Supreme Court Takes U-Turn on Misuse of Dowry Law

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A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by CJI Dipak Misra on Friday took a U-turn on its July 27 judgment regarding section 498A. The section 498A of IPC warrants immediate arrest of a husband and his relatives in a dowry-linked complaint of cruelty.

The Bench headed by the CJI said, “At this stage, we are obligated to say that we are not in agreement with the judgment in Rajesh Sharma vs UP case (pronounced on July 27). Abuse of Section 498A (by women) would not make this court curtail the ambit and scope of the section enacted to protect women from cruelty in matrimonial homes.”

The bench also said, “Prima facie, we feel the guidelines laid down may be falling in the legislative domain.”

The court issued a notice to the Centre and appointed senior advocate V Shekhar as amicus curiae. It has asked the Centre to prepare its response by October 29, when they deliberate on the case next.

The July order said there would be a designated police officer to probe Section 498A complaints. Also, it advised trial courts not to insist on personal appearance of all family members of the husband. It permitted the appearance those living else through video conferencing.

The two-judge bench of Justices Goel and Lalit had extracted extensive data from NCRB.  After which they come to the conclusion that there was the widespread misuse of the anti-dowry provision under Section 498A. NCRB statistics for years 2005, 2012 and 2013 reflects, ” that of 4,66,079 cases that were pending in the start of 2013, only 7,258 were convicted while 38,165 were acquitted and 8,218 were withdrawn. The conviction rate of cases registered under Section 498A IPC was also a staggering low at 15.6%”.

Section 498A was introduced in the IPC in 1983. The objective of the provision is punishing cruelty at the hands of the husband or his relatives against a wife.

Such cruelty often resulted in suicide or murder of the woman. Justices Goel and Lalit went ahead with laying down the guidelines saying the courts could not be silent when innocents were being harassed.

It is common for the Apex Court to revisit earlier decisions. However, this development is different since a Bench headed by CJI Dipak Misra took up the matter suo motu. They were responding to a PIL filed by an NGO Nyayadhar. It had only sought modification of the court’s decision of July 27, 2017.

Also Read: SC Curtails Immediate Arrest in Dowry Harassment Cases