Case BriefsHigh Courts

Tripura High Court: The Bench of S. Talapatra, J. reversed the order of the trial court convicting the appellant for offence punishable under Section 498-A IPC and sentencing him to suffer 3 years rigorous imprisonment.

Father of the deceased alleged that the appellant (husband of the deceased) tortured her and subjected her to cruelty for not fulfilling the unlawful demand of Rs 20,000 cash and gold ornaments. Finally, on 22-12-2012, the deceased committed suicide by hanging herself. An FIR was lodged and the appellant was put to trial after pleading not guilty. At the conclusion of the trial, the trial court convicted the appellant for offence punishable under Section 498-A IPC (cruelty to woman). Aggrieved thereby, the appellant preferred the present appeal.

The High Court perused the witness evidence and noted that from a conjoint reading of testimonies, it emerged that the witnesses were greatly influenced by the shocking death of a young woman. It was pointed out that in the first instance, the witnesses failed to reveal material facts to the Investigating Officer, but when such facts were revealed in trial, their testimonial value was substantially reduced as they appeared to be improvements and become prone to be doubted. Moreover, it was observed that such improvements were made by related witnesses which made it all the more doubtful because as per the normal rule the court scrutinizes evidence of related witness with greater caution. In such circumstances, it was held that the prosecution failed to establish the charge under Section 498-A beyond a reasonable doubt.  Therefore, the impugned order was set aside and the appellant was acquitted on benefit of doubt. [Sanjit Das v. State of Tripura, 2019 SCC OnLine Tri 27, dated 09-01-2019]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The Bench comprising of CJ Dipak Misra and A.M. Khanwilkar and Dr D.Y. Chandrachud, JJ., while disposing of a writ petition related to Section 498-A IPC, modified the directions concerning registration of FIR, arrest and bail under the said section as given in a recent judgment in Rajesh Sharma v. State of U.P.2017 SCC OnLine SC 821.

The writ petition, under Article 32 of the Constitution, was filed seeking directions to the respondents to create an enabling environment for married women subjected to cruelty to make informed choices and to create a uniform system of monitoring and systematically reviewing incidents of violence against women under Section 498-A IPC including their prevention, investigation, prosecution and rehabilitation of the victims and their children at the Central, State and District levels. That apart, prayer was made to issue a writ of mandamus to the respondents for a uniform policy of registration of FIR, arrest and bail in cases of Section 498-A IPC in consonance with the law of the land, i.e., to immediately register FIR on complaint of cruelty and harassment by married women as per the IPC. It is worthy to note here that during the pendency of the instant petition, the judgment was pronounced in Rajesh Sharma. During the course of proceedings, learned Amicus Curiae submitted that the said decision requires reconsideration.

The Supreme Court, in order to adjudicate on the petition, perused scheme and object of Section 498-A as well as guidelines laid down in D.K. Basu v. State of W.B., (1997) 1 SCC 416 and also Lalita Kumari v. State of U.P, (2014) 2 SCC 1 wherein the Court opined that the scope of preliminary enquiry is not to verify the veracity or otherwise of the information received but only to ascertain whether the information reveals any cognizable offence. On perusal of directions in Rajesh Sharma, the Court found that it directed constitution of the Family Welfare Committees by the District Legal Services Authorities and prescribed the duties of the Committees. The prescription of duties of the Committees and further action therefor, in Court’s view, were beyond the Code and the same did not really flow from any provision of the Code. It was stated that there could be no denial that there has to be just, fair and reasonable working of a provision. The legislature, in its wisdom, has made the offence under Section 498-A IPC cognizable and non-bailable. The fault lies with the investigating agency which sometimes jumps into action without application of mind. In the aforesaid analysis, the Court declared the directions pertaining to Family Welfare Committee and its constitution by the District Legal Services Authority and the power conferred on the Committee is impermissible. Therefore, it is appropriate to direct that the investigating officers be careful and be guided by the principles stated in Joginder Kumar v. State of U.P., (1994) 4 SCC 260; D.K. Basu; Lalita Kumari and Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar, (2014) 8 SCC 273. It was thought appropriate to direct the Director General of Police of each State to ensure that investigating officers who are in charge of investigation of cases of offences under Section 498-A IPC should be imparted rigorous training with regard to the principles stated by the Court relating to arrest. In view of the aforesaid premises, the direction contained in paragraph 19(i) as a whole was not in accord with the statutory framework and the direction issued in paragraph 19(ii) shall be read in conjunction with the directions given by the Court. Direction No. 19(iii) was modified to the extent that if a settlement is arrived at, the parties can approach the High Court under Section 482 CrPC and the High Court, keeping in view the law laid down in Gian Singh v. State of Punjab, (2012) 10 SCC 303 , shall dispose of the same. The petition was accordingly disposed of. [Social Action Forum for Manav Adhikar v. Union of India,2018 SCC OnLine SC 1501, decided on 14-09-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Gujarat High Court: In the instant application wherein the applicant invoked the inherent power of the Court under Section 482 of CrPC thereby seeking quashment of proceedings under Section 498-A read with Section 114 IPC, the Bench of J.B. Pardiwala, J., held that for the purposes of Section 498-A IPC, a former wife will not come under the category of the “relative of the husband”. Thus even if the former wife is the cause of matrimonial disputes, she cannot be prosecuted under Section 498-A IPC.

As per the facts the accused in the present case was the former husband of the applicant and their marriage was dissolved in the customary manner. However, after getting married to the respondent in the present case the accused went back to the applicant, thereby giving rise to matrimonial disputes between the accused and the respondent. This led to the applicant being charged as a co- accused.

After hearing the submissions of the parties, the Bench observed that even though the accused went back to the applicant, the same does not constitute any offence of cruelty under Section 498-A. Quashing the proceedings against the applicant the Court observed that, the marriage between the applicant and the accused was dissolved, therefore she is not a “relative of the husband” and does not fall under the ambit of Section 498-A. [Honeyben Ashokbhai Patel v. State of Gujarat,  2017 SCC OnLine Guj 1558, decided on 30.11.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the light of the rising misuse of Section 498-A IPC dealing with dowry deaths, the bench of A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit, JJ gave the below mentioned directions to deal with the menace, except in case offences involving tangible physical injuries or death, and said that the below mentioned arrangement should be tried for at least 6 months or till 31.03.2018, after which the National Legal Services Authority will have to submit a report to the Court.

  • Family Welfare Committee:
  1. Atleast one committee to be constituted by the District Legal Services Authorities in every district, preferably comprising of three members who are para legal volunteers/social workers/retired persons/wives of working officers/other citizens who may be found suitable and willing.
  2. The constitution and working of such committees may be reviewed from time to time and at least once in a year by the District and Sessions Judge of the district who is also the Chairman of the District Legal Services Authority.
  3. The Committee members will not be called as witnesses.
  4. Every complaint under Section 498A received by the police or the Magistrate be referred to and looked into by such committee.
  5. Report and opinion of such committee be given to the Authority by whom the complaint is referred to it latest within one month from the date of receipt of complaint. No arrest should normally be effected before that.
  6. The report may be then considered by the Investigating Officer or the Magistrate on its own merit.
  • Investigating Officer: Complaints under Section 498A and other connected offences may be investigated only by a designated Investigating Officer of the area. He should undergo training of four months for such duration (not less than one week) as may be considered appropriate.
  • Bail: If a bail application is filed with at least one clear day’s notice to the Public Prosecutor/complainant, the same may be decided as far as possible on the same day. Recovery of disputed dowry items may not by itself be a ground for denial of bail if maintenance or other rights of wife/minor children can otherwise be protected.
  • NRIs: In respect of persons ordinarily residing out of India impounding of passports or issuance of Red Corner Notice should not be a routine.
  • Video Conferencing: Personal appearance of all family members and particularly outstation members may not be required and the trial court ought to grant exemption from personal appearance or permit appearance by video conferencing without adversely affecting progress of the trial.

The Court said that it is a matter of serious concern that large number of cases continue to be filed under Section 498A alleging harassment of married women and that most of such complaints are filed in the heat of the moment over trivial issues & many are not bona fide. The Court said that involvement of civil society in the aid of administration of justice can be one of the steps to remedy this situation, apart from the investigating officers and the concerned trial courts being sensitized. [Rajesh Sharma v. State of U.P., 2017 SCC OnLine SC 821, decided on 27.07.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Stating that extra-marital relationship, per se, or as such would not come within the ambit of Section 498-A IPC, the Court held that it would be an illegal or immoral act, but other ingredients are to be brought home so that it would constitute a criminal offence. It was further said that solely because the husband is involved in an extra-marital relationship and there is some suspicion in the mind of wife that cannot be regarded as mental cruelty which would attract mental cruelty for satisfying the ingredients of Section 306 IPC.

In the present case, the deceased had committed suicide due to the alleged extra-marital affair of her husband with a girl named Deepa, who later committed suicide not being able to digest the humiliation. The Couet said that the present case had the potentiality to shock a sensitive mind and a sincere heart, for the materials brought on record show how “suspicion” can corrode the rational perception of value of life and cloud the thought of a wife to such an extent, that would persuade her to commit suicide which entail more deaths, that is, of the alleged paramour, her mother and brother who being not able to emotionally cope up with the social humiliation, extinguish their life-spark.

Explaining the concept of ‘cruelty’, the Court said that coercive harassment can have the attributes of cruelty that would meet the criterion as conceived of under Section 498-A of the IPC. Thus, the emphasis is on any wilful conduct which is of such a nature that is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide.

The bench of Dipak Misra and Amitava Roy, JJ said that in such a situation, it is extremely difficult to hold that the prosecution has established the charge under Section 498A IPC and the fact that the said cruelty induced the wife to commit suicide. The Court said that the wife was guided by the rumour that aggravated her suspicion which has no boundary but such an event will not constitute the offence or establish the guilt of the accused-appellant under Section 306 of the IPC. It was held that if the husband gets involved in an extra-marital affair that may not in all circumstances invite conviction under Section 306 of the IPC but definitely that can be a ground for divorce or other reliefs in a matrimonial dispute under other enactments [K.V. Prakash Babu v. State of Karnataka, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 1363,  decided on 22.11.2016]

 

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Andhra Pradesh High Court: While interpreting the definition of ‘Husband’s relatives under Section 498A Penal Code, 1860, the Bench comprising of U. Durga Prasad Rao, J. held that the definition could not be stretched to include the wife of one’s elder brother.

In the present petition, the Complainant and her husband went to live at the home of the Complainant’s eldest brother in London, who lived with his wife. It was alleged that the complainant’s husband and her sister-in-law entered into an illicit relationship, and that after the Complainant observed them in a compromising position, following which the sister-in-law started spreading rumours that husband of the Complainant did not like the Complainant and that she was unsuited to him.

The Court cited U. Suvetha v. State by Inspector of Police, (2009) 6 SCC 757 whereby it was held that the girlfriend or concubine of the husband could not be held to be the relative of the husband and Vijeta Gujra v. State of N.C.T. Of Delhi, (2010) 11 SCC 618, which quashed proceedings against a foster sister having an illicit relation with the husband, to highlight the Supreme Court’s view that the term ‘relative of the husband’ meant related by blood, marriage or adoption. The Court stated that penal provisions required strict construction, and in the absence of definition of phrases by statute, they are to be understood in the natural, ordinary or popular sense. The Court, hence, quashed the proceedings against the sister-in-law of the Complainant as she was not a relative by blood, marriage or adoption to the husband but to the Complainant, and additionally because no allegations touching other provisions or of cruelty as defined by Section 498 A were made against her. [Shaik Riayazun Bee v. State of Andhra Pradesh,2016 SCC OnLine Hyd 130, decided on 01-06-2016]