Sections 498A and 306 of the IPC = entitled for acquital = While the handwriting expert testified that the writing in the letter is the same as that of certain notebooks, no independent proof has been led regarding who owned or wrote in the aforesaid notebook. In fact, the only persons who were examined for the purposes of identifying the handwriting of the deceased were her father and cousin. However, how either of them could be said to be acquainted with her writing is unclear. The father of the deceased was her teacher nearly 15 years prior to the incident, and the deceased had admittedly not written any other letter to her father after her marriage. Similarly, the cousin of the deceased also did not have any other letter from the deceased in his possession.


Hon’ble Mr. Justice N.V. Ramana

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CRIMINAL APPEAL Nos. 539­540 OF 2008
JAGDISHRAJ KHATTA … APPELLANT
VERSUS
STATE OF HIMACHAL PRADESH … RESPONDENT
J U D G M E N T
N.V. RAMANA, J.

  1. These appeals are directed against judgment and order dated
    09.01.2008 and 27.02.2008, passed by the Division Bench of the
    High Court of Himachal Pradesh at Shimla in Criminal Appeal No.
    356 of 1993, whereby the appeal preferred by the State of Himachal
    Pradesh was allowed, and the judgment and order dated 03.04.1993
    passed by the Additional Sessions Judge, Kangra, Dharamshala,
    Himachal Pradesh, acquitting the appellant­accused for offences
    under Sections 498A and 306 of the IPC, and Section 30 of the
    Indian Arms Act, was set aside.
  2. The case of the prosecution in brief is that the appellant, who
    NON­REPORTABLE
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    was posted as the Forest Range Officer at Jawalamukhi, at the
    relevant time, was residing with the deceased (his wife) and two
    minor children. On 07.01.1990, at about 10 a.m., within seven years
    of the deceased’s marriage with the appellant, the deceased used the
    appellant’s gun to kill herself. On receiving information about her
    death, the deceased’s mother, cousin, brother in law and father’s
    neighbor went to Jawalamukhi, and the inquest report was prepared
    in their presence. After the funeral ceremonies were completed, on
    08.01.1990 at around 11 p.m., the deceased’s cousin lodged a report
    against the appellant herein, alleging that the appellant drove the
    deceased to commit suicide as he continuously subjected the
    deceased to cruelty, harassment, physical violence and even
    mistreated her and insulted her in the presence of her parents and
    relatives. Subsequently, on 13.01.1990, the father of the deceased
    produced a letter allegedly written to him by the deceased, which he
    received on 10.01.1990. The contents of the letter supported the
    allegations made against the appellant in the FIR, regarding cruelty
    and harassment towards the deceased.
  3. The appellant was charged under Sections 498A and 306 of the
    IPC and Section 30 of the Indian Arms Act. The Trial Court, after
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    considering the material against the appellant, acquitted him of all
    the charges. On appeal by the State, the High Court reversed the
    findings of the Trial Court and convicted the appellant for the
    offences under Sections 498A and 306 of the IPC and sentenced him
    to three years rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs. 10,000, in
    default of payment of which he is to undergo rigorous imprisonment
    for a further period of six months, for the offence under Section 306,
    IPC, and one­year rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs. 5,000, in
    default of payment of which he is to undergo rigorous imprisonment
    for a further period of three months, for the offence under Section
    498A, IPC, with both sentences to run concurrently. Aggrieved by the
    judgment and order of the High Court, the appellant has preferred
    the present appeals before us.
  4. The counsel for the appellant strongly urged that the High
    Court erred in relying on a letter which was allegedly sent by the
    deceased to her relatives in overturning the well­reasoned judgment
    of the Trial Court. Counsel for the appellant submitted that the letter
    was surrounded by suspicious circumstances which were not
    considered by the High Court, such as the fact that there was a delay
    in handing over the letter to the police, which delay was not
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    explained, and that the family of the deceased had never received
    any other letter from the deceased, who had a phone connection and
    often used to be visited by her family. Additionally, the counsel
    submitted that the High Court did not consider that the notebook,
    which was used as a handwriting sample of the deceased for
    comparison purposes, was not proved to belong to the deceased. As
    such, the learned counsel for the appellant supported the findings of
    the Trial Court and prayed that the High Court’s findings be set
    aside, and the appellant be acquitted.
  5. On the other hand, the learned counsel for the respondentState supported the findings of the High Court and submitted that
    the same do not merit any interference by this Court.
  6. Heard the submissions of the learned counsels of both parties.
  7. On perusing the judgment of the High Court, we find that it
    has reversed the findings of the Trial Court by mainly relying on the
    following evidences: (1) the testimonies of the relatives of the
    deceased that the appellant acted in a cruel manner against the
    deceased in front of her relatives, and (2) the letter allegedly written
    by the deceased around the time of her death to her parents.
  8. With respect to the former, we are unable to agree with the
    reasoning of the High Court in relying on the testimonies of the
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    relatives of the deceased. As highlighted by the Trial Court, not only
    were the allegations in the FIR extremely general in nature, but also
    the same were never raised by the family of the deceased when they
    were present at the time of preparation of the inquest report or to the
    investigating officer. In fact, the allegation of cruelty meted out by the
    appellant against the deceased appears for the first time at the time
    of filing the FIR, after a delay of nearly one and a half days. Further,
    the prosecution did not even examine any neighbor of the appellant
    and the deceased to substantiate the allegation that the appellant illtreated the deceased. In fact, and as the High Court also recorded, it
    appears from the evidence on record that the appellant treated the
    deceased with love and affection and provided for all her needs. In
    these circumstances, a reliance on the general oral testimonies of the
    prosecution witnesses, without any supporting evidence, would be
    misplaced. Further, as the High Court itself indicated somewhat
    contradictorily, reliance on the instances testified to by the witnesses
    would not be appropriate as the said incidents had taken place much
    before the deceased’s death and could not be treated as conduct
    which drove the deceased to commit suicide.
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  9. This brings us to the second part of the High Court’s reasoning
    in convicting the appellant, relating to the letter allegedly sent by the
    deceased to her parents one day before her death. We are again
    unable to accept the findings of the High Court on this point. We
    agree with the submission of the counsel for the appellant that the
    letter has not been proved to have been written by the deceased and
    is surrounded by suspicious circumstances. While the handwriting
    expert testified that the writing in the letter is the same as that of
    certain notebooks, no independent proof has been led regarding who
    owned or wrote in the aforesaid notebook. In fact, the only persons
    who were examined for the purposes of identifying the handwriting of
    the deceased were her father and cousin. However, how either of
    them could be said to be acquainted with her writing is unclear. The
    father of the deceased was her teacher nearly 15 years prior to the
    incident, and the deceased had admittedly not written any other
    letter to her father after her marriage. Similarly, the cousin of the
    deceased also did not have any other letter from the deceased in his
    possession.
  10. Most importantly, the letter was received by the deceased’s
    father on 10.01.1990 but was handed over to the police only on
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    13.01.1990, casting serious doubt on the authenticity of the letter.
    The fact that the deceased had never written any other letter to her
    family after her marriage but had rather been in touch with her
    relatives through the telephone, further strengthens the case of the
    appellant.
  11. Considering the facts and circumstances of the present case, as
    well as the material placed before us, we hold that the prosecution
    was not able to prove the guilt of the appellant beyond reasonable
    doubt. Additionally, we are of the opinion that this was not a fit case
    for the High Court to interfere with the well­reasoned judgment and
    order of acquittal passed by the Trial Court, particularly when there
    existed no grave infirmity in the findings of the Trial Court. [See
    Bannareddy and Ors. v. State of Karnataka and Ors., (2018) 5
    SCC 790]. In the aforesaid circumstances, the appeals are allowed,
    and the impugned judgment and order of the High Court are set
    aside. The judgment and order of the Trial Court, acquitting the
    appellant herein, is therefore affirmed.
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  12. Pending applications, if any, shall also stand disposed of.
    ……………………………………….J.
    (N.V. RAMANA)
    ……………………………………….J.
    (S. ABDUL NAZEER)
    NEW DELHI;
    APRIL 26, 2019.
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