The Calcutta High Court held that the presumption under Section 113A of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (IEA), concerning the husband's liability in cases of the wife's suicide within seven years of marriage, is discretionary.

The Court allowed an Appeal filed by a Husband against the order of conviction and judgement passed by the Trial Court under Sections 306, 498A and 34 of the IPC.

The Court emphasized that the husband cannot be automatically presumed guilty of abetment solely based on the wife's suicide within seven years of marriage, even when accompanied by allegations of cruelty, without additional circumstantial evidence supporting such an inference.

The Bench of Justice Subhendu Samanta observed, “nature of presumption u/s 113A is discretionary in the sense that from the mere fact that the wife committed suicide within 07 years of marriage and that she had been subjected to cruelty by the husband, there will be no automatic presumption that the suicide had been abetted by the husband”.

Advocate Soubhik Mitter appeared for the Appellant and Advocate Naryan Prasad Agarwala appeared for the Respondent.

The appeal was filed against the judgment and conviction order, passed by the Trial Court. The Accused/Appellant was convicted under sections 306 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) and 498A, receiving a five-year rigorous imprisonment term and a fine of Rs. 1000/- for each offence. The prosecution case began with a written complaint from Gita Pal, the wife of Bhadreswar Pal. The Appellant, being a relative, developed a love relationship with Padma Pal, the second daughter of the complainant. This relationship led to Padma becoming pregnant. The Appellant initially agreed to marry Padma but later altered the marriage dates. After the marriage, the Appellant mistreated Padma, both physically and verbally. The abuse continued, leading to Padma's suicide by self-immolation. The de facto complainant attributed Padma's suicide to the Appellant's torture. The Appellant was tried, and the Trial Court, after considering 18 witnesses and the evidence, issued the impugned conviction and sentence order.

After reviewing the evidence and materials presented, the Court observed that the prosecution relied on 18 witnesses, including the victim's mother who filed the complaint, neighbours, family members, and investigating officers (IOs). The witnesses provided various accounts of the events leading up to the victim's suicide, including instances of quarrels between the victim and her mother-in-law. The Court noted that the Trial Court based the conviction on the support of the victim's mother and brother, along with a neighbour's testimony about the victim's distress.

The Court noted that the Trial Court applied Section 113A of the Evidence Act, which allows the presumption of abetment of suicide if it is shown that the woman committed suicide within seven years of marriage and was subjected to cruelty by her husband or relatives. The Trial Court concluded that the victim's suicide occurred within seven years of marriage, and the appellant had subjected her to cruelty and torture, thereby upholding the prosecution's case.

Upon scrutiny, the Court noted that it was necessary to assess whether the observations made by the Trial Court were sound and applicable to the specific facts and circumstances of this case.

The Court observed the facts and the legal perspective on abetment of suicide and noted that Section 113A of the Evidence Act must be weighed. The presumption under Section 113A relied on three conditions: the woman's suicide, occurrence within seven years of marriage, and cruelty by the husband or relative. Examining the evidence of torture, the Court noted that Padma's marriage faced challenges due to unnatural circumstances. Witnesses heard quarrels at the Appellant's house, but direct evidence of torture was lacking. The family's poverty and Padma's employment making earthen pots did not constitute torture.

The Court emphasised that while assessing the legal consequences, it is crucial to recognize the three essential ingredients for Section 113A's application, with the presumption being rebuttable. The Parliament had opted for a cautious approach. Firstly, the presumption, despite using the term 'may presume,' is not optional but rather discretionary. Secondly, for the presumption to apply, the Court must consider the existence of the three specified circumstances and evaluate all the other circumstances of the case. This consideration either reinforces or dissuades the court from invoking the presumption. The phrase 'the other circumstances of this case' in Section 113A implies establishing a cause-and-effect relationship between cruelty and suicide to trigger the presumption.

The Court referred to the Supreme Court Judgment in the case of Hemraj v State [(2004) 12 SCC 257], and noted that the presumption under Section 113A is discretionary. Mere facts of the wife's suicide within seven years of marriage and her exposure to cruelty do not automatically presume abetment by the husband.

The Court noted the lack of direct evidence of cruelty perpetrated by the Appellant against the victim. The facts suggest a strained relationship between the appellant and the victim, but it does not establish that the appellant subjected the victim to physical and mental torture leading to her suicide. The prosecution has failed to prove the definition of cruelty under Section 498A IPC in this case.

Additionally, the Court observed an indication of earlier written information about the victim's death, but the prosecution did not produce it before the Trial Court. This raises concerns about the fair intention of the de-facto complainant, and there is a possibility of concoction. The prosecution could not establish the charges against the accused beyond a reasonable doubt.

Accordingly, the Court allowed the Appeal, set aside the impugned conviction order and judgment and acquitted the Accused/Appellant.

Cause Title: Sri Bimal Paul v State of West Bengal

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