Rajesh Bhatnagar Vs. State
Jurisdiction Criminal Appeal No.851 of 2010]
Mukesh Bhatnagar Vs. State
[With Criminal Appeal
No.850 of 2010]
J U D G M E N T
Swatanter Kumar, J.
Second Additional District Judge, Haridwar, vide its judgment dated 2nd December,
1996 held all the three accused, namely, Mukesh Bhatnagar, Rajesh Bhatnagar and
Smt. Kailasho @ Kailashwati, guilty of an offence punishable under Section 304B
of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC)for causing the death of Smt. Renu motivated
by non-payment of dowry demands and sentenced all of them to undergo life imprisonment.
Against this judgment, the appellants preferred an appeal before the High Court.
The High Court vide
its judgment dated 14th October, 2009 dismissed the appeal of all the accused
confirming the conviction and order of sentence passed by the learned Trial
Court. Aggrieved there from, two of the accused have preferred separate
appeals. Criminal Appeal No.851 of 2010 has been preferred by the accused
Rajesh Bhatnagar while Criminal Appeal No.850 of2010 has been preferred by
As both these appeals
arise from a common judgment, we shall dispose of these appeals by this common judgment.
The prosecution filed a charge sheet in terms of Section 173 of the Code of Criminal
Procedure, 1973 (Cr.P.C.). After completing the investigation and examining the
witnesses, the investigating officerpresented the charge sheet stating that these
three appellants had committed an offence punishable under Section 304B IPC as
together they had burnt, by pouring kerosene, Renu, the deceased wife of the accused
Mukesh Bhatnagar, as she and her parents failed to satisfy their demands of dowry.
facts, as they appear from the record of the case, are that Ms. Renu (deceased)
was daughter of Smt. Vimla Devi Bhatnagar, widow of Rajbahadur, resident of
Mohalla Kayasthwada, Sikandrabad, Police Station Bulandshahar. Vimla Devi had
sought a marriage alliance for her daughter Ms. Renu. Finally, the mother of
Ms. Renu and Mukesh’s family had agreedto alliance of marriage between Mukesh and
Renu. When the engagement(sagai) ceremony was to be performed at the house of
Mukesh, family of Ms. Renu along with their relations, Sanjay Bhatnagar, Shailendera
Bhatnagarand others had gone to the house of Mukesh. At that time itself, Mukesh,
his brother Rajesh and his mother Kailasho (all the accused) demanded a refrigerator
The mother and
relations of the deceased expressed their inability to buy a refrigerator but
their request brought no results and the accused family pressurized them to pay
Rs.10,000/- for purchasing the refrigerator then and there. Upon persuasion by their
own relations, the family of Ms. Renu paid a sum of Rs.10,000/- to Rajesh Bhatnagar
for purchasing the refrigerator, where after the ceremony was performed. On26th
May, 1994, the marriage between the parties was solemnized as per Hindu rites
at Roorkee. The family of Ms. Renu had come to Roorkee from Sikandrabad to
perform the marriage at Roorkee to the convenience of the boy’s family. After performing
the marriage, Ms. Renu went to her matrimonial home while her other family
members came back to their house at Sikandrabad (Bulandshahar).
Not even one and a
half months of the marriage had elapsed but Mukesh is stated to have brought
Renu to her parental home, where he informed her family that a television and a
cooler had not been given as dowry in the marriage and these articles should be
given immediately. If this was not done, he would not take Renu back to her matrimonial
home. The members of Renu’s family tried to impress upon Mukesh not to
pressurize them so much, but Mukesh persisted with his demands. At that time,
Ms Renu also informed her family members that all the accused persons were
beating her frequently for not bringing television and cooler as part of the
dowry. However, left with no alternative, the mother and uncle of Ms. Renu assured
Mukesh that everything would be settled and he need not worry. However, the
television and cooler were not given at that time.
The behavior of the
accused towards Ms. Renu did not change and whenever she came to her parental
home, she complained about the behavior of her in-laws and demands of dowry from
them. She even wrote letters to her family from time to time complaining of cruel
behavior of the accused towards her. In May 1995, Ms. Renu gave birth to a male
child. On 18th October, 1995, unfortunately, the father of Ms. Renu expired and
thereafter the family was not able to meet the dowry demands raised by the accused
persons. Sometime in the second week of November 1995, Ms. Renu came to her
parental home at 11.00 p.m. in the night. She was alone and had not even
brought her child with her.
Being surprised, her mother
had asked her what had happened. She started crying and informed her motherand
uncle that the accused persons were very unhappy, as the television and cooler
had not been given and they had turned her out of the matrimonial home,
refusing to even give her, her child. The mother and the uncle tried to pacify
Ms. Renu and told her that with the passage of time, things would get settled
and she should go back to her matrimonial home.
Mukesh came to his in-laws’ house. During their meeting, the mother and uncle
of Ms. Renu told Mukesh to treat her properly and said that the child should
not be kept away from Ms. Renu. They also assured him that as soon as they
could make some arrangement, they would give the television and cooler to
Mukesh. After this assurance, Mukesh took Renu with him to the matrimonial
home. While leaving, Renu told her mother that though they were sending her to
her matrimonial home, her in-laws would kill her and she may not come back at
17th February, 1996, the uncle of Renu received a call from PW3,Anoop Sharma,
resident of Roorkee, informing him that some accident had taken place and Renu
was not well. He asked them to come to Roorkee immediately. Mother and uncle of
Renu came to Roorkee, where they learntand believed that for failing to give
television and cooler, Renu’s mother-in-law, brother-in-law and husband had
sprinkled kerosene and set Renu onfire. Before setting her on fire, accused
Mukesh had also beat her and when Renu attempted to defend herself, even Mukesh
received some bruises on his person. On 17th February, 1996 itself, the mother of
the deceased lodged a complaint with the Police Station Gangnahar, Roorkee and caseNo.32
of 1996 under Section 304B IPC was registered on that very day.
Sub-Inspector R.P. Purohit and PW7, Deputy S.P., M.L. Ghai, along with other
police officers, reached the place of occurrence, filled the panchayatnama,
Ext.Ka-7, prepared the sketch of the place of occurrence and took the body of
the deceased into custody vide Exts.Ka-8 and Ka-1.The dead body was sent for
post mortem and photographs of the dead body were taken vide Exts. 1, 3 and 3.
The articles found at
place of occurrence, like container containing kerosene, empty container which was
having smell of kerosene, the stove pin, burnt ash, cloth rope, bangles, cloths
of the deceased, one match box, etc. were recovered from the site and were
taken into custody vide Exts. 18 to 27. The post mortem report of the deceased
was Ext. Ka-6 where after the dead body was handed over to her family members.
Injuries were also
found on the person of the accused Mukesh and he was subjected to medical
examination on 17th February, 1996at about 12.30 p.m. vide Ext. Ka-22. When M.L.
Ghai, PW7, on 17thFebruary, 1996 before the arrest of the accused persons went to
their house, he found the house open and the accused were absconding. He had directed
that a lock be put on the door of the house, which was later opened and the
site map Ext.Ka-9 was prepared.
the accused faced the trial and were convicted. Their conviction and the
sentence awarded by the Trial Court were confirmed by the High Court, as
already noticed above. This is how the present appeals come up for
consideration of this Court.
and foremost, it has been contended on behalf of the appellants that in the
present case, the ingredients of Section 304 B IPC are not satisfied and as
such, they cannot be convicted for that offence. This contention is sought to
be buttressed by the counsel while relying upon the letters Exts. Ka-2 to Ka-5
(four letters). The argument is that since no complaint of dowry has been made in
these letters, therefore, it must follow that there was no demand of dowry made
by the accused persons. In absence of such demand, the rigours of Section 304B
do not come into play. Reliance has been placed upon the judgments of this
Court in the cases of Meka Ramaswamy v. Dasari Mohan & Ors. [AIR 1998 SC
774] and Rajesh Tandonv. State of Punjab [1994 (1) SCALE 816].
we examine the merit or otherwise of this contention, it will be useful to state
the basic ingredients of Section 304B IPC. The requirement of Section 304B is
that the death of a woman be caused by burns, bodily injury or otherwise than in
normal circumstances, within seven years of her marriage. Further, it should be
shown that soon before her death, she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by
her husband or her husband’s family or relatives and thirdly, that such harassment
should be in relation to a demand for dowry.
Once these three ingredients
are satisfied, her death shall be treated as a ‘dowry death’ and once a ‘dowry death’
occurs, such husband or relative shall be presumed to have caused her death. Thus,
by fiction of law, the husband or relative would be presumed to have committed
the offence of dowry death rendering them liable for punishment unless the presumption
is rebutted. It is not only a presumption of law in relation to a death but also
a deemed liability fastened upon the husband/relative by operation of law.
This Court, in the case
of Bansi Lal v. State of Haryana [(2011) 11 SCC 359], while analyzing the
provisions of Section 304B of the Act, held as under : “18. In such a fact
situation, the provisions of Section 113-B of the Evidence Act, 1872 providing for
presumption that the accused is responsible for dowry death, have to be pressed
in service. The said provisions read as under: “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 demand for
dowry, the court shall presume that such person had caused the dowry death.” (emphasis
19. It may be
mentioned herein that the legislature in its wisdom has used the word “shall” thus,
making a mandatory application on the part of the court to presume that death had
been committed by the person who had subjected her to cruelty or harassment in
connection with any demand of dowry. It is unlike the provisions of Section
113-A of the Evidence Act where a discretion has been conferred upon the court
wherein it had been provided that court may presume abetment of suicide by a
Therefore, in view of
the above, onus lies on the accused to rebut the presumption and in case of
Section 113-B relatable to Section 304-B IPC, the onus to prove shifts exclusively
and heavily on the accused. The only requirements are that death of a woman has
been caused by means other than any natural circumstances; that death has been
caused or occurred within 7 years of her marriage; and such woman had been subjected
to cruelty or harassment by [pic]her husband or any relative of her husband in
connection with any demand of dowry.
20. Therefore, in
case the essential ingredients of such death have been established by the
prosecution, it is the duty of the court to raise a presumption that the accused
has caused the dowry death. It may also be pertinent to mention herein that the
expression “soon before her death” has not been defined in either of the
statutes. Therefore, in each case, the Court has to analyse the facts and
circumstances leading to the death of the victim and decide if there is any proximate
connection between the demand of dowry and act of cruelty or harassment and the
death. (Vide T. Aruntperunjothi v. State; Devi Lal v. State of Rajasthan; State
of Rajasthan v. Jaggu Ram, SCC p. 56, para 13; Anand Kumar v. State of M.P.
and Undavalli Narayana Rao v. State of A.P.)
Similar view was also taken by this Court in the case of Biswajit Halder alias
Babu Halder & Anr. v. State of West Bengal [(2008) 1 SCC 202].
light of the enunciated principles, now we will revert back to the facts of the
present case. Immediately upon death of the deceased, PW2,Smt. Vimla Devi,
mother of the deceased had lodged the report with the police where she had
given in writing the complete facts, as we have stated above, and it is not
necessary for us to repeat her complaint here. When her deposition was recorded
in the Court, she, again, on oath, reiterated the complete facts. According to
her, the demand of dowry in relation to various items persisted right from the
date of engagement, uptil the death of the deceased. Firstly, demand was raised
in relation to purchase of are frigerator, for which a sum of Rs.10,000/- was given
and it was only thereafter that the engagement ceremony could be completed.
and cooler were also demanded, for which they had thrown out the deceased Ms.
Renu from her matrimonial home and it was only upon the assurance given by the
mother and the uncle of the deceased that Mukesh and his family had agreed to
take her back to the matrimonial home. It must be noticed that on 18th October,
1995, the father of the deceased had died, but despite such death, the demands
of dowry persisted from the accused persons. Not only this, while Ms. Renu was
leaving her home for the last time along with Mukesh, after Mukesh was assured
that in future they would arrange for television and cooler, she had categorically
stated that she apprehends danger to her life and she may not come back to her
These circumstances clearly
show the kind of threat and fear under which the deceased was living. PW1 is
the uncle of the deceased, who also fully corroborated the statement of PW2. According
to this witness, Mukesh had climbed up to the roof and said that he would not
come down and would not permit the engagement ceremony to be completed, unless a
fridge was brought. Then Rs.10,000/- was given to his brother Rajesh Bhatnagar,
where after the ceremony was completed. There is no contradiction or variation
in the statements of PW1 and PW2.
Anoop Sharma had informed them on 17th February, 1996 that Ms. Renu had met with
an accident. Anoop Sharma was examined by the prosecution as PW3, and this
witness admitted that he had got the marriage arranged between Renu and Mukesh
and when he had gone to meet his aunt, wholived in Roorkee, while passing by
the place situated near the house of Mukesh, then he saw the gathering of
people there and had made the call to Ms. Renu’s family from the STD booth to Sikandrabad.
This is another circumstance
which shows that the accused persons were totally irresponsible and did not
even care to inform the family of the deceased, about her death. Dr. Vipin
Kumar Premi, PW4, along with Dr. R.K. Pande, had performed the post mortem on the
dead body of the deceased Renu. According to the doctor, the whole of the body
was burnt up to the stage of first and second degree burns and the deceased had
expired due to ante mortem injuries and shock. Sub Inspector R.P. Purohit, the Investigating
Officer, (PW5) has testified with regard to the inquest investigation, recovery
of articles from the place of occurrence and recording of statements of
In his examination,
he specifically denied that the body of the deceased was handed over to Mukesh and
Rajesh after postmortem. Deputy Superintendent of Police M.L. Ghai, PW-7 had also
visited the spot after complainant Smt. Vimla Devi was examined. He prepared the
site plan and conducted the inquest. This witness clearly stated that when at
8.00 p.m. on 17th February, 1996, he went to the house of Mukesh, to make
inquiries upon the formal registration of the case, he did not find the accused
persons on the spot and, in fact, they had left the house open and fled. Therefore,
he had got the house locked by a Havaldar of ChowkiTehsil.
the above evidence, it is clear that there was persistent demand of dowry by
the accused persons and they had killed her by sprinkling kerosene on her and
putting her on fire. There can be no dispute that the deceased died an
unnatural death within seven years of her marriage. Thus, the ingredients of
Section 304B are fully satisfied in the present case. We are least satisfied
with the contention of the learned counsel appearing for the appellants, that merely
because the letters on record do not specifically mention the dowry demands,
such letters have to be construed by themselves without reference to other evidence
and rebutting the presumption of a dowry death, giving the benefit of doubt to the
These letters have to
be read in conjunction with the statements of PW1 andPW2. It is difficult for
one to imagine that these letters should have been worded by the deceased as
submitted on behalf of the accused. Shenever knew with certainty that she was going
to die shortly. The letters clearly spell out the beatings given to her, the
cruelties inflicted on her and reference to the conduct of the family. The evidence
has to be appreciated in its entirety. Neither the letters can be ignored nor the
statements of PW1 and PW2.
If the letters had made
no reference to beatings, cruelty and ill-treatment meted out to the deceased and
not demonstrating the grievance, apprehensions and fear that she was entertaining
in her mind, but were letters simpliciter mentioning about her well being and that
she and her in-laws were living happily without complaint against each other,
the matter would have been different. In the judgment relied upon by the
learned counsel appearing for the accused, it has specifically been recorded
that the letters produced in those cases had clearly stated that relations
between the parties were cordial and there was no reference to any alleged
cruelty or harassment meted out to the deceased by any of the accused in that case.
On the contrary, in the
letters, it was specifically recorded that the deceased was happy with all the
members of the family. The oral and documentary evidence in those cases had
clearly shown that the deceased was never subjected to any cruelty or harassment.
In those cases, there was no evidence of demand of dowry and cruelty to the
deceased, which certainly is not the case here. In the case before us, there is
definite ocular, expert and documentary evidence to show that the deceased died
an unnatural death, she was subjected to cruelty and ill-treatment, there was demand
of dowry of specific items like refrigerator, television and cooler and she
died within seven years of her marriage.
the learned counsel appearing for the appellant contended that the accused
Mukesh had suffered 12 injuries on his person in attempts to rescue the
deceased and there was no proximity between the demand of refrigerator and the
Therefore, the accused
cannot be held guilty of the offence charged. According to him, in any case, the
courts ought not to have awarded the punishment of life imprisonment to the accused
persons keeping in view the entire facts of the case and the fact that both the
accused were young persons while their mother was an aged lady. He placed
reliance upon the judgment of this Court in the case of Hemchand v. State of
Haryana [(1994) 6 SCC 727].
These contentions again
are without any substance. No doubt, as per the statement of the doctor, there
were nearly 12 injuries found on the body of the accused Mukesh. Question is,
how did he suffer these injuries? No doubt the accused had suffered number of
injuries. PW8, Dr. D.D. Lumbahas explained the in jurieson the body of the
accused Mukesh as follows :
a. “Abraded swelling 2.0
cm x 1.5 cm, right upper eyelid.
b. Abraded swelling 3.0
cm x 1.5 cm, right side face, just below right eye.
c. Abrasion 1.0 cm x 0.2
cm, left side neck, front middle past.
d. Three abrasions in an
area of 6.0 cm x 3.5 cm, each measuring 0.8 cm x 0.2 cm, 0.6 cm x 0.4 cm, and 0.8
cm x 0.2 cm, right upper arm inner side lower past.
e. Two faint contusions
2.0 cm a past, each measuring 1.5 cm x 0.5 cm and 2.0 cm x 0.8 cm right chest,
front, upper past.
f. Faint contusion 2.5
cm x 0.4 cm, left side chest, front upper past.
g. Abrasion 1.4 cm x 0.3
cm, left side chest outer side 9.0 cm below armpit.
h. Two abrasion 1.5 cm a
past, each measuring 5.0 x 0.5 cm and 6.0 x 0.5 cm, left upper arm outer side,
i. Abrasion 0.8 x 0.2
cm, left upper arm, back, lower past.
j. Abrasion 0.7 cm x 0.4
cm, right back upper past.
k. Two abrasion 2.0 cm a
past, each measuring 3.0 cm x 0.3 cm and 6.0 cm x 0.5 cm, right back outer
site/at to the right armpit.
l. Abrasion 13.0 cm x
0.5 cm, right upper arm back outer upper 2/3.
question that arises for consideration of this Court is as to how and when the accused
Mukesh suffered the injuries. According to the accused, he had suffered these
injuries when he was trying to break open the door of the kitchen with the
intention to save the deceased, because it was projected by the defence that the
deceased had died because of an accident of stove fire while cooking the food. This
entire gamut of projections by the defence counsel are not only afterthoughts
but, in fact, nothing but falsehood. This aspect has been well considered by the
Trial Court, which recorded the following reasons for rejecting this theory propounded
on behalf of the defence :
1. “On the spot, a pin
of stove was opened, however, the stove was not burning. The switch of heater
was also off and it was also not found on.
2. There was no cooked
3. On the spot the empty
container was found which contained kerosene oil smell. Besides this, the one container
containing kerosene oil was found.
4. XXX XXX XXX
5. From the body of deceased
and from earth, kerosene oil smell was coming.
6. The deceased was not
wearing synthetic clothes. No half burnt cloth was found.
7. About 12 injuries
were found on the person of accused Mukesh on different parts of the body. On the
spot, the broken bangles of deceased were found. All these things go to prove
that deceased was fighting for her life. No explanation was given by Mukesh for
8. The entrance of
kitchen was not having any door and the statement given by defence that the
door of the kitchen was closed and he had to open the door by pushing it from his
hands and chest, is a false statement.
9. Before the death,
deceased has discharged faecal matter and there was rigor mortis on her dead body,
which indicates that deceased was afraid of her death. This fact goes to prove
that occurrence had not taken place as has been said by accused persons.
10. The dead body was
having first degree and second degree burn injuries and it goes to prove that kerosene
oil was sprinkled on the body. It completely rules out the death of accident.
above reasoning given by the Trial Court deserves acceptance by us. Furthermore,
the entire conduct of the accused is such as to lead to only one plausible
conclusion, i.e., all the accused together had caused the death of the deceased.
The arguments of the defence are strange because if the accused had attempted
to save the deceased, then he would have suffered some burn injuries. But as per
the above details of injuries, there was not even a single burn injury found on
the body of the accused Mukesh.
These injuries were
such that one could suffer only if he was struggling or fighting with another person,
as then alone could he suffer such bruises or minor cuts. Absence of any
cooking material in the kitchen is another very important circumstance which
would belie the stand of this accused. An accused who raises a false plea
before the Court would normally earn the criticism of the Court leading to adverse
inference. This Court in the case of Asraf Ali v. State of Assam [(2008) 16 SCC
328] has held as follows :
“21. Section 313 of
the Code casts a duty on the court to put in an enquiry or trial questions to
the accused for the purpose of enabling him to explain any of the circumstances
appearing in the evidence against him. It follows as a necessary corollary there
from that each material circumstance appearing in the evidence against the
accused is required to be put to him specifically, distinctly and separately
and failure to do so amounts to a serious irregularity vitiating trial, if it is
shown that the accused was prejudiced.
22. The object of
Section 313 of the Code is to establish a direct dialogue between the court and
the accused. If a point in the evidence is important against the accused, and the
conviction is intended to be based upon it, it is right and proper that the
accused should be questioned about the matter and be given an opportunity of
explaining it. Where no specific question has been put by the trial court on an
inculpatory material in the prosecution evidence, it would vitiate the trial. Of
course, all evidence, it would vitiate the trial. Of course, all these are
subject to rider whether they have caused miscarriage of justice or prejudice.
This Court also expressed
a similar view in S. Harnam Singh v. State (Delhi Admn.) while dealing with
Section 342 of the Criminal procedure Code, 1898 (corresponding to Section 313
of the Code). Non-indication of inculpatory material in its relevant facts by
the trial court to the accused adds to the vulnerability of the prosecution case.
Recording of a statement of the accused under Section 313 is not a purposeless
As far as the contention of the accused that there was no proximity or nexus
between the alleged demand of refrigerator and the death of the deceased and
the accused is, thus, entitled to benefit of acquittal is concerned, it
requires to be noticed only for being rejected. The demand for refrigerator was
the first demand of dowry, that too, at the time of engagement. This demand was
instantaneously fulfilled by the family of the deceased under compulsion and
threat that the engagement ceremony would not be performed if the refrigerator
or money was not given.
The demand of dowry
raised by the accused persons later for television and cooler could not be
satisfied by the family of the deceased for financial limitations upon the
death of father of the deceased. As a result, the deceased was treated with
cruelty and physical assault. In fact, it ultimately led to her brutal murder
at the hands of the husband and his family members. Not only this, the conduct
of the accused prior to and immediately after the occurrence clearly shows that
they were not innocent.
Otherwise, there was no
occasion for them to abscond after the body of the deceased was handed over to
her relations. These circumstances, along with the circumstances stated by the Trial
Court, are inconsistent with their innocence and consistent only with hypothesis
that they had killed the deceased by setting her on fire. No explanation, much
less a satisfactory explanation, has been rendered by the accused persons in
their statements under Section 313 Cr.P.C. On the contrary, the trend of cross-examination
of the prosecution witnesses and explanations given by the defence for accused Mukesh
having suffered injuries on his body are patently false and not worthy of
these circumstances, we have no hesitation in holding that the accused are not
entitled to any benefit, much less acquittal, from this Court. We may also
refer to the judgment of this Court in the case of Kundula Bala Subrahmanyam
& Anr. v. State of Andhra Pradesh [(1993) 2 SCC684] where, under somewhat
similar circumstances, the Court rejected the plea of the innocence of the
accused taking into consideration the conduct of the accused and his failure to
furnish a satisfactory explanation.
we are left with the last contention of the counsel for the appellant that this
is a case where the Court may not uphold the sentence of life imprisonment
imposed by the courts below. We see no mitigating circumstances in favour of
the accused which will persuade us to take any view other than the view taken by
the Trial Court on the question of quantum of sentence. Even in the case of
Hemchand (supra), relied upon by the appellant, this Court had said that it is
only in rare cases that the Court should impose punishment of life
imprisonment. When the offence of Section 304B is proved, the manner in which
the offence has been committed is found to be brutal, it had been committed for
satisfaction of dowry demands, particularly, for material goods like television
or cooler and furthermore the accused takes up a false defence before the Court
to claim that it was a case of an accidental death and not that of dowry death,
then the Court normally would not exercise its judicial discretion in favour of
the accused by awarding lesser sentence than life imprisonment.
the reasons afore-recorded, we find no merit in the appeals. Both the appeals
are dismissed accordingly.