Dinesh Seth v. State of NCT of Delhi

After reading this judgement you will be able to compare and contrast Sections 304B and 498A of the Indian Penal Code as the two sections are very often used together and misunderstood.

Introduction

In the present case, the Supreme Court dealt with the differences and similarities between Section 304B and Section 498A, as well as, the essential ingredients of these sections.

Facts

The facts of the case are as follows: The appellant was married to deceased. On receipt of an anonymous call that the appellant had murdered his wife, Shri C.L. Jatav, Sub-Inspector of Police visited the spot and found the dead body of the deceased along with one piece of cloth near the body and one piece tied with the ceiling fan. Brother in law of the deceased was present at the site and told him that the deceased was subjected to harassment and torture by her husband and in laws. The Sub-Divisional Magistrate recorded the statement of the mother of the deceased. The case was registered under Sections 304B/306/498A read with Section 34 IPC.

Issues

The main issues in the case were:

  1. Whether the appellant is liable to be convicted.
  2. Whether he can be convicted under Section 498A when he was tried under Section 304B only.

Summary of court decision and judgment

The trial court convicted all the accused under Section 304B/34 and sentenced them to seven years’ rigorous imprisonment. However, on appeal, the High Court held that case under Section 304B is not made out and acquitted all the accused therein. The appellant, however, was found guilty under Section 498A and sentenced to three years’ rigorous imprisonment.

The Supreme Court after discussing sections 221, 222, and 464 of Code of Criminal Procedure, held that in certain cases the accused can be convicted for an offense which wasn’t specifically framed in the charges as long as this doesn’t cause any prejudice to the accused or failure of justice. In the present case, since the accused was already charged under Section 304B.  The specific allegation leveled against him was that he had subjected the deceased to cruelty for or in connection with demand for dowry and she had died unnatural death within seven years of her marriage. Thus, the appellant already knew that he was to defend himself against the allegation of cruelty.

Also Read  Onkar Nath Mishra v. State (NCT of Delhi) & Anr.

Comparing the two sections, the Court noted that the ingredient of cruelty is common in both, but the scope of the sections is different. Section 498A has a wider scope. Under section 304B, the prosecution is required to establish that the death of the woman has been caused by burns or bodily injury or otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage and soon before her death, the woman is subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or his relative. However, for the purpose of conviction under Section 498A IPC, it is sufficient to prove that the woman was subjected to cruelty, as elucidated in the explanation appearing below substantive part of the section, by her husband or his relative. The Court dismissed the appeal and upheld the conviction of the appellant under Section 498A.

Analysis

When an offence is not specifically framed, the accused may still be convicted under it. It has been held in Dalbir Singh v. State of U. P[1], that in such cases, the test is whether the accused was aware of the basic ingredients of the offence for which he is being convicted and whether he got a fair chance to defend himself in that regard.

Section 498A and 304B: these two sections are not exclusive.[2] While section 304B deals with actual death only, Section 498A deals with all cases of cruelty by the husband and/or his relatives and thus, the latter is wider in scope. However, since cruelty hasn’t been defined under Section 304B, in the common background of these two offences, the meaning can be borrowed from Section 498A.

Conclusion

The power of the Court to ignore any error in the framing of charges cannot be curtailed. As long as the main ingredients were present in the charges and there has been no prejudice to the accused, the Court is empowered to convict the accused under another section. Thus, the appellant was rightly convicted under Section 498A even though he was only tried for Section 304B. These two sections lay down two distinct offenses but are still not exclusive.

Also Read  Can a 'dying declaration' qualify as evidence under the Indian Evidence Act?

[1] Dalbir Singh v. State of U.P, (2004) 5 SCC 334.

[2] Hira Lal v. State (NCT) Delhi, (2003) 8 SCC 80.