The court said this after a convict in a dowry death case had to wait nearly 13 years before his appeal was decided by the Punjab and Haryana High Court while the apex court took another nine years before giving a ruling Nov 11.
“What is a little disturbing about this case is that it is illustrative of the slow movement of the wheels of criminal justice delivery,” said Justice Madan B. Lokur pronouncing the judgment along with Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai.
“It is high time those of us who are judges of this court and decision makers also become policy makers,” they said.
Janki Devi died in a dowry case Sep 6, 1989. The trial court pronounced its decision Dec 3, 1991.
The first appeal was decided by the high court July 5, 2004, which the apex court noted amounted to a gap of over 12 years.
A petition for special leave to appeal was filed in the Supreme Court in 2004 and leave was granted only after a gap of four years in 2008.
But the appeal was listed for hearing as if it was an appeal of 2008, thereby wiping away four years of its age in this court.
“And even then, it has taken another five years for its disposal, making a total of nine years spent in this court,” the judgment said.
While taking a critical view over the manner appeals were taking unduly long time to get decided, the court said that merely making a demand for dowry was not enough to bring about a conviction under section 304-B (dowry death on account cruelty or harassment) of the Indian Penal Code.
The court said the dowry death victim should also have been treated with cruelty or harassed for dowry either by her husband or a relative to attract the provisions of section 304-B.
In this case, even assuming there was the silent or conniving participation of Bhola Ram in the demands for dowry, there was absolutely no evidence to suggest that he actively or passively treated Janki Devi with cruelty or harassed her.
The Supreme Court set aside the high court order upholding his conviction and acquitted Bhola Ram.
Darshan Ram married Janki Devi June 30, 1986 after which she resided at her matrimonial home in village Mehma Sarja.
The couple had a female child. At the time of their marriage, Janki Devi’s family gave dowry within their means.
It was alleged that Darshan Singh’s brothers Parshottam Ram and Bhola Ram and his sister Krishna Devi and mother Vidya Devi demanded more dowry from time to time.
Janki Devi was allegedly humiliated and cruelly treated as her family could not meet the demand for more dowry.
Unable to face the harassment, cruelty and humiliation, Janki Devi consumed poison and committed suicide Sep 6, 1989.