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Nothing less than life imprisonment for dowry deaths: SC

New Delhi: A sentence lesser than life term cannot be awarded to convicts for heinous offences like dowry death where the victim is killed in a brutal manner, the Supreme Court has ruled.

A bench of justices Swatanter Kumar and Ranjan Gogoi rejected the plea of a victim`s husband and brother-in-law for leniency on the ground that they are young, their mother was of advancing age and the incident occurred in 1996, hence a lenient view of the sentence should be taken.

"When the offence of Section 304B is proved, the manner in which the offence has been committed is found to be brutal, it had been committed for satisfaction of dowry demands, particularly, for material goods like television or cooler and furthermore the accused takes up a false defence before the court to claim that it was a case of an accidental death and not that of dowry death, then the court normally would not exercise its judicial discretion in favour of the accused by awarding lesser sentence than life imprisonment," Justice Kumar, writing the judgement, said.

The apex court upheld the life sentence imposed on Mukesh Bhatnagar (husband), Kailasho alias Kailashwati (mother-in-law) and Rajesh Bhatnagar for setting ablaze Renu to death on February 17, 1996 after she failed meet their dowry demands at Roorkee in Uttarkhand.

The bench also rejected the plea of Mukesh that Renu died after the cooking stove burst and he had sustained injuries while trying to rescue her.

"The arguments of the defence are strange because if the accused had attempted to save the deceased, then he would have suffered some burn injuries.

"But as per the above details of injuries, there was not even a single burn injury found on the body of the accused Mukesh," the bench said.

According to the prosecution, the trio subjected Renu to severe mental and physical torture as she failed to bring additional dowry — a TV set and cooler.

The sessions court at Haridwar had awarded life sentence to the trio which was affirmed by the Uttarkhand High Court.

Mukesh and Rajesh then appealed in the apex court. The apex court said there was definite ocular, expert and documentary evidence to show that the deceased died an unnatural death.

"There was persistent demand of dowry by the accused persons and they had killed her by sprinkling kerosene on her and putting her on fire.There can be no dispute that the deceased died an unnatural death within seven years of her marriage."

"Thus, the ingredients of Section 304B(dowry death) are fully satisfied in the present case," the bench said while dismissing the appeal of two of the convicts.

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