Misuse of Section 498A- Supreme Court Modifies Directions Issued in Rajesh Sharma case

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September 18, 2018

Misuse of Section 498A of IPC- In this recent verdict, the Three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court has modified the much controversial directions that were issued by the Supreme Court last year in Rajesh Sharma and ors. v. State of U.P. and anr. The Apex Court has now modified the directions and held that creation of a third agency and the powers conferred on it were impermissible.

Case name: Social Action Forum for Manav Adhikar and another v. Union of India Ministry of Law and Justice and others

In this recent case, the Petitions were instituted 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 498A of IPC. Prayer was also made by the Petitioners in the case for a uniform policy of registration of FIR, arrest and bail in cases of Section 498A of IPC i.e., to immediately register FIR on complaint of cruelty and harassment by married women as per the IPC.

Other essential contention made by the Petitioners in the case was that the social purpose behind Section 498A of IPC was 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 decisions of this Court including its recent decision in the case of Rajesh Sharma and others v. State of U.P. and another[1].

Here it would be relevant to mention that the Supreme Court in Rajesh Sharma case had issued directions to prevent purported 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.

Read more here Note on SC’s Directions on Misuse of Section 498A of IPC

In the case, the Supreme Court had inter alia directed for the Establishment of Family Welfare Committees in each District by the District Legal Services Authority which shall look into every complaint filed in the District under Section 498A. The Court in the case had 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 verdict has been under objection on various grounds including that the Apex Court encroached upon the legislative area. Hence, the intrinsic issue that fell for consideration before the Court in the case was whether the Court in Rajesh Sharma case could, by the method of interpretation, have issued such directions?

The Three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra while holding that Supreme Court’s directions pertaining to Family Welfare Committee and its constitution by the District Legal Services Authority and the power conferred on the Committee is impermissible made the following notable observations in the case:

  • That in Rajesh Sharma case, there is introduction of a third agency which has nothing to do with the Code and that apart, the Committees have been empowered to suggest a report failing which no arrest can be made. The directions to settle a case after it is registered is not a correct expression of law. When settlement takes place, then both the parties can file a petition under Section 482 CrPC and the High Court, considering the bonafide of the petition, may quash the same.
  • The Court also noted that in several decision in furtherance of a fundamental right, the Court has issued directions in the absence of law in certain cases. However, there are statutory provisions and judgments in the field and, therefore, the directions pertaining to constitution of a Committee and conferment of power on the said Committee is erroneous.
  • That when an application for bail is entertained, proper conditions have to be imposed but recovery of disputed dowry items may not by itself be a ground while rejecting an application for grant of bail under Section 498A of IPC.
  • The Supreme Court has also directed 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 498A of IPC should be imparted rigorous training with regard to the principles stated by this Court relating to arrest.

The entire case can be accessed here.

[1] 4 AIR 2017 SC 3869 : 2017 (8) SCALE 313