'Death by poison,' Supreme Court sets aside conviction of man accused of murdering his wife

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Case made out by the prosecution is not free from doubt as independent witness, a doctor had recorded statement of the deceased stating that she herself had consumed the aluminium phosphide tablets, Supreme Court noted

The Supreme Court has set aside conviction and life term imposed on a man accused of murdering his wife by allegedly administering poisonous substance, after disbelieving a dying declaration recorded just an hour before the death by a police officer and giving credence to the one recorded by a doctor.

A bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and Pankaj Mithal noted the contradiction between dying declaration recorded by an independent doctor and the one recorded by an ASI.

Court accordingly allowed an appeal filed by Surjit Singh against the Punjab and Haryana High Court's judgment, which upheld the trial court's order holding him guilty in the case.

It was noted that both the courts below believed the prosecution case regarding the dying declaration recorded by Assistant Sub Inspector and relied upon the testimony of Kaushalya Devi, the mother of the deceased.

The appellant contended the doctor had not certified that the deceased was fit enough to give a statement to the ASI who allegedly recorded her dying declaration, so it will have to be discarded. He said the first dying declaration was made before Dr Manvir Gupta who stated that the deceased disclosed to him that she herself consumed the aluminium phosphide tablets. 

In the case, the court also noted, Dr Manvir Gupta was not declared as hostile. In a sense, Dr Manvir Gupta was the first independent person who asked the deceased about the incident. 

"Thus, there is no reason to discard his testimony, especially about the dying declaration made before him by the deceased that she herself consumed the tablets containing poison. His version cannot be discarded only on the ground that he did not inform the Police in writing about the disclosure," the bench said.

The dying declaration allegedly recorded by the ASI will have to be discarded, then the other dying declaration recorded by an independent doctor, namely Dr Manvir Gupta, holds the field, the bench added.

"Now, what remains is the evidence of Kaushalya Devi (PW-7), the mother of the deceased. It is a version of an interested witness. A serious doubt is created in the mind of the Court about the entire prosecution case as Dr Manvir Gupta (PW-13), who was the prosecution witness, was not declared as hostile and as one of the most crucial witnesses i.e., Dr Sudhir Sharma was not examined," it further said.

The prosecution claimed the couple used to have constant quarrels since the marriage, though they were blessed with a boy and a girl. On July 6, 1999, in the evening, while giving drinking water to the deceased, the appellant was alleged to have mixed certain substance in the water. Her health started deteriorating. She died on July 8, 1999.

"Therefore, we are of the considered view that the case made out by the prosecution is not free from doubt and, therefore, we have no hesitation in holding that the guilt of the appellant has not been proved beyond a reasonable doubt," court said.

Cause Title: Surjit Singh vs. State of Punjab