On 27th July, 2017, a two judges bench of Indian Supreme Court has set new guidelines in dowry case investigation. In their judgement, Justice Adarsh kr. Goel and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit has set new guidelines in the proceedings of dowry cases in view of heavy misuse of the law. Some key points mentioned in this SC judgement are –
- One or more Family Welfare Committees to be setup in every Indian district by the District Legal Services Authorities.
- These committees will comprise of three members from the civil society.
- The committee members will not be called in as witnesses in any case
- Every 498a complaint will be sent to such committees for review. The committee may interact with parties and will create a report.
- The committee will submit their factual report to the authority who referred the case to them within one month of the date of receipt of the complaint.
- The report may content the committee’s factual views about the cases.
- Till the report of the committee is received, no arrest can be made in 498a cases.
- The report may then be considered for further action by the investigating officer or the magistrate on its merits.
- Bail applications, if filed with one day’s notice should be judged on the same day without any delay.
- Impounding of passports and issuing Red Corner Notice for NRIs staying abroad, will not be a routine.
- Judges can club all related cases between two parties arising out of matrimonial disputes
- Personal appearance of outstations persons may not be required or can be done through video conferencing
- These new guidelines are not applicable for offences involving tangible physical injuries.
The new guidelines not only stop automatic arrest of people based on a mere complaint but will also provide a remedy to reconcile without any harsh and drastic measure on any family. While this can be seen as a much-needed breather for husbands’ families and stop of harassment of distant relatives of husbands’, many are also seeing these measures as incomplete that can lead to one more round of harassment of the husbands in the hands of Family Welfare Committees.
The new Supreme Court directives clearly aims at ending unnecessary cases in matrimonial disputes which is currently clogging the judicial system, which in a way denies justice to everyone. The reconciliation process in Family Welfare Committees, no immediate arrest, creating a legal breather for distant relatives and NRIs, closure of the criminal complaint (under 498a) if the discord is due to matrimonial disputes, faster granting of bail, power given to the District Judge to club all related case into one, exemption of personal appearance of the family members particularly outstation members will help in reducing the pressure of huge number of cases on judiciary and will also provide breather to common people who are otherwise forced to commit suicide under such legal pressure. Since civil society will be involved in Family Welfare Committees, many cases may see easy reconciliation without being a trouble to judiciary.
However, feminists and specifically lawyer groups are not happy about these new guidelines, most of which is actually repetition of earlier directives to stop automatic arrest or doing proper investigation before arrest. It is easy to understand that feminists see a potential threat of losing huge income from the 498a- extortion industry they run. Many such groups are already raising their voice in different forums and also organizing paid street protests.
However, these new guidelines didn’t come only because of SC observation from the case in discussion. The history of 498a misuse has been long.
Home Ministry Confirmed 498a misuse in 2014 in Rajya Sabha
To a question of Hon. Rajya Sabha Member Mr. Dilpbhai Pandya on 17th December, 2014, the then Minister of State for Home Affairs, Sri Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhury has agreed that the Ministry had received innumerable representations and reports that IPC 498a was misused. His answer also stated 243rd Law Commission Report that 498a should be amended and implementation of CrPC 41 and 358 to check misuse of 498a.
Minister also mentioned that all State and UT governments were asked about their views on the misuse of 498a and based on those the Home Ministry accepted Law Commission recommendations and initiated proceedings to curb the misuse.
Home Ministry expressed awareness of 498a misuse in 2015, too
To a question (Q # 1495) of Hon. Member of Rajya Sabha, Shri Mansukh L Mandaviya, the Minister of State for Home Affairs has confirmed on 11th March 2015 that the govt was aware of several courts expressing concerns of abuse of 498a and rape cases. The Ministry also confirmed that it had issued two advisories to State and UT authorities to curb such misuse. This reply in RS also stated that any victim of 498a misuse may invoke provisions under IPC 182 for false cases.
Home Ministry Confirmed 498a misuse again in 2016 in Rajya Sabha
In a follow-up question (Q. #374 on 27th April 2016) by Hon. Member Shri Mansukh L Mandaviya, the Hon. Minister of State for Home Affairs, Shri Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhuri stated in the upper house of Indian parliament has said that while law and order is a state subject, the ministry had issued guidelines to curb abuses laws like Rape and 498a.
Lok Sabha member wanted a timeline to amend IPC 498a
In view of high abuse of IPC498a, Hon. Lok Sabha Member Shri Anurag Singh Thakur has asked (Q #1383, 3rd May, 2016) the house when the govt. was looking for amendment of 498a in view of several misuses and reports from Justice Mallinath and various reports from Law Commission.
Criminal Law Journal analysis showed heavy misuse of IPC 498a
In their October 2016 issue, the journal published a research done by Nityanand Kumar and A Dutta of Dept. of Forensic Medicine and Technology of a College in Raigarh, Chhattisgarh has analyzed several cases and showed uncontrolled misuse of 498a. They analyzed several judgements from various High Courts and Supreme Courts and found the following reasons behind filing 498a complaints–
- Motive for Extortion of Money
- 498a lodged when husband was impotent
- Tendency to include all family member including unrelated members
- Exaggerated versions of the victim
- When sister in law wanted to adopt her child
- To cover up for her fraudulent acts
- Under possible instigation of her relatives and lawyers
- To hide her extra-marital affair
- To get a divorce easily
- For the purpose of grabbing husband’s property
- To satisfy ego
- Exorbitant claim of dowry given
The researchers also observed that many a times women filed 498a cases to show their influence and against anyone who sympathized with the accused family. They found cases where victims had filed multiple complaints of same nature in different jurisdictions. Their research also exposed insensitive attitude in lower judiciary and a section of bar towards false cases. By giving examples from different judgements the researchers had shown how police takes blatant action by going out of their way. This research showed why how blatantly women are misusing 498a.
So it is evident from the discussion above, the amendment of legal procedures in 498a was inevitable both for the Indian Supreme Court and for the Indian Govt. This was needed to restore public faith in judiciary and legal process. With govt. acknowledging the fact that any falsely accused can invoke provisions of IPC 182 against women shows what kind of havoc the misuse has created. However, the feminist groups and lawyer lobbies protesting against these guidelines only show how their interests are hurt in the legal terrorism industry.
This was much awaited move from Indian Judiciary’s point of view as well. With ever mounting pressure on judiciary it was important to curb number of cases pending in our courts. Trying to curb the cases at the root or clubbing together several cases arising out of same matrimonial dispute will surely lead to a cleaner and faster justice in India.