The Supreme Court in Rajesh Sharma & ors. versus State of U.P. & Anr, has ruled that the police cannot arrest the accused without conducting a preliminary inquiry under dowry harassment cases. The ruling was made by a SC bench of Justices A K Goel and UU Lalit.
With this, apex court put an end to immediate arrest of the husband and his family members in the dowry harassment cases filed under Section 498A of Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The Supreme Court passed the order keeping in view the fact of suspected misuse of the anti-dowry harassment law framed in 1983.
Highlights of the ruling:
“It must also be borne in mind that the object behind the enactment of Section 498-A IPC and the Dowry Prohibition Act is to check and curb the menace of dowry and at the same time, to save the matrimonial homes from destruction. Our experience shows that, apart from the husband, all family members are implicated and dragged to the police stations. Though arrest of those persons is not at all necessary, in a number of cases, such harassment is made simply to satisfy the ego and anger of the complainant. By suitably dealing with such matters, the injury to innocents could be avoided to a considerable extent by the Magistrates, but, if the Magistrates themselves accede to the bare requests of the police without examining the actual state of affairs, it would create negative effects thereby, the very purpose of the legislation would be defeated and the doors of conciliation would be closed forever. The husband and his family members may have difference of opinion in the dispute, for which, arrest and judicial remand are not the answers. The ultimate object of every legal system is to punish the guilty and protect the innocents” the Supreme court reiterated.
“It is a matter of serious concern that large number of cases continue to be filed under Section 498A alleging harassment of married women…
Many such complaints are not bona fide. At the time of filing of the complaint, implications and consequences are not visualised. At times, such complaints lead to uncalled for harassment not only to the accused but also to the complainant. Uncalled for arrest may ruin the chances of settlement,” the bench said.
“We are conscious of the object for which the provision was brought into the statute. At the same time, violation of human rights of innocent cannot be brushed aside,” it added.
Now cases under Section 498A of IPC will be referred to Family Welfare Committees (FWC) must be constituted at every district and no arrest will be effected till the committee’s report is received. Such report may be then considered by the investigating officer or the magistrate on its own merit. FWC must comprise 3 members who may be social workers, retired persons, para-legal volunteers, wives of working officers and other citizens who are found suitable and willing.
However, these committee members will not be considered as witnesses. There must be adequate material to show that the arrest is necessary to prevent the accused from committing any further offence. Moreover, designated police officer should be appointed to deal with such complaints. These directions will not apply to the offences involving tangible physical injuries or death.
The committee would interact with the parties personally or by means of telephonic or electronic communication and give a report within a month to the authority which referred the complaint to it, the bench said, adding the report would be on “the factual aspects and its opinion” in the matter.
“Till report of the committee is received, no arrest should normally be effected. The report may be then considered by the investigating officer or the magistrate on its own merit,” said the bench.
“Complaints under Section 498A and other connected offences may be investigated only by a designated investigating officer of the area. Such designations may be made within one month from today,” the bench said.
Such designated officers may be given training for not less than a week or as may be considered appropriate. The training has to be completed within four months, it added.
The bench added, “If a bail application is filed with at least one clear day’s notice to the Public Prosecutor/complainant, it should be decided as far as possible on the same day.”
There will be also no routine impounding of passports or issuance of Red Corner Notice for the accused NRI. The personal appearance of all family members and particularly outstation members will also not be required.