The presumption of a dowry death can be raised in four circumstances

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REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 1548 OF 2007
Kulwant Singh & Ors. …..Appellants
Versus
State of Punjab …..Respondent
J U D G M E N T
Madan B. Lokur, J.
1. The question before us is whether the conviction of
Kulwant Singh (appellant No.1), his father Gurtehal Singh
(appellant no.2) and his mother Harminder Kaur (appellant
no.3) for offences punishable under Section 304-B and
Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) ought to be
sustained. In our opinion, there is sufficient evidence on
record to sustain their conviction.
The facts:
2. Rachhpal Kaur (deceased) married Kulwant Singh on
18th November 1984. It appears from the record that even
though she brought sufficient dowry, she was harassed and
Crl. Appeal No.1548 of 2007 Page 1 of 19 Page 2
maltreated by her husband and in-laws for bringing
insufficient dowry. The harassment and maltreatment
continued resulting in the intervention by the Panchayat on
or about 13th September 1988 to sort out the problem so
that the couple could live a normal married life.
Unfortunately, the efforts of the Panchayat did not yield any
positive result and about a month later on 14th October 1988
Rachhpal Kaur died under suspicious circumstances.
3. The record indicates that Rachhpal Kaur was taken to
the Civil Hospital, Mandi Gobindgarh after rigor mortis had
set in and there was froth coming from her mouth and nose.
The appellants submitted an application Exh. DC for taking
possession of the corpse without a post-mortem examination
but that was not acceded to. A post-mortem examination
was conducted on 15th October 1988 which revealed that
Rachhpal Kaur was carrying a 26-week fetus. Some parts of
her body were then removed, sealed and sent for chemical
examination to the Chemical Examiner to the Government of
Punjab, Patiala. The report of the Chemical Examiner,
received much later, indicated the presence of aluminium
Crl. Appeal No.1548 of 2007 Page 2 of 19 Page 3
phosphide (a pesticide) in the stomach of the deceased and
phosphine, a constituent of aluminium phosphide, detected
in her liver, spleen, right kidney and right lung. According to
Dr. Asha Kiran, Medical Officer, Civil Hospital, Mandi
Gobindgarh (PW-1) the contents were sufficient to cause the
death of Rachhpal Kaur.
4. Her younger sister Avtar Kaur (PW-9) gave intimation of
Rachhpal Kaur’s death on 15th October 1988 to her father
Sukhdev Singh (PW-5). Thereupon Sukhdev Singh reached
the hospital and claimed the body of Rachhpal Kaur and later
cremated her.
5. Sukhdev Singh sought to lodge a first information
report (FIR) regarding the suspicious death of Rachhpal Kaur
but could not do so. The police authorities declined to
register the FIR since the report of the chemical examination
was not available. However, Sukhdev Singh did make an
application in the concerned police station which was
marked for necessary action to ASI Karnail Singh (PW-12) on
18th October 1988.
Crl. Appeal No.1548 of 2007 Page 3 of 19 Page 4
6. Eventually, after the cause of Rachhpal Kaur’s death
was ascertained, FIR No.67/1988 dated 2nd November 1988
was registered and investigations commenced by the police.
7. The FIR broadly stated that sufficient dowry had been
given to the appellants at the time of Rachhpal Kaur’s
marriage with Kulwant Singh. However, a few days after her
marriage she was maltreated for bringing insufficient dowry,
treated with cruelty and beaten up several times. The FIR
goes on to state that a Panchayat had visited the house of
Kulwant Singh but he and the other in-laws of the deceased
informed the Panchayat that they would continue to maltreat
Rachhpal Kaur until their demands for dowry were fulfilled.
8. In the FIR, Sukhdev Singh stated that on 15th October
1988 he came to know from his daughter Avtar Kaur that
Rachhpal Kaur had been murdered under suspicious
circumstances. Sukhdev Singh was astonished to learn this
and he reported the matter to the local police but they
refused to take action since the report of the chemical
examination had not been received. According to Sukhdev
Singh, the appellants and other in-laws of Rachhpal Kaur had
Crl. Appeal No.1548 of 2007 Page 4 of 19 Page 5
committed an offence punishable under Section 304-B and
Section 498-A of the IPC for causing the death of Rachhpal
Kaur.
9. Upon registration of the FIR and receipt of the report of
the Chemical Examiner, the local police carried out
investigations and filed a charge sheet against the
appellants as well as Gurcharan Singh and Sukhwant Singh,
brothers of Kulwant Singh. The case was committed to the
Sessions Court and registered as Sessions Case No.35-T of
5.5.1989 by the Additional Sessions Judge at Patiala.
10. After charges were framed, all the accused persons
pleaded not guilty and claimed trial.
11. The prosecution produced several witnesses to bring
home its case that the accused persons killed Rachhpal Kaur
by poisoning her. The defence also produced their witnesses.
Decision of the Trial Court:
12. The Trial Judge, by his judgment and order dated 17th
September 1993 found the appellants Kulwant Singh,
Gurtehal Singh and Harminder Kaur guilty of an offence
punishable under Section 304-B of the IPC. They were then
sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for seven
Crl. Appeal No.1548 of 2007 Page 5 of 19 Page 6
years. They were also convicted for an offence punishable
under Section 498-A of the IPC and sentenced to undergo
rigorous imprisonment for one year and to pay a fine of
Rs.500/-. The sentences were to run concurrently.
13. The Trial Court held that there was no delay in lodging
the FIR by Sukhdev Singh. In fact, soon after the cremation
of Rachhpal Kaur he went to the concerned Police Station at
Amloh and apparently reported the suspicious circumstances
under which his daughter had died. However, a case was
not registered since the chemical examination report had
not been received. Sukhdev Singh also moved an
application before senior police officers and even appeared
before the Senior Superintendent of Police at Patiala and it is
then that the FIR was registered on 2nd November 1988. On
these facts the Trial Court concluded that there was no delay
in lodging the FIR by Sukhdev Singh.
14. On the issue of a demand for dowry, maltreatment and
harassment of Rachhpal Kaur, the Trial Court relied on the
evidence of Sukhdev Singh (PW-5), his daughter Avtar Kaur
(PW-9) his son Jasbir Singh (PW-11) and more importantly
Crl. Appeal No.1548 of 2007 Page 6 of 19 Page 7
the members of the Panchayat, Sohan Singh (PW-7) and
Darshan Singh (PW-8) who had gone to Kulwant Singh’s
house to sort out the issues between him and Rachhpal
Kaur. The members of the Panchayat categorically stated
(and this was believed by the Trial Court) that when they
met Rachhpal Kaur on 13th September 1988 she was crying
and had told them that the appellants demanded more
dowry from her. She also stated that the appellants were
given a buffalo and Rs.6,000/- in cash over and above the
dowry given at the time of marriage but the appellants still
complained that the dowry was insufficient.
15. Avtar Kaur (PW-9) had met Rachhpal Kaur on 8th
October 1988 and was told by the deceased that her
husband and members of his family were harassing her for
dowry. The appellants subjected her to beating and that she
wanted to be taken away from the house of her in-laws.
16. Jasbir Singh (PW-11) was believed by the Trial Court
when he stated that he had borrowed Rs.6,000/- to give to
the appellants as demanded by them. It was contended that
Sukhdev Singh owned sufficient land and therefore, there
Crl. Appeal No.1548 of 2007 Page 7 of 19 Page 8
was no need for his son to borrow Rs.6,000/- against a
promissory note for payment to the appellants. The Trial
Court did not accept this contention and found that since
Sukhdev Singh had a very large family, it was not unnatural
if his son had borrowed some money to give to the
appellants.
17. The Trial Court also concluded that Rachhpal Kaur had
died due to aluminium phosphide poisoning and the
ingredients of Section 304-B of the IPC had been made out
and additionally the ingredients of Section 498-A had also
been made out. It was held that Rachhpal Kaur’s death was
not a case of suicide.
18. On the above findings, the Trial Court concluded that
the appellants were guilty of the offences that they were
charged with. However, it was held that the prosecution had
not been able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that
Sukhwant Singh and Gurcharan Singh had committed any
offence. On this basis, they were found not guilty while the
appellants were awarded the punishment as mentioned
above.
Crl. Appeal No.1548 of 2007 Page 8 of 19 Page 9
Decision of the High Court:
19. Feeling aggrieved by the judgment and order as well as
the sentence awarded by the Trial Court, the appellants
preferred Criminal Appeal No.356-SB of 1993, which was
heard and dismissed by the High Court of Punjab and
Haryana by its judgment and order dated 2nd May 2007.
20. The High Court independently examined the evidence
on record and concluded that the prosecution had led
sufficient evidence to show that the appellants, on account
of a demand for dowry, maltreated Rachhpal Kaur and that
she died under abnormal circumstances at the house of her
in-laws. The High Court believed the witnesses who had
consistently supported the prosecution version of
harassment, maltreatment and misbehavior by the
appellants with Rachhpal Kaur on account of her allegedly
bringing insufficient dowry.
21. The High Court also believed the case put forward by
the prosecution that in addition to the dowry brought by
Rachhpal Kaur at the time of her marriage, the appellants
Crl. Appeal No.1548 of 2007 Page 9 of 19 Page 10
had been given a buffalo and Rs.6,000/- in cash by Sukhdev
Singh (PW-5) and Jasbir Singh (PW-11).
22. The High Court considered and rejected the contention
of the appellants that the demand for dowry was an
afterthought since it did not find any mention in the FIR. The
High Court noted that the FIR clearly records that Rachhpal
Kaur had mentioned the demand for dowry to the members
of the Panchayat and her immediate family. Though the
demand for dowry was not specific, there was undoubtedly a
demand made by the appellants and which was satisfied by
Rachhpal Kaur’s family.
23. The High Court found that the death of Rachhpal Kaur
was due to aluminium phosphide poisoning and that there
was sufficient evidence on record to hold the appellants
guilty of the offences that they were charged with.
Accordingly, the appeal filed by the appellants was
dismissed by the High Court.
24. It is under these circumstances that the present appeal
is before us.
Crl. Appeal No.1548 of 2007 Page 10 of 19Page 11
Submissions and discussion:
25. Learned counsel for the appellants made three
submissions before us. It was firstly submitted that there
was a delay in lodging the FIR by Sukhdev Singh inasmuch
as the incident occurred on 14th October 1988 but the FIR
was lodged on 2nd November 1988; secondly, there was a
great deal of improvement in the case by Sukhdev Singh and
other prosecution witnesses inasmuch as the FIR and the
statements recorded during investigations under Section 161
of the Code of Criminal Procedure did not mention anything
about the demand for dowry having been raised by the
appellants more particularly about a buffalo having been
demanded and given to the appellants and payment of
Rs.6,000/- again on the demand of the appellants. It was
contended, in other words, that a completely new story was
set up by the prosecution witnesses and for this reason they
should not be believed; thirdly, the ingredients of Section
304-B of the IPC were not made out since the alleged
demand for dowry was not proximate to the death of
Rachhpal Kaur.
Crl. Appeal No.1548 of 2007 Page 11 of 19Page 12
26. We are unable to agree with learned counsel for the
appellants in respect of any of the submissions advanced by
him.
27. As far as the delay in lodging the FIR is concerned, we
are in agreement with the conclusion arrived at by the Trial
Court that there was no delay in lodging the FIR. It may be
mentioned that the argument of delay in lodging the FIR was
not raised before the High Court.
28. Be that as it may, the facts reveal that Sukhdev Singh
(PW-5) had made sufficient attempts to have the FIR lodged
but was unable to do so since the report of the Chemical
Examiner had not yet been received by the concerned police
station. In any event, it is also clear from the evidence of
ASI Karnail Singh (PW-12) that Sukhdev Singh had submitted
an application which was marked by S.I. Balbir Singh (PW-13)
the Station House Officer of Police Station Amloh to him
(Karnail Singh) on 18th October 1989. S.I. Balbir Singh also
stated in his evidence that he had received an application
made by Sukhdev Singh to the Senior Superintendent of
Police at Patiala and it was then that he registered the
Crl. Appeal No.1548 of 2007 Page 12 of 19Page 13
FIR on 2nd November 1988. As such, it cannot be said that
there was any delay in lodging the FIR.
29. We may also mention that the issue about the delay in
lodging an FIR has been dealt by this Court ad nauseum and
we should not make a fetish out of any perceived delay in
lodging the FIR. Some time back, one of us (Madan B.Lokur,
J.) had occasion to deal with this issue in Gurmail Singh v.
State of Punjab, (2012) 11 SCALE 224 and it is not
necessary to repeat the conclusions arrived at nor is it
necessary to reaffirm the principle that delay in lodging the
FIR cannot be a ground for throwing away the entire
prosecution case as held in Jitender Kumar v. State of
Haryana, (2012) 6 SCC 204.
30. The second contention urged by the appellants also
does not merit any serious consideration. It is true that in
the FIR Sukhdev Singh did not give any specific instance of
the demand for dowry made by the appellants but he did
categorically mention that there was a demand for more
dowry by the appellants. Apart from the statement in the
FIR, both the Courts have considered the overwhelming
Crl. Appeal No.1548 of 2007 Page 13 of 19Page 14
evidence of several prosecution witnesses to the effect that
there was a demand for dowry made by the appellants and
concurrently held that the appellants had made a demand.
We do not see any reason to interfere with this finding of
fact.
31. That apart, there is sufficient evidence on record that
the appellants had demanded a buffalo from Sukhdev Singh
and this demand was acceded to. There is also sufficient
evidence that the appellants had demanded Rs.6,000/- from
Sukhdev Singh and even this demand was acceded to with
Jasbir Singh (PW-11) giving the amount to the appellants.
32. The final contention urged on behalf of the appellants
also requires to be rejected. Section 304-B of the IPC reads
as follows:
“304-B. Dowry death.-(1) Where the death of a
woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs
otherwise than under normal circumstances within
seven years of her marriage and it is shown that soon
before her death she was subjected to cruelty or
harassment by her husband or any relative of her
husband for, or in connection with, any demand for
dowry, such death shall be called “dowry death”, and
such husband or relative shall be deemed to have
caused her death.
Crl. Appeal No.1548 of 2007 Page 14 of 19Page 15
Explanation.- For the purposes of this sub- section,
“dowry” shall have the same meaning as in section 2 of
the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (28 of 1961).
(2) Whoever commits dowry death shall be punished
with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less
than seven years but which may extend to
imprisonment for life.”
33. There is no dispute that Rachhpal Kaur died under
abnormal circumstances due to aluminium phosphide
poisoning within seven years of her marriage. The evidence
on record clearly indicates that she was subjected to
harassment for dowry not only by Kulwant Singh but also by
his parents. In fact, the harassment continued, as stated by
the members of the Panchayat who visited Kulwant Singh’s
house on 13th September 1988 and also by Avtar Kaur (PW-
9) on 8th October 1988. Rachhpal Kaur was, therefore,
harassed for dowry till almost immediately before her death.
34. We may also make a reference to Section 113-B of the
Evidence Act, 1872 which reads as follows:-
“113-B. Presumption as to dowry death.- When the
question is whether a person has committed the dowry
death of a woman and it is shown that soon before her
death such woman had been subjected by such person
to cruelty or harassment for, or in connection with, any
Crl. Appeal No.1548 of 2007 Page 15 of 19Page 16
demand for dowry, the Court shall presume that such
person had caused the dowry death.
Explanation.- For the purposes of this section,
“dowry death” shall have the same meaning as in
section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860).”
35. The presumption of a dowry death can be raised in four
circumstances given below and which have been mentioned
in Tarsem Singh v. State of Punjab (2008) 16 SCC 155:
“(1) The question before the court must be whether the
accused has committed the dowry death of a woman.
(This means that the presumption can be raised only if
the accused is being tried for the offence under Section
304-B IPC.)
(2) The woman was subjected to cruelty or harassment
by her husband or his relatives.
(3) Such cruelty or harassment was for, or in connection
with, any demand for dowry.
(4) Such cruelty or harassment was soon before her
death.”
All these ingredients are present in this case and a
presumption of a dowry death can safely be drawn.
36. Learned counsel for the appellants referred to
Appasaheb & Anr. v. State of Maharashtra, (2007) 9
SCC 721 wherein it was held that asking the wife to bring
money for meeting domestic expenses on account of
Crl. Appeal No.1548 of 2007 Page 16 of 19Page 17
financial stringency and for purchasing manure cannot be
held as a demand for dowry. We are unable to see how this
decision has any relevance to the facts of the present case
or to the controversy that we are concerned with. In any
event, the observations made in Appasaheb were
explained in Bachni Devi v. State of Haryana, (2011) 4
SCC 427 wherein it was held that the observations in
Appasaheb were required to be understood in the context
of the case. It was held that Appasaheb cannot be read as
laying down an absolute proposition that a demand for
money or some property or valuable security on account of
some business or financial requirement could not be termed
as a demand for dowry.
37. Finally, reference was made to Vipin Jaiswal v. State
of Andhra Pradesh, 2013 (3) SCALE 525 which also has
no relevance to the present case since in that case the
ingredients of harassment or cruelty had not been made out.
Vipin Jaiswal’s wife committed suicide and left behind a note
to the effect that nobody was responsible for her death and
that her parents and family members had harassed her
Crl. Appeal No.1548 of 2007 Page 17 of 19Page 18
husband and it is because of this that she was fed up with
her life and the quarrels taking place.
38. There is no doubt that insofar as the present case is
concerned, Rachhpal Kaur was harassed by her husband and
in-laws for dowry and that she died under abnormal
circumstances due to aluminium phosphide poisoning. In
our opinion, there is sufficient evidence to hold the
appellants guilty of offences punishable under Section 304-B
of the IPC and 498-A of the IPC. We see no reason to disturb
the conclusions concurrently arrived at by both the Courts
below.
39. Learned counsel appearing for the appellants
contended that Gurtehal Singh is today about 80 years old
and his legs have been amputated because of severe
diabetes. It was also submitted that Harminder Kaur is
about 78 years of age and she needs to look after Gurtehal
Singh. In these circumstances considering their age and
physical disability, a sympathetic view should be taken in the
matter as far as they are concerned.
Crl. Appeal No.1548 of 2007 Page 18 of 19Page 19
40. We have given considerable thought to this submission
but find that the law prescribes a minimum of seven years
imprisonment for an offence under Section 304-B of the IPC.
There is no provision for reducing the sentence for any
reason whatsoever nor has any exception being carved out
in law. Consequently, we cannot accept this plea.
41. We must not lose sight of the fact that even though
Gurtehal Singh and Harminder Kaur are now aged, they were
responsible for the death of Rachhpal Kaur through
aluminium phosphide poisoning. Rachhpal Kaur was a young
lady when she died and we can only guess the trauma that
her unnatural death would have caused to her parents.
Sympathizing with an accused person or a convict does not
entitle to us to ignore the feelings of the victim or the
immediate family of the victim.
Conclusion:
42. There is no merit in the appeal. It is accordingly
dismissed.
….……………………..J.
(A.K. Patnaik)
Crl. Appeal No.1548 of 2007 Page 19 of 19Page 20
….……………………..J.
(Madan B. Lokur)
New Delhi;
April 02, 2013
Crl. Appeal No.1548 of 2007 Page 20 of 19

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