Explained : The Applicability of Section 113-A of the Evidence Act

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The Supreme Court in this case ruled the legal conditions where the trial court may presume the facts that deceased committed a suicide due to cruelty caused by her In-law in absence of any direct evidences, but asked accused to lead rebuttable evidences if any in trial against presumption, as trail court presumption is rebuttable

New Delhi (ABC Live India): The Supreme Court of India on September 3, 2021 decided a case titled Gumansinh @ Lalo @ Raju Vs Bhikhabhai Chauhan & another , wherein the apex court of India once again cleared the doubts on applicability of Section 113-A of the Evidence Act in absence of direct evidence in trial under section 306 of IPC (abatement of suicide) in matrimonial cases.  

The Facts of the case are as under;

In brief, the prosecution case is that the marriage of Appellant No. 1 was solemnized   with   Tahera (hereinafter   referred   to   as   the ‘Deceased’)   on 27.04.1997 and after the marriage; the deceased was residing with both the appellants. The Appellant No.1 was constantly asking the deceased to bring Rs.25,000/- from her father (PW-1) in order to purchase buffaloes as, he was keen on doing milk business. Due to poor financial condition, PW-1 was not able to satisfy the demand of Appellant No. 1. Therefore, Appellant No.1 frequently started beating the deceased, while Appellant No. 2 who was her mother-in-law used to pick up quarrel with her on the pretext that she neither knew   how   to   cook   nor   do any   house-hold   work   properly.   The   deceased committed suicide on 14.12.1997 between 17:00 and 17:30 hours 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 the appellants in a short span of 8 months.

The PW-1, father of the deceased filed a complaint with Padra Police Station which was   as ICR No. 34 of 1997 for the offences punishable under Section 498A and 306 read with Section 114 of the IPC.

The case was registered as Sessions Case No. 92 of 1998 and was made over to the Learned Additional Sessions Judge for trial. Charges were framed and against the appellants and they pleaded not guilty and claimed to be tried.

The Trial Court came to the conclusion that the Appellants subjected the deceased to physical and mental cruelty which lead her to commit suicide and convicted the appellants for offences punishable under Section 498A and 306 of IPC and sentenced them to undergo Rigorous imprisonment for a period of one year and pay fine of Rs. 500/- as well as two years Rigorous imprisonment and pay fine of Rs. 500/-

Aggrieved by the same, the accused appellants filed an appeal before the High Court and mainly contended that there was no demand of money by Appellant No. 1 as he was only asking for loan to purchase buffaloes in order to start milk business. It was further contended that the deceased was under medical treatment as she was suffering from some mental illness. It was pointed out   that   only   relatives   were   examined   as   witnesses   though   independent witnesses were available and therefore, the prosecution case becomes doubtful.

It was further contended that the appellants were not present in the house when the deceased committed and prayed for the appeal to be allowed and the conviction of the appellants be set-aside.

The High Court of Gujarat while confirming the conviction of the accused observed that the evidence produced by the prosecution clearly indicates the deceased was subjected to mental and physical cruelty by the appellants  on the account  of  non-fulfilment  of  demand of Rs.25,000/- and, therefore, the judgment and order of conviction passed by the learned Trial Court was confirmed.

Being aggrieved by the confirmation of conviction and sentence under Section 498-A IPC and Section 306 IPC by the High Court of Gujarat, the accused approached the Spume Court of India through Criminal Appeal No. 40-941 of 2021.

The Judgment answered the question whether trial court committed error while convicting accused U/s 306 of IPC in the absence of any direct evidence of abetment to suicide solely taking the aid of Section 113-A of the Evidence Act.

The Apex court in para no.13 of the judgment says,

“It is undisputed that the suicidal death of the deceased occurred within a short span of eight months of marriage.  Section 113-A of the Evidence Act, provides for presumption as to abetment of suicide by a married woman within seven years of marriage, by her husband or any of his relative. The said section reads as under: - “113A. Presumption as to abetment of suicide by a married woman - When the question is whether the commission of suicide by a woman had been abetted by her husband or any relative of her husband and it is shown that she had committed suicide within a period of seven years from the date of her marriage and that her husband or such relative of her husband had subjected her to cruelty, the Court may presume, having regard to all the other circumstances of the case, that such suicide had been abetted by her husband or by such relative of her husband. Explanation.- For the purposes of this section, “cruelty” shall have the same meaning as in section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860).”

Further, the judgment in para No.14 says,

“14. Explanation added to Section 113-A of the Evidence Act clearly provides that ‘cruelty’ shall have the same meaning as in Section 498-A of the IPC and thus it would be relevant to extract said section which reads as under :- “498A.   Husband   or   relative   of   husband   of   a   woman subjecting her to cruelty- Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. Explanation.- For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means- (a) any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger   to   life,   limb   or   health   (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or

(b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of  failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.”

The Supreme Court of India referred following judgments wherein in matrimonial cases legal requirement of an independent witness is not mandatory.

Maranadu and Anr. Vs. State by Inspector of Police, Tamil Nadu

Dalip Singh and Ors. v. The State of Punjab (AIR1953 SC 364)

Guli Chand And Ors. vs State Of Rajasthan

Rameshwar v. State of Rajasthan (AIR   1952   SC   54   at   p.59).

Masalti vs State Of U.P

State of Punjab Vs .Jagir   Singh (AIR   1973   SC   2407)

 Lehna   Vs   State   of Haryana (2002 (3) SCC 76)

Gangadhar Behera and Ors. v. State of Orissa

In para 31 of the judgment referred case titled Ramesh Kumar Vs. State of Chhattisgarh wherein the apex court ruled that,

This provision was introduced by Criminal Law (Second) Amendment Act, 1983 with effect from 26.12.1983 to meet a social demand to resolve difficulty of proof where helpless married women were eliminated by being forced to commit suicide   by   the   husband   or   in-laws   and   incriminating evidence was usually available within the four-corners of the matrimonial home and hence was not available to any one outside the occupants of the house. How-ever still it cannot be lost sight of that the presumption is intended to operate against the accused in the field of criminal law. Before   the   presumption   may   be   raised,   the   foundation thereof must exist. A bare reading of Section 113-A shows that to attract applicability of Section 113- A, it must be shown that (i) woman has committed suicide, (ii) such suicide has been committed within a period of seven years from the date of her marriage, (iii) the husband or his relatives, who are charged had subjected her to cruelty. On existence and availability of the above said circumstances, the Court may presume that such suicide had been abetted by her husband or by such relatives of her husband. The Parliament has chosen to sound a note of caution. Firstly, the presumption is not mandatory; it is only permissive as the employment of expression “may presume" suggests. Secondly, the existence and availability of the above said three  circumstances shall not, like a formula, enable the presumption being drawn; before the presumption may be drawn the Court shall have to have regard to 'all the other circumstances of the case'. A consideration of all the other circumstances of the case may strengthen the presumption or may dictate the conscience of the Court to abstain from drawing   the   presumption.   The   expression   -   'The   other circumstances of the case' used in Section 113-A suggests the need to reach a cause and effect relationship between the cruelty and the suicide for the purpose of raising a presumption. Last but not the least the presumption is not an irrebuttable one. In spite of a presumption having been raised the evidence adduced in defence or the facts and circumstances otherwise available on record may destroy the presumption. The phrase 'May presume' used in Section 113-A is defined in Section 4 of the Evidence Act, which says-'whenever it is provided by this Act that Court may presume a fact, it may either regard such fact as proved, unless and until it is disproved or may call for proof of it.”

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. And the present case fulfilled the requirement as warranted.

The Supreme Court in this case ruled the legal conditions where the trial court may presume the facts that deceased committed a suicide due to cruelty caused by her In-law in absence of any direct evidences, but asked accused to lead rebuttable evidences if any  in trial against presumption, as trail court presumption is rebuttable.

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