Bombay High Court: K.K. Sonawane, J., allowed an appeal filed against the order of the trial court whereby the appellant was convicted for committing the offence of cruelty to women punishable under Section 498-A IPC and for abetment of suicide punishable under Section 306 IPC.
The appellant was the sister-in-law of the deceased. The prosecution case was that the deceased was tortured by her for the demand of dowry. One fateful day, the deceased was rushed to the Government Hospital with severe burn injuries. The deceased ultimately succumbed to her injuries. It was alleged that the deceased was abused and beaten up by the appellant for not fulfilling the dowry demand. It was alleged further that on the day of the incident, the appellant had poured kerosene on the deceased and set her ablaze.
Notably, in her initial statements, including the one given to the Special Executive Magistrate, the deceased stated that she sustained the burns accidentally due to a sudden blaze of the stove. However, later, the deceased changed her statement and said that the appellant poured kerosene on her and put her on fire.
At the commencement of the trial, the trial court framed charges against the appellant for the offence of cruelty to women punishable under Section 498-A and for the offence of murder punishable under Section 302 IPC. In the alternative, the charge was also framed for the commission of the offence of abetment of suicide punishable under Section 306 and for the offence of dowry death punishable under Section 304-B IPC. At the conclusion of the trial, the appellant was acquitted of the offences punishable under Sections 302 and 304-B. However, the trial court convicted her for the offence punishable under Section 498-A and Section 306.
The High Court gave anxious consideration to the arguments advanced by P.F. Patni, Advocate representing the appellant, and A.A. Jagatkar, APP appearing for the State.
Delving into the oral and circumstantial evidence adduced on record and the factual score of the matter, the Court found it painful to subscribe to the findings of conviction of the appellant recorded by the trial court. The Court noted that there were no allegations on behalf of the prosecution that owing to maltreatment/cruelty, the deceased committed suicide. In contrast, the prosecution came forward with specific allegations that the death of deceased was homicidal and the appellant was responsible for her death. In the alternative, the prosecution alleged that it was an offense of dowry death punishable under Section 304-B IPC. But, the trial Court acquitted the appellant on both these counts and proceeded to convict her under Sections 306 and 498-A IPC.
Albeit, the trial Court held the appellant guilty for the offence punishable under Section 306 on the allegation that the deceased committed suicide by pouring kerosene and set herself ablaze. The trial Court drew the adverse inference of self-immolation of deceased on the basis of attending circumstances found prevailing over on the scene of occurrence.
The High Court was of the opinion that the observations of the trial court for the conclusion of suicidal death appear to be rest on a figment of imagination, surmises and conjuncture. It was noted that the trial court on its own proceeded to substitute a new story of suicidal death, totally different from one propounded on behalf of prosecution in this matter.
Placing reliance on Bhagirath v. State of M.P., (1976) 1 SCC 20 and Sohrab v. State of M.P., (1972) 3 SCC 751, the Court observed: “It is to be born in mind that law does not permit such endeavour on the part of learned trial Court to reconstruct a new theory of its own from the residual part of evidence of prosecution and convict the accused on that basis.”
In such circumstances, the opinion of the Court was that it would be fallacious to fasten the guilt on the accused for offence under Section 306 IPC under the pretext of suicidal death of the deceased. Resultantly, the conviction of the appellant for the offence punishable under Section 306 was set aside and quashed.
Also, considering the entire record, the High Court held that the conclusion drawn by the trial court about the cruelty meted out to the deceased were erroneous, imperfect and perverse. Therefore, the appellant’s conviction under Section 498-A IPC was also set aside. [Rekha v. State of Maharashtra, Crl. Appeal No. 262 of 2004, decided on 19-11-2019]