Supreme Court of India

CASE NO.:Appeal (crl.) 887  of  1998


DATE OF JUDGMENT: 26/04/2001

BENCH:Umesh C. Banerjee & K.G. Balakrishnan


    The  appeal  in question tell the tale of a  young girl
dying  out  of burn injuries.  Whereas the learned  Sessions
Judge  convicted each of the accused being the husband,  the
father-in-law, the  mother-in-law  and  the  brother-in-law
under  Section 304 B of the Indian Penal Code and  498A/34
together  with 120B of the Indian Penal Code and  sentenced
each of them to undergo imprisonment for life under 304B IPC
and a further sentence of 3 years to each of the accused for
an  offence  under  498A IPC and in view  of  the  sentences
passed,  no need was felt to pass any sentence under Section
120  B IPC.   The  appeal taken to the  High  Court  stands
allowed  so far as the appellant Nos.1,2 and 4 are concerned
upon  taking  into consideration of the facts under  Section
304  B read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code as also
under  Section 120B  of  the Code  though,  however,  the
conviction  under  Section 498A read with Section 34 of  the
Code  was confirmed.  Arvind Singh, the husband was however,
found  guilty  for  murder of the wife Minta  Devi  and  his
conviction  under 304 B was converted to Section 302 IPC and
was  sentenced to  undergo imprisonment  for  life  besides
maintaining  the  conviction under Section 498A IPC.  It  is
this conviction and sentence which stands challenged in this

    Before  adverting  to the contentions as raised  by  the
appellant  the case of the prosecution can be briefly stated
to  be as  below:   On the basis of the  fardbeyan  of  the
informant  Phulamati  the mother of the deceased,  that  the
appellant alongwith other members of the family on the night
of  6/7  March,  1991 had set her daughter on  fire  and  on
having such information the informant alongwith PWs 3,4 and
7  reached the Muhalla and found that the daughter was lying
injured  due to burn injuries. The First Information Report
recorded  that the daughter of the informant disclosed that
her  husband, father-in-law, mother-in-law and other  family
members  forcibly  poured  kerosene  oil  on  her  body  and
lighted, on account of which her entire body was burnt.  The
FIR  discloses that  all the persuasions for removal  to  a
hospital  by  reason  of  the severe burn  injuries were
negatived  by the in-laws and having failed to persuade  the
in-laws,  the  parents family themselves wanted to take  her
back  to  the  hospital but the attempt was  not  successful
since the deceased succumbed to her injuries.
    Incidentally,  it  may be noted that two specific  cases
have  been  made out in the FIR, firstly, the girl was ugly
looking  (though some of the witnesses have stated that  she
has  been a really good looking girl) and secondly this is a
case  of bride torture and demand of dowry to the extent  of
Rs.10,000  and a gold ring and since demands could  not  be
fulfilled  the accused  persons   conspired  together  and
committed the offence which has resulted in the death of the

    The factual disputes there are not many since the factum
of  the death and the cause of death being burn injuries are
admitted.   As regards the dowry death a specific submission
was made before the High Court to the effect as below:-

    Mr.    Verma,  learned  counsel   appearing   for the
appellants  firstly contended that from a bare reference  to
the  FIR  it would appear that the Investigating Officer  by
making interpolation has added the allegation with regard to
demand of  dowry.   Because  the main reason  for  such  an
occurrence  was  that  Minta  Devi was an  ugly  lady and,
therefore,   accused  persons  used  to  torture   her  and
ultimately committed her murder.  The allegation with regard
to demand of dowry etc.  was virtually inserted in different
hand writing at the end of the fact from which interpolation
is  apparent. Learned  counsel  appearing  for  the  State
contended that true it is that the allegation with regard to
demand of dowry was inserted subsequently, but it cannot be
alleged   that  such an   allegation   was made   after

    The  High Court also in no uncertain terms recorded that
the  statement of Mr. Verma stands justified by reason  of
interpolation  on  the First Information Report.   The High
Court  also came to the conclusion that there is no evidence
whatsoever  that prior to the date of occurrence, there  was
any demand for dowry by the accused persons and it is on the
basis  of  the aforesaid  the High  Court  set  aside  the
conviction and sentence of Janardan Singh, Lilawati Devi and
Navin  Kumar  Singh under Section 304 B read with 34 of  the
Indian Penal  Code as also under 120B of the  Indian  Penal
Code. The conviction of 498A however, read with Section 34
was  confirmed and the bail bonds granted in favour of  the
three  accused noticed above were directed to be  cancelled
and they were ordered to be taken into custody forthwith for
serving  out  the  remaining sentences.  As  regards  Arvind
Singh  the  husband, the High Court came to  the  conclusion
that  his conviction ought to be converted from Section 304B
to 302 of the Indian Penal Code and sentenced him to undergo
imprisonment for life besides the conviction and sentence of
3  years  under Section 498A of the IPC.  In the result  the
criminal  appeal was partly allowed so far as the  appellant
Nos.   1,2 and 4 were concerned but appellant No.3 being the
husband  (Arvind  Singh)  subject  to  the  modification  of
conviction  was  dismissed and hence the appeal before this
Court by the grant of special leave.

    Burn  injuries  are  normally   classified into   three
degrees.   The first being reddening and blistering of  the
skin  only;   second being charring and destruction  of  the
full  thickness  of the skin;  third being charring  of  the
tissues beneath the skin, e.g. fat, muscle and bone.

    Be it  noted here that if the burn is of a  distinctive
shape  a  corresponding hot object may be  identified  being
applied to the skin and thus abrasions will have distinctive
patterns  but  in the event burn injury is a cause of  death
60%   cases   of   septicaemia and   34%   cases   are   of
bronchopneumonia.    Where  infection was  by  Pseudomonas
pyocyanea, spread to unburnt skin with ulceration may occur,
and internal infection by this organism is especially liable
to  damage the walls of blood vessels. Gram-negative  shock
may  also  occur.   The external examination in  the  normal
cases  are  found  in the body being removed  from  a  burnt
building  and in the event of so removal the cause of  death
would  be  inhalation  of fumes rather than  septicaemia  as
noticed  above.   In the event the body is not removed from
the  room and the same remains in situ an examination of the
scene  must  be  attempted,  as  with  any  other  scene  of
suspicious  death, note being taken as regards the  position
of  the  body, clothes remaining if  any  and identifiable
objects in the room and so on. The examination of the burns
is  also directed to ascertain their position and depth,  as
to  whether they were sustained in life or not, and  whether
their  situation  gives any indication of the path taken  by
the flames or the position of the body when the fire started
if the body is very severely burnt then all the skin surface
may  be  destroyed, even sometimes make it rather  difficult
for  identification of the body.  A body that is badly burnt
assume the  appearance known as pulgilistic attitude  and
this  is  due  to  heat stiffening and contraction  of  the
muscles, causing the arms to become flexed at the elbows and
the hands clenched, the head slightly extended and the knees
bent. The  appearance resembles the position adopted by  a
person engaged  in  a fight and has  led  on occasion  to
suspicion that death has occurred during some violent crime.
In  fact, of course, the body will assume this position when
the  fire  started.  The other aspect of the burn injury  is
the  heat ruptures may be produced.  These are splits of the
skin,  caused  by contraction of the heated  and  coagulated
tissues,  and  the  resultant breaches look  like  lacerated
wounds.  They are usually only a few inches, but may be upto
1 or 2 ft in length.  Normally they lead to no difficulty in
interpretation,  since they only occur in areas  of  severe
burning,  and  normally over fleshy areas of the body, like
calves and thighs, where lacerations are uncommon.  However,
when  they  occur  in  the  scalp  they  may  cause  greater
difficulties.  They can usually be distinguished from wounds
inflicted  before  the body was burnt, by their  appearance,
position  in  areas of maximum burning and on fleshy  areas,
and  by  the  associated findings on  internal examination.
(See in this context Taylors Medical Jurisprudence)
    Although shock due to extensive burns is the usual cause
of  death,  delayed death may be due to inflammation of  the
respiratory tract caused by the inhalation of smoke.  Severe
damage,  at least to the extent of blistering of the  tongue
and  upper  respiratory tract, can follow the inhalation  of
    Prosecutions   definite  case  in the  matter   under
reference is kerosene was poured in all round and thereafter
with  lighted match stick the girl was burnt to death alive.
The  FIR  depicts  the case of torture in order  to  attract
Section  498A  together  with ingredients  of  charge  under
Section  304B which stands disbelieved by the High Court and
we  in the contextual facts accept the observations of  the
High Court pertaining thereto having regard to the fact that
the  High Court itself has looked into the original FIR  and
found  it  to be so interpolated as contended and it  is  on
this score that the High Court acquitted the accused persons
under  Section 304B:  No exception thus can be taken to  the
order  of  acquittal of the charge above and we also  record
our concurrence therewith.
    The High Court however, has not delved into the issue of
non-examination  of Investigating Officer.  We are at a loss
to  find  such an omission on the part of the High Court  on
such a vital issue.

    Mr.   Verma,  the  learned senior counsel  appearing  in
support  of  the appeal contended that conversion of  charge
under  Section 304B to 302, cannot by stretch be maintained.
It  has  been  contended that the Court  having  recorded  a
finding  that  the demand for dowry was  interpolated  and
inserted  in the FIR, virtually in a different handwriting,
which  was  done subsequently  it is submitted that, it  is
unsafe to rely on the informant PW5 and the Prosecution case
is   fit  to  be  rejected   outright, more  so,  when  the
Investigating  Officer has  been kept out  of court.  Mr.
Verma  contended that since the prosecution failed to  prove
the  charges  against  any  of the  accused  and  that  the
conviction   and  sentence  under   the  aforesaid   charges
including  that of the appellant having been set aside,  the
conviction  of the appellant under Section 302 IPC is bad in
law  and  untenable.  The charge under Section 302 IPC is  a
major  charge  and  it entails   more severe and  greater
sentence,  being  death or imprisonment for life  and  fine,
whereas   in  a  charge  under  Section  304B,   there   is
imprisonment  for  7  years  which   may  extend  upto life
imprisonment and in that case the court having set aside the
conviction  under Section 304B read with 34 and 120B IPC, it
is  neither open nor permissible to punish the accused under
Section  302 IPC which in all material particular amounts to
enhancement  of  sentence and inflicting greater  punishment
unless the petitioner is given an opportunity to show cause
without which the court shall not inflict greater punishment
[refer to  Section385 Cr.P.C.].  Mr.  Verma contended here
again  when a distinct offence under Section 302 IPC is made
out,  charge  should  have been framed and read out  to  the
accused  appellant  [refer  Section 216  Cr.P.C.]  to  avoid
prejudice  and in  that case the circumstances  brought  in
evidence  should be put to accused in his examination  under
Section  313 of the Cr.P.C.  which has not been done causing
serious  prejudice  in defence.  In any  event  Mr.   Verma
contended  that the evidence on record does not justify such
a  conversion  of  charge  There is therefore  neither any
legal nor even any evidentiary support to such a conversion.
The  High  Court  in  introducing Section 302  in  place  of
Section  304B, it has been submitted not only committed  a
grave  error  of law but proceeded totally against even  the
entire  tenor  of  the   evidence  on  record.    Criminal
jurisprudence does not warrant such a conversion on facts of
the matter under consideration.

    Turning  attention on  to the dying declaration  be  it
noticed  at this juncture that the deceased was supposed  to
have  spoken to the mother that there was a conjoint  effort
of  all the accused to pour kerosene on all her body and lit
the  fire   The burn injury resulting therefrom has  caused
her  life to death.  Prosecution thus treated the same as  a
dying declaration.

    Though  the earlier view of this Court in Ramnaths case
[Ram  Nath Madhoprasad & Ors.  v.  State of Madhya  Pradesh:
AIR  1953 SC 420] stands overruled by a five-Judges judgment
in the case of Tarachand Damu Sutar v. State of Maharashtra
[AIR  1962  SC 130] but there is no denial of the fact that
dying  declaration ought to be treated with care and caution
since  the maker of the statement cannot be subjected to any
cross-examination.   The  same is the view taken in  a case
reported  in  AIR  1976 SC 2199 [Munnu Raja and  Another  v.
State of Madhya Pradesh] wherein this Court stated:

    It is well settled that though a dying declaration must
be  approached with caution for the reason that the maker of
the  statement cannot be subjected  to  cross-examination,
there  is neither a rule of law nor a rule of prudence which
has  hardened  into a rule of law that a  dying  declaration
cannot be acted upon unless it is corroborated.  Thus Court
must  not look out for corroboration unless it comes to  the
conclusion  that  the  dying declaration suffered  from  any
infirmity  by  reason of which it was necessary to look  out
for corroboration.

    In the  same  year  this  Court   in  the case  of  K.
Ramachandra  Reddy  & Anr.  V. The Public  Prosecutor [AIR
1976 SC 1994] observed:

    The  dying declaration is undoubtedly admissible  under
Section  32  and not being a statement on oath so  that  its
truth could be tested by cross- examination, the Courts have
to   apply   the   strictest   scrutiny  and   the   closest
circumspection to  the  statement before  acting  upon  it.
While  great solemnity and sanctity is attached to the words
of a dying man because a person on the verge of death is not
likely to tell lies or to concoct a case so as to implicate
an innocent person, yet the Court has to be on guard against
the  statement of  the deceased being a  result  of  either
tutoring  prompting  or a product of his  imagination.  The
Court must be satisfied that the deceased was in a fit state
of mind to make the statement after the deceased had a clear
opportunity  to observe and identify his assailants and that
he  was  making  the  statement  without  any  influence  or
rancour.   Once  the  Court  is  satisfied  that  the  dying
declaration  is  true and voluntary it can be sufficient  to
found the conviction even without any further corroboration.

    A  dying  declaration  which  has  been  recorded  by  a
competent  Magistrate in the proper manner, that is to say,
in  the  form  of  question  and   answer  and,  as  far  as
practicable,  in the words of the maker of the declaration,
stands on  a much higher footing than a  dying  declaration
which  depends upon oral testimony which may suffer from all
the  infirmities  of human memory and human  character.   In
order  to  test the reliability of a dying declaration,  the
Court  has  to keep  in view  the  circumstances  like  the
opportunity  of the dying man for observation, for  example,
whether  there was  sufficient  light  if  the  crime  was
committed  at  night; whether the capacity of the  man  to
remember  the facts stated had not been impaired at the time
he  was  making the statement, by circumstances  beyond  his
control;  the statement has been consistent throughout if he
had  several  opportunities  of making a  dying  declaration
apart from the official record of it;  and the statement had
been made at the earliest opportunity and was not the result
of tutoring by interested parties AIR 1958 SC 22:  Rel.  on.
    Be it  noted that the dying declaration herein has  not
been  effected before any Doctor or any independent  witness
but  to the mother who is said to have arrived at the  place
only in the morning  the mother admittedly is an interested
witness:   though  that  by itself would not  discredit  the
evidence tendered in Court but the fact remains the Doctors
evidence  considering  the  nature  of  the  burn  posed  a
considerable  doubt as to whether such a statement could  be
made  half  an hour before the death of the accused.  It  is
not that the statement of the unfortunate girl was otherwise
not  clear or there was existing some doubt as to the  exact
words on the contrary the definite evidence tendered is that
there  is  clear unequivocal statement from the daughter  of
the  family  that the conjoint efforts of  putting  kerosene
thereafter  with  lighted match stick has resulted the burn
injury.   The severity of the burn injury and its impact  on
the  body  speaks  volume  by reason of  the  death  of  the
deceased.  It is the reliance on such a dying declaration by
the  High  Court  shall  thus have to  be  scrutinised with
certain degree of caution.

    Dying  declaration in the instant matter thus  we must
confess  raised  certain amount of eyebrows and  Mr.   Verma
also  with  his usual eloquence did put a strong protest  in
regard thereto.   The evidence of this declaration  depicts
that  just  before a few minutes of her death, the  deceased
would  make  a declaration  quietly to  the  mother  naming
therein  all the three relations along with the husband  who
poured kerosene to burn her alive.  This is not acceptable,
more  so having regard to the declaration being made to  the
mother only. In  any event, is it  conceivable  that  the
husband   along  with the  father-in-law,   mother-in-law,
brother-in-law would start pouring kerosene together on  to
the girl  as if each was prepared with a can of kerosene to
pour  simultaneously This  not only would  lead  to  an
absurdity  but reliance on such a vague statement would  be
opposed  to  the  basic  tenets of law.  Further  it  is  in
evidence  that the deceased had an extensive burn  including
her  mouth, nose and lips  if any credence is to be allowed
to  the  same, then and in that event, the evidence  of  the
mother about  the  confession  stands  belied  by  itself.
Significantly, the  doctors  evidence as is  available  on
record would  also go a long way in the unacceptability  of
the  evidence  of the mother as regards confession.   In  no
uncertain  terms the doctor, P.W.8 stated that the death may
take  place at once and within ten seconds by reason of  the
extensive  nature  of the burn and the deceased cannot have
survived  beyond 10 minutes.  Another redeeming feature that
the  declaration of the deceased was made only to the mother
but  before the arrival of the mother, the incident was made
known to the Police authorities and, in fact, the Police was
present  when  the  mother and the brother arrived.   It  is
highly unlikely that the Police will not make any attempt to
have  a  statement by the deceased but if it  was  otherwise
possible immediately on its arrival rather than wait for the
mother to arrive.  Two recent decisions of this Court may be
of  some  assistance   the first in point of  time  is the
decision of a three judge Bench of this Court in the case of
Paparambaka  Rosamma and Others v.  State of A.P.  (1999 (7)
SCC  695) wherein this Court in no uncertain terms  observed
that  there ought not to be any hesitancy in the mind of the
Court  in regard to the truthfulness and voluntary nature of
disclosure  of the incident.  In Rosammas case one Dr.  K.
Vishnupriya  Devi  has stated in the Court that the  injured
was  conscious but she has not deposed that the injured  was
in  a fit state of mind to make a statement.  It did come on
record that the girl has sustained 90% burn injuries and it
is in that perspective, this Court held that in the absence
of  a  medical certification that the injured was in  a  fit
state  of  mind  at the time of making the  declaration,  it
would be  very  much risky to  accept  the   subjective
satisfaction of a Magistrate who opined that the injured was
in  a fit state of mind at the time of making a declaration
  the  medical certification, therefore, was felt to  be  a
primary  element  in  the  matter  of  dying  declaration
unfortunately we do not have any certification of whatsoever
nature,  it  is  only the uncorroborated  testimony  of  the
mother to  whom the deceased was supposed to have made  the
declaration  as noticed above. In paragraph 9 of the Report
in  Rosammas  case  (supra)  however, this  Court  had the
following to state:

    9.   It  is  true that   the  medical   officer Dr.
K.Vishnupriya  Devi  (PW  10)  at   the  end  of  the  dying
declaration  had  certified  patient   is  conscious  while
recording  the statement.  It has come on record that the
injured  Smt. Venkata Ramana had sustained extensive burn
injuries  on her person.  Dr.  P.  Koteswara Rao (PW 9)  who
performed  the post-mortem  stated  that  the injured  had
sustained  90% burn  injuries.   In  this  case  as  stated
earlier,  the  prosecution case solely rested on  the  dying
declaration. It  was,  therefore,   necessary   for  the
prosecution to prove the dying declaration as being genuine,
true  and free from all doubts and it was recorded when  the
injured  was  in a fit state of mind.  In our  opinion,  the
certificate  appended to the dying declaration at the end by
Dr.   Smt.  K. Vishnupriya Devi (PW 10) did not comply with
the requirement in as much as she has failed to certify that
the  injured  was  in  a fit state of mind at  the  time  of
recording  the dying declaration.  The certificate  of  the
said  expert at the end only says that patient is conscious
while  recording the statement.  In view of these  material
omissions,  it would  not  be safe  to  accept  the  dying
declaration  (Ex.P-14) as true and genuine and as made when
the  injured was in a fit state of mind.  From the judgments
of  the  courts below, it appears that this aspect  was  not
kept  in  mind and resultantly they erred in  accepting  the
said  dying  declaration (Ex.P-14) as true, genuine  and  as
made  when  the  injured  was in a fit state  of  mind.   In
medical  science two stages namely conscious and a fit state
of  mind  are distinct and are not synonymous. One  may  be
conscious  but not necessarily in a fit state of mind. This
distinction was overlooked by the courts below.
    In the similar vein, another three judge Bench of this
Court  in  Koli  Chunilal  Savji and another  v.   State  of
Gujarat  (1999 (9) SCC 562) observed that in the absence  of
the  Doctor  while recording a dying declaration,  the same
loses its value and cannot be accepted.  In paragraphs 6 and
7 of the Report, this Court observed:

    6.  In view of the rival submissions made at the  Bar,
two questions really arise for our consideration:

    (1) Whether the two dying declarations can be held to be
true and voluntary and can be relied upon or can be excluded
from  consideration  for the infirmities pointed out by  Mr.
Keswani, appearing for the appellants.

    (2)  Whether the High Court exceeded its jurisdiction in
interfering  with  the order of acquittal, recorded  by  the
learned Sessions Judge.

    7. Coming to the first question, the answer to the same
would  depend upon the correctness of the submission of  Mr.
Keswani,  that in the absence of the doctor while  recording
the  dying declaration, the said declaration loses its value
and  cannot  be accepted.  Mr. Keswani in  this  connection
relies upon  the  decision  of this Court in  the  case  of
Maniram  v.  State of M.P.  (1994 Supp (2) SCC 539).  In the
aforesaid  case, no doubt this Court has held that when  the
declarant was in the hospital itself, it was the duty of the
person who  recorded the dying declaration to do so in  the
presence of the doctor and after being duly certified by the
doctor that  the declarant was conscious and in his  senses
and  was in a fit condition to make the declaration.  In the
said  case the Court also thought it unsafe to rely upon the
dying  declaration on account of the aforesaid infirmity and
interfered  with  the judgment of the High Court.   But  the
aforesaid  requirements are a mere rule of prudence and  the
ultimate  test is whether the dying declaration can be held
to  be a truthful one and voluntarily given.  It is no doubt
true  that  before  recording the declaration, the  officer
concerned  must  find  that  the  declarant  was  in  a  fit
condition  to  make  the  statement in question.   In Ravi
Chander  v.   State of Punjab (1998 (9) SCC 303) this  Court
has  held  that  for  not examining the  doctor,  the  dying
declaration  recorded  by the Executive Magistrate  and  the
dying  declaration  orally  made need not be  doubted.  The
Court further observed that that the Executive Magistrate is
a  disinterested  witness and is a responsible officer  and
there  is  no circumstance or material on record to  suspect
that  the  Executive Magistrate had any animus against  the
accused  or  was  in any way interested in  fabricating  the
dying declaration   and,  therefore,  the   question   of
genuineness  of  the  dying   declaration  recorded  by  the
Executive  Magistrate to be doubted does not arise.  In  the
case  of Harjit Kaur v.  State of Punjab (1999 (6) SCC 545)
this  Court  has examined the same question and held:

    (SCC p.547, para 5)

    As regards the condition of Parminder Kaur, the witness
has  stated  that he had first ascertained from  the  doctor
whether  she was in a fit condition to make a statement  and
obtained an endorsement to that effect.  Merely because that
endorsement was made not on the dying declaration itself but
on  the  application,  that  would   not  render  the  dying
declartion suspicious in any manner.

    Dying  declarations shall have to be dealt with care and
caution  and  corroboration thereof though not essential  as
such,  but is otherwise expedient to have the same in  order
to  strengthen the  evidentiary value of  the declaration.
Independent  witnesses may not be available but there should
be  proper  care and caution in the matter of acceptance  of
such  a  statement  as trustworthy evidence.   In  our view
question of the dying declaration to the mother is not worth
acceptance  and  the  High Court thus clearly fell  into  an
error  in such an acceptance.  Significantly, the High Court
has  set aside the conviction and sentence under Section 304
B read with Section 34 and 120 B of the Indian Penal Code so
far   as  the  father-in-law, the  mother-in-law  and  the
brother-in-law  are   concerned   though   maintained  the
conviction  under 498A.  So far as the husband is  concerned
the High Court converted the charge from 304 B to 302 on the
ground that  the  only  motive  of  the  murder  could   be
attributed  to the  husband  who  must  be  interested  in
committing  such  offence  so that he  can  perform  another
marriage   This is rather a far-fetched assumption without
any cogent evidence available on record.  Needless to record
here  that  excepting  one  of the  very  keenly  interested
witness,  the  episode of the applicant being married  again
does  not  come  from any other witness and  the  factum  of
marriage  also though stated but devoid of any  particulars
even  as regards the name, the date of marriage etc.  It  is
on  record that on arrival of the mother and the brother  of
the  deceased, they  found an assembly of large  number  of
mahalla people but none of them were called to even have a
corroboration  to  this part of the evidence of the  accused
marrying  after  the death of the deceased:  No  independent
witness  was thought of, though the factum of marriage could
have  been  corroborated by an outside agency. The FIR  and
the  other oral evidence available if read together and full
credence  is attributed to the same but that itself does not
and  cannot  permit  the  High Court to  come to  such  an
assumption.   The assumption is faulty and is wholly  devoid
of  any substance.  As a matter of fact no special role  was
even  ascribed to the appellant herein for apart leading any
evidence  thereon.   Presumptions  and assumptions  are  not
available  in criminal jurisprudence and on the wake of  the
aforesaid  we  are  unable  to  lend  concurrence  to  the
assumptions  of the High Court as recorded herein before  in
this  judgment.   Significantly, even the dying  declaration
whatever it is worth, has implicated all the four accused in
the  manner  similar. There  is  no  additional  piece  of
evidence implicating the husband which would permit the High
Court  to  convert  the  charge  of 304  B  to 302    True
punishment of life imprisonment is available under 304 B but
that  is  the  maximum available under the Section  and  for
Section  302  the  same is the minimum available  under  the
Section.   Though  discretion  to a  further  award  minimum
cannot be taken away from the Court.  Section 302 is a much
more  heinous offence and unfortunately there is no evidence
of such heinous activities attributable to the husband.  The
factum of  the  husband, if interested in  committing such
offence so that he can perform another marriage has not been
put to the witnesses and in the absence of which, assumption
to  that  effect,  cannot  be said  to  be  an  acceptable
assumption  since  without  any  evidentiary  support.  The
assumption by itself in our view is untenable.

    Mr.   H.L. Agrawal, learned senior Advocate ,  however,
emphatically  contended that considering the hour of the day
and  the  factum  of  the  wife being  burnt  and  no  other
explanation  coming forth, question of the husband  escaping
the  liability of murder does not and cannot arise.  We  are
however  unable  to lend our concurrence to  the  aforesaid.
While  it  is true that husband being the companion  in  the
bedroom  ought to be able to explain as to the circumstances
but there exist an obligation on the part of the prosecution
to  prove  the guilt of the accused beyond  all  reasonable
doubt.  Criminal jurisprudential system of the country  has
been  to that effect and there is neither any departure  nor
any escape therefrom.

    The  defence  story of early morning/burst by reason  of
warming up of milk from the kitchen has not been accepted as
true  and plausible explanation for the injury by either  of
the  courts  but does that mean and imply  that  necessarily
therefore  the husband  was guilty of murder The  answer
cannot be in the affirmative. As the experience goes this
unfortunate  trend has turned out to be a growing menace  in
the society and does not warrant any sympathy whatsoever but
that  does not however mean non adherence to even the basics
of  the law.  When the parents arrived the girl was lying on
the bed and without there being any evidence as the state of
the  linen,  the  cot  and the surroundings. Is  this  an
omission without having any impact on the entire prosecution

    Let  us, however, scrutinise the evidence in little more
greater   detail:   the  mother   was  informed  about  the
daughters burn injury at night the parents arrived in the
morning  finds the daughter in the bed room with  excessive
burn  injuries without however any mention of the impact  on
the  surroundings    the deceased supposed to have  made  a
statement  to the mother that the in-laws and the husband on
a  conjoint  move  poured  kerosene on to her  and  threw  a
lighted  match stick so as to cause burn injuries  last  of
the  evidence  is that the deceased immediately  after such
communication  passed away without any medical assistance
would  this evidence be sufficient to prove the charges even
under Section 304B and 498A for apart the conversion thereof
to 302 by the High Court?  We are afraid the evidence is not
sufficient enough to reach an irresistible conclusion of the
involvement  of  the husband as the murderer or  even  being
charged with an offence under Section 304B IPC.

    We do  feel it expedient to record that the  conviction
and sentence as imposed against the husband-appellant cannot
be  sustained.  The sentence of imprisonment for life thus
under  Section 302 stands set aside.  There is no  evidence,
convincing,  so  as  to even render  the  accused  appellant
suffer such  a  conviction.  There is no challenge  by  the
State  as  against  the order of acquittal  of other  three
accused  persons  under  Section  304B as such we  are  not
inclined to delve into the matter as regards the involvement
of  the other three persons but the appellants explanation
of  stove-  burst  being the cause of the  event  cannot  be
brushed aside. It is undoubtedly a social and heinous crime
to  have the wife burnt to death but without any proper  and
reliable  evidence,  the  law court can not by itself also
justify  its conclusion in the matter of involvement of  the
husband:    Direct  evidence  may   not  be  available  but
circumstantial evidence with reasonable probity and without
a  snap in the chain of events would certainly tantamount to
a definite evidence about the involvement but not otherwise.
What  is  the evidence available in the matter To  put  it
shortly, there is none!  The factum of burn injury cannot be
doubted  and  the subsequent unfortunate death but  that  is
about all.  Why was the Investigating officer not examined
No answers are forthcoming even at this stage  but why not?
Is  it a lacuna?  We need not dilate thereon but  the fact
remains  there is not a whisper in regard thereto!   Coming
back  to Section 498A the requirement of the statute is acts
of  cruelty by the husband of a woman or any relative of the
husband.   The word cruelty in common English  acceptation
denotes  a state of conduct which is painful and distressing
to  another.  The legislative intent thus is clear enough to
indicate that in the event of there being a state of conduct
by the husband to the wife or by any relative of the husband
which  can be attributed to be painful or distressing.  The
same  would  be within the meaning of the Section.   In  the
instant case there is no evidence whatsoever.  It is on this
score  Mr.   Verma  contended that there  is  no  sufficient
evidence  for even the dowry demand far less the evidence of
cruelty  available  on record. No outside person  has been
called to give evidence and even the witnesses being in the
category  of  interested  witnesses  also  restricted  their
version to sufferings of burn injury and the purported dying
declarations  to the matter as noticed herein before  apart
therefrom  nothing more is available on record to  attribute
any act or acts on the part of the husband or on the part of
husbands  relatives  is that evidence sufficient to  bring
home  the  charge under Section 498A?  The answer  obviously
cannot  be  in  the  affirmative   having  regard  to  the
non-availability   of any   evidence   in   the   matter.
Significantly  however,  upon  recording of the fact  of  no
dowry  demand prior to the date of occurrence the High Court
thought  it  fit  to record that charge under  Section 498A
stands proved and  as such passed the  sentence.   We  are
however unable to record our concurrence therewith – torture
is a question of fact  there must be proper effort to prove
that  aspect  of the matter, but unfortunately not  even  an
attempt  has been made nor any evidence tendered to  suggest
the  same excepting the bold interpolated allegations  which
stand  disbelieved and ignored by the High Court, and in our
view rightly.

    On the wake of the aforesaid, charge under Section 498A
also  cannot be sustained!  Both the learned Trial Judge and
the  High  Court are clearly wrong in not  considering this
aspect of the matter and thus fell into a serious and clear
error.  In  that  view  of the matter the  conviction  and
sentence  stand  set  aside. The  appeal  stands  allowed
accordingly.   The appellant is acquitted.  The appellant be
set at liberty forthwith unless required in any other case.

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