Lies on death bed – Court acquits 60-year-old

New Delhi, Dec 20 The Supreme Court has ordered forthwith release of a 60-year-old woman serving life term in a Jodhpur jail on charges of burning alive her daughter-in-law a decade ago.

A bench of Justice Aftab Alam and Justice Deepak Verma acquitted Sharda saying that the three dying declarations of her daughter-in-law, Sarla, on the basis of which the trial court convicted her, were inconsistent with each other and did not inspire confidence.

“It leads to an irresistible conclusion that the third dying declaration of the deceased given to a magistrate is not sufficient to hold the appellant (mother-in-law) guilty of commission of offence of murder. It neither inspires confidence nor is wholly trustworthy to sustain the conviction,” said the bench, discarding the third dying declaration on the basis of which Sharda had been convicted.

Placing reliance upon two other dying declarations, in which the daughter-in-law had implicated none of her in-laws family for her burning and attributed it to accidental bursting of the stove, the bench ordered release of Sharda.

Setting aside Sharda’s conviction by the trial court and its endorsement of her conviction by the Jodhpur bench of the Rajasthan High Court, the apex court ruled: “The appellant (Sharda) is in jail, she would be released forthwith.” The apex court ruling was given Thursday, and released on Saturday.

The mother-in-law was convicted by the Dungarpur additional sessions judge in 2003 on charges of setting ablaze her daughter-in-law Aug 16, 1999. The Jodhpur bench of the state high court dismissed her appeal against her conviction in 2007.

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But the apex court, during examination of various evidence which led to Sharda’s conviction, discovered inconsistencies in the daughter-in-law’s dying declarations.

Sarla was married to Vinod Vyas of Sugwara near Dungarpur in 1991. She had been rushed to hospital Aug 16, 1999, with 90 percent burn injuries.

In her two initial statements, given to police, she said she had caught fire due to bursting of the stove. She was shifted to an Ahmedabad hospital after her condition worsened. She then told a magistrate that she had been set on fire by her mother-in-law.

The apex court noted discrepancies in her last dying declaration and acquitted Sharda, giving her the benefit of doubt.

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