Bombay High Court- Acquitted Husband & In-laws as the Witnesses of Prosecution were exaggerating and lied at least on some aspects of the matter.
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUDICATURE AT BOMBAY BENCH AT AURANGABAD
CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 398 OF 2011
1. Bandu S/o Bhagchand Jadhav
Aged : 27 years, Occ : Labourer,
2. Subhandrabai W/o Bhagchand Jadhav Age : 72 years, Occ : Household,
3. Raju S/o Bhagchand Jadhav
Age : 32 years, Occ : Labourer,
4. Sangita W/o Raju Jadhav
Age : 30 years, Occ : Household,
All R/o Sarangpur, Tq. Gangapur,
State of Maharashtra
through Police Station
Gangapur, Dist. Aurangabad.
Mr. Sanchin Deshmukh, advocate for the appellants Mr. N.R. Shaikh, A.P.P. for respondent. …..
CORAM : A.M. THIPSAY, J.
DATED : 29th March, 2012
ORAL JUDGMENT :
1 Being aggrieved by the judgment and order delivered by the Additional Sessions Judge, Aurangabad, in Sessions Case No. 161 of 2009, convicting the appellants, who were the accused in the said case, of offences punishable under Section 306 of IPC r/w Section 34 of IPC, 304B of IPC r/w Section 34 of IPC and 498A of IPC r/w Section 34 of IPC, the appellants have approached this Court by filing the present Appeal. The learned Additional Sessions Judge sentenced the appellants as follows :-
1. For the offence : R.I. for five punishable under years and to pay a Section 306 of the fine of Rs. 500/- IPC r/w Section 34 each, in default, of the IPC to suffer further R.I. for one month.
2. For the offence : R.I. for seven punishable under years and to pay a Section 304B of the fine of Rs. 500/- IPC r/w Section 34 each, in default, of the IPC to suffer further R.I. for one
3. For the offence : R.I. for two years punishable under and to pay a fine Section 498A of the of Rs. 200/- each, IPC r/w Section 34 in default to of the IPC suffer further R.I. for 15 days.
2. The learned Additional Sessions Judge directed that the sentences shall run concurrently. The appellants were also charged of having committed offences punishable under Sections 323 of IPC, Section 504 of IPC and Section 506 of IPC r/w Section 34 of IPC, but the learned Additional Sessions Judge acquitted them of the said offences.
3. The prosecution case, in brief, was as follows :
Manisha, daughter of Appasaheb Khomne (PW-1), a resident of village Shekta, was married to the appellant no.1 Bandu. The appellant no.2 Subhadrabai is the mother of the appellant no.1 and the appellant no.3 Raju is his brother. The appellant no.4 Sangita is the wife of the appellant no.3.
After her marriage, Manisha started residing in the matrimonial home at village Sarangpur, where her husband was residing with the other appellants. Manisha was treated properly for about 8 to 9 months after the marriage, but thereafter the appellants started illtreating Manisha. The appellants stated demanding Rs.25,000/- from her for purchasing motorcycle. This was told by Manisha to her parents, when she had come to her parents house on the occasion of Padava Festival. That, Manisha was weeping at that time. She told that the appellants were beating and abusing her and not providing food to her and that, they were also threatening to kill her. Appasaheb told Manisha that, at that time, he was not having money to pay and that, he would pay the same later on. He had then dropped Manisha to the matrimonial house. That, about 20 days prior to the incident, Manisha informed the brother of Appasaheb on telephone that the appellants were illtreating her for the demand of Rs. 25,000/- and told the said brother to inform the said fact to Appasaheb. Appasaheb then went to the house of Manisha and brought her to his house. Manisha stayed with her parents for about 10 to 15 days and during this period, Manisha told Appasaheb that the appellants were illreating her for the demand of Rs. 25,000/- and that, they would kill her, if Rs. 25,000/- were not paid. That, on 05.07.2008, Appasaheb dropped Manisha to her matrimonial house and requested the appellants not to illtreat her. He told the appellants that he would pay the amount to them, when he would be in a position to pay the same. Thereafter, he came back to his house. On the next day, when he was in field, his brother received a telephone call from the brother- in-law of Manisha that Manisha had got herself burnt and that, she had been admitted in GHATI hospital, Aurangabad. Appasaheb’s brother immediately rushed to GHATI hospital and later on Appasaheb, his wife and some other relatives also went to GHATI hospital. Manisha was admitted in the ward. Appasaheb and others met Manisha and asked her why she got herself burnt. Manisha told that as Appasaheb had not paid money to the appellants, they illtreated her. That, they had beaten her in the night and that, therefore, in the early morning, she had poured kerosene on her person and got herself burnt.
On the next date, after the last rites on the dead body were performed in the afternoon, Appasaheb went to Gangapur Police Station and lodged a report (Exhibit-25), on the basis of which, a case in respect of the aforesaid offences was registered against the appellants, the matter was investigated into and the appellants came to be prosecuted and convicted as aforesaid.
4. The prosecution examined five witnesses during the trial. The first witness is Appasaheb himself. The second witness is Shivaji Khomane, uncle of Manisha and the third witness is Mandabai, the mother of Manisha. The fourth witness is one Meenabai Ganesh Gharge, a resident of village Shekta, who was a friend of Manisha. The fifth and last witness is Kashinath Aher – Sub Inspector of Police, – who is the Investigating Officer in the matter.
5. In addition to oral evidence of these witnesses, certain documents, including the report of the postmortem examination (Exhibit-34) were tendered in evidence, marked and exhibited.
6. It is contended by Mr. Sachin Deshmukh, the learned advocate for the appellants that the impugned judgment is not proper and legal. According to him, there was no satisfactory evidence to establish the charges against the appellants; and that, they should have been acquitted. He submitted that the testimony of the prosecution witnesses 1, 2, 3 and 4, who all were interested witnesses, was vague and unreliable. He also submitted that witnesses 1, 2 and 3 have falsely stated about Manisha having made a dying declaration to them, when the entire evidence on record was clearly indicating that she was unable to speak or make any statements.
7. As against this, Mr. N.R. Shaikh, the learned A.P.P. submitted that the evidence of Manisha’s father Appasaheb (PW-1), her uncle – Shivaji Khomne -(PW-2) and her mother – Mandabai Khomne – (PW-3) has been rightly believed by the learned Additional Sessions Judge, and when so believed, it was sufficient to hold the appellants guilty of the offences in question.
8. With the assistance of the learned counsel, I have gone through the entire evidence adduced during the trial and perused the record of the case.
9. There is no dispute that Manisha, indeed, died an unnatural death due to burn injuries. It is also not in dispute that she had sustained 100% burn injuries.
10. The prosecution evidence can be classified in two categories. The first is, the evidence of cruelty generally, as spoken to about by Appasaheb (PW-1), Shivaji (PW-2), Mandabai Khomne (PW-3) and Meenabai Barge (PW-4). The other is of the dying declaration made by Manisha to Appasaheb (PW-1), Shivaji (PW-2) and Mandabai Khomne (PW-3).
11. The evidence of Appsaheb and Mandabai shows that the marriage of Manisha had taken place on 14.05.2007 and her death occurred on 06.07.2008. During this span, Manisha was, admittedly, treated properly for about eight to nine months. During this span, Manisha had, admittedly, visited the house of her parents and had stayed there on a number of occasions. The evidence also shows that from 21.06.2008 to 05.07.2008, i.e. till one day before her death, Manisha was staying in the house of her parents. Now, though Shivaji (PW-2) in his evidence states that `as and when Manisha used to come to her father’s house, she used to disclose about the demand by the accused to bring money and that, for that purpose, they were illtreating her, that they used to abuse and beat Manisha for a demand of Rs. 25,000/-, it is quite obvious that this must be exaggerated version, in as much as, Manisha’s married life was of less than 14 months. If the period of nine months during which she was, admittedly, treated properly, is excluded, there would be only about four months period and it is not likely that in these four months Manisha made several visits to the house of her parents and complained them on several occasions, as is sought to be projected. Thus, going by the version of Appasaheb (PW-2) and Mandabai (PW-3), at the most it can be said that such a complaint was made by Manisha twice, once when she had come to their house for Padva and on the other occasion, when she had come to reside with them immediately before her death. According to Appasaheb, though Manisha stated that the appellants were illtreating her for a demand of Rs. 25,000/-, and that, they threatened to kill her if the amount of Rs. 25,000/- was not paid, Appasaheb still dropped Manisha at her matrimonial house on 05.07.2008. Manisha sustained burn injuries in the morning of 06.07.2008. There is no evidence that any such grave incident took place in the night between 05.07.2008 and 06.07.2008, which compelled Manisha to commit suicide. On the contrary the evidence indicates that, if Manisha was unwilling to return to her matrimonial house (and had, indeed, told her parents that the appellants were likely to kill her), and if she had committed suicide, as is the case of prosecution, then that is attributable more to unhappiness and sorrow in her mind due to the act of her parents in disregarding what she said and compelling her to stay with her husband, rather than the alleged cruel treatment given to her by the appellants earlier. From the evidence, if believed, it appears more probable that the cause of suicide was the insistence of her parents that she should go back to her matrimonial house and their dropping her there against her wish; and not the happening of any events after she had gone there. The reliability of the version of Appasaheb (PW-1) and Mandabai (PW-3) as also, of Shivaji (PW-2) with respect to the cruel treatment, allegedly, given to Manisha, therefore, needs to be carefully judged in the light of their entire evidence.
13. Appasaheb (PW-1), Shivaji (PW-2) and Mandabai (PW-3) have all stated about Manisha having made a dying declaration to them. Their version is that when they received a telephonic message that Manisha had got herself burnt and that, she was admitted in GHATI hospital, they all went to GHATI hospital and saw Manisha. According to them, Manisha made a certain declaration before them.
14. It may be recalled in this context, that it has been specifically contended by Mr. Sachin Deshmukh, the learned advocate for the appellants that the story of Manisha having made a dying declaration to these witnesses, can not be accepted as Manisha was not in a position to make any statement. Indeed, this aspect needs examination. The evidence of Kashinath Aher – the Investigating Officer – (PW-5) clearly shows that on getting information about the Medico Legal case relating to Manisha, he went to GHATI hospital and inquired in the matter. He has clearly stated that he was intending to record statement of Manisha, but she was not in a position to give statement, as she had sustained 100% burn injuries. This evidence of the Investigating Officer finds corroboration from the document which has been marked as Exhibit-47. This document is a communication made by the Sub- Inspector of Police, Gangapur Police Station to the Medical Officer, GHATI hospital, Aurangabad, in which it is stated that the dying declaration of Manisha was intended to be recorded and that, the remark as to whether she was in a position to make a statement might be given. Below this, there is an endorsement purporting to be of a Doctor, which is to the effect that ‘the patient was unconscious and not in a fit state of mind and in condition to make a valid statement’. In Marathi, there is an endorsement “tckc ns.ks fLFkrhr ukgh” (Jabab Dene Sthitit Nahi). This document, which is a record of the actions of public servants, has been admitted in evidence without any protest or objection. As a matter of fact, this document has been tendered in evidence by the prosecution itself and its receipt in evidence, was not objected on behalf of the appellants. This document also shows that this endorsement by the doctor on the said document was made at 3 p.m. on 06.07.2008.
15. Mr. Sachin Deshmukh pointed out that according to Appasaheb (PW-1), Shivaji (PW-2) and Mandabai (PW-3), the dying declaration was made to them by Manisha at about the same time. He has pointed out that the witnesses claimed to have reached GHATI hospital at about 3 to 3.30 p.m. There is substance in the contention of the learned Advocate that when Manisha was opined to be not fit to make a statement by the Medical Officer and when the Investigating Officer was unable to record her statement, how can it be easily believed that she spoke and made a statement before Appasaheb (PW-1), Shivaji (PW-2) and Mandabai (PW-3). This is particularly so because, Manisha had reportedly sustained 100% burn injuries as per the version of these witnesses and even the notes of postmortem examination (Exhibit-34) show that she had sustained 93% burn injuries. The head, neck and face of Manisha was, apparently, fully burnt.
16. It is difficult to believe that when Manisha could not make statement before the Investigating Officer and when Medical Officer opined that she was unfit to make any statement, she had made a statement before these witnesses at about the same time. This is particularly so, because the First Information Report was lodged by Appasaheb not immediately thereafter, but only on the next day. It might be said that the delay in reporting the matter to the Police, is not much but what is significant is that the funeral ceremony took place and the last rites of Manisha were performed at Sarangpur, which is the village of appellants. Appasaheb has admitted in his evidence that at the time of funeral, many villagers and relatives of Manisha and Appasaheb were present and the Police from Gangapur Police Station were also present. It is not possible to believe that if Manisha had, indeed, made a dying declaration to Appasaheb, Shivaji and Mandabai as claimed by them, Appasaheb would have been failed to mention the matter to the Police. This aspect may not be decisive or conclusive, but coupled with the other aspects viz.:- the inability of Manisha to make a statement, as certified by the Medical Officer and inability of the Investigating Officer to record her statement, casts a serious doubt on the version of these witnesses about Manisha having made a dying declaration to them.
17. Even otherwise, the version of these witnesses is not uniform with respect to what was actually stated by Manisha to them. It is clear that all these witnesses were together, when Manisha made the statement and thus, the oral dying declaration about which the witnesses are speaking, is one and the same. Inspite of this, there are variations in the account of dying declaration as given by these witnesses. Appasaheb has stated the version of Manisha as that ‘as he had not paid money to the appellants, they illtreated her, they all beat her in the night and so in the early morning, Manisha poured kerosene on her person and got burnt’. According to Shivaji (PW-2), Manisha said that ‘her husband said to her that she should not stay in the house and go back to her parents, as she had not brought money and that, therefore, due to the illtreatment of her husband, mother-in- law and sister-in-law, she had set herself on fire.’ Thus, Shivaji does not speak about any incident of beating and Appasaheb does not speak of Manisha being told not to stay in the house. Mandabai (PW-3) also stated that Manisha told them that ‘her husband (Manisha’s husband) had told her that not to reside with him.’ The variation may, when superficially looked at not seem to be of much significance, but when considered from the angle that this variation is about the reason for ending her life, as allegedly stated by Manisha, it assumes significance. Moreover, this to be viewed in the background of the fact that the Investigating Agency was not able to record any statement of Manisha and that, she was not in a position to speak, is specifically stated by the Investigating Officer, which evidence of Investigating Officer is supported by the endorsement of Medical Officer and by the extent of injuries sustained by Manisha.
18. Under these circumstances, it is not possible to believe the testimony of Appasaheb, Shivaji and Mandabai about the oral dying declaration made by Manisha. Infact, this indicates that they certainly can not be considered as wholly reliable witnesses, and therefore, their allegations of Manisha having been treated with cruelty by the appellants and that, Manisha herself having told them so before the incident, being vague and general, are open to a serious doubt. The circumstances indicate that within a short span of four months, Manisha was not likely to have an opportunity to make repeated visits to her parents and her telling them `repeatedly’ about the illtreatment. Further, the version that Manisha had told her parents that the appellants would kill her cannot be believed, firstly because in that case Appasaheb would not have dropped her at the matrimonial house, without at least talking to the appellant No. 1 not to do so. Secondly, assuming he did this seemingly unlikely thing, then, after learning about Manisha’s death, he would have immediately suspected the appellants of having killed her; and at any rate, would have lodged a report with the police immediately, without waiting for one day.
19. The concept of `Cruelty’ has been in existence in Matrimonial Law, but such a concept was introduced into Criminal Law for the first time by the Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act, 1983 and by the Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 1986, by inserting certain sections in the Indian Penal Code and the Indian Evidence Act and by making consequential amendments to the Code. Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code and Section 113A of the Indian Evidence Act were inserted by the Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act, 1983 and the relevant provisions came in force w.e.f. 25.12.1983. By Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 1986, section 304B was inserted in the Indian Penal Code and section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act. The relevant provisions were brought in force with effect from 19.11.1986. The reasons for introducing these provisions in the Criminal Law were to effectively check the social evils of the dowry system, the cruelty with which some married women were being treated by their husbands and in- laws and the culmination of such cruel treatment into suicides and dowry deaths of such women. It was felt that these social evils could not be effectively checked under the Criminal Law, as was existing before the insertion of the said provisions, and that is why the relevant provisions were introduced.
20. Though under the Matrimonial Statutes, the necessity of defining the term `Cruelty’ was not felt, when it was made an offence punishable under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, the term `Cruelty’ could not be left to be undefined for obvious reasons. The term `cruelty’ has been defined in the explanation appended to Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, which reads as under :- Section 498A. —–
Explanation. – For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means –
(a) any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or
(b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.
21. The terms `willful conduct’, `likely to’ and `injury’ as used in clause (a) and the terms `harassment’ and `unlawful demand’ as used in clause (b) emphasize the scope, import and the ambit of the said clauses. It is not every type of cruelty that is made punishable under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. The conduct, which is alleged to be cruel must be `willful’, and it must be of such a gravity as is `likely’ to drive the woman to commit suicide, or to cause grave injury to the life, limb or health. The word `likely’ has been interpreted to show `probability’ and stands on a higher footing than a mere `possibility’.
22. Gathering proof of cruelty, in cases of offence punishable under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, simplicitor, where the evidence of the wife would be available, would be considerably easier than gathering such proof in cases of offences punishable under Sections 306 and 304B of the Indian Penal Code, where the evidence of the wife would not be available.
23. That, Manisha indeed committed suicide has to be accepted, but the precise cause behind her deciding to take her own life, is not clear. Simply because she committed suicide, it can not be presumed that she must have been treated with cruelty, as contemplated under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. As a matter of fact, the evidence itself indicates that she was not willing to return to appellants and apparently, against her wish her father dropped her at her matrimonial house; and it is on the very next day, in the early morning, Manisha committed suicide. If the reluctance of Manisha to stay with the appellants has resulted in commission of suicide by Manisha, the appellants can not be guilty of `willful conduct’, which was `likely to’ drive Manisha to commit suicide.
24. Considering the entire evidence adduced by the prosecution, the story of Appasaheb (PW-1), Shivaji (PW-2) and Mandabai (PW-3) is not believable. In any case, the witnesses are, apparently, exaggerating and lying at least on some aspects of the matter. It was, therefore, not safe to accept their testimony and hold the case as proved against the appellants. The appreciation of evidence, as done by the learned Additional Sessions Judge and the conclusion arrived at him, is not proper and legal. The learned Judge was, apparently, carried away by a feelings of sympathy towards the victim and her parents and by the prejudice, which one instantly feels against the husband and in laws of newly married woman, when she commits suicide. This has prevented the learned Judge from analyzing the evidence objectively and by keeping in mind the cardinal principles of criminal jurisprudence.
25. In my opinion, this was a case, where the prosecution had failed to prove the charges against the appellants and the appellants were entitled to be acquitted.
26. The appeal is allowed.
27. The impugned Judgment of conviction and sentences imposed by the Additional Sessions Judge, Aurangabad are set aside.
28. The appellants are acquitted.
29. The appellant no.1 be set at liberty forthwith, unless required to be detained in connection with some other case. The bail bonds of other appellants are discharged.
30. Fine if paid, be refunded to the appellants respectively.
( A. M. THIPSAY, J.)