Breaking: Supreme Court modifies its judgment on safeguards against misuse of Section 498A IPC, scraps no arrest rule

Breaking: Supreme Court modifies its judgment on safeguards against misuse of Section 498A IPC, scraps no arrest rule

Murali Krishnan

The Supreme Court today modified its judgment in Rajesh Sharma v. Union of India, which had laid down safeguards for the prevention of misuse of Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code.

The judgment today was rendered by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud.

The Court scrapped the all-important direction contained in para 19(1) of the 2017 judgment.

The said direction had provided for constitution of Family Welfare Committees in every district to look into complaints under Section 498A and to submit a report on the same after interacting with the parties.

The two-judge Bench that passed the judgment in July 2017 had also directed that no arrest could be made till such committee submitted its report. This direction has now been done away with.


Two-judge Bench decision in Rajesh Sharma v. Union of India

On July 27, 2017, a Bench of Justices AK Goel and UU Lalit had issued a slew of directions with a view to preventing the misuse of Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with cruelty to married women at the hands of family members.

The most significant direction was the constitution of Family Welfare Committees to vet cases of domestic violence by family members. These Committees were to comprise “paralegal volunteers/social workers/retired persons/wives of working officers/other citizens who may be found suitable and willing”.

The main function of these Committees was to review complaints filed under Section 498A and interact with the parties involved in these cases. They were also required to prepare a report of the case and submit it to the relevant authority.

Quite significantly, the Court had also directed that no arrest will be made pending the submission of this report.

The Court had also ordered that cases under 498A may only be investigated by designated Investigating Officers of the area. It was also left open to District and Sessions judges to dispose of criminal proceedings should the parties arrive at a settlement. Judges will also have the power to club all matrimonial disputes related to the parties so that “a holistic view is taken”.

On the issue of bail, the Bench had directed,

“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.”

The personal appearance of relatives was done away with and they were allowed to make appearance by video conference. The Court had also stated that impounding of passports and Red Corner Notices for people residing abroad should not be a routine.

The ruling had led to protests by various groups. A group of 16 women’s rights organisations had sent a memorandum to the Chief Justice of India asking him to review the decision.

Three-judge Bench reconsiders

On October 13, 2017, the three-judge Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud Court observed that it was not in agreement with the Court’s judgment rendered in Rajesh Sharma v. Union of India.

The Bench stated the same while hearing a petition filed by a Maharashtra-based NGO, Nyayadhar. The NGO had moved the Supreme Court raising a limited issue – inclusion of woman members in the Family Welfare Committee sought to be formed as per the directions of the judgment.

The Bench, however, observed that it was not agreeable to the judgment rendered by the Division Bench of Justices AK Goel and UU Lalit on July 27.

“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.”

It then issued issue notice to the Centre and also appointed Senior Advocates V Shekhar and (now Justice) Indu Malhotra  as Amicus Curiae to assist the court.

Subsequently, similar petitions on the same issue were heard together.

In the later hearings, the Amicus Curiae had also concurred with the Bench. V Shekhar had submitted that the facts and circumstances of each case will have to be considered independently and there cannot be any general guidelines.

“How can the Court lay down guidelines when there is an IPC provision? We could say that investigating authority should be circumspect when exercising its power, but why should there be guidelines?”, Justice Chandrachud had remarked in one of the hearings.

Modification of the order

The Court has held that direction 19(i) of the 2017 judgment is impermissible, noting,

“The prescription of duties of the Committees and further action therefor, as we find, are beyond the Code and the same does not really flow from any provision of the Code.”

19(ii), which deals with investigation of 498A cases by designated officers, has been modified to the extent of this direction:

“…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.”

Direction 19(iii), which empowers the District and Sessions Judge to dispose of cases where settlement is reached, has been modified to the extent that if a settlement is arrived at, the parties can approach the High Court under Section 482 of the CrPC and the High Court, keeping in view the law laid down in Gian Singh, shall dispose of the same.

The Court has seen it fit not to interfere with 19(iv) and 9(v), which deal with directions pertaining to Red Corner Notice, and postulating that recovery of disputed dowry items may not by itself be a ground for denial of bail.

For directions 19(vi) and (vii), which deal respectively with clubbing of connected cases between parties to a matrimonial dispute, and dispensing with the personal appearance of family members, an application has to be filed either under Section 205 CrPC or Section 317 CrPC depending upon the stage at which the exemption is sought.

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