was subjected to cruelty.
The victim committed suicide on June 25 by setting her afire and later succumbed to the injuries.
The judge held that there was no doubt that evidence on record shows that the appellant had harassed the victim on account of unlawful dowry demand. The evidence also shows that the victim had committed suicide by setting herself on fire within seven years of marriage as laid down under 306 IPC.
For proving dowry death, it is necessary for the prosecution to establish, apart from these facts, that "soon before" her death, woman had been subjected to cruelty by such person. The term `soon before` has been explained by the Supreme Court in several judgements, the judge said in a recent order.
The principle that emerges is that there is no fixed formula as to what constitutes "soon before" commission of suicide. However, it may be seen from the evidence on record that last instance of appellant`s having ill-treated victim occurred on 15th June, 1990.
The evidence of witness Ravindra about his visit to the victim on June 21, 1990, does not show that the victim conveyed any fresh instance of assault to him on that day.
Therefore, since there is no provision of law which would also warrant presumption to be drawn that the victim was subjected to cruelty "soon before" her death, as far as dowry death is concerned, conviction of the appellant cannot be sustained, the judge held.