Allow dowry cases to be settled outside court: SC to govt

The Supreme Court has sought an amendment in the Indian Penal Code to make dowry harassment a “compoundable offence” — which would allow willing families to settle their problems outside court....

Written by Krishnadas Rajagopal | New Delhi | Published:August 5, 2010 1:04 am

The Supreme Court has sought an amendment in the Indian Penal Code to make dowry harassment a “compoundable offence” — which would allow willing families to settle their problems outside court. The Supreme Court made the request,to be placed before Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily,in a unique manner,through a judicial order.

The amendment would relieve the courts from the “burden” of hearing dowry cases in which warring families are happy to settle,but the penal code does not allow them to do so,the Supreme Court said in a July 30 judicial order released on Wednesday.

If the court’s “opinion” actually transforms into an amendment in the IPC,dowry harassment would become an offence which can be settled by affected parties,without permission of a court of law,possibly by means of paying some money to the victim and her family.

Dowry harassment (Section 498A of the IPC) is currently a non-bailable,non-compoundable (complaint once registered cannot be withdrawn) offence under the IPC,which attracts imprisonment up to three years. As per court records,conviction rate in dowry harassment cases is hardly two per cent.

An early settlement between the accused and the victim in a dowry case could even lead to a reconcilement,a Bench of Justices Markandeya Katju and T S Thakur observed. Dowry harassment is one of several offences featured in the IPC,the court feels,that needs a re-think. “Offences punishable under Section 498-A (dowry harassment) and Section 326 (causing grievous hurt) of the IPC are currently non-compoundable. Some such offences can be made compoundable by introducing a suitable amendment in the statute (IPC).”

The court directed the Secretary General of the Supreme Court to “forthwith” send a copy of the order to the Union Law Secretary and the Law Commission of India. “The Law Secretary is requested to place a copy of this order before the Honourable Minister of Law and Justice,Union of India,” the court observed in the written order.

Forwarding its suggestion to the Law Commission,the court sought the commission to examine whether a “suitable proposal” for amendment in this regard could be sent to the Union Government.

“We request the Law Commission and the Government of India to examine all aspects and take steps as may be considered feasible. Any such step would not only relieve the courts of the burden of deciding cases in which aggrieved parties have themselves arrived at a settlement,” the court said.

The Bench gave its “opinion” after finding it impossible under the present law to acquit a man from MP accused under Section 326 IPC,despite both parties involved having settled their differences.

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