Great solemnity and sanctity is attached to the words of a dying person, because a person on the verge of death is not expected to tell lies. Yet the court has to be on guard as the words could be the result of tutoring, or a product of his/her imagination, the Madras High Court has observed.
Making this observation Justice Aruna Jagadeesan has set aside the orders of a lower court awarding seven years RI to a man, recently.
Saradha married one Selvem in 1992. The husband died in 1998. She returned to her mother’s house in Vasoor village in Tiruvannamalai district. There she entered into a relationship with one Shanmugam. A difference of opinion arose between Saradha and Shanmugam, as the latter objected to the former’s conersation with another person, Kumar. She was set ablaze on June 19, 2004 and died of burns on July 2, 2004.
In her dying declaration given to the doctor on June 19, 2004, she stated that three persons had poured kerosene on her and set her ablaze near the water tank. In her second dying declaration given to the investigating officer (IO) the very next day (June 20), she stated that Shanmugam had set her ablaze. Based on this, Shanmugam was arrested. In the third declaration she made to the judicial matistrate (JM) the same evening, she said that the incident took place at her house.
The District and Sessions judge in Tiruvannamalai awarded seven years RI to Shanmugam with a fine of `5,000. Hence, the present appeal by Shanmugam.
Allowing the appeal Justice Aruna pointed out that there were three dying declarations. In the first, an oral statement made to the doctor, Saradha stated that three persons had set her on fire. In the second, made to the IO and registered as a FIR, it is stated that the accused set her on fire. On the same day, at 4 pm on June 20, 2004, she made yet another declaration to the JM with some changes, particularly in the place of occurrence.
The judge noted that in her statement to the doctor, who was a disinterested witness, Saradha stated that three persons set her on fire. Therefore her alleged dying declarations before the IO and the JM one day after the incident could not be relied on as the possibility of tutoring by her close relatives could not be ruled out.
There was also a material discrepancy in the statements given by the deceased. The second one given to the IO had her signature. But the third one made to the JM contained only her thumb impression and the JM has not given any reason for not obtaining her signature.
The discrepancies and inconsistencies in the dying declarations create doubts about the truthfulness of the declarations. The contradictions in the declarations, coupled with the high degree of improbability of the manner of occurrence as depicted by the prosecution, and in view of serious infirmities, the judge said that the court was left with no option but to attach little weight to these dying declarations.
The judge set aside the lower court order convicting and sentencing Shanmugam to seven years RI.