Setting aside a lower court judgment acquitting three accused in a dowry death case, the Delhi High Court has sentenced the 95-year-old mother-in-law of the victim to life imprisonment, believing the dying declaration of her daughter-in-law.

Two of the accused, son and daughter-in-law of the woman, died during the hearing on the prosecution's appeal against acquittal of the accused persons by the trial court.

A Division Bench of the Court comprising Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Sunil Gaur held the woman, Sumitra, guilty of burning to death her daughter-in-law, Meenu, and her seven-month-old son, Karan, in 1996, adding that the trial court judge had caused miscarriage of justice by not relying on the dying declaration of the victim and acquitting the victim's mother-in-law, brother-in-law and sister-in-law.

The defence argument was that the sub-divisional magistrate concerned had recorded the statement of the victim without ensuring her mental fitness as there was no medical certification on her mental fitness with the SDM.

Counsel for the accused persons further argued the mental fitness of the victim was doubtful as there was a gap of about two hours between the time when the SDM was informed about the incident and when he arrived to record her statement. The SDM had straightway recorded the statement of the victim by just going through her MLC without contacting the doctor treating her to ensure her mental fitness.

However, the Bench dismissed these lacunae in the prosecution's case as of no significance to have any bearing on the case.

Thumb impression

The Bench relied upon the dying declaration on the basis of the thumb impression of the victim on her statement as the doctor in his evidence in the trial of the case had said that her thumb was not injured. The trial judge had also declared it genuine. The prosecution had also relied on the evidence of the mother-in-law, brother and cousin of the victim to prove the case but they had turned hostile in the trial.

The trial court had acquitted the accused persons by declaring the dying declaration unbelievable and in view of the stand of the three witnesses not to support the prosecution case in the trial.

“We allow this appeal and set aside the impugned judgment and hold that respondent Sumitra, wife of Trilok Chand, is guilty of the charge of committing murder of Meenu (her daughter-in-law) and her infant child, Karan. Accordingly, she is convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for life. Forfeiting her bail bonds, we direct that respondent Sumitra be taken into custody forthwith,” the Bench said.

The Court also dismissed the argument of the woman to take a lenient view on the quantum of sentence keeping in view her age and physical condition.

Keywords: dowry death

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