-Report by Annette Abraham
In a curious turn of events, the Bombay High Court on Friday granted a reduced sentence to the accused in the Sitaram Dada Sarode v. State of Maharashtra case on the grounds of an inconsistent timeline and the occurrence of grave provocation. The accused, an ayurvedic medic, had been convicted of murdering his wife, Sangita Sarode, a pharmacist.
The accused married Sangita in 1993. Though they initially lived in Manmad together, Sangita and their children moved to Pune as she secured a job as a pharmacist in the city. Mr. Sitaram would visit his wife and children around once every fortnight. The incident occurred on the evening of 30th August 2008 on one such visit to Pune. Sangita and her children lived at the residence of her mother Shantabai. Here, a supposed quarrel between the accused and his wife resulted in her sustaining a head injury as well as multiple burn wounds.
Sangita was rushed to the hospital where Dr. Govind Kamble recorded Sangita’s statement wherein she stated that Sitaram questioned her fidelity and in rage, hit her on the back of the head and poured a burning substance over her before fleeing the scene. On the basis of this statement, her mother filed a complaint and Sitaram was arrested on 30th August 2008 under Sections 307, 498-A and 504. A second dying declaration was collected by the Head Constable in the evening that day that stated the same.
Sangita succumbed to her injuries six days after the incident on 5th September 2008 and her body was sent for an autopsy. Dr. Ajay Taware conducted the autopsy, concluding that Sangita had sustained 40% burn injuries, the primary cause of death, in addition to a haematoma in her scalp and a sub-arachnoid haemorrhage in her brain. Charges against Sitaram were filed under Sections 302, 498-A and 504, however, the accused denied all of them, pleading not guilty. The defence pleaded in the Sessions Court that:
a. The burn wounds sustained by Sangita were caused not due to acid but by fire. On the day of the incident because of the Pola festival, Sangita was preparing food and the over-flaming of the stove caused her injuries.
b. The accused did not have cordial relationships with Shantabai and his brother-in-law Bajirao Masal, who was also present on the day of the incident, and hence they had falsely implicated him and enticed Sitaram’s son to testify against him as well. The Additional Sessions Court found Sitaram to be guilty and sentenced him to life imprisonment and imposed a fine of ₹1000/- for the crimes of murder as well as cruelty.
Mr. Sitaram and his counsel Mr. Pawan Mali raised the matter before the High Court of Bombay requesting the honourable bench to review the legality of the order passed in the sessions court.
The Appellant’s contentions were as follows:
- Discrepancies in the Timeline Presented –
The main contention with the timelines lay in the statements collected from Sangita. In the first dying declaration recorded by Dr. Govind Kamble at 6:30 p.m., Sangita’s right leg thumb impression is taken as a signature owing to the fact that both her hands were severely burnt. However, this statement was only signed at 9:30 p.m., 3 hours after it was collected. Even more curiously, in the statement collected by the Head Constable of Police around 9:30 p.m, Sangita’s signature was given as validation. This is a clear contradiction to the circumstances of the first declaration recorded earlier in the day. Hence, the second declaration must be considered void.
- Incomplete Evidence –
The combined case papers of Sangita that detailed her treatment in the 6 days preceding her death revealed that she had been treated with Silver sulphate. Further, Dr. Pandit and Dr. Shinde, who administered her immediate treatment, noted that she sustained approximately 45% of burns that seemed to be largely flame burns. Dr. Shinde
and Dr. Pandit, as well as Dr. Sarala Gandhi who administered anaesthesia to Sangit had not been examined by the prosecution.
- Provocation –
From the statements of the main witnesses, it is discernible that constant quarrels used to occur between the married couple and that these often resulted in physical violence.
The appellant, calling upon the case of Dauvaram Nirmalkar v. State of Chhattisgarh, contended that the constant and unceasing nature of the altercations that occurred over the course of their marriage caused mental turmoil to Sitaram. It was stated that this falls under the ambit of Exception I of Section 300 of the IPC which granted that continuous provocation or torment can be considered equivalent to a singular grave provocation. Under this provision, Sangita’s death would amount not to murder but to culpable homicide.
The Bombay High Court came to the conclusion that though the accused was responsible for Sangita’s death, the constant provocation caused the accused to temporarily lose the sense of right and wrong and commit the offence and that the murder was not premeditated or planned. Hence, it falls under the ambit of section 304 of the IPC, culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
As such, the honourable court ruled that a life sentence was too hefty a punishment and the judgement of the Sessions Court was overruled. Sitaram’s sentence was reduced to 10 years a fine of ₹50,000/- was imposed. Since Sitaram had already served 14 years under imprisonment between 2008 and 2022, the court ordered that he be released forthwith.