10 October 2007
The Chairman of the Law Commission of India, Dr. Justice AR. Lakshmanan today submitted a Report on Dowry Death to the Union Law Minister, Dr. H. R. Bhardwaj.
The question that has been examined by the Law Commission in this Report is whether Section 304-B of Indian Penal Code, should be amended to provide for more stringent punishment of death sentence to curb the menace of dowry death. This section provides for punishment of imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life. Although this section has come into force w.e.f. November 19, 1986 yet the incidents of dowry death have not shown any significant decline. This gave rise to demands for death sentence for the offence of dowry death in order to imbibe necessary deterrence in the law.
The Commission examined Section 304-B IPC in the light of various judicial pronouncements and critically dealt with the substantive as well as procedural aspects of the subjects. The Commission finds that the offence of murder is not the same thing as the offence of dowry death. Though death of bride may be a common element in both the offences, the absence of direct connection between the husband and the death of wife distinguished the offence of dowry death from the offence of murder. Besides, the presumptive character of the offence of dowry death and cardinal principle of proportionality as well as the underlying scheme of the Penal Code go against the proposed prescription of death sentence in case of dowry death. It may be pertinent to point out that where a case of dowry death also falls within the ambit of the offence of murder, awarding death sentence may be legally permissible. The guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court for award of death sentence, especially, the dictum of rarest of rare case, will, however, have to be adhered to in such cases.
The Commission found a lot of misgivings and misapprehension associated with the subject of dowry death. Dowry death is quite often confused with the offence of murder. There may be instances where the two may overlap with each other. This gives rise to demand for parity in the matter of sentence in both these cases. Nevertheless, the two offences are distinct and independent offences. The Commission has proceeded to spell out the finer nuances of the offence of dowry death for their better understanding and appreciation to dispel the ambiguity and confusion shrouding the notion of dowry death vis–vis murder. This will help in providing clarity on the subject for its correct understanding and appreciation to the concerned authorities while dealing with the cases of dowry death.
The Commission has, there, not recommended death penalty for dowry death cases. However, the Commission has favoured the increasing of the minimum sentence from seven years to ten years in such cases.