The present case is an appeal through Special Leave Petition filed against the conviction order passed by the Punjab High Court under Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Equivalent citation: AIR1961SC1782
The conviction order was based on the following facts: Bimla Devi and Om Parkash (the appellant) were married in October 1951. The relations between the two were strained and Bimla Devi left for her brother’s house in 1953 only to return after being reassured of the appellant’s behaviour towards her. However, in 1956, she was knowingly starved and was confined in the house in Punjab. She was not provided proper food, and was beaten and locked up in a room when she tried to escape. On 5th June 1956, she was able to successfully flee from the house to the Civil Hospital in Ludhiana, Punjab wherein she informed the lady doctor Mrs. Kumar about her sufferings. Further, the appellant and his mother were denied permission from the doctor to take back his wife. Bimla Devi’s brother was informed about the same by some social workers who then informed the police through his letter that his sister was on the verge of death due to the behaviour meted out to her by the appellant and his family. Also, a doctor named Ms. Dalbir Dhillon affirmed the medical condition of Bimla Devi to the police through a letter. The learned judge after hearing the doctors and considering the evidence of Bimla Devi including the pictures showing her dilapidated condition said that they are enough to prove the veracity of the allegations levelled against the appellant. He also rejected the contentions made by the appellant’s counsel regarding the presence of prolonged illness which the appellants weren’t aware of being the reason for Bimla Devi’s condition rather than the appellant’s act. Further, the judge stated that the conduct of the appellant and his mother to take the victim back from the hospital despite her condition further affirms the charges of mistreatment made against them and that the act was in fact to cause her death. The appellant was acquitted by the sessions court from the charges under sec 342 of the IPC based on the benefit of the doubt but the Punjab high court held him guilty under sec 307 of IPC.
- Whether the act of the appellant qualifies as an offence under the IPC?
- Whether the act of the appellant is an offence under section 511 or section 307?
With regards to Issue 1 – The counsel of the appellant contended that the appellant had fulfilled his obligation towards his wife by providing her required funds and food and that it cannot be expected of him to help his wife in feeding herself as that is only needed in cases wherein the person is not capable of taking care of oneself which was not the case for her. He also stated that the allegations made by the prosecution nowhere prove that the appellant had failed to perform this duty.
With regards to Issue 2 – It was argued by the appellant’s side that the components adding upto allege an offence under section 511 of the IPC is materially different from those of section 307 of IPC. This distinction is based on the series of the occurrence of such acts. For acts qualifying as an offence under sec 511, it is not mandatory that the act was a concluding one causing the harm/injury. The attempt or commission of offence in such cases can be marked by the act initiating such commencement. This is different in case of offence as defined under section 307 wherein the ultimate act which is enough to bring about death is counted as an attempt. Thus, the act of not providing food to Birla Devi cannot be considered as an act enough to cause her death as it would have been able to have that effect only when it was continued for a long time which didn’t happen in the present case.
With regards to Issue 1 – The entire case of the prosecution was based on the mistreatment meted out by the appellant and his family to his wife was the reason attributable to her sensitive health condition. It was contended that they had not only starved her because of which she had become enfeebled which was evident from her appearance but also that she was confined and beaten up by the appellant’s family members. These acts were enough to impute liability upon the appellant under the IPC as given by Punjab High Court.
With regards to Issue 2 – It was contended by the prosecution that the act of the appellant and his family indicate the fact that they were done with the intention of leading Birla Devi to her death. This was further proved by the conduct of the appellant and his mother when they had asked the doctor who was tending to the appellant’s wife to take her back without letting her get the treatment for the same. There was nothing to indicate that any better treatment was to be provided by them to her. Thus, they qualify as an attempt to commit murder under section 307 as they had the requisite intention and the act was capable of causing death.
With regards to Issue 1 – The apex court agreed with the view of the Punjab high court in the respect of the offence committed against Birla Devi as the allegations have been proved beyond reasonable doubt, and that any further rebuttals on the same by the appellant side cannot be accepted by the court. Thus, upholding the Punjab High Court’s views, the Court stated that the case presented by the prosecution is true in the light of all the evidence produced such as the complaints filed by Birla Devi’s brother, the doctor’s testimony, the photographs depicting the sensitive condition of the victim, and the statement recorded by the Magistrate.
With regards to Issue 2 – The court stated that the expression “whoever attempts to commit an act” used in sec 511 and the expression used in sec 307 denote the same essence of the offence which is the intention and the knowledge that is necessary for committing an offence. The expression “by that act” used in sec 307 is not limited to include only death that is the immediate consequence of an act, but it also refers to death as a ramification of a series of the acts. To support its reasoning, the court said that the term ‘act’ as defined under section 33 of the IPC is not just limited to any specific act, rather it is inclusive of a series of acts that lead to an offence. The act of continuously starving Bimla Devi formed a crucial series of events that if not hindered by her escape to the hospital would have led to her death. Thus, it qualifies as an attempt to murder as specified in section 307 of the IPC.
The court also discussed the following cases to deliberate further upon the issue presented:-
Queen Empress v. Nidhi – The verdict, in this case, was made by placing reliance on the case of Regina v. Francis Cassidy wherein it was held that an act will qualify as an attempt only when it is capable of causing death in the normal course of events. However, the court took into consideration and debated upon the correctness of the view presented by Straight J. who had given the dissenting opinion, in this case, reacted to attempt to murder. Though differing with the example used by him to further his point, the court agreed with him in his opinion regarding sec 307 wherein he said that the two main requisites to impose liability under section 307 are evil intent and commission of an act.
Emperor v. Vasudeo Balwant Gogte – The court upheld the view presented by Beaumont, C.J. wherein he stated that attempt constitutes an act that is done with guilty intention and knowledge which would have brought about the intended effect in the absence of any intervening event/fact. Drawing an analogy with the present case, the court stated that the intervening act here was Bimla Devi’s escape to the hospital which interrupted the chain of events initiated by the appellant. The court also opined that in cases of attempt to murder through fire-arm, the act of firing will mark the commission of an offence however the present case is unrelated to this exception.
Mi Pu v. Emperor – This case was argued by the appellant’s counsel to support their cause however the court dismissed it due to the absence of any relation between the two cases.
The observation was concluded with reference to the judgement provided in the case of Rex v. White. The court upheld the verdict of conviction provided by the learned judge who stated that even the completion of one-act which forms the series of events leading to the intended result of death will be counted as an attempt irrespective of other consequent actions. The beginning of a commission is an attempt itself and thus liable under section 307 of the IPC same as Punjab High court’s decision.
A person can be made guilty for the offence of attempt to murder as mentioned under Section 307 of the IPC if he does the act with the intention to bring about this outcome (death by murder) . It is of no significance here that whether this act was the penultimate act or not i.e. it may/may not be the last act or the final blow to lead to the intended consequence.
 (1891) ILR 18 Cal 484.
 (1932) 34 BOMLR 571.
 (1909) 10 Crl. L. J. 363.
BY RISHAV KUMAR | NIRMA UNIVERSITY