Satish Shetty Vs. State of Karnataka [Supreme Court of India, 03-06-2016]

Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 – Ss. 3, 4 & 6 – Penal Code, 1860 – Ss. 498-A & 304-B – Delay in lodging the FIR or complaint is not fatal in all cases – the Court must show some sensitivity in cases of present nature where the victim’s closest relation – mother is a poor helpless lady – even a well to do person may suffer a state of mental confusion when struck by such a tragedy – the prosecution in such cases is likely to be delayed further if the deceased has left behind children – the issues relating to their safety and custody often require higher priority – occurrences of the present nature require lodging of criminal case against persons who are already in the category of relation by virtue of matrimonial ties through the deceased and it is not always easy to take a decision whether to lodge a criminal case against a relation or not – hence in such cases the factum of delay has to be dealt with sympathetically keeping in mind the mental condition of the close relations of the victim.


IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

[DIPAK MISRA] AND [SHIVA KIRTI SINGH] JJ.

June 03, 2016

CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.1358 of 2008

Satish Shetty …..Appellant

Versus

State of Karnataka …..Respondent

J U D G M E N T

SHIVA KIRTI SINGH, J.

1. This appeal by special leave is directed against judgment and order dated 13.09.2007 passed by a Division Bench of High Court of Karnataka at Bangalore in Criminal Appeal No. 1409 of 2000 preferred by the State against judgment dated 16.09.2000 by First Additional Sessions Judge, D.K. Mangalore in SC No. 150/94 whereby the appellant and both his parents were acquitted for offences punishable under

Sections 3, 4 and 6 of the Dowry Prohibition Act

and under

Sections 498-A and 304-B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

By the impugned order High Court has reversed the judgment of acquittal in part. It has convicted the appellant, the husband of the victim lady, for the offence under Section 498-A with punishment of rigorous imprisonment (RI) of three years and a fine of Rs.5000/- with a default clause. The appellant has also been convicted for the offence under Section 306 of the IPC with RI for five years and a fine of Rs.10,000/-, again with a default clause. Both the sentences are to run concurrently. If realized, the fine amount is to be paid to PW-6 Gulabi, mother of the deceased, if she is alive.

2. Learned senior counsel Mr. P. Vishwanatha Shetty appearing for the appellant has raised three main contentions to assail the judgment and order under appeal. According to him, the judgment and order of acquittal was not a perverse judgment and required no interference by the High Court. Secondly, it is contended that in absence of any charge framed under Section 306 of IPC by the trial court the High Court should not have convicted the appellant under that Section. Lastly but not the least, is the contention that there is no evidence on record to justify the conviction of the appellant by the High Court for any of the charges.

3. Mr. V. N. Raghupathy learned counsel for the respondent has, on the other hand, strenuously refuted all the aforesaid three submissions and has placed reliance on the relevant materials on record as well as the discussions made by the High Court in the impugned order to fully support that judgment and order reversing the acquittal of the appellant to the extent indicated above.

4. Before adverting to specific contentions for deciding the main issue whether the impugned judgment and order requires interference, it will be useful and relevant to take note of the factual matrix of this case. The story of the deceased young lady, aged about 25 years who was forced to commit suicide by the unfortunate situation and circumstances surrounding her life, resembles the tale of so many similar young ladies who end their life due to untold miseries and hardships faced by them within the confines of the four walls of their matrimonial home. All of them enter such home with hope of leading a long and blissful married life but this hope, invariably, does not last long, nor their life. In the present case the victim left behind a son then aged about ten months and she was also mothering a life of twenty weeks in her womb. The deceased Rekha @ Baby was married with the appellant on 5.06.1991 and immediately she began her stay in matrimonial home with her husband and in-laws and a son was also born to them who on the date of her death i.e. 19.11.1993 was aged about ten months. There is no dispute regarding her death and even as per the Unnatural Death Report (UDR) exhibit Ex.P.20, lodged by the appellant with the local police station on 19.11.1993 at 9.45 a.m, she died of some poison which she had consumed allegedly because the appellant forbade her from going to her mother’s place in the morning hours of 18.11.1993. As described in the said report, the victim had consumed a poison which was kept for spray in the fields. She had been taken to hospital but expired there at around 8 a.m. As per version of the occurrence given by the appellant, the deceased and he were living a very happy life. He was satisfied with the money and gold given at the time of marriage as dowry and was apparently at a loss as to why the deceased consumed poison.

5. The records have been carefully noticed by the High Court and they reveal that the police/the investigating agency, soon after learning about the occurrence made a request to the Tehsildar (Executive Magistrate), PW-15 to conduct inquest proceedings under Section 174 of Criminal Procedure Code. The High Court has rightly condemned the Tehsildar’s action in causing undue delay and holding the inquest two days later on 22.11.1993. It was after the inquest that the mother of the deceased, Gulabi, PW-6 lodged the complaint with the police on 22.11.1993 and on that basis police registered a Criminal Case No. 136/93 for offences under Section 498-A, 304-B of the IPC and Sections 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act. After investigation police submitted chargesheet against the husband of the deceased and his parents only. Subsequently another relation was summoned as accused no. 4 under Section 319 of CrPC.

6. Dr. M.R. Shetty, PW-8 has proved the postmortem report. He has deposed that he conducted the autopsy on the deceased in the afternoon of 22.11.1993 along with another Doctor and found the following wounds on the dead body: 1. Transverse contusion across the lower part of the rt. Thigh 2” above the knee joint 2” in length. 2. Haematoma 6” x 3” on the lower part of the left thigh with abrasion of different sizes on it; 3. Abrasion on the rt. Lumbar region 2-1/2”; 4. Abrasion on the back of the rt. Thigh 2-1/2”; 5. Multiple small abrasions on the rt. Hand of different sizes; and 6. Blood strained fluid from the nostrils. He had found a twenty weeks embryo in the womb of the deceased. He deposed that as per subsequent chemical lab report of the viscera, the death was because of consumption of Organo phosphorous chemical. The Doctor has also deposed that the wounds were ante-mortem caused by hard and blunt object but they did not cause the death. The unnatural death of the victim within seven years of marriage is not in dispute.

7. The High Court has scrutinized the deposition of mother of the deceased PW-6 and her two younger brothers PW-9 and PW-20 for coming to a finding that at the time of marriage they had to arrange money to meet the demand of the husband of the deceased for payment of dowry in cash and gold. The witnesses on this aspect were found trust-worthy and not indulging into exaggeration or false allegations. The trial court on the other hand went into unnecessary details to discuss this issue on the basis of capacity of the complainant to pay, source of money arranged by her and whether actually money had been paid at the professed place or not. Though there is difference in the amount but nonetheless in the UDR complaint in Ex.P20 the appellant has admitted of taking Rs.25,000/- as dowry. The High Court has rightly held that the trial court should not have gone into further details. The only relevant issue was initial payment of dowry and not its quantum. But this aspect need not be pursued further because the High Court has also, while relying on the evidence of the prosecution that one year after the marriage during her visit to her mother the deceased had informed that the accused were harassing her by making a demand for additional dowry of 20 sovereigns of gold and Rs.1,00,000/- for investment by the appellant in a wine shop, has held that such subsequent demand being unrelated to marriage, need not be accepted as demand for dowry and therefore the offence under Section 304 of the IPC is not attracted. In this regard it was noticed that in Section 304 of the IPC as per the explanation, “dowry” shall have the same meaning as in Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. 8. The High Court has considered the issue whether Section 498-A and 306 of the IPC are attracted or not and after extracting the relevant provisions as well as Section 113A of the Evidence Act, has held the appellant guilty of the offences under Section 498-A and 306 of the IPC. For that the High Court has relied upon relevant materials consisting of oral evidence available on record as well as documentary evidence in the forms of letters. Before discussing whether the High Court has committed any error of facts or law on this issue, it is useful to examine the first contention advanced on behalf of the appellant that the High Court should not have interfered with the acquittal of appellant.

9. As already noticed, on the issue whether the marriage was performed after demanding and accepting dowry, the High Court found the approach of the trial court totally erroneous. The findings were found to be vitiated on account of trial Judge ignoring the glaring facts emerging from deposition of PW-6, 9 and 20 as well as PW 13 and 16 and also by ignoring the admission of the accused in the UDR complaint at Ex.P.20.

10. The High Court has further rightly held that the trial Judge failed to look for the relevant documents already available on the record and wrongly drew inference against the prosecution for not producing the statements of PW-6 and other relations of the deceased recorded by Taluka Executive Magistrate under Section 174 CrPC proceedings. Presently it is not disputed that those statements were/are available on record along with the inquest report. It is noted that such erroneous approach of the trial court had strong influence on its judgment rendering it perverse. In fact, had the trial court applied its mind to the scope of Section 174 of the CrPc as explained by this Court in the case of