delay in filing complaint/FIR a ground for acquittal Supreme Court

REPORTABLE

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. OF 2008
(Arising out of S.L.P. (Criminal) No. 3426 of 2007)

STATE OF ANDHRA PRADESH — APPELLANT (S)
VERSUS
M. MADHUSUDHAN RAO — RESPONDENT (S)
JUDGMENT

D.K. JAIN, J.:

Leave granted.
2.Being aggrieved by the judgment and final order dated 12th

April, 2006 passed by the High Court of Judicature, Andhra

Pradesh at Hyderabad, setting aside the conviction of the

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respondent-accused A-1 in Sessions Case No.129 of 1998

from the charge of offence punishable under Section 498-A of

the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (for short `I.P.C.’) and acquitting

him, the State of Andhra Pradesh has preferred this appeal.
3.Brief facts, necessary for the disposal of the appeal, are as

follows:
Marriage between the de facto complainant (PW-1) and

the respondent (A-1) was solemnized on 24th November, 1993.

On 22nd May, 1996, the complainant sent a report (Ex.P-1) to

the Additional D.G.P., CID, Hyderabad, inter alia, alleging that

at the time of her marriage with A-1, on the insistence of A-1

and his mother (A-2), her father gave her one house,

Rs.60,000/- in cash, six tolas of gold and household articles

worth Rs.50,000/-. Still after the marriage, her husband,

working as Reserve Sub-Inspector (RSP) at Security Printing

Press, was pressurising her to bring Rs.50,000/- more; he

used to beat her up, scold, shout and threaten to kill her and

on certain occasions he had also pressed her neck saying that

he would kill her. It was also alleged that her mother-in-law
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(A-2), her husband’s brother Prabhakar and his wife (A-4), and

the second sister-in-law of her husband (A-3) and her

husband’s last brother also used to help her husband in

beating and harassing her. It was further alleged that one

Mrs. Jalaja, working as Telephone Operator in the Reserve

Bank of India, also used to threaten her by saying that her

husband (A-1) had married her and he did not like to stay

with her. Branding her husband to be a gambler, drunkard

and moving around with anti social elements, it was also

alleged that about six months back her husband and his

family members had made the first attempt to eliminate her by

forcibly pouring poison into her throat and when her condition

became serious, they informed her parents that she had taken

poison. However, then she had not made any complaint to the

police against her husband. But again on 19th April, 1996 at

11.00 a.m., her husband (A-1), his mother (A-2), his second

brother’s wife (A-3) and her husband’s third brother’s wife

(A-4) forced her to consume poison and as a result thereof

she was admitted in the nursing home at about 2.30 p.m. in

an unconscious state. When she was in a semi conscious

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state, the police took her statement but she did not know

what statement the police had recorded. Her husband

informed her parents about the incident only in the evening

though she was admitted in the hospital at 2.30 p.m.; her

parents came later and although they had lodged a complaint

with the police but no action was taken against any person.

After being discharged from the hospital on 22nd April, 1996,

she went to stay with her parents and since then she is

staying with them but neither her husband nor his family

members have come to see her. As noted supra, the complaint

regarding the incident on 19th April, 1996 was lodged on 22nd

May, 1996.
4.The complaint was forwarded to the Senior Executive Officer,

CID, Hyderabad and consequently on 7th August, 1996 a case

was registered against accused A-1 to A-4 as also against the

said Mrs. Jalaja under Sections 498-A, 420, 494, 307 I.P.C.

After investigation, chargesheet was laid against accused A-1

to A-4 for offences punishable under Sections 498-A and 307

read with Section 34 I.P.C.

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5.During the course of trial, the prosecution examined nine

witnesses. No evidence was produced in defence. The learned

Trial Court, on appreciation of evidence, and relying on the

evidence of the father of the complainant (PW-3), nephew of

PW-3 (PW-4), a store clerk/colleague of PW-3 (PW-5), Security

Inspector/colleague of PW-3 (PW-6), and a neighbour of PW-1

and PW-3 (PW-7), came to the conclusion that all the

aforestated items had been given as consideration for the

marriage on demand of the accused though in the disguise of

being gifts to the bridegroom. The Trial Court also inferred

that accused A-1, who had purchased a lorry in the name of

the complainant–wife (PW-1) on 6th November, 1995 was

harassing her to get Rs.50,000/- from her parents for the

purchase of lorry. Inter alia, observing that though no

specific instances of harassment had come on record but

the long course of conduct of accused A-1 showed that the

allegations of harassment were not totally baseless, the trial

judge finally found accused A-1 guilty of the offence

punishable under Section 498-A I.P.C. and accordingly

sentenced him to undergo simple imprisonment for one year

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and to pay a fine of Rs.8000/- with default stipulation. Out of

the fine amount, a sum of Rs.6000/- was ordered to be paid to

PW-1. However, he did not find accused A-1 guilty under

Section 307 I.P.C. and accordingly acquitted him of the said

charge. Accused A-2 to A-4 were not found guilty of both the

charges framed against them and were acquitted accordingly.
6.Aggrieved, the respondent (A-1) challenged his conviction by

preferring appeal before the High Court. The High Court, as

stated above, on a re-appraisal of the entire evidence, has set

aside the conviction. Against this judgment, the State of

Andhra Pradesh is in appeal before us.
7.We have heard learned counsel for the parties.
8.Mrs. June Chaudhary, learned senior counsel appearing on

behalf of the State vehemently submitted that the High Court

has taken an unreasonable view in acquitting the respondent,

overlooking his conduct before and after the marriage. It was

submitted that the evidence produced by the prosecution

clearly proves that even before the marriage, the respondent

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(A-1) was insisting on transfer of the house in his name; even

on the date of marriage demand for money was made and

though the lorry was purchased in the name of the

complainant, it was not by way of any love and affection but to

extract more money from her parents. Learned counsel, thus,

argued that in the light of these surrounding circumstances, a

clear case for conviction under Section 498-A I.P.C. had been

made out against the respondent.
9.Mr. R. Venkatramani, learned senior counsel appearing on

behalf of the respondent, while supporting the view taken by

the High Court, submitted that the High Court having re-

appreciated and carefully analyzed the entire evidence before

reaching the conclusion that no case for conviction of the

respondent had been made out, this Court should be loathe to

exercise its jurisdiction under Article 136 of the Constitution.

It was argued that apart from the fact that in the light of the

evidence on record no illegality can be attributed to the

conclusion recorded by the High Court, even otherwise, it is

well settled principle of law that where on an appraisal of the

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evidence, adduced in the case, the court below has taken a

plausible view, the appellate court should not interfere,

particularly with an order of acquittal, even if different view

can possibly be taken. In support of the proposition, reliance

was placed on the decisions of this Court in Harbans Singh

& Anr. Vs. State of Punjab1; Shri Gopal & Anr. Vs.

Subhash & Ors.2, State of M.P. Vs. Sanjay Rai3, Vijaybhai

Bhanabhai Patel Vs. Navnitbhai Nathubhai Patel & Ors.4

and State of Goa Vs. Sanjay Thakran & Anr.5
10.In order to appreciate the rival stands, it would be useful

to notice the statutory provisions. Section 498-A I.P.C. makes

“cruelty” by husband or his relative a punishable offence. The

word “cruelty” is defined in the Explanation appended to the

said Section. Section 498-A I.P.C. with Explanation reads

thus:

“498A. Husband or relative of husband of a
woman subjecting her to cruelty.–Whoever,
being the husband or the relative of the husband of
a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be
1
[1962] Supp 1 SCR 104
2
(2004) 13 SCC 174
3
(2004) 10 SCC 570
4
(2004) 10 SCC 583
5
(2007) 3 SCC 755
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punished with imprisonment for a term which may
extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation-For the purpose of this section,
“cruelty” means–

(a) Any wilful conduct which is of such a nature
as is likely to drive the woman to commit
suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to
life, limb or health (whether mental or
physical) of the woman; or

(b) harassment of the woman where such
harassment is with a view to coercing her or
any person related to her to meet any unlawful
demand for any property or valuable security
or is on account of failure by her or any person
related to her meet such demand.”

11.Thus, providing a new dimension to the concept of

“cruelty”, clause (a) of Explanation to Section 498-A I.P.C.

postulates that any wilful conduct which is of such a nature

as is likely to drive a woman to commit suicide would

constitute “cruelty”. Such wilful conduct, which is likely to

cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether

mental or physical) of the woman would also amount to

“cruelty”. Clause (b) of the Explanation provides that

harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a

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view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any

unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on

account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet

such demand, would also constitute “cruelty” for the purpose

of Section 498-A I.P.C. It is plain that as per clause (b) of the

Explanation, which, according to learned counsel for the

State, is attracted in the instant case, every harassment does

not amount to “cruelty” within the meaning of Section 498-A

I.P.C. The definition stipulates that the harassment has to be

with a definite object of coercing the woman or any person

related to her to meet an unlawful demand. In other words,

for the purpose of Section 498-A I.P.C. harassment simpliciter

is not “cruelty” and it is only when harassment is committed

for the purpose of coercing a woman or any other person

related to her to meet an unlawful demand for property etc.,

that it amounts to “cruelty” punishable under Section 498-A

I.P.C.
12.Having noticed the basic ingredients which are required to

be proved in order to bring home an offence under Section

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498-A I.P.C., at this juncture, we may also briefly note the

general principles to be kept in view by the appellate court

while dealing with an appeal against acquittal.
13.There is no embargo on the appellate court to review,

reappreciate or reconsider the evidence upon which the order

of acquittal is founded. Yet, generally, the order of acquittal is

not interfered with because the presumption of innocence,

which is otherwise available to an accused under the

fundamental principles of criminal jurisprudence that every

person shall be presumed to be innocent unless he is proved

guilty by a court of law, gets further reinforced and

strengthened by his acquittal. It is also trite that if two views

are possible on the evidence adduced in the case and the one

favourable to the accused has been taken by the trial court, it

should not be disturbed. Nevertheless, where the approach of

the lower court in considering the evidence in the case is

vitiated by some manifest illegality or the conclusion recorded

by the court below is such which could not have been possibly

arrived at by any court acting reasonably and judiciously and

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is, therefore, liable to the characterised as perverse, then, to

prevent miscarriage of justice, the appellate court is obliged to

interfere.
14.All these principles have been succinctly culled out by one

of us (C.K. Thakker, J.) in Chandrappa & Ors. Vs. State of

Karnataka6.
15.Bearing the aforestated broad principles in mind and

having bestowed our anxious consideration to the facts at

hand, in our judgment, the High Court has not committed any

error in dealing with the evidence, which could be said to be

patently illegal or that the conclusion reached at by it is

wholly untenable, warranting our interference.
16.Though it is true the Trial Court has observed that there is

some evidence on record to show that there was a demand for

dowry even at the time of marriage but it is clear that the

foundation for action against the respondent was laid when

the complaint was lodged by the wife on 22nd May, 1996 and

the prosecution machinery was set into motion. Again it is

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(2007) 4 SCC 415
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true that in the complaint there is a reference to the past

conduct of the respondent and his family members but from

the tenor of the complaint, it is clear that the allegation of

harassment including the alleged poisoning incident is linked

solely with her failure to get an additional amount of

Rs.50,000/- from her parents for the purchase of lorry.

Furthermore, though the Trial Court records that in the

evidence there are no specific instances of harassment, yet

it has proceeded to presume that long course of conduct of the

respondent is indicative of the fact that the allegation of

harassment is not totally baseless. Even the deposit of initial

amount of Rs.1,50,000/- by the respondent for the purchase

of lorry in the name of the complainant has been doubted by

the Trial Court. It is pertinent to note that in so far as the

allegation of poisoning by the accused to kill the complainant

is concerned, the Trial Court has found the evidence of PW-3

–the father of the complainant (PW-1) to PW-7 to be

unreliable and has rejected the version of the prosecution to

that extent. Adversely commenting on the conduct of PW-3,

the Trial Court has also observed that none of the accused

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attempted to escape after the incident which corroborates the

anxiety of accused A-1 to A-4 about the life of the

complainant. Rejecting the prosecution version based on the

complaint, accused A-2 to A-4 were acquitted by the Trial

Court. In the light of these circumstances, the learned Judge

of the High Court entertained grave doubts about the

correctness of the prosecution story.
17.Analysing and re-appreciating the entire evidence

threadbare, in particular the testimony of the complainant

(PW-1) and her father (PW-3), the learned Judge has observed

that though as per her complaint (Ex.P-1), the respondent had

been pressurising her to bring Rs.50,000/- as additional

dowry for purchase of lorry but her version was not supported

even by her father (PW-3). The learned Judge, on an analysis

of the entire evidence, reached the conclusion that there is no

direct evidence, other than the self-serving testimony of PW-1

regarding alleged beatings or scolding; if really the version of

PW-1 that all the accused attempted to kill her by forcibly

pouring poison in her mouth, not once but twice, she would

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not have kept quiet without reporting the matter to the police;

even after the second incident she kept quiet for a period of

one month; the contents of the complaint clearly showed that

PW-1 (the complainant) wanted to see that the respondent

loses his job in the police department and that merely because

PW-1 attempted to commit suicide, it cannot be presumed

that only on account of harassment or cruelty meted out to

her that she made an attempt to commit suicide. Taking all

these circumstances into consideration, the learned Judge

held that it was not safe to rely on the evidence of PW-1, more

so, when her relations with the husband were very much

strained and, therefore, the Trial Court ought to have given

benefit of doubt to the respondent also while acquitting

accused A-2 to A-4.
18.Having gone through the depositions of PW-1 and PW-3,

to which our attention was invited by learned counsel for the

State, we are convinced that in the light of the overall

evidence, analysed by the High Court, the order of acquittal of

the respondent is well merited and does not call for

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interference, particularly when the First Information Report

was lodged by the complainant more than one month after the

alleged incident of forcible poisoning. Time and again, the

object and importance of prompt lodging of the First

Information Report has been highlighted. Delay in lodging the

First Information Report, more often than not, results in

embellishment and exaggeration, which is a creature of an

afterthought. A delayed report not only gets bereft of the

advantage of spontaneity, the danger of the introduction of

coloured version, exaggerated account of the incident or a

concocted story as a result of deliberations and consultations,

also creeps in, casting a serious doubt on its veracity.

Therefore, it is essential that the delay in lodging the report

should be satisfactorily explained.
19.In the present case, as noted supra, First Information

Report in regard to the alleged occurrence on 19th April, 1996

was lodged on 22nd May, 1996. Admittedly after her discharge

from the hospital on 22nd April, 1996, the complainant went to

her parents’ house and resided there. In her testimony, the

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complainant has deposed that since no one from the family of

the accused came to enquire about her welfare, she decided to

lodge the First Information Report. No explanation worth the

name for delay in filing the complaint with the police has come

on record. We are of the opinion that this circumstance raises

considerable doubt regarding the genuineness of the

complaint and the veracity of the evidence of the complainant

(PW-1) and her father (PW-3), rendering it unsafe to base the

conviction of the respondent upon it. Resultantly, when the

substratum of the evidence given by the complainant (PW-1) is

found to be unreliable, the prosecution case has to be rejected

in its entirety.
20.For the foregoing reasons, we are of the opinion that the

judgment of the High Court, acquitting the respondent, does

not suffer from any infirmity, warranting our interference. The

appeal is devoid of any merit and is dismissed accordingly.
………………………………………….J.
( C.K. THAKKER)
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………………………………………….J.
( D.K. JAIN)
NEW DELHI,
OCTOBER 24, 2008.
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Judgement