Bom HC | Family members should not be dragged without specific evidence against them, otherwise, S. 498-A IPC is unfortunately misused as a weapon

Delay in lodging a complaint cannot be used as a ritualistic formula for doubting prosecution case

Bombay High Court: K.R. Shriram, J., addressed an appeal impugning an order and judgment of acquittal of the accused of offences punishable under Section 498-A (Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty), Section 323 (Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 504 (Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 506 (Punishment for criminal intimidation), 494 (Marrying again during lifetime of husband or wife) read with Section 109 (Punishment of abetment if the act abetted is committed in consequence and where no express provision is made for its punishment) of Penal Code, 1860.

The complainant- PW-1 got married to accused 1. It has been stated that at the time of complainant’s father’s retirement he received a cheque of retirement benefits that the accused 1 got to know about and demanded PW-1 to get Rs 1 lakh from her father. It has been added that accused 1 also suspected PW-1 of immortality.

Accused 1 got married to accused 5 while he was still married to PW-1. Thus PW-1 lodged a complaint.

In the Supreme Court’s decision of Murlidhar v. State of Karnataka, (2014) 5 SCC 730, it was held that,

Unless the conclusions reached by the trial court are found to be palpably wrong or based on erroneous view of the law or if such conclusions are allowed to stand, they are likely to result in grave injustice, Appellate Court should not interfere with conclusions of the trial court.

High Court while deciding the matter, noted that there is a presumption of innocence in favour of respondent and such presumption is strengthened by the order of acquittal passed in favour of the trial court.

Further, the bench stated that, according to PW-1, accused 1 demanded Rs 1 lakh when he saw the retirement benefits cheque in the hand of her father and her father got retired on 28-02-2001. PW-1/Complainant lodged the complaint on 04-01-2002, but the delay for the same was not explained. PW-1 left her children behind when she left the accused 1’s house but she never filed for divorce, custody petition. But filed for maintenance petition on 10-03-2003 for which the delay was not explained again.

Delay in lodging the complaint cannot be used a ritualistic formula for doubting the presecution case and discarding the same solely on the ground of delay in lodging the complaint.

Delay has the effect of putting the Court in its guard to search if any explanation has been offered for the delay, and if offered, whether it is satisfactory.

Hence, the Court stated that in the present case there was not even an attempt by the prosecution to explain the delay. Court noted that, PW-1 had no problems living alone with her parents but when PW-1 heard from her father that accused 1 had married accused 5, PW-1 decided to teach accused 1 a lesson.

In view of the above, Court held that,

It is unfortunate that in a matter like this even the family members get dragged. Prosecution should refrain from dragging all family members unless there is enough specific evidence against the family members otherwise provisions of Section 498-A will, unfortunately, be misused as a weapon.

Therefore, the allegation of offence under Section 494 of IPC had not been proved and the decision of the trial court of acquittal of all the accused persons was rightly taken. [State of Maharashtra v. Ashok, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 331, decided on 26-02-2020]

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