Baldev Singh Vs.
State of Punjab  INSC 1292 (4 August 2008)
JURISDICTION CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. OF 2008 (Arising out of SLP (Crl.) No.7932 OF
2007) Baldev Singh ...
Appellant State of
Dr. Arijit Pasayat,
in this appeal is to the judgment of a learned Single Judge of the Punjab and
Haryana High Court dismissing the appeal filed by the appellant, while
directing acquittal of the co-accused Narinder Kaur. Learned Sessions Judge,
Amritsar, had convicted both, the present appellant and Surjit Kaur for the
offence punishable under Section 304- B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (in
short "IPC") and had sentenced each of them to undergo rigorous
imprisonment for 10 years and to pay a fine of Rs.1,000/- in default of payment
of fine to further undergo rigorous imprisonment for three months. It is to be
noted that Narinder Kaur had faced trial along with the appellant Baldev Singh
and Surjit Kaur but was acquitted of the charges by the trial court.
case of the prosecution is as under:- Satwant Kaur @ Bholi was the sister of
Rachhpal Singh (PW-4) and was married with Baldev Singh accused on 8.6.1991.
Within about a month of their marriage, differences cropped up between the deceased
and her husband as the mother-in-law and husband of the deceased started
demanding a fridge and a T.V. Within three days of the marriage, the mother of
Bholi had died, at the anniversary of their mother's death, Rachhpal Singh
(PW-4) had collected a sum of Rs.12,000/- from the sale of paddy and Rs.8,000/-
after encashing the National Saving Certificates and had given an amount of
Rs.20,000/- to Baldev Singh. According to the complainant, for two months,
after the payment there was no quarrel, but thereafter accused Baldev Singh,
his mother Surjit Kaur and sister Narinder Kaur again started saying that at
the time of the marriage adequate jewellery had not been given. The result was
that the witness had again collected a sum of Rs.20,000/- by encashing the
Fixed Deposit Receipt and paid the amount to Baldev Singh. In the month of
October, 1992, accused Baldev Singh had fixed a date for the marriage of his
younger brother and as the father of Rachhpal Singh (PW-4) and Satwant Kaur had
died, Baldev Singh accused started asking for his share in the estate of his
father- in-law. In view of this, Rachhpal Singh and his brothers Nirmal Singh
and Avtar Singh had gone to the house of Satwant Kaur and there they tried to
persuade the accused and other members of the family not to harass Satwant Kaur
@ Bholi and assured them that in due course they would meet whatever was
demanded by him. At this time Baldev Singh and the members of his family had
told that they were not demanding any specific piece of land and that they
would be satisfied in case an amount of Rs.1,00,000/- was given.
Rachhpal Singh (PW-4)
had then told accused Baldev Singh that they had decided to hold the
anniversary of his father's death on 13th September, 1992 and they would pay
the accused the amount of Rs.1,00,000/- on that day. The details regarding the
harassment that was being faced by Satwant Kaur were communicated by her to her
brother Rachhpal Singh from time to time in various letters that were written
by her. In these letters, (Ex. PW-4/A to Ex. PW-4/D) Satwant Kaur had given the
details of the demands by her husband and in-laws and she had also been
apprising her brothers of the treatment given to her by her mother-in-law,
sister-in-law and the husband whenever she met them. On 2.9.1992 Rachhpal Singh
had received a letter written by Satwant Kaur.
This letter had been
brought from Amritsar to Chandigarh by the wife of Amrik Singh, who in turn,
had taken it to Pinjore to deliver the same to Rachhpal Singh. After going
through the letter Rachhpal Singh had become very upset and had left for
Amritsar and reached there about 7-8 P.M. During the night, he had stayed at
the house of his second sister and in the morning of 3.9.1992 he had gone to
the house of Satwant Kaur along with his brother-in-law Narinder Singh. On
reaching the house, he found that Satwant Kaur was lying on a cot while her
husband, sister-in-law and mother-in-law were standing nearby. On seeing him,
Satwant Kaur had again indicated that the accused had harassed and beaten her
regarding her inability to bring more money. She had also told Rachhpal Singh
(PW-4) that she had consumed some poisonous substance as a result of which, she
would die and requested him to ensure that the accused did not escape the
rigours of law. At this point of time, Rachhpal Singh found the attitude of the
accused very hostile and had told Narinder Singh that they should try to move
out of the house and come back with some more relatives. Thereafter Rachhpal
Singh and Narinder Singh had gone away from the house of the accused and with
some relatives returned there at about 9.30 A.M.
When they reached the
house, they found that none of the accused was present in the house and even
Satwant Kaur was not present there. On enquiry, it transpired that Satwant Kaur
had been removed by the accused but the neighbourers were not certain whether
Satwant Kaur was dead or alive.
Fearing that the
accused may try to burn the dead body, the witness first went to the cremation
ground and thereafter to various doctors. At about 6/6.15 P.M. they reached
Guru Nanak Dev Hospital and found ASI Amrik Singh going inside and before him
Rachhpal Singh made statement Ex. PW-4/A, which was reduced into writing and
signed by the witness. He then accompanied the police to the mortuary, where he
saw the dead body of Satwant Kaur.
Inspector Amrik Singh (PW-7) had gone to Guru Nanak Dev Hospital, Amritsar
after receipt of information regarding the death of Satwant Kaur and on
reaching the hospital, had met Rachhpal Singh (PW-4) and recorded his
statement. He thereafter made his endorsement thereon and sent the same to the
police station for recording the formal FIR, Ex. PW-7/B. He had gone to the
mortuary, prepared inquest report Ex. PW-1/B and got done the post- mortem on
the dead body. Dr. R.K. Gorea (Pw-1) conducted the post mortem examination on
4.9.1992 at 5.00 P.M., who gave his opinion that the cause of death in this
case was due to poisoning with organo phosphorus group of insecticide, which
was sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature. The
Investigating Officer recorded the statements of the witnesses and prepared
rough site plan. On completion of necessary investigation, accused were sent up
After the charge
sheet was filed under Section 304-B IPC, trial was held as the accused persons
pleaded innocence. In order to prove its case, the prosecution examined 7
In the statements
recorded under Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (in short
`Cr.P.C.'), accused persons took the stand that they were falsely implicated in
The trial court
relied upon the evidence of PW.4 and PW.5 and found that their evidence was
clear and cogent to the effect that the deceased was being harassed for not
bringing adequate dowry and though some of the demands were satisfied by the
relatives, the demands persisted. On account of such persistent demands, the
deceased felt harassed and consumed poison and had ultimately died as a result
thereof. With reference to the evidence of Dr. R.K.
Gorea, PW.1, it was
noted that the death of the deceased was as a result of consuming organo
phosphorus group of insecticide and the death was unnatural and had taken place
within 7 years of the date of marriage. The trial court, accordingly, found the
appellant and Surjit Kaur guilty while directing acquittal of Narinder Kaur.
In appeal, the stand
taken by the appellant was that with a view to falsely implicate the accused
persons, the case was lodged. It was submitted that the deceased was deprived
of her legitimate share in the ancestral property and because of this she was
in mental depression leading to her committing suicide. It was pointed out that
if the appellant on behalf of the deceased had asked for her legitimate share
in the ancestral property that does not amount to dowry demand.
The prosecution, on
the other hand, relied on the evidence of PW.4 and PW.5 to show that the demand
was not restricted only to the share in the ancestral properties but also to
the other demands which were nothing but dowry demands. The High Court found
substance in the plea of the prosecution and upheld the conviction.
support of the appeal, learned counsel for the appellant submitted that the
evidence of PW.4 and PW.5 should not have been relied upon. The stand taken
before the High Court that the demand related to the share in the ancestral
property and cannot be termed as dowry demand was reiterated. Additionally, it
was submitted that custodial sentence of 10 years as imposed is harsh.
counsel for the Respondent-State, on the other hand, supported the judgment of
the trial court as upheld by the High Court qua the appellant.
order to attract Section 304B IPC, the following ingredients are to be
9 i) The death of a
woman must have been caused by burns or bodily injury or otherwise than under
ii) Such death must
have occurred within 7 years of the marriage.
iii) Soon before her
death, the woman must have been subjected to cruelty or harassment by her
husband or any relative of her husband; and iv) Such cruelty or harassment must
be in connection with the demand of dowry.
the instant case the marriage took place on 8.6.1991 and the death took place
on 3.9.1992 other than in normal circumstances within 7 years of the marriage.
The evidence of PW.4 and PW.5 were to the effect that the demand of dowry was
made just before the deceased committed suicide.
304B and Section 498A read as follows:
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.
Explanation - For the
purpose of this sub- section `dowry' shall have 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."
or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty- Whoever, being the
husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to
cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to
three years and shall also be liable to fine.
Explanation - For the
purpose of this section 'cruelty' means - (a) any wilful conduct which is of
such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause
grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of
the woman; or (b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view
to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any 11 unlawful demand
for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any
person related to her to meet such demand."
term "dowry" has been defined in Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition
Act, 1961 (in short `Dowry Act') as under:- "Section 2. Definition of
`dowry' - In this Act, `dowry' means any property or valuable security given or
agreed to be given either directly or indirectly - (a) by one party to a
marriage to the other party to the marriage; or (b) by the parents of either
party to a marriage or by any other person, to either party to the marriage or
to any other person, at or before or any time after the marriage in connection
with the marriage of the said parties, but does not include dower or mehr in
the case of persons to whom the Muslim personal law (Shariat) applies.
Explanation I- For
the removal of doubts, it is hereby declared that any presents made at the time
of a marriage to either party to the marriage in the form of cash, ornaments,
clothes or other articles, shall not be deemed to be dowry within the meaning
of this section, unless they are made as 12 consideration for the marriage of
the said parties.
Explanation II- The
expression `valuable security' has the same meaning in Section 30 of the Indian
Penal Code (45 of 1860)."
to Section 304-B refers to dowry "as having the same meaning as in Section
2 of the Act", the question is :
what is the periphery
of the dowry as defined therein ? The argument is, there has to be an agreement
at the time of the marriage in view of the words "agreed to be given"
occurring therein, and in the absence of any such evidence it would not
constitute to be a dowry. It is noticeable, as this definition by amendment
includes not only the period before and at the marriage but also the period
subsequent to the marriage. This position was highlighted in Pawan Kumar and
Ors. v. State of Haryana (1998 (3) SCC 309).
offence alleged against the respondents is under Section 304-B IPC which makes
"demand of dowry" itself punishable. Demand neither conceives nor
would conceive of any agreement. If for convicting any offender, agreement for
dowry is to be proved, hardly any offenders would come under the clutches of
law. When Section 304-B refers to "demand of dowry", it refers to the
demand of property or valuable security as referred to in the definition of
"dowry" under the Act. The argument that there is no demand of dowry,
in the present case, has no force. In cases of dowry deaths and suicides,
circumstantial evidence plays an important role and inferences can be drawn on
the basis of such evidence. That could be either direct or indirect. It is
significant that Section 4 of the Act, was also amended by means of Act 63 of
1984, under which it is an offence to demand dowry directly or indirectly from
the parents or other relatives or guardian of a bride. The word
"agreement" referred to in Section 2 has to be inferred on the facts
and circumstances of each case. The interpretation that the respondents seek,
that conviction can only be if there is agreement for dowry, is misconceived.
This would be contrary to the mandate and object of the Act.
definition is to be interpreted with the other provisions of the Act including
Section 3, which refers to giving or taking dowry and Section 4 which deals
with a penalty for demanding dowry, under the Act and the IPC. This makes it
clear that even demand of dowry on other ingredients being satisfied is
punishable. It is not always necessary that there be any agreement for dowry.
113-B of the Evidence Act is also relevant for the case at hand. Both Section
304-B IPC and Section 113-B of the Evidence Act were inserted as noted earlier
by the Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act 43 of 1986 with a view to combat the
increasing menace of dowry deaths. Section 113-B 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 has been subjected by such person to cruelty or
harassment for, or in connection with, any 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)."
The necessity for
insertion of the two provisions has been amply analysed by the Law Commission
of India in its 21st Report dated 10th August, 1988 on `Dowry Deaths and Law
Reform'. Keeping in view the impediment in the pre-existing law in securing
evidence to prove dowry related deaths, legislature thought it wise to insert a
provision relating to presumption of dowry death on proof of certain
essentials. It is in this background presumptive Section 113-B in the Evidence Act
has been inserted. As per the definition of `dowry death' in Section 304-B IPC
and the wording in the presumptive Section 113-B of the Evidence Act, one of
the essential ingredients, amongst others, in both the provisions is that the
concerned woman must have been "soon before her death" subjected to
cruelty or harassment "for or in connection with the demand of
dowry". Presumption under Section 113-B is a presumption of law. On proof
of the essentials mentioned therein, it becomes obligatory on the Court to
raise a presumption that the accused caused the dowry death. The presumption
shall be raised only on proof of the following essentials:
16 (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.
conjoint reading of Section 113-B of the Evidence Act and Section 304-B IPC
shows that there must be material to show that soon before her death the victim
was subjected to cruelty or harassment. Prosecution has to rule out the
possibility of a natural or accidental death so as to bring it within the
purview of the `death occurring otherwise than in normal circumstances'. The
expression `soon before' is very relevant where Section 113-B of the Evidence
Act and Section 304-B IPC are pressed into service. Prosecution is obliged to
show that soon before the occurrence there was cruelty or harassment and only
in that case presumption operates.
Evidence in that
regard has to be led by prosecution. `Soon before' is a relative term and it
would depend upon circumstances of each case and no strait-jacket formula can
be laid down as to what would constitute a period of soon before the
occurrence. It would be hazardous to indicate any fixed period, and that brings
in the importance of a proximity test both for the proof of an offence of dowry
death as well as for raising a presumption under Section 113-B of the Evidence
Act. The expression `soon before her death' used in the substantive Section
304-B IPC and Section 113-B of the Evidence Act is present with the idea of
proximity test. No definite period has been indicated and the expression `soon
before' is not defined. A reference to expression `soon before' used in Section
114. Illustration (a) of the Evidence Act is relevant. It lays down that a
Court may presume that a man who is in the possession of goods `soon after the
theft, is either the thief has received the goods knowing them to be stolen,
unless he can account for his possession. The determination of the period which
can come within the term `soon before' is left to be determined by the Courts,
depending upon facts and circumstances of each case. Suffice, however, to
indicate that the expression `soon before' would normally imply that the
interval should not be much between the concerned cruelty or harassment and the
death in question. There must be existence of a proximate and live-link between
the effect of cruelty based on dowry demand and the concerned death. If alleged
incident of cruelty is remote in time and has become stale enough not to
disturb mental equilibrium of the woman concerned, it would be of no
is true that demanding of her share in the ancestral property will not amount
to a dowry demand, but the evidence of PW.4 and PW.5 shows that the demands
were in addition to the demand for her share in the ancestral property. Certain
letters which were brought on record clearly establish the demand for dowry.
The conviction as recorded by the trial court and upheld by the High Court does
not warrant any interference. However, the custodial sentence appears to be on
the higher side. The same is reduced to the minimum prescribed i.e. 7 years. In
the ultimate result, with the modification of sentence, the appeal stands
(Dr. ARIJIT PASAYAT)
(HARJIT SINGH BEDI)