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Satvir Singh v/s Punjab - AIR 2001 SC 2828

A young mother of 2 kids ran infront of a running train to end her miseries once and for all. But the act, instead of claiming her life left her in a complete vegetative state. This case meticulously elaborates the substantive sections of the Indian Penal Code viz, 306, 304B, 498A along with section 116 of the said code.

Tejinder Pal kaur, daughter of Narendar Singh was married to Satvir Singh on 15-11-1992. Devender Singh and Paranijt Kaur were his parents. They were living in the same house. Even after dowry was given at the time of the marriage, the appellants claimed it wasn't enough and started abusing and hurling insults at her demanding that she should ask her parents for a car. Her father Narender Singh paid an amount of Rs. 20000 in the month of November 1995, so that his son-in-law would not further harrass Tejinder Pal Kaur.

The cause of the devastating incident
took place on the night of 16-06-1996 when Tejinder Pal Kaur served dinner to her husband. He apparently noticed that salt in the salad was excessive and became furious and hurled a string of abuses at her. Soon the in laws joined. They even suggested that she should end her life by jumping infront of one of the many trains running nearby. The next day she jumped infront of a train which led to her current vegetative state.

The Court of Sessions sentenced the appellants on 2 counts:
  1. Section 116 read with 306 sentencing them to 2 and half years of rigorous imprisonment and Rs. 10000 fine.
  2. Section 498, sentencing them to 2 years rigorous imprisonment and Rs 5000 fine.

Aggrieved by the judgment Tejinder Pal Kaur appealed before the High court. The High court concurred with the Court of Sessions but substituted Section 306 with 116 read with 304 B and altered the imprisonment to rigorous imprisonment of 5 years.

The appellants have now seeked the Honorable Supreme court for appeal against the judgement of the High Court.

  • Whether the Court of Sessions was correct in sentencing the appellants under Section 116 read with 306 and section 498A of the Indian Penal Code?
  • Whether the High Court was correct in substuting 304 B for 306 of IPC?

Rules Applicable:
  • Section 116, 304 B, 306, 309, 498A and 511 of the Indian Penal Code.

The honorable Supreme Court contradicted with the Court of Sessions on convicting the appellants under Section 306 IPC. The impugned section penalises abetment of suicide. It reads:

If any person commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of such suicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine. The person who attempts to commit suicide is guilty of the offence under Section 309 IPC. Section 306 renders the person who abets the commission of suicide punishable. But for the section to become applicable the suicide should have been committed. One cannot be made liable for abeting the mere attempt of suicide.

The Honourable Supreme Court was in harmony with the High Court's decision in altering Section 306 read with 116.

The Supreme Court next delved into the question whether Tejinder Pal Kaur was subjected to cruelty or harassment in connection with the demand for dowry soon before her death, which is an essential condition for the section 304B to be attracted.

The word dowry in Section 304B has to be understood as it is defined in Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.

That definition reads thus:
In this Act, dowry means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly-
  1. by one party to marriage to the other party to the marriage; or
  2. by the parents of either party to a marriage or by any other person, to either party to the marriage or to any other person;
At or before or any time after the marriage in connection with the marriage of the said parties, but does not include dower or mahr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies.

For example, some customary payments in connection with birth of a child or other ceremonies are prevalent in different societies. Such payments are not enveloped within the ambit of dowry. All amounts paid by the in-laws of the husband of a woman cannot become dowry. The court took into consideration that the said payment of Rs.20,000/- was made five months after the birth of the second son.

The Court thus came to a conclusion that appellants cannot be convicted under Section 116 IPC either by linking it with Section 306 or with Section 304B.

If the act of the accused asking Tejinder Pal Kaur to go and commit suicide had driven her to proceed to the railway track for ending her life then it is expressly made punishable under Section 498A IPC. When it is so expressly made punishable the act involved therein stands lifted out of the purview of Section 511 IPC. The very policy underlying in Section 511 seems to be for providing it as a residuary provision.

The Explanation to Section 498A which defines the word cruelty reads thus:
For the purpose this section, cruelty means:
(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.

The Supreme Court upheld the High Court's decision on the conviction of the appellants under Section 498A IPC.

The Court further stated that the first appellant Satvir Singh has undergone the substantial portion of the sentence of imprisonment imposed on him and modifed the sentence under Section 498A IPC in the following terms that the imprisonment imposed on the appellants shall stand reduced to the period which they have already undergone and enhanced the fine part of the sentence for the offence under Section 498A IPC, to Rs. one lakh each for all the three appellants.

The Court ordered that the appellants shall remit the fine amount in the trial court, within three months from the date of passing the order, failing which each of the defaulter shall undergo imprisonment for a further period of nine months and disposed of the appeals.

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