Ori HC | Delay in lodging FIR in rape cases cannot be used as a ground against prosecution’s case

Orissa High Court: S.K. Sahoo, J. dismissed a criminal appeal for the acquittal of the appellant under Section 376 of the Penal Code, 1860.

The victim in the present case was forcibly raped by the appellant on the pretext that he will marry her. The appellant visited the victim on many occasions and raped her and would give her the assurance of marriage. Even after the victim became pregnant, the appellant continued raping her. The news of the pregnancy of the victim spread in the village and the appellant confessed his guilt before the uncles of the victim. He also admitted to having impregnated the victim in presence of the entire village post which, on 11-04-2011, she lodged an FIR. The trial Court acquitted the appellant on 28-06-2012 under Section 417 of the Penal Code but found him guilty under section 376 and sentenced him to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of ten years and to pay a fine of rupees five thousand.

The appellant challenged this judgment and order of conviction on the grounds that there was a delay in filing the FIR by the victim and the prosecution has not satisfactorily explained this delay. It was further contended that there is no hard evidence to prove the age of the victim, and if the age of the victim is held to be more than sixteen years then it can be said that she was a consenting party.

Priyabrata Tripathy, Additional Standing Counsel for the victim, submitted that delay in lodging the FIR in a rape case cannot be a ground to hold the entire prosecution case suspicious. He argued that the victim remained silent an account of assurance of marriage given by the appellant and when the victim disclosed about her pregnancy, an FIR was lodged. Further, there is no infirmity in the evidence of the victim.

The Court held that, “the law is well settled that delay in lodging the FIR in an offence of rape is a normal phenomenon as the FIR is lodged after deliberation. It takes some time to overcome the trauma suffered, the agony and anguish that create the turbulence in the mind of the victim, to muster the courage to expose one in a conservative social media, to acquire the psychological inner strength to undertake a legal battle against the culprit.”

Secondly, the victim stated her age to be fifteen years at the time of her deposition, which was recorded on 13-08-2011. She stated that the occurrence last took place in 2010. No evidence was brought out in the cross-examination to challenge her age. The doctor who conducted ossification test of the victim stated that on the basis of the physical findings, dental examination and development of secondary sexual characteristics and menstrual history and ossification test, that the age of the victim to be more than fourteen years and less than sixteen years. Therefore, the question of the victim being a consenting party was not taken into account.

The appellant also submitted that he has been in judicial custody since 14-04-2011 and he was never released on bail either during pendency of the trial or during pendency of this appeal and therefore, he has already undergone the substantive sentence of eight years and three months and therefore, the substantive sentence should be reduced to the period already undergone.

The Court upheld the order of conviction of the appellant under Section 376 of the Penal Code, 1860 but reduced the substantive sentence from rigorous imprisonment for ten years to the period already undergone. In view of the enactment of the Odisha Victim Compensation Scheme, 2012, keeping in view the age of the victim at the time of occurrence and the nature and gravity of the offence committed and the family background, the Court recommend the case to District Legal Services Authority, to examine the case of the victim for grant of compensation under the Scheme.

The Criminal Appeal was dismissed and the appellant was released from jail custody.[Budha v. State of Odisha, 2019 SCC OnLine Ori 262, decided on 01-08-2019]

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