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SC clears woman of dowry death case

New Delhi, Dec. 30: The Supreme Court has acquitted a woman convicted of forcing her sister-in-law to take poison in a dowry death case, saying police, prosecutors and judicial officers had not taken into account a document as vital as the viscera report.

Justices Ranjana Prakash Desai and J. Chelameshwar said such “callousness” was bound to shake the faith of society in the criminal justice system.

“Public prosecutors and judicial officers owe a greater responsibility to ensure compliance with law in a criminal case. Any lapse on their part such as the one which occurred in the instant case is bound to jeopardise the prosecution case resulting in avoidable acquittals,” the bench said.

“Inefficiency and callousness on their part is bound to shake the faith of the society in the system of administration of criminal justice in this country which, in our opinion, has reached a considerably lower level than desirable.”

The top court, however, said the woman’s conviction under Section 498A (harassment by husband and other family members) stood, as the lower courts had reached “concurrent” findings based on evidence of cruelty as explained in the penal code section.

The ruling means Kamala Devi, who had been handed jail terms of seven years under Section 304B and two years under Section 498A, has been cleared of the graver charge of dowry death.

A sessions court in Gaya, Bihar, had convicted Kamala, brother-in-law Suhas Sao, the husband of the deceased, and Chhotan Sao, the father in-law, under the two sections for the 1991 death of Babita Devi.

According to the prosecution, Babita’s brother Surendra Prasad had filed an FIR in November 1991, saying his sister was assaulted with a stick and forced to consume poison by the three. Patna High Court later upheld their sentence.

Suhas did not challenge the sentence, but Chhotan and Kamala moved the apex court. Chhotan died while hearings were on. The top court said the trial court had convicted the accused despite noting in its judgment that the prosecution had not submitted the viscera test report to establish the allegation of poisoning.

In its judgment, the trial court had said “it would appear that (the) viscera was sent for post mortem but that report has not been received”. It also said “no apparent injury, external or internal, has been found on post-mortem examination of the dead body”.

In its recent ruling, the apex court said it was on the basis of “such scanty medical evidence” that the trial court and the high court had “rushed to the conclusion that the death of Babita Devi occurred ‘otherwise than under normal circumstances’”.