Observing that it receives over 10 petitions daily seeking quashing of an offence under Section 498A (cruelty to wife by husband, relatives) of the Indian Penal Code, the Bombay High Court has asked the Central Government to decide on making the offence compoundable – following a settlement between parties to end criminal prosecution with permission of the trial court.
A division bench of Justices Revati Mohite-Dere and Prithviraj Chavan recently asked the additional solicitor general Anil Singh to follow up with the central home ministry on the issue.
The Maharashtra government, in 2018, proposed a state amendment to the Criminal procedure code (CrPC) to make Section 498A compoundable – following a settlement between parties to end criminal prosecution with permission of the trial court. The proposal is pending before the Union Ministry of Home Affairs.
The HC passed the directions while hearing a petition filed by a husband, 36, his mother and his sister seeking quashing of the case registered against him with the Pune police by his estranged wife, 35. However, following the settlement between the engineer couple, they approached the HC for quashing the case.
The husband’s lawyer, Datta Mane, said that they had amicably settled the dispute and signed mutual consent on August 6 this year. As per the consent terms, the husband is to pay Rs 25 lakh as a full and final settlement, of which, he has already paid Rs 10 lakh. Hence they filed a petition for quashing the offence.
While quashing the offence, the HC noted that on a daily basis they receive several such petitions, which not only increases the workload of the court but also causes hardships to the parties, who often travel from outside Mumbai.
"We may note that every day we have a minimum of 10 petitions/applications seeking quashing of Section 498A by consent since 498A is a non-compoundable offence. Concerned parties have to come personally before the Court from wherever they are residing, including from villages, thus incurring tremendous hardships for the parties concerned, apart from travelling expenses, litigation expenses and staying expenses in the city. Parties, if working, are required to take a day off," said the court.
"Apart from the hardships caused to parties, if Section 498A is made compoundable with the permission of the Court, precious time of the Court can be saved," it added.
Advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni informed the court that in June 2020, the Central Ministry on Women and Child Development rules that "dilution of section 498A" will not be in the interest of the victim. Hence, in August 2021, the Union home ministry sought clarification from the Maharashtra government on the Bill, which was sent in October 2021. The clarification is pending before the Union home ministry.
Asking the Centre to decide on the issue on an urgent basis, the HC noted statistics of the National Crime Records Bureau of 2020.
According to the NCRB report, a total of 111,549 cases were registered under 498A in 2020. Of these, 5,520 were closed by Police citing them as false and overall 16,151 cases were closed by police either because of some mistake or the other. 14.4% of these cases were closed by police for not finding merit in the case. 96,497 men, 23,809 women were arrested under 498A, making total arrests under this section 1,20,306. 18,967 cases were tried in courts of which 14,340 led to acquittal and 3,425 led to the conviction. 498A cases pending trial at the end of 2020 are 651,404 with a pendency percentage of 96.2%.
The HC has kept the petition for hearing on December 19 for further directions.
July 17, 2018 - Maharashtra introduced a Bill to amend the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to make section 498A IPC among other offences, compoundable
July 20, 2018 - Bill passed in both Houses of the State government
June 6, 2020 - Central Ministry on Women and Child Development ruled that "dilution of section 498A" will not be in the interest of the victim
August 17, 2021 - the Union home ministry sought clarification from the Maharashtra government on the Bill
October 26, 2021 - Maharashtra government sent a clarification