Important Judgments on Section 498A of IPC

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June 19, 2018

In view of increased instances of cruelty against women by husband and his relatives, Section 498A was incorporated in the Indian Penal Code in the year 1983 and the new Chapter was titled as Husband or relative of a husband subjection her to cruelty.

In addition a consequential amendment was also made in the Indian Evidence Act, whereby the burden of proof of innocence was shifted on the accused under Section 498A of IPC. Section 498A prescribes punishment of three years imprisonment and also fine on husband and relatives of husband who inflict cruelty against women.

What is Cruelty under Section 498A of IPC?

Shobha Rani v. Medhukar Reddi[1]In this case, the Supreme Court remarked that under Section 498A of IPC a new dimension has been given to the concept of cruelty. Explanation to Section 498 A of IPC provides that any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive a woman to commit suicide or likely to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical of the woman), and harassment of the woman with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security would constitute cruelty.

In this case it was held that evidence as to harassment to the wife to meet any unlawful demand for money is necessary to constitute cruelty in criminal law. This is the requirement of the offence of cruelty defined under Section 498 A of IPC.

It was further held that the cruelty need not be only intentional, willful or deliberate. It is not necessary to prove the intention in matrimonial offence. From the context and the set up in which the words `cruelty’ has been used in Section 13(1)(i-a) of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 intention is  not  a  necessary element in cruelty.

That word has to be understood in the ordinary sense of the term in matrimonial affairs. If the intention to harm, harass or hurt could be inferred by the nature of the conduct or brutal act complained or cruelty could be easily established. But the absence of intention should not make any difference in         the case, if by ordinary sense in human affairs, the act complained of could otherwise be regarded as cruelty. The  relief to  the  party  cannot  be denied on  the ground  that there  has    been  deliberate  or willful ill-treatment.

Object Behind Enactment of Section 498A of IPC

Noorjahan v. State[2]– The Supreme Court in this case attempted to explain the expression “cruelty” in the following words:

 “Consequences of cruelty which are likely to drive a woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health, whether mental or physical, of the woman is required to be established in order to bring home the application of Section 498 A of IPC.”

The Court also elaborates on the legislative intent behind insertion of Section 498 A of IPC i.e. As clearly stated therein the increase in the number of dowry deaths is a matter of serious concern. The extent of the evil has been commented upon by the Joint Committee of the Houses to examine the work of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. In some cases, cruelty of the husband and the relatives of the husband which culminate in suicide by or murder of the helpless woman concerned, constitute only a small fraction involving such cruelty. Therefore, it was proposed to amend IPC, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and the Evidence Act suitably to deal effectively not only with cases of dowry deaths but also cases of cruelty to married women by the husband, in-laws and relatives. The avowed object is to combat the menace of dowry death and cruelty.

Object of Section 498A of IPC and its Misuse

In the case of Sushil Kumar Sharma v. Union of India[3], the Apex Court remarked that the object of the provision is prevention of the dowry menace. But as has been rightly contended by the petitioner 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 Court while observing this also elucidated on the remedial measures that can be taken to prevent abuse of the well-intentioned provision. The Court opined that merely because the provision is constitutional and intra vires, does not give a licence to unscrupulous persons to wreak 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 framework. As noted above the object is to strike at the roots of dowry menace. But by misuse of the provision a new legal terrorism can be unleashed.

Necessity to Prove Cruelty u/Section 498A IPC for Abetment of Suicide

State of Maharashtra v. Ramesh Damodar More[4]In this recent case it was held that for invoking the provisions of Section 306 of IPC (abetment of suicide) it is necessary for prosecution to establish that deceased committed suicide as a result of cruelty provided to her within the meaning of Section 498 A of IPC  and that the act of commission of suicide is abated by the accused.

Does section 498A of IPC and Section 4 of Dowry Prohibition Act attract Jeopardy?

In the case of Inder Raj Malik v. Sunita Malik[5], the Delhi High Court held that a person can be convicted both under Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition act as well as under Section 498 A of IPC as it does not create any situation of double jeopardy as defined under Article 20(1) of the Constitution.  Kicking and Threatening Daughter-in-law with Divorce is not cruelty under Section 498A of IPCBhaskar Lal Sharma v. Monica[6]In this case, the Supreme Court was of the view that merely because the mother-in-law kicked the daughter-in-law and threatened her with divorce, the same did not amount to cruelty under Section 498A of IPC. In this case, a very shocking view has been taken by the Apex Court. Kicking by leg and threatening with divorce are elements which indicate cruelty against women.

Jurisdiction of Court when Offence u/Section 498A is a Continuing one and committed at different places

Sunita Kumari Kashyap vs State Of Bihar And Anr.[7]In view of the specific assertion by the appellant-wife about the ill-treatment and cruelty at the hands of the husband and his relatives at Ranchi and of the fact that because of their action, she was taken to her parental home at Gaya by her husband with a threat of dire consequences for not fulfilling their demand of dowry, the Supreme Court in the case held that in view of Sections 178 and 179 of CrPC, the offence in this case was a continuing one having been committed in more local areas and one of the local areas being Gaya, the learned Magistrate at Gaya had jurisdiction to proceed with the criminal case instituted therein. In other words, the offence was a continuing one and the episode at Gaya was only a consequence of continuing offence of harassment of ill- treatment meted out to the complainant.

That ill- treatment and humiliation meted out to the appellant in the hands of all the accused persons and in such continuing offence, on some occasion all had taken part and on other occasion one of the accused, namely, husband had taken part, therefore, undoubtedly Section 178(c) of CrPC is clearly attracted[8].

Lodging false case under Section 498A of IPC is Cruelty and Ground for Divorce

In this recent case, Mrs. Christine Lazarus Menezes v. Mr. Lazarus Peter Menezes (Bombay High Court), the Appellant wife appealed against Family Court’s order whereby the Family Court had granted Respondent’s prayer for dissolution of marriage.

The Bombay High Court dismissed the appeal and refused to interfere with the Family Court’s order in allowing the Petition for divorce of the husband on the ground of ‘cruelty’.

The Court noted in the case that during examination, the wife had admitted in her affidavit that she had lodged an FIR with the Kherwadi Police Station, Mumbai, against her husband under sections 498-A and 406 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The Appellant wife had also admitted in the case that she had filed the Criminal Complaint in order to bring back her husband to their matrimonial home.

In view of the aforesaid, the Court noted that if the Criminal Complaint filed by the appellant wife against her husband was false and was filed only to bring back her husband and consequent to which he was arrested and was in jail for about 7 days, it would constitute a clear case of cruelty by the wife against her husband.

FIR Instituted against one and all Family Members Liable to be quashed

Natubhai Somabhai Rohit v. State of Gujrat & Anr. (Gujrat High Court)

In the case, the Appellant had prayed for quashing of FIR instituted by the complainant wife under sections 498-A, 323, 504, 506(2) and 114 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, read with section 3 and section 7 of the Dowry Prohibition Act.

In all ten persons-all family members were shown as accused in the First Information Report. The Gujarat High Court noted that the tendency to rope in all the family members in the FIR speaks for themselves and in such circumstances, the requirements of alleging specific role for each of the members becomes necessary, for which the indispensable aspects that all should stay together.

The Court also relied on Supreme Court’s verdict in G. V. Rao vs. L.H.V. Prasad, wherein the Court stated that a complaint relating to matrimonial dispute where all the members are roped into irrespective of role, becomes liable to be quashed.

The Court observed that when the allegations are shown to be non-specific and not of the degree of seriousness contemplated in law, and when the applicants accused are shown to be living separately coupled with attendant facts and aspects, the allegations become too bald to be sustained in law.

Guidelines Issued by Supreme Court to Prevent Misuse of Section 498A of IPC

In this recent case of Rajesh Sharma & Ors. v. State of U.P. the Supreme Court issued a slew of directions to prevent misuse of Section 498A. The core issue that arose in the appeal related to the need to check the alleged tendency of woman filing complaint under Section 498A to rope in all family members in settlement of matrimonial dispute.

In view of this concern, the Supreme Court appointed the Additional Solicitor General, Shri A.S. Nadkarni and Senior Advocate Sri V.V. Giri as amicus to assist the Court in the matter.

Recommendations by the Amicus in the case

a) That the allegations against all relatives of the husband cannot be taken at face value when in normal course it may only be the husband or at best his parents who may be accused of demanding dowry or causing cruelty and in order to check abuse of over implication, clear supporting material needs to be producedto proceed against other relatives of a husband.

b) That there has been a growing tendency to abuse the said provision to rope in all the relatives including parents of advanced age, minor children, siblings, grand-parents and uncles on the strength of vague and exaggerated allegations without there being any verifiable evidence of physical or mental harm or injury which several times results in harassment and even arrest of innocent family members, including women and senior citizens.

c)That misuse of Section 498A has also been judicially acknowledged in several cases.

d) That in respect of relatives who are ordinarily residing outside India, the matter should proceed only if the Investigation Officer is convinced that arrest is necessary for fair investigation and In such cases impounding of passport or issuance of red corner notice should be avoided

e)That provision of counseling under Section 14 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, should be made mandatory before registration of a case under Section 498A.

Bench’s Verdict

The Court in the case issued directions to the Centre which might aid in preventing misuse of Law and safeguard against uncalled for arrests. While arriving at its decision, the Supreme Court noted observations made by the Courts in earlier cases and the recommendations made by the Law Commission of India. T

The Court also observed that Section 498A was inserted in the statute with the object to punish cruelty at the hands of husband or his relatives against a wife particularly when such cruelty had potential to result in suicide or murder of a woman and it is a matter of serious concern. The Court also recognized some areas for remedial steps. For instance uncalled for implication of husband and his relatives and arrest, continuation of proceedings in spite of settlement between the parties and facilitation of closure of proceedings where a genuine settlement has been reached. In order to curb misuse of Law, the Court also suggested active participation of civil society organizations in such matters.

In view of the aforesaid, the Apex Court issued the following directions:

  • Establishment of Family Welfare Committees- Constitution of one or more Family Welfare Committees in each District by the District Legal Services Authority. 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. The Committee shall look into every complaint filed in the District under Section 498A. Thereafter the Committee shall interact with concerned parties and report shall be submitted by the Committee to the Legal Services Authority within one month from the date of receipt of complaint.
  • The Court further directed that no arrest in the matter shall be made unless the Committee’s report is received. The report would thereafter be considered by the Investigating Officer or the Magistrate. The Court also stated that in cases where a settlement has been reached, it will be open to the District and Sessions Judge or any other senior Judicial Officer to dispose of the proceedings including closing of the criminal case if dispute primarily relates to matrimonial discord;
  • The Court has further directed that if a bail application is filed in the case, then the same shall be attempted to be decided on the same day. The Court also clarified that 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.
  • Complaint under Section 498A against persons ordinarily residing out of India– In this context, the Court has directed that in such cases impounding of passports or issuance of Red Corner Notice should not be mandatorily adhered to.
  • Other directions- 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 Supreme Court in the case however has stated that the aforesaid directions does not apply to cases in which the wife has suffered tangible physical injuries or death. The Court has further directed the National Legal Services Authority to submit a report on working of the aforesaid arrangement by March 31, 2018 and the matter has been next listed for hearing in April, 2018.

Here it would be relevant to mention that the Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Justice Dipak Misra stated that the Supreme Court Bench would reconsider the aforesaid guidelines issued by the Court to prevent alleged misuse of Section 498A of IPC.

Also read Landmark Matrimonial and Divorce Judgments in 2017

[1] 1988 SCR(1) 1010

[2] [(2008) 11 SCC 55]

[3] [(2005) 6 SCC 281]

[4] Criminal Appeal No. 12 of 2003, decided on May 11, 2017

[5] (1986) CrLJ 1510

[6] AIR 1983 SC 826

[7] Criminal Appeal 917 of 2011

[8] Mrs. Kailashben Mahendrabhai Patel & Ors. v. The State of Maharashtra, Criminal Appeal No. 4015 of 2014, decided on May 05, 2017