Section 498-A: Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty.
Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. Explanation.—For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means—
(a) any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or
(b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.]
In Rajesh Sharma &Ors. v. State of U.P &Anr., Criminal Appeal No. 1265 of 2016, while issuing guidelines, the Apex Court observed that:
Section 498A was inserted in the statute with the laudable object of punishing cruelty at the hands of the 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 of the Act 46 of 1983. 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. It is a matter of serious concern that a large number of cases continue to be filed under Section 498A alleging harassment of married women. 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. At times such complaints lead to uncalled for harassment not only to the accused but also to the complainant. Uncalled for arrest may ruin the chances of settlement.
The following guidelines were given by the Supreme Court of India in the case of Rajesh Sharma &Ors. v. State of U.P &Anr., Criminal Appeal No. 1265 of 2016. [Two-judge Bench: A.K. Goel, J and U.U. Lalit, J.] [Judgment by A.K Goel, J.]
- Constitution of Committee-
- In every district, one or more Family Welfare Committees be constituted by the District Legal Services Authorities preferably comprising of three members. The constitution and working of such committees may be reviewed from time to time and at least once in a year by the District and Sessions Judge of the district who is also the Chairman of the District Legal Services Authority.
- The Committees may be constituted out of paralegal volunteers/social workers/retired persons/wives of working officers/other citizens who may be found suitable and willing.
- The Committee members will not be called as witnesses.
- Every complaint under Section 498A received by the police or the Magistrate be referred to and looked into by such committee. Such committee may have interaction with the parties personally or by means of telephone or any other mode of communication including electronic communication.
- Report of such committee is given to the Authority by whom the complaint is referred to it latest within one month from the date of receipt of the complaint.
- The committee may give its brief report about the factual aspects and its opinion on the matter.
- Till report of the committee is received, no arrest should normally be affected.
- The report may be then considered by the Investigating Officer or the Magistrate on its own merit.
- Members of the committee may be given such basic minimum training as may be considered necessary by the Legal Services Authority from time to time.
- The Members of the committee may be given such honorarium as may be considered viable.
- It will be open to the District and Sessions Judge to utilize the cost fund wherever considered necessary and proper.
- Complaints under Section 498A and other connected offences may be investigated only by a designated Investigating Officer of the area. Such designated officer may be required to undergo training for such duration (not less than one week) as may be considered appropriate.
- In cases where a settlement is reached, it will be open to the District and Sessions Judge or any other senior Judicial Officer nominated by him in the district to dispose of the proceedings including the closing of the criminal case if dispute primarily relates to matrimonial discord;
- If a bail application is filed with at least one clear day’s notice to the Public Prosecutor/complainant, the same may be decided as far as possible on the same day. Recovery of disputed dowry items may not by itself be a ground for denial of bail if maintenance or other rights of wife/minor children can otherwise be protected. Needless to say that in dealing with bail matters, individual roles, the prima facie truth of the allegations, requirement of further arrest/ custody and interest of justice must be carefully weighed;
- In respect of persons ordinarily residing out of India impounding of passports or issuance of Red Corner Notice should not be a routine;
- It will be open to the District Judge or a designated senior judicial officer nominated by the District Judge to club all connected cases between the parties arising out of matrimonial disputes so that a holistic view is taken by the Court to whom all such cases are entrusted; and
- Personal appearance of all family members and particularly outstation members may not be required and the trial court ought to grant exemption from the personal appearance or permit appearance by video conferencing without adversely affecting the progress of the trial.
- These directions will not apply to the offences involving tangible physical injuries or death.
Note: Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the TSA.