New Delhi: In the absence of concrete evidence to show that Congress MP Shashi Tharoor had “provoked, encouraged or incited his wife Sunanda Pushkar to commit suicide he cannot be compelled to face the “rigmaroles of a criminal trial,” a Delhi court said in its 176-page discharge order, setting the parliamentarian free of abetment to suicide charges.
Special judge Geetanjali Goel held that the evidence produced by Delhi Police showed no “instances or illustrations” of instigation that would be covered under abetment “as interpreted in a catena of judgements.”
Furthermore, there was “nothing on record” to prove that the lawmaker had acted to “irritate or annoy Pushkar” till she reacted and took the step of killing herself.
“No doubt a precious life was lost. But in the absence of specific allegations and sufficient material to make out the ingredients of the various offences and on the basis of which the court could, at this stage presume that the accused had committed the offence, the accused cannot be compelled to face the rigmaroles of a criminal trial,” the judge noted in her order.
The judge observed that none of the reports submitted by the doctors and autopsy board confirmed the cause of Pushkar’s death.
“Suffice it to say that none of the Reports either of Medical Doctors or of Psychological Autopsy Board had confirmed that the death was a suicide”, it was noted in the order.
Even if it was presumed to be a case of suicide, the judge held, there was a lack of evidence to prove the charges of abetment to suicide.
On the police’s assertion that Tharoor’s extramarital relationship had pushed Pushkar to take the extreme step, the judge observed even this allegation was not backed by any evidence.
Delhi Police had in 2018 pressed charges of cruelty and abetment to suicide against Tharoor, three years after Pushkar was found dead in January 2014 at a hotel in New Delhi.
Additional Public Prosecutor Atul Shrivastava, appearing for the police, opposed Tharoor’s application for discharge, contending such a plea can be made only where the material on record was “wholly or absolutely insufficient.”
Days before her death, she was “distraught and felt betrayed by her husband,” the prosecution had told the bench. According to the police counsel, mental cruelty under section 498A of the Indian Penal code (IPC) covered even those situations that could drive a woman “to cause grave injury to herself or endanger her life.”
Pushkar, it was argued, had started smoking though she did not smoke and had stopped eating. This was dangerous to her health and led her to develop suicidal ideations.
How the case came apart
In Tharoor’s defence, senior advocate Vikas Pahwa argued the prosecution could not establish the case of suicide. Therefore, the charges of abetment to suicide against Tharoor do not stand. The chemical examination reports on the viscera did not show the presence of Alprazolam or any other poisonous substance, but only caffeine. Nothing suspicious and unnatural was found in the body or outside, he said.
Pahwa criticised the AIIMS Autopsy Board for having started a parallel investigation, which he said was done to justify an earlier speculative report given by it.
“The Autopsy Board had written a letter to the SHO asking for circumstantial evidence which was not their job,” he told the bench.
It was contended that the doctors had given their own interpretation as they only wanted to prove that it was a case of poisoning which was not their job.
He argued the prosecution had to establish the cause of death, which it could not do so. The conclusion drawn by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) on the basis of which the charge sheet was filed was contrary to the evidence which was collected.
The counsel cited several top court verdicts in support of his arguments to say even having an extramarital affair was not good enough a ground to charge someone with mental cruelty.
None of the boards confirmed that death was suicide
The judge discussed the medical documents that were prepared by several boards over the years.
It said the AIIMS Autopsy Board — constituted immediately after the incident — had maintained that the cause of death was poisoning and due to excessive ingestion of Alprazolam.
However, it had not stated about the death being homicidal or suicidal or accidental, the judge said. Later, the board constituted by the Director-General of Health Services had also stated that no definite opinion could be given in this regard.
Even the Psychological Autopsy Board in the first Report had stated that the death was not homicide or suicide, while in its second report it said the deceased had suicidal ideations but did not state it was a suicide nor there is any other material to confirm it.
“Suffice it to say that none of the reports either of Medical Doctors or of Psychological Autopsy Board had confirmed that the death was a suicide. As such, none of the Boards had confirmed that the death was a suicide,” the judge said.
Relationship between act of suicide and conduct of accused
She added that though Pushkar did not suffer from any major ailment, she had various problems for which she took some medication. And this, the court said, was seconded by some of the witnesses.
A few prosecution witnesses also pointed to the fact that she was disturbed over her health though she was more distressed over the alleged affair of Tharoor.
Yet, the judge added, there was no evidence to “suggest that there was any willful conduct on the part of the accused of such a nature as was likely to drive the deceased to commit suicide or to cause injury or danger to life, limb or health.”
The judge also accepted the defence contention that even the prosecution had not taken a particular stance on the cause of death — whether it was a homicide or suicide.
The court stated Pushkar might have felt distressed or mentally disturbed with Tharoor’s alleged extramarital relation, but mental disturbance did not constitute the offence of abetment as held in various judgments of the top court.
There has to be a relationship between the act of suicide and the conduct of the accused, the judge said, quoting the SC rulings.
On prosecution’s allegations that Tharoor neglected Pushkar’s health, the court observed: “same cannot be termed as having been done with the intention to goad her or instigate her to commit suicide”.
The court recorded appreciation for the prosecution “for the painstaking efforts put in by the investigating officer initially and then the SIT to collect, analyse and review all available material meticulously.”
“Thereafter, the chargesheet appears to have been filed in the hope that perhaps the Court would find some material to proceed with the trial against the accused. However, criminal trials require evidence,” held the court.