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It is most significant to note that while ruling on a very significant legal point pertaining to misuse of Section 498A IPC and invoking presumption under Section 113A of the Evidence Act, the Calcutta High Court in a most pragmatic, persuasive, pertinent and progressive judgment titled Goutam Dey Vs The State of West Bengal in C.R.A. 505 of 2009 that was finally pronounced on May 10, 2024 in the exercise of its criminal appellate jurisdiction has highlighted the rampant misuse of Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and clarified in no uncertain terms that the mere commission of suicide by a married woman is insufficient to invoke the presumption of abetment under Section 113A of the Indian Evidence Act. By the way, we must note that this case traces its origin from a complaint that had been filed by the mother of the deceased victim, alleging that her daughter was subjected to continuous physical and mental torture by her husband Goutam Dey and his family, leading to her suicide on October 3, 2007. We thus see that the Calcutta High Court allowed the appeal setting aside the conviction of Goutam Dey under Sections 498A, 304B and 306 IPC.

At the very outset, this learned, laudable, landmark, logical and latest judgment authored by the Single Judge Bench comprising of Hon’ble Ms Justice Ananya Bandyopadhyay of Calcutta High Court sets the ball in motion by first and foremost putting forth in para 1 that, “This appeal is preferred against the judgment and order dated 26.03.2009 and order of sentence dated 27.03.2009 passed by the Learned Additional Sessions Judge, Fast Track (1st Court) Paschim Medinipur in Sessions Trial Case No. 59/July/2008 arising out of Kotwali Police Station Case No. 238/07 dated 06.10.2007 whereby convicting the appellant for the offences punishable under Section 498(A)/304(B)/306 of the Indian Penal Code and thereby sentencing the appellant to suffer rigorous imprisonment for 3 years and to pay fine of Rs. 1000/- in default to suffer simple imprisonment for 60 days for the offence punishable under Section 498(A) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and further sentencing the appellant to suffer rigorous imprisonment for 7 years and to pay fine of Rs. 2000/- in default to suffer simple imprisonment for 90 days for the offence punishable under Section 304(B) of the Indian Penal Code and also sentencing the appellant to suffer rigorous imprisonment for 7 years and to pay fine of Rs. 2000/- in default to suffer simple imprisonment for 90 days for the offence punishable under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code and the sentences of imprisonment shall run concurrently.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench then envisages in para 2 while narrating briefly the prosecution version stating that, “The prosecution precisely stated that a complaint to have been filed by the mother of the deceased victim, inter alia, stating that her daughter was married to the appellant on 08.08.2001 satisfying the demand of dowry including a sum of Rs.40,000/- in cash, gold ornament, brass utensils, bedding, cot etc. After a year of the aforesaid marriage the victim gave birth to a girl child. The victim was unnecessarily coerced to obtain money from the de-facto complainant. During the lifetime of her husband she ably provided the same however failed to meet such demands after the demise of her husband which resulted into physical and mental torture to be inflicted upon victim by her husband, father-in-law and mother-in-law which aggravated gradually and negotiation on her part failed due to their poverty. On 03.140.2007 she was informed that her daughter was admitted at Midnipur Medical College in serious condition. The de-facto complainant accompanied by her son learnt that the victim was admitted at the aforesaid hospital in dead condition. It further revealed that the victim committed suicide by hanging early in the morning on 03.10.2007 owing to the torture by her husband, father-in-law and mother-in-law. The de-facto complainant learnt from a reliable source that her daughter had written a suicidal note which was concealed from them. The son of the defector complainant went to the matrimonial house of the victim to withdraw the girl child. The defector complainant suspected that the victim was murdered and thereafter hanged by the accused persons.”

As it turned out, the Bench then enunciates in para 3 that, “Based on the aforesaid complaint Kotwali P.S Case No. 238 of 2007 dated 06.10.2007 under Sections 498/306 IPC was instituted. On completion of the investigation, charge-sheet was submitted. Subsequently charges were framed to which the accused persons pleaded not guilty and claimed to be tried.”

While citing a recent and relevant case law, the Bench hastens to add in para 13 stating that, “Furthermore in Mahalakshmi v. State of Karnataka 2023 SCC OnLine SC 1622, The Hon’ble Supreme Court held the following:-

“12. Having considered the charge sheet filed, we are of the view that the assertions made therein are very vague and general. One instance unless portentous, in the absence of any material evidence of interference and involvement in the marital life of the complainant, may not be sufficient to implicate the person as having committed cruelty under section 498A of the IPC. …”

Most forthrightly and so also one must say most significantly, the Bench then minces just no words to propound in para 19 what constitutes the cornerstone of this notable judgment mandating that, “False implications of persons under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code by way of general omnibus allegations made in the course of matrimonial disputes, if left unfettered, would result in misuse of the process of law. Misuse of Section 498-A of Indian Penal Code and the increasing tendency of implicating husband’s relatives in matrimonial disputes have become rampant. Mere fact of commission of suicide itself without corroborative and specific evidence is not sufficient to raise presumption under Section 113A of the Evidence Act. Moreover, in order to constitute an offence under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code, there had to be a proximate and imminent act of instigation or incitement to attract the offence of Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code. In the instant case apart from suspicion, the overt act of the appellant to have tortured the victim on demand of dowry could not be established. The evidence of the mother and the brother of the victim was not corroborated by other witnesses who knew the appellant and the victim as a married couple and witnessed their regular activities. None of them narrated any adverse incident of prolonged torture for demand of money. The mother and brother of the victim stated the demand to have been initiated after one year of the marriage without substantial evidence to that effect. There can be several reasons and impulses to drive a person to commit suicide. Societal pressure, sensitiveness, intolerance, impatience, lack of logical reasoning and understanding momentary, anger, avarice, jealousy, ego, pride etc with predominate the normal reasoning of human being to fall prey to such vulnerability to recourse to extremities in life being inscrutable and ineffable. Such intangible emotions are enigmatic and uncontrollable.”

Suicide Alone Insufficient for Section 113A Presumption; Section 498A IPC Misuse Widespread Calcutta HC

More to the point, the Bench minces just no words to expound in para 20 that, “The course of evidence of the prosecution witnesses did not reveal the circumstances coercing the victim to commit suicide being compelled by any imminent, proximate reason of dowry demand for which the victim had no other option but to self immolate. The general and casual remarks of the mother and the brother that the victim was subjected to torture for demand of money cannot be acceptable devoid of specific and deliberate act on the part of the appellant to assault the victim for demand of money either to a continuous or an immediate period to have instigated or abetted the victim to commit suicide.”

As a corollary, the Bench then holds in para 21 that, “In view of the above discussions, the prosecution cannot be said to have proved its case beyond reasonable doubt and accordingly the instant criminal appeal is allowed.”

Resultantly, the Bench then directs aptly in para 22 that, “The judgment and order of conviction dated 26.03.2009 and order of sentence dated 27.03.2009 passed by the Learned Additional Sessions Judge, Fast Track (1st Court) Paschim Medinipur in Sessions Trial Case No. 59/July/2008 arising out of Kotwali Police Station Case No. 238/07 dated 06.10.2007 whereby convicting the appellant for the offences punishable under Section 498(A)/304(B)/306 of the Indian Penal Code is set aside.”

Finally, in one of the last relevant paras, the Bench then directs in para 23 holding that, “Accordingly, the instant criminal appeal stands disposed of.”

In sum, we thus see that the Calcutta High Court has meticulously analyzed the evidence that was presented by the prosecution and the defence. It is vital to note that the prosecution cited twelve witnesses, including the victim’s mother and brother, who alleged that the victim was tortured for dowry. However, it deserves noting that their testimonies were not corroborated by the other witnesses, including neighbours and relatives, who did not report any adverse incidents of prolonged torture.

By all accounts, we thus see that the Calcutta High Court has very graciously conceded that the misuse of Section 498A of IPC is widespread. It is high time now and adequate safeguards must definitely be inserted in the new penal laws before it comes to force on July 1 to check its misuse and lodging of false cases must be made punishable for 5 years and so also huge fine so that it acts as a credible and potent deterrent to deter from misusing it endlessly by which innocents from the husband side have to suffer endlessly for no fault of theirs without getting any justice from even the courts! It was also made clear by the Court that commission of suicide is alone not enough to invoke the presumption under Section 113A of the Evidence Act. This must be always adhered to by all the Courts in similar such cases and should act accordingly as we see in this leading case!

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