The Supreme Court upheld the acquittal of accused persons in a murder case based on the dying declaration of the victim who did not take name of any accused holding him/her responsible for the fire incident.

The Court was deciding appeals preferred by the Punjab State against the judgment of the High Court by which the accused persons were acquitted and the judgment of the Trial Court was reversed.

The two-Judge Bench comprising Justice Aravind Kumar and Justice Sandeep Mehta observed, “There is no corroborative evidence to persuade the Court to hold that any such dying declaration was actually recorded. As per the dying declaration (Exhibit-PJ) recorded by the Ramesh Kumar Jain, Naib Tehsildar (PW-7) apparently the victim did not take the name of any particular accused holding him/her responsible for the incident. … In this background, the conviction of the accused was rightly interfered by the High Court while accepting the appeals against conviction. The impugned order dated 17th July, 2014 rendered by the Division Bench of the High Court is based on an apropos appreciation of evidence available on record and hence, does not warrant any interference in these appeals against acquittal preferred by the State of Punjab.”

The Bench said that the probability of the victim having caught accidental fire while preparing tea is higher rather than the theory set up by prosecution witnesses that it is a case of intentional immolation.

Deputy Advocate General Vivek Jain appeared for the appellant while AOR R.C. Kaushik appeared for the respondents.

Facts of the Case -

A1 was married to the deceased (victim) about 6-7 years prior to the date of incident i.e., August 1998. A1 and his elder brother (A2) brought the victim to the hospital in a seriously burnt condition (80% burns) and the intimation regarding the arrival of a woman at the hospital in a burnt condition was sent to the concerned police station by the duty doctor. ASI made an enquiry from the doctor attending the victim about her fitness to give a statement. The doctor declared the victim to be ‘unfit’ to make a statement and thereafter on the same day, he declared her as ‘fit’ to give her statement.

The Executive Magistrate recorded the statement of the victim under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and thereupon, a formal FIR was registered. The chargesheet was filed against the mother-in-law (A3) of the deceased and A1 (husband) for the offence punishable under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and father-in-law (A5), sister-in-law (A4), and brother-in-law (A2) for the offence punishable under Section 302 read with Section 34 IPC. The Trial Court convicted all the accused persons, except A5 for the offence of murder but thereafter, the High Court set aside their conviction and acquitted them. Hence, the same was challenged by the State before the Apex Court.

The Supreme Court in view of the facts and circumstances of the case noted, “… there is no allegation whatsoever of the prosecution witnesses that the deceased was harassed or humiliated in the matrimonial home on account of any demand of dowry, etc. … If at all, the cause of this strife was the so-called illicit relation between the accused Randhir Singh(A1) and Smt. Karamjit Kaur(A4), there could not have been any possibility that the accused Baldev Singh(A2) would have supported Randhir Singh(A1) because that would directly tantamount to his approving illicit relations between his wife and his brother. Thus, the prosecution story is totally unnatural and unbelievable.”

The Court further noted that all the witnesses are close family members of the deceased and thus, their evidence must be viewed with a greater degree of circumspection as they apparently gave a false narrative on material aspects of the case and hence, their evidence is of dubitable character apart from being partisan in nature.

“… none of the doctors examined by the prosecution stated that they sensed the smell of kerosene from the body of the victim after she had been admitted in the hospital. This fact assumes significance when we consider the admission as appearing in the evidence of Dr. Sarabjit Singh Sandhu(PW-3) who stated that no burn injuries were noticed on the head and shoulders of the deceased. Thus, there are well-founded reasons for this Court to hold that the allegation of the prosecution that kerosene oil was poured on the body of the victim and then she was set on fire is neither established nor corroborated by any independent or reliable piece of evidence”, it said.

The Court remarked that the prosecution has not come out with any concrete motive which could have incited the accused to put the victim on fire. It added that the deceased while making the statement, stated that she was trying to prepare tea when people of her house set her on fire.

“She also stated that after she had caught fire, she raised an alarm whereafter people of her house and neighbours extinguished the fire. Her husband brought her to the hospital and got her admitted. … The above dying declaration is also corroborated on some aspects by the statement of Kewal Singh(DW-5) who deposed on oath that he heard the cries coming from the house of the deceased and upon reaching there, he saw Randhir Singh(A1) extinguishing the fire of his wife. The witness(DW-5) also mentioned that the victim spoke out that she had caught fire suddenly and nobody had set her ablaze”, it also observed.

The Court said that the dying declaration is apparently a post-investigation document and seems to have been prepared under the influence of the brother of the deceased who was also employed in the police department.

Accordingly, the Apex Court dismissed the appeals and upheld the acquittal of the accused persons.

Cause Title- State of Punjab v. Randhir Singh Etc. (Neutral Citation: 2024 INSC 489)


Appellant: DAG Vivek Jain and AOR Karan Sharma.

Respondents: AOR R.C. Kaushik

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