'Misuse' of anti-dowry law: Supreme Court modifies earlier order on Section 498A, leaves decision to arrest on police
The court also said that though Section 498A was enacted to protect women from cruelty in matrimonial houses, its misuse to harass the other side too is causing social unrest.
The Supreme Court on Friday modified its previous order that provided for setting up of a committee to deal with complaints of dowry harassment. The court modified its judgment in the Rajesh Sharma versus Union of India case and took note of the "misuse" of Section 498A and said that the accused can now seek anticipatory bail.
The court also said that though Section 498A was enacted to protect women from cruelty in matrimonial houses, its misuse to harass the other side too is causing social unrest, according to The Times of India.
The top court had on 23 April reserved its verdict on a batch of pleas seeking revisiting of a judgment that had reduced the severity of the anti-dowry law on the offence of subjecting a married woman to cruelty by spouse and in-laws.
The apex court had earlier said that every complaint under Section 498A should be scrutinised by a Family Welfare Committee after which arrests should be made. Even in July 2017, a two-judge bench of the apex court said that no arrest can be made till such committee has submitted its report. This direction has now been done away with, according to Bar and Bench.
The three-judge bench headed by CJI Dipak Misra on Friday held that there is no need for a family welfare committee to examine complaints and that police officers, based on facts of the case and governed by the legal provisions, should decide on their own.
The court restored the powers of the police to act on complaints of dowry harassment under Section 498A and said, "We think it appropriate to direct the investigating officer to be careful in dealing with the complaints of dowry harassment."
The court also directed the Director General of Police in the states to ensure that investigating officers probing offences under Section 498A should be imparted rigorous training with regard to the principles stated by the top court relating to the arrest made in such cases.
"We have protected pre-arrest or anticipatory bail provision in dowry harassment cases," said the bench headed by the CJI and comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud.
The apex court, while modifying the verdict given by its two-judge bench, said that there is no scope for courts for constitutionally filling up gaps in penal law.
"There should be gender justice for women as dowry has a chilling effect on marriage on the one hand and on the other, there is right to life and personal liberty of the man," the bench had said while reserving its verdict.
The two-judge bench of the apex court in July last year had also voiced concern over "abuse" of section 498A (subjecting a married woman to cruelty) and passed a slew of directions, including that no arrest should "normally be effected" without verifying allegations as violation of human rights of innocents could not be brushed aside.
Section 498A of the IPC deals with the husband or relatives of the husband subjecting a woman to "cruelty". The section states, "Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine."
The bench was hearing a plea filed by the NGO 'Nyayadhar', an organisation formed by a group of women advocates of Maharashtra's Ahmednagar district, seeking sharpness in section 498A, claiming that the otherwise "helpful instrument" in the hands of victim women has become "valueless".
With inputs from agencies
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