A 95-year-old woman, who was acquitted by a trial court for burning her daughter-in-law and her infant son to death in 1996, has been awarded a life sentence by the Delhi High Court
The division bench of Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Sunil Gaur, in an order made available Tuesday, said that the accused, Sumitra, should be taken into custody, forfeiting her bail bond. The bench relied upon the dying declaration of Meenu, her daughter-in-law, while convicting the nonagenarian.
"Finding the dying declaration of Meenu to be inspiring utmost confidence, with no iota of doubt about her mental faculty, we unhesitatingly rely upon it to hold that the charge of murder stands proved beyond doubt against the accused, as she was instrumental in setting Meenu on fire," the court said in its 14-page judgment delivered Monday.
The court was hearing an appeal filed by the Delhi Police against the acquittal.
On March 20, 1996, Meenu and her infant, aged about seven months, sustained burn injuries in her house. She had married Sanjay, Sumitra's son, about one-and-a-half years before the incident.
After Meenu and her child died of burns, her mother-in-law and sister-in-law, who has died, were accused of murder. Meenu's statement, which was recorded in question and answer form, became the dying declaration and the foundation of the prosecution case.
Delhi Police counsel Pawan Sharma said the trial court failed to take note of the fact that Meenu was declared fit for making a statement. The defence had claimed her statement was not trustworthy.
"It is contended that the mental fitness of Meenu to give a statement...on the day of the incident stands firmly established from the evidence of sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) which has been illegally discarded by the trial court while relying upon the oral hostile testimony of Sudesh Rani, mother of the deceased, resulting in complete miscarriage of justice," the court said.
"We have found that the dying declaration of Meenu is completely trustworthy and there is no valid basis upon which it could be reasonably said that the declarant was not in a fit state of mind to give the statement...," the court said.
Pulling up the trial court, the bench said: "Such an approach of the trial court is not only patently perverse but has also resulted in grave miscarriage of justice."
"We allow this appeal and set aside the Oct 23, 1998, impugned judgment of the trial court and hold Sumitra guilty of the charge of committing murder of Meenu and her infant child Karan," the bench said.
"Accordingly, she is convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for life. Forfeiting her bail bonds, we direct that Sumitra be taken into custody forthwith," said the bench.