Anusaya Kasbe (52) and 50-year-old Leela Dhotre, now lodged in Pune's Yerwada jail, were ordered to be freed by a bench of Justices A R Joshi and Vijaya Tahilramani which did not accept the dying declaration of the victim, Usha Kale.
Kale was burnt to death by the accused on May 27, 2009 at her house in Pune. While Leela allegedly poured kerosene on Usha, Anusaya set her ablaze by lighting a match stick. Usha was rushed to a hospital where she succumbed.
Usha had borrowed Rs 500 from Anusaya and repaid only Rs 200. As she could not afford to pay the balance, a fight broke out between the lender and the borrower, leading to the murder of the latter.
"In view of the dying declaration not being acceptable beyond reasonable doubt, in our considered view, the prosecution has not reached that standard of proof which is required to establish the guilt of both the appellants accused of murder," said the bench in its judgement on October 13.
The deceased was staying in the house of one Sakhrabai Kasbe and her daughter Sapna. Kasbe and Sapna had witnessed the murder and their statements were recorded during probe. However, both were not examined by the prosecution.
Moreover, Kasbe died during the pendency of the case. However, her daughter Sapna was available but she was not examined as a witness, thus leaving the entire case on the substantive evidence of Police Officer Machindra Dange.
"In our considered view, the facts of the case and the discrepancies, which are brought to our notice on behalf of the appellants, go to show that a doubt has been created whether the victim had given her statement to the effect of involving both the appellants in the burning incident," the Judges observed.
Pointing out discrepancies, the HC noted that though in the dying declaration the victim had described how she was set on fire by the duo, the history of the crime recorded by a doctor gives details only about the incident without mentioning the names of the accused.
The Judges noted that the accused were known to the deceased who had a taken a loan from one of them. However, their names were not mentioned by the doctor when he recorded the sequence of events narrated by the victim.