The Supreme Court observed that to attract the applicability of Section 113-A of the Evidence Act, three conditions are required to be fulfilled:
- The woman has committed suicide
- Such suicide has been committed within a period of seven years from the date of her marriage
- The charged-accused had subjected her to cruelty
If all the three conditions stand fulfilled, presumption can be drawn against the accused and if he could not rebut the presumption by leading evidence, he can be convicted, the bench of observed.
The prosecution case against the accused was that his wife committed suicide by consuming poison at her matrimonial home for the sole reason that she was unable to bear the continuous mental and physical cruelty meted out to her by him and his relatives. This happened within a short span of eight months of marriage. The Trial Court convicted the accused under Section 498A (Cruelty) and 306 (Abetment to suicide) of Indian Penal Code. The conviction was upheld by the High court.
One contention raised by the accused before the Apex Court was that all the witnesses are relative and interested witnesses and no independent witness was examined by the prosecution to prove the case, thus, the prosecution case becomes doubtful.
In this regard, the bench comprising Justices S. Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari observed that the evidentiary value of the close relatives/interested witness is not liable to be rejected on the ground of being a relative of the deceased.
"21. Most often the offence of subjecting the married woman to cruelty is committed within the boundaries of the house which in itself diminishes the chances of availability of any independent witness and even if an independent witness is available whether he or she would be willing to be a witness in the case is also a big question because normally no independent or unconnected person would prefer to become a witness for a number of reasons. There is nothing unnatural for a victim of domestic cruelty to share her trauma with her parents, brothers and sisters and other such close relatives. The evidentiary value of the close relatives/interested witness is not liable to be rejected on the ground of being a relative of the deceased. Law does not disqualify the relatives to be produced as a witness though they may be interested witness." it said.
The bench observed that the Court has to appreciate the evidence of any interested witness it has to be very cautious in weighing their evidence or in other words, the evidence of an interested witness requires a scrutiny with utmost care and caution.
"The Court is required to address itself whether there are any infirmities in the evidence of such a witness; whether the evidence is reliable, trust-worthy and inspires the confidence of the Court. Another important aspect to be considered while analyzing the evidence of interested witness is whether the genesis of the crime unfolded by such evidence is probable or not. If the evidence of any interested witness/relative on a careful scrutiny by the Court is found to be consistent and trust-worthy, free from infirmities or any embellishment that inspires the confidence of the Court, there is no reason not to place reliance on the same.", the bench added.
Taking note of the evidence on record, the bench held that prosecution has proved that the deceased was harassed with a view to coerce her to meet unlawful demand of Rs.25,000/- and such a harassment was on account of failure by her to bring the said amount from her father who was financially incapable to meet such demand.
On the charge of Section 306 IPC, the bench noted that the prosecution has placed reliance on Section 113-A of the Evidence Act to establish the charge of abetment against the accused.
"32. From the above observations, it becomes clear that to attract the applicability of Section 113-A of the Evidence Act, three conditions are required to be fulfilled :- i. The woman has committed suicide, ii. Such suicide has been committed within a period of seven years from the date of her marriage, iii. The charged-accused had subjected her to cruelty. 33. From the facts of the case at hands, all the three conditions stand fulfilled. There is no dispute about the facts that the deceased committed suicide within a period of seven years from the date of her marriage and charged-accused had subjected her to cruelty, as we have confirmed the findings of the Trial Court as well as High Court that prosecution has been successful in proving the charge of cruelty under Explanation (b) of Section 498-A IPC...It is no doubt correct that the existence and availability of the above said three circumstances are not to be invoked, like a formula, to enable the 18 presumption being drawn and the presumption is not an irrebuttable one,.", the bench said.
Referring to definition of 'shall presume' in Section 4 of the Evidence Act, the court said:
36. The above definition of the words 'may presume' makes it clear that whenever the act provides that the Court may presume a fact, the said fact is to be regarded as proved, unless and until it is disproved. 37. Admittedly, in the case at hands, the evidence clearly establishes the offence of cruelty or harassment caused to the deceased and thus the foundation for the presumption exists. Admittedly the appellants have led no evidence to rebut the presumption.
Observing thus, the bench dismissed the appeal.
Case: Gumansinh @ Lalo @ Raju Bhikhabhai Chauhan Vs. State Of Gujarat ; CrA 940-941 OF 2021
Citation: LL 2021 SC 415
Coram: Justice S. Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari
Counsel: Adv Akriti Chaubey for appellant, Adv Deepanwita Priyanaka for state