The question which has arisen in this appeal is whether any directions are called for to prevent the misuse of Section 498A.
Proceedings have arisen from complaint dated 2nd December, 2013 filed by respondent 2 wife of appellant 1. The complainant alleged that she was married to appellant 1 on 28th November, 2012. Her father gave dowry as per his capacity but the appellants were not happy with the extent of the dowry. They started abusing the complainant. They made a demand of dowry of Rs.3,00,000 and a car which the family could not arrange. On 10th November, 2013, appellant 1 dropped the complainant at her matrimonial home. She was pregnant and suffered pain in the process and her pregnancy was terminated.
Section 498A was inserted in the statute with the laudable object of punishing 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 as mentioned in the Statement of Objects and Reasons. The expression ‘cruelty’ in Section 498A covers conduct which may drive the women to commit suicide or cause grave injury (mental or physical) or danger to life or harassment with a view to coerce her to meet unlawful demand.
This Court had earlier noticed the fact that most of such complaints are filed in the heat of the moment over trivial issues. Many of such complaints are not bona fide. At the time of filing of the complaint, implications and consequences are not visualized. Uncalled for arrest may ruin the chances of settlement.
Just and fair procedure being part of fundamental right to life, interpretation is required to be placed on a penal provision so that its working is not unjust, unfair or unreasonable. The court has incidental power to quash even a non-compoundable case of private nature if continuing the proceedings is found to be oppressive.
It is also necessary to facilitate closure of proceedings where a genuine settlement has been reached instead of parties being required to move High Court only for that purpose.
After careful consideration of the whole issue, we consider it fit to give following directions :-
i) (a) In every district one or more Family Welfare Committees be constituted by the District Legal Services Authorities preferably comprising of three members.
(b) 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.
(d) Every complaint under Section 498A received by the police or the Magistrate be referred to and looked into by such committee.
(e) Report of such committee be given to the Authority by whom the complaint is referred to it latest within one month from the date of receipt of complaint.
(g) Till report of the committee is received, no arrest should normally be effected.
(h) The report may be then considered by the Investigating Officer or the Magistrate on its own merit.
ii) Complaints under Section 498Aand other connected offences may be investigated only by a designated Investigating Officer of the area.
iii) In cases where a settlement is reached, it will be open to the District and Sessions Judge to dispose of the proceedings including closing of the criminal case if dispute primarily relates to matrimonial discord;
iv) If a bail application is filed with at least one clear day’s notice to, the same may be decided as far as possible on the same day.
v) In respect of persons ordinarily residing out of India impounding of passports or issuance of Red Corner Notice should not be a routine;
vii) 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.
viii) These directions will not apply to the offences involving tangible physical injuries or death.