THE SUPREME Court on Friday scrapped its earlier direction to set up district-level committees to look into dowry harassment complaints before making arrests, saying this was “impermissible” and “not in accord with the statutory framework”.
To check misuse of IPC Section 498A – husband or relative of husband subjecting a married woman to cruelty – a two-judge bench of the top court in July 2017, in the case of Rajesh Sharma and others vs State of Uttar Pradesh and another, had directed that Family Welfare Committees (FWCs) be drawn up from para-legal volunteers, social workers, retired hands, wives of working officers or other willing citizens.
“Every complaint under Section 498A received by the police or a magistrate be referred to and looked into by such committee… Till report of the committee is received, no arrest should normally be effected,” it said.
The directive was criticised for allegedly diluting the spirit of Section 498A and subsequently a PIL was filed by an NGO Nyayadhar, seeking a direction to include two women members in a three-member FWC.
While hearing the petition, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra observed: “At this stage, we are obligated to state that we are not in agreement with the decision rendered in Rajesh Sharma (case)… because we are disposed to think that it really curtails the rights of the women who are harassed under Section 498A of the IPC. That apart, prima facie, we perceive that the guidelines may be in the legislative sphere.”
Setting aside the direction to constitute FWCs, the bench of the CJI Mishra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, however, asked the police to follow its directions regarding arrest as laid down in the 2014 cases of Arnesh Kumar vs State of Bihar and another, and Lalita Kumari vs Government of Uttar Pradesh.
In the first case of Arnesh Kumar, the court had referred to misuse of the anti-dowry provision and directed “all state governments to instruct its police officers not to automatically arrest when a case under Section 498-A IPC is registered, but to satisfy themselves about the necessity for arrest under the parameters laid down above flowing from Section 41 of CrPC”.
Referring to the decision in the Lalita Kumari case, Friday’s judgment said a constitution bench had suggested in that case, preliminary enquiry may be held in matrimonial/family disputes.
Disposing of the PIL, the bench, headed by the CJI, added: “It will also be appropriate to direct the Director General of Police (DGP) of each state to ensure that investigating officers, who are in charge of investigation of cases of offences under Section 498-A IPC, should be imparted rigorous training with regard to the principles stated by this court relating to arrest.”
The bench, however, upheld some of the directions of the July 2017 judgment, including that “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” and that “in respect of persons, ordinarily residing out of India, impounding of passports or issuance of Red Corner Notice should not be a routine”.