New Delhi: Seeking money for construction of a house is a 'dowry demand' which attracts offence under Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday while restoring conviction and sentence of a man and his father in a dowry death case.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said Section 304-B was inserted in the IPC to combat the social evil of dowry demand that has reached alarming proportions.
It cannot be argued that in case of an ambiguity in the language used in the provision, the same ought to be construed strictly as that would amount to defeating the very object of the provision, it said.
"In the light of the provision (Dowry Act) that defines the word 'dowry' and takes in its ambit any kind of property or valuable security, in our opinion, the High Court fell into an error by holding that the demand of money for construction of a house cannot be treated as a dowry demand," the bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and Hima Kohli, said.
The apex court said interpretation of a provision of law that will defeat the very intention of the legislature must be shunned in favour of an interpretation that will promote the object sought to be achieved through the legislation meant to uproot a social evil like dowry demand.
"In this context the word 'Dowry' ought to be ascribed an expansive meaning so as to encompass any demand made on a woman, whether in respect of a property or a valuable security of any nature.
"When dealing with cases under Section 304-B IPC, a provision legislated to act as a deterrent in the society and curb the heinous crime of dowry demands, the shift in the approach of the courts ought to be from strict to liberal, from constricted to dilated," the bench said.
It said that any rigid meaning would tend to bring to naught, the real object of the provision.
"Therefore, a push in the right direction is required to accomplish the task of eradicating this evil which has become deeply entrenched in our society," it said.
The top court was hearing an appeal filed by Madhya Pradesh government against the High Court judement which set aside conviction and sentence against husband, father-in-law of a woman, who committed suicide at her matrimonial home, under Sections 304-B (dowry death)and 306 (abetment to suicide) of the Indian Penal Code.
The apex court said that taking into account the evidence brought on record by the prosecution, it has no hesitation in holding that the analysis of the trial Court was correct and the respondents deserved to be convicted under Sections 304-B and 498-A IPC.
"Accordingly, the judgment of conviction and sentence passed by the trial Court in respect of both the respondents under Section 304-B and Section 498-A IPC, is restored. However, the sentence imposed on them by the trial Court of RI for life is reduced to RI for seven years, which is the minimum sentence prescribed for an offence under Section 304-B IPC," the bench said.