The court held that the dying declarations of the victim were contradictory and not enough for the conviction of 42-year-old Akaram Malappa Aaivale, who was in jail since being held guilty in April 2007 by a Kolhapur sessions court for the death of Vijaymala, his wife of 22 years. Also, it said, the evidence could not rule out suicide.
He too had sustained 10 per cent burn injuries in the incident which occurred in 2006. Being aggrieved, he filed an appeal in the high court which set him free two days ago, by giving him the benefit of doubt on account of "weak evidence".
"In our opinion, the conviction of the appellant cannot be sustained on the basis of dying declaration alone. All other witnesses, including the daughter of the appellant and mother of deceased Vijaymala, did not support the prosecution and were declared hostile," said a bench headed by Justice P V Hardas.
The court also took into account the evidence tendered by the mother of deceased that on account of the demise of Vijaymala's son-in-law, the latter had become mentally disturbed.
"In such a situation, therefore, according to us the possibility of deceased Vijaymala committing suicide on account of trivial quarrel between the appellant and Vijaymala cannot be ruled out," said the judges.
Moreover, the judges held that Dr Shashikant Dhumale has admitted that injuries sustained by the appellant were possible in an attempt at dousing the flames.
The possibility of Vijaymala committing suicide is certainly rendered probable in the light of the dying declaration as recorded in medical case papers, the bench observed.
The entire evidence rested on two declarations given by the deceased to Nayab Tehsildar Ranjeet Desai and head constable Dinkar Kawale.
According to the prosecution, the husband had killed his wife as he suspected her character.
However, the court held that in the dying declaration recorded by the head constable, there is no reference to the appellant suspecting the chastity of Vijaymala prior to the day of the incident.
"It is unbelievable that the appellant after more than 22 years of the marriage would suddenly start suspecting the chastity of his wife on the day of the incident and set her ablaze," the judges observed.
In the dying declaration recorded by the constable, Vijaymala had stated that she had been set ablaze by the appellant as he was suspecting her character. She said that the appellant had poured kerosene from a container and lit a match-stick and set her ablaze.
However, in the history narrated and which is found in medical case papers in another dying declaration recorded by Nayab Tahsildar, there is a total absence of any averment about the appellant setting Vijaymala ablaze, the bench noted.
"All that is stated is that Vijaymala had sustained burns at 4.45 p.m. or one hour prior to her admission in the hospital," the bench said.
Vijaymala had an opportunity of informing the Medical Officer that the appellant had set her ablaze. In fact, the statement that she was set ablaze by the appellant had been scored out in medical case papers, the judges said.
"The prosecution has made no attempts at explaining the reason for scoring out the said part of the sentence. It would thus be seen that if Vijaymala was really conscious and as per the medical evidence she indeed was conscious, she would have disclosed to the Medical Officer that it was the appellant who had set her ablaze", the bench observed.
"In fact, Vijaymala makes a reference to the kerosene from the stove and does not refer to kerosene being poured by the appellant from a container. There is a total absence of the statement that the appellant had poured kerosene and had set Vijaymala ablaze", the bench said.
The disclosure made to Medical Officer, which is the Vijaymala's first dying declaration, runs counter to another declaration given to the constable, the bench said.