No Automatic Conviction U/s 306 IPC For Abetment Of Suicide Merely Because Accused Was Found Guilty U/s 498A IPC: SC

        Coming straight to the nub of the matter, it has to be said that the Supreme Court just recently on November 26, 2019 in a latest, landmark and extremely laudable judgment titled Gurjit Singh vs State of Punjab in Criminal Appeal Nos. 1492-1493 of 2010 has remarkably ruled that merely because an accused is found guilty of an offence punishable under Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code and the death of the wife has occurred within a period of seven years of marriage, the accused cannot be automatically held guilty for the offence punishable under Section 306 of the IPC by employing the presumption under Section 113-A of the Indian Evidence Act. To sustain a conviction under Section 306 IPC, the Apex Court made it clear that the prosecution has to establish that some act or illegal omission by the accused has driven the deceased to commit the suicide. Very rightly so!

To start with, this commendable judgment authored by Justice BR Gavai for himself and Justice Navin Sinha sets the ball rolling by first and foremost observing in para 1 that, “These appeals by special leave challenge the judgment and order dated 20.2.2009 passed by the Division Bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Criminal Appeal No. 544-DBA of 2001 and Criminal Appeal No. 959-SB of 2000. All the four accused, including the appellant herein (accused No. 3), who is husband of the deceased, were charged and tried by the learned trial Court for the offence punishable under Section 304-B and Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (hereinafter referred to as “IPC”). The other accused were the father (accused No. 1), the mother (accused No. 2) and the sister-in-law (wife of brother) (accused No. 4) of the appellant. The Additional Sessions Judge, Hoshiarpur, held that the prosecution had succeeded in proving the case against accused Nos. 1 to 3 for the offence punishable under Section 498-A of the IPC but has failed to prove the case against the said accused (Nos. 1, 2 and 3) for the offence punishable under Section 304-B of the IPC. Insofar as accused No. 4 is concerned, it was held that the prosecution has failed to prove the case against her for both the offences and she was accordingly acquitted of the offence charged. The trial Judge, therefore, convicted the appellant and his father and mother for the offence punishable under Section 498-A of the IPC and sentenced them to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of three years and to pay a fine of Rs. 4000/- each and, in default of payment of fine, to further undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of three months.”

As a consequence what ensued then is stated in para 2 that, “Being aggrieved by the conviction and sentence under Section 498-A of the IPC, the appellant along with his parents preferred an appeal (being Criminal Appeal No. 959-SB of 2000) before the High Court. So also, the State preferred an appeal (being Criminal Appeal No. 544-DBA of 2001), being aggrieved by that part of the order by which the trial Court acquitted accused No. 4 and also acquitted accused Nos. 1, 2 and 3 for the offence punishable under Section 304-B of the IPC. The High Court upheld the conviction of accused Nos. 1, 2 and 3 for the offence punishable under Section 498-A of the IPC. It also upheld the acquittal of accused No. 4 and further held that, though the prosecution could not bring the case under Section 304-B of the IPC, the appellant herein was liable to be punished for the offence punishable under Section 306 of the IPC. The High Court maintained the order of the sentence and fine as recorded by the trial Judge for the offence punishable under Section 498-A of the IPC. For the offence under Section 306 of the IPC, the High Court sentenced the appellant herein to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of five years and to pay a fine of Rs. 5000/- and in default of payment of fine, to further undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of five months. Being aggrieved thereby, the present appeals are preferred by the appellant.”

To be sure, it is then elegantly observed in para 5 that, “The perusal of the record would reveal that though the appellant has disputed the date of marriage to be 04.02.1989, both the courts have disbelieved him and rightly so. The deceased died an unnatural death on 28.09.1994 by consuming poison. As such, the unnatural death occurred within a period of seven years of the marriage. The learned trial Judge has acquitted the appellant for the offence punishable under Section 304-B of the IPC since the prosecution has failed to prove the demand for dowry, while convicting him along with the parents for the offence punishable under Section 498-A of the IPC. The High Court maintained the conviction under Section 498-A of the IPC, however, it also convicted the appellant for the offence punishable under Section 306 of the IPC with the aid of Section 113-A of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.”

More importantly, it is then rightly envisaged in para 33 that, “Applying the aforesaid principles to the present case, we find that though the prosecution is successful in proving the case under Section 498-A of the IPC, we are of the view that the prosecution has failed to prove that the cruelty was of such a nature which left no choice to the deceased than to commit suicide. The prosecution has not been in a position to place on record any evidence to establish beyond reasonable doubt that any act or omission of the accused instigated the deceased to commit suicide. There is no material on record to show that immediately prior to the deceased committing suicide there was a cruelty meted out to the deceased by the accused due to which the deceased had no other option than to commit the suicide. We are of the view, that there is no material placed on record to reach a cause and effect relationship between the cruelty and the suicide for the purpose of raising presumption.”

What’s more, it is then elaborated in para 34 stating that, “It could further be seen from the evidence on record that the time gap between the last visit of the deceased to her parents with regard to the illegal demand and the date of commission of suicide is about two months. As such, there is nothing on record to show that there was a proximate nexus between the commission of suicide and the illegal demand made by the appellant. In the case of Sanju Alias Sanjay Singh Sengar vs. State of M.P. [(2002) 5 SCC 371] this Court found that there was time gap of 48 hours between the accused telling the deceased ‘to go and die’ and the deceased ‘committing suicide’. As such, this Court held that there was no material to establish that the accused had abetted the suicide committed by the deceased.”

It cannot be lost on us that it is then pointed out in para 35 that, “Another aspect that needs consideration is that the cases wherein this Court has held that the conviction under Section 306 of the IPC was tenable though charge was only under Section 304-B of the IPC, it was found the charge specifically stated that the deceased was driven to commit suicide on account of cruelty meted out to the deceased. However, in the present case, the charge reads thus:

“That you all on 28.9.94 in the area of Village Bohan, the death of Jaswinder Kaur wife of you, Gurjit Singh and daughter-in-law of you, Gurdial Singh and Mohinder Kaur and sister-in-law of Ranjit Kaur, was caused otherwise than under normal circumstances, you all being her relatives, within a period of seven years of her marriage subjected her to cruelty and harassment for all in connection with demand for dowry and thereby committed an offence of dowry death punishable under section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code and within my cognizance.””

Needless to say, a bare perusal of para 35 would make it clear what is then mentioned in para 36 stating that, “It would thus be seen, that the charge does not state that the deceased was driven to commit suicide on account of the harassment meted out to the deceased. It also does not mention that the accused had abetted in commission of suicide by the deceased. In that view of the matter, we are of the considered view that the cases wherein conversion is held to be permissible are clearly distinguishable.”

No wonder, the Apex Court Bench then rightly held in para 37 that, “In the foregoing circumstances, the appeals are partly allowed. Conviction under Section 498-A of the IPC is maintained and the conviction under Section 306 of the IPC is set aside. The appellant is acquitted of the charge under Section 306 of the IPC.” Finally, it is then held in the last para 38 that, “The appellant is stated to be on bail, his bail bonds shall stand discharged and he is directed to surrender within four weeks for serving the remaining period of his sentence, if not already undergone.”

It is quite discernible from the above foregoing discussion that the Supreme Court while citing leading case laws like Ramesh Kumar vs State of Chhattisgarh (2001) 9 SCC 618 minced no words to conclude unambiguously that there shall be no automatic conviction U/s 306 IPC for abetment of suicide merely because accused was found guilty U/s 498A IPC by employing the presumption U/s 113-A of the Indian Evidence Act. It is imperative that to sustain conviction under Section 306 IPC, the prosecution has to establish that some act or illegal omission by the accused has driven the deceased to commit suicide. As nothing of any act or illegal omission by the accused could be proved that could be considered as having driven the deceased to commit suicide, therefore the accused conviction under Section 306 IPC is set aside even while he is held guilty under Section 498A of the IPC! Very rightly so!

Sanjeev Sirohi