For dowry-linked cruelty, SC restores ‘immediate arrest’

NEW DELHI: A three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra on Friday disagreed with the court’s July 27 judgment which diluted the rigour of Section 498A of Indian Penal Code which warrants immediate arrest of a husband and his relatives in a dowry-linked complaint of cruelty.

In the July 27 judgment, a bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and U U Lalit had cited data from the National Crime Records Bureau which indicated widespread misuse of Section 498A by women to get husbands and their relatives arrested and harassed for years. But on Friday, the SC decided that abuse of Section 498A should not amount to curtailing the ambit of the law.

The two-judge bench had ordered setting up of family welfare committees in every district which would examine the veracity of each complaint under Section 498A. It had said no arrest would be made till the committee gave a report endorsing prima facie authenticity of the complaint.

The earlier order had said there would be a designated police officer to probe Section 498A complaints and advised trial courts not to insist on personal appearance of all family members of the husband, especially those living elsewhere, and permit appearance through video conferencing.

In a case relating to protection of persons from arrest by police without warrant, as it happens in Section 498A complaints, the three-judge bench of Justices Misra, A M Khanwilkar and  D Y Chandrachud went far beyond the scope of the petition and said, “At this stage, we are obligated to say that we are not in agreement with the judgment in Rajesh Sharma vs UP case (pronounced on July 27). Abuse of Section 498A (by women) would not make this court curtail the ambit and scope of the section enacted to protect women from cruelty in matrimonial homes.”

The bench faulted the exercise undertaken by the two-judge bench in laying down elaborate guidelines as an exercise reserved solely for the legislature. The CJI-led bench said, “Prima facie, we feel the guidelines laid down may be falling in the legislative domain.”

It issued notice to the Centre and appointed senior advocate V Shekhar as amicus curiae while posting detailed deliberations for October 29.

The two-judge bench of Justices Goel and Lalit had extracted extensive data from NCRB to come to the conclusion that there was widespread misuse of the stringent anti-dowry provision under Section 498A of IPC. It extracted NCRB statistics for years 2005, 2012 and 2013. “According to Report of Crime in India, 2013, the NCRB pointed out that of 4,66,079 cases that were pending in the start of 2013, only 7,258 were convicted while 38,165 were acquitted and 8,218 were withdrawn. The conviction rate of cases registered under Section 498A IPC was also a staggering low at 15.6%,” it said.

Section 498A was inserted in the IPC in 1983 with the object of punishing cruelty at the hands of husband or his relatives against a wife, particularly when such cruelty had the potential to result in suicide or murder of a woman. Justices Goel and Lalit had also realised that laying down guidelines could be part of a legislative exercise, yet they went ahead with it saying the courts could not be silent when innocents were being harassed.

“We are conscious of the object for which the provision was brought into the statute. At the same time, violation of human rights of innocents cannot be brushed aside. Certain safeguards against uncalled for arrest or insensitive investigation have been addressed by this court,” they had said.

Times of India: Oct 14, 2017, Page 12.