Baijnath And Ors. V/s. State of Madhya Pradesh

If the prosecution fails to demonstrate by cogent coherent and persuasive evidence to prove such fact, the person accused of either of the above referred offences cannot be held guilty by taking refuge only of the presumption to cover up the shortfall in proof.

Case name:Baijnath and Ors. Vs. State of Madhya Pradesh
Case number:Criminal Appeal No. 1097 of 2016 (Arising out of S.L.P. (Crl.) No. 9718 of 2014)
Court:Supreme Court of India
Bench:Hon’ble Justice Dipak Misra; Hon’ble Justice Amitava Roy.
Decided on:NOVEMBER 18, 2016
Relevant Act/Sections:Evidence Act, 1872 – Section 113B; Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 – Section 2; Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) – Section 34, Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) – Section 201, Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) – Section 302, Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) – Section 304B, Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) – Section 498A; Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) – Section 313  
  • BRIEF FACTSAND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
  • The information was lodged by Appellant baijnath, the elder brother of the Appellant No. 2, Shivraj, the father-in-law of the deceased. The information disclosed that on the day of the incident, the family had dinner together and after watching television, retired to the respective rooms for the night. The deceased was married to Rakesh, son of Appellant No. 2. According to the informant, in the next morning she was found dead, hanging from the fan by a ligature.
  • On this information Merg was registered with the Police Station and on the completion of the investigation charge-sheet was laid against the Appellants (in-laws of the deceased) together with Rakesh, husband of the deceased and Prem Bai, wife of the Appellant No. 1. According to the prosecution, the investigation revealed that the husband of the deceased along with the Appellants had been demanding dowry and in pursuit thereof had subjected the deceased to harassment and torture in the proximate past of the incident.
  • At the trial, the learned Additional Sessions Judge concerned framed charges against the accused persons Under Sections 304B and 498A of the Indian Penal Code (Code), which were denied. Subsequently, Rakesh committed suicide on 09.06.1998 by consuming poison and therefore he was deleted from the array of the persons indicted.
  • The Trial Court acquitted the accused persons of the charges holding that in the attendant materials on record, the statutory presumption as envisaged in Section 113B of the Evidence Act, 1892 (“Act, 1892”) was not available for invocation.
  • The High Court however accepted the evidence adduced by the prosecution qua the charge of dowry demand, harassment and cruelty in connection therewith and applied the deeming prescription/statutory presumption contained in Section 304B of the Code and Section 113B of Act, 1892.
  • The Appellants, being aggrieved by the conversion of their acquittal into conviction by the High Court. Under Sections 498A and 304B of the Code filed an appeal.
  • ISSUE BEFORE THE COURT:
  • Whether the High Court was correct in converting the acquittal of the Appellants into conviction under Sections 304B and 498A of Indian Penal Code?
  • Whether the prosecution succeeded in proving the components of the two offences under Section 304B and 498A of the Code against the Appellants beyond reasonable doubt?
  • Whether the presumption under sec 113B could be invoked?
  • RATIO OF THE COURT:
  • A cumulative consideration of the overall evidence on the facet of dowry, left the Court unconvinced about the truthfulness of the charge qua the accused persons. The prosecution in Court’s estimate, has failed to prove this indispensable component of the two offences beyond reasonable doubt as the statements of witnesses were insufficient to prove the guilt. The factum of unnatural death in the matrimonial home and that too within seven years of marriage therefore is thus ipso facto not sufficient to bring home the charge Under Sections 304B and 498A of the Code against them.
  • The predicament of the prosecution is compounded further by the by its failure to prove, the precise cause of the death of the deceased. It is not clear as to whether the death has been suicidal or homicidal. It is also not proved beyond doubt, the origin and cause of the external injuries. Though the obscurity of the causative factors is due to the putrefaction of the body, the benefit of the deficiency in proof, logically would be available to the persons charged.
  • The court observed If the prosecution fails to demonstrate by cogent coherent and persuasive evidence to prove such fact, the person accused of either of the above referred offences cannot be held guilty by taking refuge only of the presumption to cover up the shortfall in proof.
  • The court held that the ingredients of both 304B and 498 include cruelty upon the deceased and the presumption under sec 113B can only be invoked once these ingredients have been established by the prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt as was held in Shindo Alias Sawinder Kaur and another Vs. State of Punjab (2011) 11 SCC 517 and echoed in Rajeev Kumar Vs. State of Haryana (2013) 16 SCC 640.
  • The court held that a cumulative consideration of the overall evidence on the facet of dowry, leaves us unconvinced about the truthfulness of the charge qua the accused persons. The prosecution in our estimate, has failed to prove this indispensable component of the two offences beyond reasonable doubt.
  • In all, tested on the overall scrutiny of the evidence as a whole, in Court’s comprehension, the conviction of the accused persons including the Appellants herein on the basis of the materials on record would not be out of risk. To reiterate, the prosecution has failed to prove the crucial ingredient of cruelty and harassment by direct and cogent evidence thereby disentitling itself to the benefit of the statutory presumption available Under Section 113B of the Act.
  • DECISION HELD BY THE COURT:
  • The Appellants thus in view of the evaluation made hereinabove are entitled to the benefit of doubt. The appeal is allowed.
  • The impugned judgment and order is set-aside. The Appellants are hereby ordered to be set at liberty forthwith if not wanted in connection with any other case. Let the records of the Trial Court be remitted immediately for the needful.

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