In the aforesaid analysis, while declaring 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, we think it appropriate to direct that the investigating officers be careful and be guided by the principles stated in Joginder Kumar (supra), D.K. Basu (supra), Lalita Kumari (supra) and Arnesh Kumar (supra). It will also be 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 this Court relating to arrest.
In view of the aforesaid premises, the direction contained in paragraph 19(i) as a whole is not in accord with the statutory framework and the direction issued in paragraph 19(ii) shall be read in conjunction with the direction given hereinabove.
Direction No. 19(iii) is modified to the extent that if a settlement is arrived at, the parties can approach the High Court under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and the High Court, keeping in view the law laid down in Gian Singh (supra), shall dispose of the same.
- As far as direction Nos. 19(iv), 19(v) and 19(vi) and 19(vii) are concerned, they shall be governed by what we have stated in paragraph 35
READ THE WHOLE JUDGMENTS BELOW:
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 73 OF 2015
Social Action Forum for Manav Adhikar …Petitioner(s) and another
Union of India Ministry of Law and Justice and others …Respondent(s)
WITH CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 1265 OF 2017
WRIT PETITION (CRIMINAL) NO. 156 of 2017
J U D G M E N T
Dipak Misra, CJI
Law, especially the criminal law, intends to control, if not altogether remove, the malady that gets into the spine of the society and gradually corrodes the marrows of the vertebrae of a large section of the society. A situation arises and the legislature, expressing its concern and responsibility, adds a new penal provision with the intention to achieve 2 the requisite result. When a sensitive legal provision is brought into the statute book, the victims of the crime feel adequately safe, and if the said provision pertains to matrimonial sphere, both the parties, namely, wife and husband or any one from the side of the husband is booked for the offence and both the sides play the victim card. The accused persons, while asserting as victims, exposit grave concern and the situation of harassment is built with enormous anxiety and accentuated vigour. It is propounded in a court of law that the penal provision is abused to an unimaginable extent, for in a cruel, ruthless and totally revengeful manner, the young, old and relatives residing at distant places having no involvement with the incident, if any, are roped in. Thus, the abuse of the penal provision has vertically risen. When the implementation of law is abused by the law enforcing agency, the legislature introduces a protective provision as regards arrest. Needless to say, the courts have ample power to grant pre-arrest bail or popularly called anticipatory bail and even to quash the criminal proceeding totally to stabilize the lawful balance because no court of law remotely conceives of a war between the two sexes. The courts remain constantly alive to the situation that though no war takes place, yet neither anger nor vendetta of the aggrieved section should take an advantage of the legal provision and harass the other side with influence or espousing the principle of sympathy. The role of the law enforcing agency or the prosecuting 3 agency is sometimes coloured with superlative empathy being totally oblivious of the sensation to make maladroit efforts to compete with the game of super sensitivity. Such a situation brings in a social disaster that has the potentiality to vertically divide the society. The sense of sensitivity and the study of social phenomenon are required to be understood with objectivity. In such a situation, it is obligatory on the part of the legislature to bring in protective adjective law and the duty of the constitutional courts to perceive and scrutinize the protective measure so that the social menace is curbed. We are, in the instant matters, focussing on Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (for short, „the IPC‟).
- Section 498-A was brought into the statute book in the year 1983. The objects and reasons for introducing Section 498-A IPC can be gathered from the Statement of Objects and Reasons of Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act of 1983 and read as under :-
“The increasing number of Dowry Deaths is a matter of serious concern. The extent of evil has been commented upon by the Joint Committee of the Houses constituted to examine the working of Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. Cases of cruelty by the husband and the relatives of the husband which culminate in suicide by, or murder of the hapless woman concerned, constitute only a small fraction of the cases involving such cruelty. It is, therefore proposed to amend the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and the Indian Evidence Act suitably to deal effectively not only with cases of Dowry Death but also cruelty to married woman by their in laws.
- The following are the changes that are proposed to be made:
(i) The Indian Penal Code is proposed to be amended to make cruelty to a woman by her husband or any relative of her husband punishable with an imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and also with fine. Willful conduct of such a nature by the husband or any other relative of the husband as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or cause grave physical or mental injury to her, and harassment of woman by her husband or by any relative of her husband with a view to coercing her or any of her relatives to meet any unlawful demand for property would be punishable as cruelty, the offence will cognizable if information relating to the commission of the offence is given to the officer in charge of a Police Station by the victim of the offence or a relative of the victim of the offence or, in the absence of any such relative, by any public servant authorized in this behalf by the State Government. It is also being provided that no court shall take cognizance of the offence except upon a Police Report or complaint made by the victim of the offence or by her father, mother, brother, sister or by her father’s or mother’s brother or sister or with the leave of the court by any other person related to her by blood, marriage or adoption (vide Clauses 2, 5 and 6 of the Bill.)
(ii) Provision is being made for inquest by Executive Magistrates and for postmortem in all cases where a woman has, within seven years of her marriage, committed suicide or died in circumstances raising a reasonable suspicion that some other person has committed an offence. Post-mortem is also being provided for in all cases where a married woman has died within seven years of her marriage and a relative of such woman has made a request in this behalf (vide Clauses 3 and 4 of the Bill)
(iii)The Indian evidence Act, 1872 is being amended to provide that where a woman has committed suicide 5 within a period of seven years from date of her marriage and it is shown that her husband or any relative of her husband and subjected her to cruelty, the court may presume that such suicide had been abetted by her husband or by such relative of her husband (vide Clause 7 of the Bill)
- The Bill seeks to achieve the above objectives.”
- Regarding the constitutionality of Section 498-A IPC, in Sushil Kumar Sharma v. Union of India and others1 , it was held by the Supreme Court:
“Provision of S. 498A of Penal Code is not unconstitutional and ultra vires. Mere possibility of abuse of a provision of law does not per se invalidate a legislation. Hence plea that S. 498A has no legal or constitutional foundation is not tenable. The object of the provisions is prevention of the dowry menace. But many instances have come to light where the complaints are not bona fide and have been filed with oblique motive. In such cases acquittal of the accused does not in all cases wipe out the ignominy suffered during and prior to trial. Sometimes adverse media coverage adds to the misery. The question, therefore, is what remedial measures can be taken to prevent abuse of the well-intentioned provision. Merely because the provision is constitutional and intra vires, does not give a licence to unscrupulous persons to wreck personal vendetta or unleash harassment. It may, therefore, become necessary for the legislature to find out ways how the makers of frivolous complaints or allegations can be appropriately dealt with. Till then the Courts have to take care of the situation within the existing frame-work.”
- In B.S. Joshi and others v. State of Haryana and another2 , the Court observed:- 1 (2005) 6 SCC 281 : AIR 2005 SC 3100 2 (2003) 4 SCC 675 : AIR 2003 SC 1386 6
“There is no doubt that the object of introducing Chapter XX-A containing Section 498A in the Indian Penal Code was to prevent the torture to a woman by her husband or by relatives of her husband. Section 498A was added with a view to punishing a husband and his relatives who harass or torture the wife to coerce her or her relatives to satisfy unlawful demands of dowry. The hyper-technical view would be counter productive and would act against interests of women and against the object for which this provision was added. There is eveiy likelihood that nonexercise of inherent power to quash the proceedings to meet the ends of justice would prevent women from settling earlier. That is not the object of Chapter XXA of Indian Penal Code.”
- In Brij Lal v. Prem Chand and another3 , this Court ruled thus:
“It would not be out of place for us to refer here to the addition of Sections 113-A and 113-B to the Indian Evidence Act and Sections 498-A and 304-B to the Indian Penal Code by subsequent amendments. Section 113-A Evidence Act and 498-A Indian Penal Code have been introduced in the respective enactments by the Criminal Law (Second amendment) Act, 1983 (Act 46 of 1983) and Section 113-B of the Evidence Act and 304-B Indian Penal Code have been introduced by Act No. 43 of 1986. The degradation of society due to the pernicious system of dowry and the unconscionable demands made by greedy and unscrupulous husbands and their parents and relatives resulting in an alarming number of suicidal and dowry deaths by women has shocked the Legislative conscience to such an extent that the Legislature has deemed it necessary to provide additional provisions of law, procedural as well as substantive, to combat the evil and has consequently introduced Sections 113-A and 113-B in the Indian Evidence Act and Sections 498-A and 304-B in the Indian Penal Code. By reason of Section 113-A, the Courts can presume that the commission of suicide by a woman has been abetted by her husband or relation if two factors are present viz. (1) that the woman 3 (1989) 2 SCR 612 7 had committed suicide within a period of seven years from her marriage, and (2) that the husband or relation had subjected her to cruelty. We are referring to these provisions only to show that the Legislature has realised the need to provide for additional provisions in the Indian Penal Code and the Indian Evidence Act to check the growing menace of dowry deaths…”
- Presently, to the factual score. The instant Petitions have been preferred under Article 32 of the Constitution of India 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 has been 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 has been averred by the petitioners that hundreds of women are being subjected to horrific acts of violence often in the guise of domestic abuse or to extract more money from the girl’s natal family due to absence of any uniform system of monitoring and systematic review of 8 incidents of violence against married women which has led to dilution of the legislative intent behind Section 498-A IPC. And, in the wake of ever increasing crimes leading to unnatural deaths of women in marital homes, any dilution of Section 498-A IPC is not warranted.
- It has been contended that Section 498-A IPC, since its introduction, has increasingly been vilified and associated with the perception that it is misused by women who frequently use it as a weapon against their in-laws. As per the petitioners, though there is general complaint that Section 498-A IPC is subject to gross misuse, yet there is no concrete data to indicate how frequently the provision has been misused. Further, the Court, by whittling down the stringency of Section 498-A IPC, is proceeding on an erroneous premise that there is misuse of the said provision, whereas in fact misuse by itself cannot be a ground to repeal a penal provision or take away its teeth.
- It is set forth in the petition that Section 498-A IPC has been specifically enacted to protect the vulnerable sections of the society who have been victims of cruelty and harassment. The social purpose behind Section 498-A IPC is being lost as the rigour of the said provision has been diluted and the offence has practically been made bailable by reason of various qualifications and restrictions prescribed by various 9 decisions of this Court including Rajesh Sharma and others v. State of U.P. and another4 , a recent pronouncement.
- It has also been submitted by the petitioners that the police is hesitant to arrest the accused on complaint of married women and the same inaction is justified by quoting various judgments, despite the fact that Section 498-A IPC discloses a non-bailable offence and sufficient checks and balances have been provided in the law itself under Section 41 CrPC. To prevent arbitrary and necessary arrest, the statute very clearly states that the police shall record reasons for effecting arrest as well as for not arresting.
- The petitioners have also asseverated that there is lack of monitoring mechanism to track cases registered under Section 498-A IPC including systematic study of the reason of low convictions and due to this absence, penal laws have not been able to secure a safe married environment to women. This, as per the petitioners, has also resulted in rise in cases under Section 498-A IPC because the deterrent effect of the said provision is getting diluted. It is also the case of the petitioners that investigation by the police of offence under Section 498-A IPC is often unprofessional and callous and the investigating officers 4 AIR 2017 SC 3869 : 2017 (8) SCALE 313 10 perceptibly get influenced by both the parties which results in perpetrators escaping conviction.
- It is further contended that in many cases under Section 498-A, IPC the Court has not considered mental cruelty caused to the woman but has concentrated only on any sign of physical cruelty due to which the courts do not look into a case if the evidence does not show that the woman was physically harassed. This has led the courts to brand the woman on many occasions as hyper-sensitive or of low tolerance level.
- It has been further averred that the alleged abuse of the penal provision is mostly by well-educated women who know that the offence is both cognizable and non-bailable and impromptu works on the complaint of the woman by placing the man behind the bars, but this cannot be a ground for denying the poor and illiterate women the protection that is offered by Section 498-A IPC against cruelty, rather there is a need to create awareness specifically in the rural areas about the laws for protection of women and consequent available remedies in case of breach.
- It is also set forth in the petition that despite the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 being passed, the irony still survives perhaps with more oxygen, for the social evil of dowry is on the increase and is openly 11 practised with pride. It is put forth that women today are still tortured and often the court, despite being the ultimate saviour, does not come to the rescue of these women as a consequence of which an atmosphere of ambivalence prevails and such societal ambivalence creates a situation of war between two classes though in actuality the offence is relatable to individuals. A sorry state of affairs is pronouncedly asserted.
- On the aforesaid bedrock, a prayer in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 73 of 2015 has been made to have a uniform policy of registration of FIR, arrest and bail in cases of Section 498-A IPC. It is worthy to note here that during the pendency of this Writ Petition, the judgment had been pronounced in Rajesh Sharma (supra).
The Court in Rajesh Sharma (supra) issued the following guidelines:-
“19.i) (a) In every district one or more Family Welfare Committees be constituted by the District Legal Services Authorities preferably comprising of three members. 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.
(b) The Committees may be constituted out of para legal volunteers/social workers/retired persons/ wives of working officers/other citizens who may be found suitable and willing.
(c) The Committee members will not be called as witnesses. 12
(d) Every complaint under Section 498A received by the police or the Magistrate be referred to and looked into by such committee. Such committee may have interaction with the parties personally or by means of telephone or any other mode of communication including electronic communication
. (e) Report 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.
(f) The committee may give its brief report about the factual aspects and its opinion in the matter.
(g) Till report of the committee is received, no arrest should normally be effected.
(h) The report may be then considered by the Investigating Officer or the Magistrate on its own merit.
(i) Members of the committee may be given such basic minimum training as may be considered necessary by the Legal Services Authority from time to time.
(j) The Members of the committee may be given such honorarium as may be considered viable.
(k) It will be open to the District and Sessions Judge to utilize the cost fund wherever considered necessary and proper.
- ii) 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. Such designated officer may be required to undergo training for such duration (not less than one week) as may be considered appropriate. The training may be completed within four months from today;
iii) In cases where a settlement is reached, it will be open to the District and Sessions Judge or any other senior Judicial Officer nominated by him in the district to dispose of the proceedings including closing of the criminal case if dispute primarily relates to matrimonial discord; 13
- iv) 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. Needless to say that in dealing with bail matters, individual roles, prima facie truth of the allegations, requirement of further arrest/ custody and interest of justice must be carefully weighed;
- v) In respect of persons ordinarily residing out of India impounding of passports or issuance of Red Corner Notice should not be a routine;
- vi) It will be open to the District Judge or a designated senior judicial officer nominated by the District Judge to club all connected cases between the parties arising out of matrimonial disputes so that a holistic view is taken by the Court to whom all such cases are entrusted; and
vii) 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.
. viii) These directions will not apply to the offences involving tangible physical injuries or death.”
- In the meanwhile, Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 156 of 2017 had been filed. A prayer had been made in the said Writ Petition to implement the suggestion that out of three members, at least two members should be appointed in the Family Welfare Committee. When this Writ Petition was listed on 13.10.2017, the following order came to be passed:-
“Mr. Alok Singh, learned counsel for the petitioner though has a different set of prayers in the writ petition, it fundamentally requires this Court to implement directions rendered in Criminal Appeal No.1265 of 2017 [Rajesh Sharma vs. State of U.P. and Another]. Additionally, learned counsel would submit that certain lady members, certain organizations and welfare committees are to be involved. At this stage, we are obligated to state that we are not in agreement with the decision rendered in Rajesh Sharma (supra) because we are disposed to think that it really curtails the rights of the women who are harassed under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. That apart, prima facie, we perceive that the guidelines may be in the legislative sphere. Issue notice to the respondent Nos.1 to 3. No notice need be issued to the respondent No.4. Even if the petitioner does not take steps, the Registry shall see to it that the respondents are served. Ms. Indu Malhotra and Mr. V. Shekhar, learned senior counsel are appointed as Amicus Curiae to assist the Court in the matter.
List the matter on 29th November, 2017.”
- Mr. V. Shekhar, learned senior counsel, was appointed as Amicus Curiae to assist the Court in the matter.
- It was submitted by the learned Amicus Curiae that the decision in Rajesh Sharma (supra) requires reconsideration, for the said judgment confers powers on the Family Welfare Committee to be constituted by the District Legal Services Authority which is an extra-judicial committee of para legal volunteers/social workers/retired persons/wives of working officers/other citizens to look into the criminal complaints under Sections 15 498-A IPC in the first instance and further, there has been a direction that till such time a report of the committee is received, no arrest should be made. It is urged that the constitution of FWC to look into the criminal complaints under Section 498-A IPC is contrary to the procedure prescribed under the Code of Criminal Procedure.
- It is further propounded that the directions in certain paragraphs of the judgment in Rajesh Sharma (supra) entrusting the power to dispose of the proceedings under Section 498-A IPC by the District and Sessions Judge or any other senior judicial officer nominated by him in the district in cases where there is settlement, are impermissible, for an offence under Section 498-A is not compoundable and hence, such a power could not have been conferred on any District and Sessions Judge or any senior judicial officer nominated by him. Elaborating the said submission, it is canvassed that the High Court is empowered under Section 482 CrPC to quash the proceeding if there is a settlement between the parties. Learned Amicus Curiae further submitted that the recovery of disputed dowry items may not itself be a ground for denial of bail which is the discretion of the court to decide the application of grant of bail in the facts and circumstances of the case and thus, this tantamounts to a direction which is not warranted in law. Criticism has 16 been advanced with regard to the direction in paragraph 19(v) which states that for persons who are ordinarily residing out of India, impounding of passports or issuance of Red Corner Notice should not be done in a routine manner. It is urged that if an accused does not join the investigation relating to matrimonial/family offence, the competent court can issue appropriate directions to the concerned authorities to issue Red Corner Notice which will depend on the facts of the case.
- Learned Amicus Curiae has further put forth that dispensation of personal appearance of outstation family members is unwarranted, for in a criminal proceeding, the competent court which deals with application of exemption should be allowed to exercise the judicial discretion and there should not have been a general direction by this Court. Certain suggestions have been given by the learned Amicus Curiae which we shall refer to at the relevant stage.
- To appreciate the controversy, it is necessary to understand the scope of Section 498-A of IPC. It reads thus:-
“498-A. Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty.—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. Explanation.—For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means—
(a) any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave 17 injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or
(b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.”
- The said offence is a cognizable and non-bailable offence. This Court in Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar and another5 has observed that the said offence which is a cognizable and non-bailable offence has lent it a dubious place of pride amongst the provisions that are used as weapons rather than shield by disgruntled wives. The simplest way to harass is to get the husband and his relatives arrested under this provision. The Court has taken note of the statistics under “Crime in India 2012 Statistics” published by the National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs which shows arrest of 1,97,762 persons all over India during the year 2012 for the offence under Section 498-A. Showing concern, the Court held that arrest brings humiliation, curtails freedom and casts scars forever and the police had not learnt its lesson which is implicit and embodied in the Criminal Procedure Code. Commenting on the police, the Court said:-
“It has not come out of its colonial image despite six decades of Independence, it is largely considered as a tool of harassment, oppression and surely not considered a friend of public. The need for caution in exercising the 5 (2014) 8 SCC 273 18 drastic power of arrest has been emphasised time and again by the courts but has not yielded desired result. Power to arrest greatly contributes to its arrogance so also the failure of the Magistracy to check it. Not only this, the power of arrest is one of the lucrative sources of police corruption. The attitude to arrest first and then proceed with the rest is despicable. It has become a handy tool to the police officer