The Supreme Court observed that the benefit of Exception 4 to Section 300 of Indian Penal Code cannot be extended to a murder accused who had taken "advantage of the situation".

The Exception 4 would be applicable where culpable homicide is committed not only without premeditated mind in a sudden fight or quarrel but also without the offender taking “undue advantage” of the situation, the bench of Justices Abhay S. Oka and Justice Pankaj Mithal said.

The court dismissed the appeal filed by a man who was concurrently convicted under Sections 302 and 498A of IPC by the courts and was sentenced to life imprisonment along with a fine of Rs. 50,000/-. He had allegedly killed his wife by lighting a matchstick and throwing upon her when she had already poured kerosene upon herself due to quarrel with him.

Advocate Aparna Jha represented the appellant while Advocate Nishe Rajen Shonker represented the respondent.

The incident took place in the year 2010 in the morning at the house of the appellant and the allegation was that the appellant, with the intention to kill his wife, lighted a matchstick and threw it upon her when she had already poured kerosene upon herself due to the quarrel with him. An FIR was initially registered under Section 307 IPC wherein it was stated that the deceased wife, due to unbearable mental and physical harassment caused to her by the appellant, poured kerosene upon herself to deter the appellant from causing further torture to her and that the appellant with the clear intention to kill her took advantage of the situation and lighted the matchstick and threw it on her body uttering “You Die”. Subsequently, when the deceased wife died in the hospital, the case was converted into that under Sections 302 and 498A of IPC and based on the said FIR, the appellant was charged for uxoricide. There was evidence on record that the appellant used to harass his wife by making demands for dowry and that both used to quarrel a lot. At the time of the incident, their children were playing in the courtyard and that the boy, though of a tender age, had deposed that appellant was in habit of beating his wife and there used to be frequent quarrels between his parents.

The Supreme Court noted that (1) the deceased died of burn injuries (2) She had herself poured kerosene upon her body (3) that the appellant set her ablaze and later tried to douse the fire by pouring water and (4) appellant also accompanied the deceased to the hospital. Therefore, the only point for consideration before the Court was whether the appellant had any premeditated mind to kill his wife or was it due to grave and sudden provocation which would not amount to murder or would at best be a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend up to 10 years or with fine or with both under Section 304 Part II of IPC.

“In the first place, the fight was not sudden. The appellant and the deceased wife had a past history of quarrel and that they had been quarrelling on the fateful day also since before the actual incident. During their quarrel, a neighbour/(Sahajan) i.e. PW1 had visited their house and the deceased wife had shown some injuries received by her during the assault. However, realizing the quarrel between the two, he left saying that he would come later on. It was thereafter that the incident of pouring kerosene and burning took place. So, there was sufficient time in between the two acts and it cannot be said that there was a sudden quarrel and provocation leading to burning”, the court noted.

The Court further noted that the appellant saw the deceased wife drenched in kerosene and was conscious that if lighted, she would be burnt to death even then ignited her to fire which shows premeditated mind to kill her. It added that he cannot take advantage of the 4th Exception only on the pretext that it was not on account of premeditated mind or out of a sudden fight or that his intentions were not bad.

"The appellant upon seeing the deceased drenched in kerosene clearly took advantage of the situation and lighted a matchstick and threw it upon her so that she can be burnt. The appellant having taken “undue advantage” of the situation cannot be extended the benefit of Exception 4 to Section 300 IPC so as to bring the case within the ambit of Part-II of 304 IPC.”, the court said while it dismissed the appeal

Cause Title- Anil Kumar v. The State of Kerala (Neutral Citation: 2023 INSC 965)

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