The Bombay High Court set aside the conviction of a man who was found guilty of allegedly killing his wife by setting her ablaze observing that their minor daughter’s testimony was unreliable.
A division bench of Justices VM Deshpande and Amit Borkar acquitted Chandrashekar Mandavi observing that the daughter’s testimony was not reliable as she had been residing with her maternal uncle and was probably tutored.
The HC was hearing an appeal filed by Mandavi against his conviction by the sessions court. On March 27, 2018, sessions court at Wardha sentenced Mandavi to life imprisonment for setting his wife on fire after pouring kerosene on her.
According to the prosecution, on September 29, 2013, Mandavi had an argument with his wife following which he set her ablaze. The incident was allegedly witnessed by their then 8-year-old daughter.
Mandavi’s advocate Mahesh Rai argued that their daughter’s statement should not be considered since she was residing with her maternal uncle and was tutored.
The HC observed that the daughter had given an identical statement before the police, which was treated as the First Information Report (FIR) and before the sessions court during the trial.
“We are of the view that it would be dangerous to place reliance on the evidence of Sakshi (PW1), aged about eight years at the time of lodging of the report and twelve years at the time of her deposition from the witness box, since she was residing with her maternal uncle and, therefore, possibility that she was under influence of her maternal uncle is not completely ruled out,” observed the judges.
Besides, Mandavi had taken Meena to the hospital in auto and he too suffered burn injuries and was hospitalized, argued Rai.
Additional public prosecutor opposed the appeal stating that the daughter had no reason to implicate her father falsely in the case. Also, Meena had told her brother that Mandavi poured kerosene on her and then set her ablaze. The same was being considered as a dying declaration.
The HC observed that the police had not tried to record Meena’s dying declaration.
Besides, the prosecution failed to examine Police Sub Inspector R.R. Chaudhari, who executed spot panchnama (record of what the Witness saw at the crime scene) and seizure panchnama.
Rai claimed that Chaudhari had received information that there was a cylinder blast and hence had rushed to the spot. Hence he could prove that Meena died due to burn injuries suffered due to cylinder blast, argued Rai. Sin view of this, it was necessary for the police to record Meena’s dying declaration.
The judges noted that the daughter had said that after pouring kerosene on her mother, the father tore the calendar from a nearby wall and light it which he then used to set her mother ablaze.
The court noted that there was no mention of a calendar in the panchnama. “This is an additional ground for discarding the evidence of Sakshi (daughter) because the absence of calendar dents her testimony because as per her version by that mean her mother was set ablaze,” added the HC.
The prosecution further argued that the Chemical Analyzer's Report showed that partly burnt full pant was detected with kerosene residues. Hence, the prosecution case was supported by scientific evidence, argued Thakare.
While acquitting Mandavi, the HC has directed that he be released from prison immediately.