Supreme Court indicates revisiting verdict which diluted anti-dowry law

New Delhi: The Supreme Court today indicated that it would revisit its two-month old verdict which reduced the severity of the anti-dowry law, saying it “really curtails the rights of the women who are harassed”.

A two-judge bench had on July 27 directed that no arrest should “normally be effected” without verifying allegations as violation of human rights of innocents cannot be brushed aside.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud today said it was “not in agreement” with the decision and “prima facie, we perceive that the guidelines may be in the legislative sphere”.

“At this stage, we are obligated to state that we are not in agreement with the decision rendered in Rajesh Sharma vs State of UP, because we are disposed to think that it really curtails the rights of the women who are harassed under Section 498A (subjecting a married women to cruelty) of the Indian Penal Code,” the bench said.

The apex court issued notices to Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Women and Child Development and National Commission of Women and sought their response by November 29.

It appointed senior advocates Indu Malhotra and V Shekhar as amicus curiae (friend of court) to assist in the matter.

During the hearing, the bench said it disagrees with the July 7 verdict which had actually diluted the severity of section 498A of IPC by constituting a buffer of family welfare committees in every district to verify the allegations against husband or any relative of husband of a woman.

The bench was hearing a plea filed by an NGO ‘Nyayadhar’, an organisation formed by a group of women advocates of Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, seeking sharpness in section 498A, claiming that the otherwise “helpful instrument” in the hands of victim women has become “valueless”.

The plea filed by advocate Alok Singh suggested that out of three members in family welfare committees, at least two should be female members and one member should have done Masters in Social Works.

It also suggested recording of facts at the time of counselling and said the committee should also consider the economic status of the parties.

On July 27, the apex court had voiced concern over “abuse” of the anti-dowry law and directed that no arrest should “normally be effected” without verifying allegations as violation of human rights of innocents cannot be brushed aside.

It had passed a slew of directions to deal with complaints under section 498A of the IPC and observed that many such complaints are not bonafide and “uncalled for arrest” may ruin the chances of settlement.

It had noted that the apex court had earlier observed that a serious review of the provision was warranted and at times, such complaints led to uncalled harassment of not only the accused but also the complainant.

The apex court had directed that in every district, one or more family welfare committees should be constituted by the District Legal Services Authorities (DLSA) and every complaint received by police or the magistrate under this provision should be referred to and looked into by the committee.

It had said that such committees may comprise of para legal volunteers, social workers, retired persons, wives of working officers and others who may be found suitable and willing.

The bench had also said that if a bail plea is filed in such matter, it may be decided as far as possible on the same day with at least one day’s notice to the public prosecutor or the complainant.

It had said that regarding persons residing out of India, the process of impounding of passports or issuance of Red Corner Notice should not be a routine.

The apex court had also said that 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.

It, however, clarified that “these directions will not apply to the offences involving tangible physical injuries or death”.

The court had asked the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) to give a report about need for change, if any, in the directions or for any further directions and listed the matter for consideration in April 2018.

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