The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a slew of safeguards, including “involvement of civil society and sensitisation of investigation officers and magistrates”, to prevent widespread misuse of dowry prohibition provision under Indian Penal Code’s Section 498A. A two-judge bench of Justices U U Lalit and A K Goel noted that though “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….many of such complaints are not bona fide”.
“We are conscious of the object for which the provision was brought into the statute. At the same time, violation of human rights of innocent cannot be brushed aside. Certain safeguards against uncalled for arrest or insensitive investigation have been addressed by this court,” the court said. “Still, the problem continues to a great extent.” The court ordered setting up of Family Welfare Committees in every district to look into complaints of dowry harassment. District Legal Services Authorities will set up the panels. Complaints police or magistrates receive under 498A must be referred to the panels, which will look into them and submit reports. “Till report of the committee is received, no arrest should normally be effected,” the court said.
It ordered there should be a designated officer to investigate such complaints and more caution should be exercised while dealing with matters of bail. It said that “in respect of persons ordinarily residing out of India impounding of passports or issuance of Red Corner Notice should not be a routine”.
The court said personal appearance of all family members and particularly outstation ones may not be required for trial. It added a trial court ought to grant them exemption from personal appearance or permit appearance by video conferencing. It made it clear that these directions will not apply in offenses in where there is tangible physical injury or death. “After seeing the working of the arrangement for six months, the National Legal Services Authority may give a report on changes if necessary.”