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No Conviction Under Section 304B IPC If Unnatural Death Not Established

A Bench of the Honorable Supreme Court of India in Sandeep Kumar and Others versus State of Uttarakhand and Another[1] held that the offence of dowry death under Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code[2] cannot be made out of death has not been established as unnatural.

The court held that it has to be shown that the deceased wife was subjected to cruelty or harassment in connection with demand for dowry soon before her death. The Supreme Court while holding that none of it was established set aside the conviction and life sentence awarded by the Uttarakhand High Court to the husband, father-in-law and mother-in-law of the deceased wife under Section 304B.

The trial court had acquitted them holding that the offence of dowry death under Section 304B was not proved. On appeal filed by the father of the deceased woman, the High Court reversed the acquittal.

When the matter reached the Apex court, the Bench comprising of Honorable Justice R F Nariman, K M Joseph and Aniruddha Bose set aside the judgment of the High Court and restored the acquittal.

The judgment explained the ingredients of the offence under Section 304B including the presumptive clause under Section 113B of the Evidence Act[3] which comes to the rescue of the prosecutor in cases of dowry death.

The prosecution case was that the deceased had died of poisoning.

The Court held that this allegation was not proved because:

  1. The autopsy report didn’t conclude that death was due to poisoning.
  2. There were no traces of poison found in the body of the deceased or at the crime scene.
  3. The accused was not found in possession of poison.


The court also made reference to circumstances necessary to prove death by poisoning, as were laid down in Sharad Birdhi Chand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra[4] and Anant Lagu v. State of Bombay[5] which are as under:

  1. There must be a clear motive for the accused to poison the deceased.
  2. The poison so administered must be the cause of death
  3. The accused must have been in possession of the poison
  4. There was an opportunity with the accused to administer the poison to the deceased.

In the present case the court noted that there is no evidence that the deceased died of poisoning. Also, there was no evidence to show that the appellants were in possession of any poison as nothing was recovered by the police from them or their house.

The court noted:
“.....As far as the facts of the present case is concerned, we have noticed that there is absolutely no evidence relating to poison in relation to the deceased. Were it a case of forcible poisoning, by using a corrosive poison, there would been some marks. There are none. If it were forcible poisoning by using any kind of poison, there would be struggle and resistance from the victim...”

“.....Even the material (wiper) recovered, according to prosecution, and which allegedly was used to clean vomit of the deceased, did not disclose any poison.....”
The court also took into consideration the fact that the trial court had found that the oral testimonies of the father, brother and some relative of the deceased regarding the demand for dowry to be contradictory.

Admittedly, there was no demand for dowry at the time of marriage. The Apex court took note of the fact that even the trial court had held that the husband asking an amount of ten lakhs for building a house on a promise that he shall pay it back, cannot be regarded as a demand for dowry. Thus, the presumption under Section 113B of the Evidence Act shall not apply.
The Apex court held that the High court erred in reversing the acquittal of the trail court. The High court exceeded the settled position that an acquittal shouldn’t be interfered with by the appellate court merely for the reason that an alternate view was possible.

Misuse of the anti-dowry law in India
The anti-dowry law in India is the most misused provision under the law. The Honorable Apex court has even termed its misuse as legal terrorism.[6] The court in this case remarked that the object of this provision is prevention of the menace of dowry prevalent in our society. But instances of misuse of the law have been witnessed in the past and the provision can certainly not be called flawless.

In Jasbir Kaur v. State of Haryana[7] the court held that an estranged wife will go to any extent to rope in as many relatives of the husband as possible to salvage whatever remains of an estranged relationship.

In Kansraj v. State of Punjab[8] it was held, “For the fault of the husband, the in-laws or the other relations cannot, in all cases, be held to be involved in the demand of dowry. In cases where such accusations are made, the overt acts attributed to persons other than husband are required to be proved beyond reasonable doubt. By mere conjectures and implications such relations cannot be held guilty for the offence relating to dowry deaths. A tendency has, however, developed for roping in all relations of the in-laws of the deceased wives in the matters of dowry deaths which, if not discouraged, is likely to affect the case of the prosecution even against the real culprits.”[9]

The Karnataka High Court has observed that roping in all the family members including brothers and sisters-in-law in a case of dowry death is wrong unless there is specific material against these persons.[10]

Conclusion
It can thus be concluded that the judgment of the Honorable Supreme Court in Sandeep Kumar and Others versus State of Uttarakhand and Another[11] was a good decision and a step in the right direction as far as curbing the menace and misuse of anti-dowry laws in India is concerned.


End-Notes:

  1. Crl. Appeal Nos. 1512-1513 of 2017.
  2. The Indian Penal Code, 1860, No. 45, Acts of Parliament, 1860 (India).
  3. The Indian Evidence Act, 1872, No. 1, Acts of Parliament, 1872 (India).
  4. AIR 1984 SC 1622 (India).
  5. AIR 1960 SC 500 (India).
  6. Sushil Kumar Sharma v. Union of India and others, (2005) 6 SCC 281 (India).
  7. (1990) 2 Rec Cri R 243 (India).
  8. 2000 CrLJ 2993 (India).
  9. Ibid.
  10. State v. Srikanth, 2002 CriLJ 3605 (India).
  11. Supra Note 1.
Written By: Syed Aatif - The author is a practicing advocate at Central Administrative Tribunal (New Delhi), Delhi High Court and Supreme Court of India.
Email id: [email protected]

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