A three Judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice B.R. Gavai, Justice Pamidighantam Sri Narasimha and Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra passed a Judgment dated 27.09.2023, in Phulel Singh v. The State of Haryana, Criminal Appeal No. 396 of 2010, and held that the Appellant-Accused ought to be acquitted as the Prosecution failed to establish any evidence regarding its allegations that the Deceased’s death was caused by the Appellant owing to non-fulfillment of demand of dowry.
i) In the present case, one, Mrs. Kiran Kaur (Deceased) made a dying declaration on 08.11.1991 stating that on 05.11.1991 at around 12.00 noon, her husband, Phulel Singh, the Accused No. 1–Appellant herein, her Father-in-law, Jora Singh, the Accused No. 2 and her Mother-in-law, Dhan Kaur, the Accused No. 3 caught hold of her and poured kerosene on her and set her ablaze. She further stated that when she was set on fire, she raised an alarm but the Appellant-Accused No. 1 overpowered her.
ii) According to the Prosecution, the Deceased was harassed by the Appellant-Accused No. 1 because of inadequate dowry. The Prosecution further asserted that the Appellant’s parents gave in to his requests and provided him cash in the amount of Rs. 20,000 in addition to a scooter and gold jewellery weighing 2.5 to 3 tolas in 1990. Additionally, whenever the Deceased visited her parents’ home, she would complain to them about the abuse and harassment she had endured at the hands of the Appellant. Eventually, she refused to live in the Appellant’s home.
iii) However, because of the confidence and responsibility demonstrated by the Appellant’s brother-in-law, Mohan Singh, the Deceased was returned to her marital home. Even then, the Appellant failed to treat the Deceased with respect.
iv) Later, the Deceased’s family was informed that the Deceased was burnt and that she was being transferred to a Hospital at Ludhiana. Thereafter, the Deceased’s family comprising of one, Pavitar Singh (Deceased’s brother), one, Gur Raj Singh and one, Randhir Singh (cousins of the Deceased), arrived at the Hospital.
v) Jasmeet Singh Dhir, the Medical Officer at Dayanand Medical College (DMC) Hospital, Ludhiana, who had medico-legally examined the Deceased, opined that she had 91% burns on her body and accordingly sent information to the Station House Officer (SHO) Police Station Sarabha Nagar, Ludhiana on the same day at about 05.10 p.m. regarding admission of the Deceased in the Hospital.
vi) When the Deceased was in a conscious state on 07.11.1991, she informed her brother, Pavitar Singh and others that the Appellant was the one who had burnt her. Thus, the Deceased’s cousin, Randhir Singh submitted an Application before the Ld. Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM), Ludhiana, requesting to record the Deceased’s statement.
vii) Thereafter, an Application was forwarded to the Ld. Executive Magistrate to record the Deceased’s statement. Thereafter, the Ld. Executive Magistrate after taking the Fitness Certificate from the treating Medical Officer, recorded the statement of the Deceased on 08.11.1991 at 4.40 p.m.
viii) Thereafter, on 08.11.1991, the FIR was recorded based on the said statement of the Deceased against the Accused persons for the offences punishable under Sections 498- A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) (Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty), 307 IPC (Attempt to murder), 406 IPC (Punishment for criminal breach of trust) and 34 IPC (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention).
ix) The Assistant Sub Inspector of Police, the Investigation Officer (O.) filed a Charge Sheet before the Ld. Session Judge, Ludhiana (Trial Court) for offences punishable under Section 302 IPC (Punishment for murder) read with Section 34 of IPC and Section 304-B of IPC (Dowry death).
x) The Ld. Trial Court, vide Order dated 14.09.1999, convicted all the three Accused persons for the offence punishable under Section 304-B of IPC for causing dowry death of the Deceased and sentenced them to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of seven years along with fine and discharged from the offence under Section 302 IPC on benefit of doubt.
xi) Aggrieved by the Ld. Trial Court Order dated 14.09.1999, the Accused filed Criminal Appeal Nos. 413-DBA of 2001 and 909-SB of 1999 along with Criminal Revision No. 134 of 2000 before the Division Bench of the High Court for the States of Punjab and Haryana (High Court).
xii) The High Court passed an Order dated 24.07.2009 and partly allowed the Appeals filed by the Accused No. 2-3, thereby, acquitting the in-laws of the Deceased. However, the High Court confirmed the conviction and sentence awarded to the Appellant-Accused No. 1.
Supreme Court Analysis
Aggrieved by the High Court Order dated 24.07.2009, the Appellant-Accused No. 1 filed Criminal Appeal No. 396 of 2010 before the Supreme Court. The Apex Court passed an Order dated 27.09.2023 and observed as follows:
(1) The present case mainly rests on the Dying Declaration of the Deceased.
(2) The Executive Magistrate who recorded the dying statement of the Deceased, stated that the persons, who had filed the Application containing the Order of the SDM, Ludhiana had told him that the statement of the Deceased should be recorded and that she was in a position to make the statement. The Executive Magistrate further acknowledged that the Deceased’s relatives had advised the Deceased’s cousins to go with them to record the Deceased’s statement because they had told her what they had to say. Furthermore, the Executive Magistrate acknowledged that the Deceased’s cousins were linked to the Deceased and that other people were there in the room where the Deceased’s statement was recorded.
(3) That the Deceased received burn injuries on 05.11.1991 but the Dying Declaration came to be recorded on 08.11.1991 after an Application was made by the relatives of the Deceased to the SDM, Ludhiana.
(4) Thus, there is a grave doubt that the Dying Declaration recorded by Executive Magistrate was a voluntary one or tutored at the instance of relatives of the Deceased.
(5) The Medical Officer deposed that that Executive Magistrate had recorded the Dying Declaration of the Deceased on 08.11.1991 at 04.40 p.m. Whereas the opinion with regard to her fitness was given by him was the same day at 06.00 p.m. The Apex Court doubted that the Medical Officer had really examined the Deceased with regard to her fitness prior to her statement being recorded by Executive Magistrate.
(6) The Medical Officer further admitted that the history recorded by him while admitting into Hospital, was narrated by the Deceased herself that her husband had extinguished fire by pouring water on her.
(7) The I.O. deposed that that during the investigation, it was revealed that the Deceased was short-tempered and that Deceased father in-law was not there in the village on the incident day and that he had gone to Rama Mandi for making purchases for Diwali.
(8) As regard to harassment about non-fulfillment of demand of dowry is concerned, except the vague allegation made thereof, the Prosecution failed to establish any evidence to support the said allegations.
Thus, based on the aforesaid observations, the Supreme Court held that there is no evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the Deceased was harassed by the Appellant on account of non-fulfillment of demand of dowry. Hence, the Bench held that the Appellant-Accused ought to be given the benefit of doubt and be acquitted. Thus, the Appeal filed by the Appellant was allowed and the High Court Order dated 24.07.2009 and the Trial Court Order dated 14.09.1999 convicting the Appellant-Accused were set aside.
Suneel Kumar Jaiswal
The Indian Lawyer