The Supreme Court on 27 July had given a ruling that immediate arrests, which were an integral process followed by the police in dowry harassment cases, will not be a part of the process any longer, according to Times of India reports. The police will have to conduct a preliminary inquiry before making any arrests, like in any other cases.
The bench of Justices A K Goel and U U Lalit accepted that there had been a growing trend among women involved with marital discord to abuse Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). As a result of the misuse of the law, there have been umpteen cases where the husband and his relatives were roped in and have encountered harassment. The judges said that it was high time that such frivolous cases violating human rights of innocents need to be checked.
The apex court further said that mothers-in-law and sisters-in-law form a quarter of all arrests under Section 498A, citing data from the National Crime Records Bureau. It added that while charge sheets were filed in 93.6% of cases, only 14.4% resulted in convictions.
This judgement by the apex court has shifted from the prevalent perception that in dowry cases, the account of the alleged victim needs to be taken at face value.
A Family Welfare Committee (FWC) in every district will scrutinise dowry harassment cases before local police can arrest the accused. The District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) is responsible for forming the committee comprising three members who could be para-legal volunteers, social workers, retired persons, wives of working officers or citizens who may be found suitable and willing.
The committee is expected to submit its report to the authorities to which the complaint was referred to, within one month. Till the report is submitted, no arrests can be made. Only after considering the merit of the report, the necessary actions will be taken by the police or the magistrate.
Bail applications of husband and in-laws should be decided expeditiously by trial courts, preferably on the same day it is filed.
The court further said impounding of passports or issuance of Red Corner Notice against a person living abroad should be avoided. Also, personal appearance of husband’s family members should not be insisted upon by trial courts in dowry harassment cases.
A designated police officer should be appointed to deal with complaints under Section 498A.
In cases where a settlement has been reached, a district and sessions judge or any other senior judicial officer nominated by him in the district would complete the proceedings including the closing of the criminal case if dispute primarily relates to matrimonial discord. Committee’s functioning may be reviewed once a year, SC added.
The Logical Indian community appreciates the ruling passed by the Supreme Court which aims at tackling the issue of dowry deaths but also takes into consideration the plight of those who are wrongly implicated into these cases.