Bom HC | Abuse of S. 498-A IPC by making vague allegations and roping in family members of husband: Courts to carefully scrutinize allegations

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of Z.A. Haq and Amit B. Borkar, JJ., while allowing the present criminal application filed under Section 482 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 observed the tendency in the society wherein the relatives of husband are also roped in with vague allegations under Section 498-A of Penal Code, 1860.

In the instant matter, both husband and wife started living separately from sister-in-law and brother-in-law of the husband after their marriage.

Due to quarrels between the non-applicant 2 and her husband, non-applicant 2 filed an FIR with Police Station, which was compromised. On a later date, non-applicant 2 again lodged a complaint with the Women Cell.

Further, the husband of non-applicant 2 filed a complained alleging harassment caused by parents and brother of non-applicant 2.

Non-applicant 2 approached the Judicial Magistrate and filed an application under Section 156(3) of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 and, then the non-applicant 1 lodged FIR against the applicants. The said FIR has been challenged in the present application.

Women Cell i.e. non-applicant 1 submitted that the investigation was complete and there is a prima facie case against the applicants.

Wife i.e. non-applicant 2 contended that the applicants along with her husband harassed her for dowry and there were several complaints filed by her with the Police Station as and when harassment was caused.

Senior Advocate, Anil S. Mardikar along with S.G. Joshi, Advocate, represented the applicants; M.K. Pathan Additional Public Prosecutor for the non-applicant 1 –State and M.N. Ali, Advocate for the non-applicant 2.

Analysis & Decision

In light of adjudicating the present issue, bench considered it necessary to refer Section 498-A of Penal Code, 1860:

498-A. Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty – whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation – For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means-

(a) Any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or

(b) Harassment of the women where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.”

Cruelty perpetuated to the woman may be physical or mental.

Bench stated that saying, “we are also serving in the police and we have connections with the higher Authorities, or the husband of the non-applicant 2 got no benefit of the education of the non-applicant 2” cannot be stated to be cruelty to the woman.

Nowadays, it has become a tendency to make vague and omnibus allegations, against every member of the family of the husband, implicating everybody under Section 498-A of the Penal Code.

It is necessary for the Courts to carefully scrutinize the allegations and to find out if the allegations made really constitute an offence and meet the requirements of the law at least prima facie.

Bench further cited the following decision of the Supreme Court:

G. Sagar Suri v. State of U.P., (2000) 2 SCC 636, wherein it was observed that the criminal proceedings should not be allowed to be resorted to as shortcut to settle the score.

Indian Oil Corpn. v. NEPC India Ltd., (2006) 6 SCC 736, in this case, Supreme Court deprecated the tendency of using the criminal justice system as a tool of arm twisting and to settle the score, and laid down that the High Court can intervene where the criminal justice system is used as a tool.

Kailash Chandra Agrawal v. State of U.P., (2014) 16 SCC 551, an observation was made that tendency, which has been developed for roping in all relations of the in-laws by the wife in the matter of dowry deaths or such type of similar offences in an over-enthusiasm and anxiety to seek conviction needs to be deprecated.

In the present case, sisters-in-law and brother-in-law were arraigned as accused without there being specific allegation as regards the nature of cruelty, as contemplated by Section 498-A IPC against them.

In view of the impugned FIR and charge-sheet, Court opined that no allegations against the applicants constitute offences alleged.

Therefore, the criminal application was allowed in view of the above-stated.[Shabnam Sheikh v. State of Maharashtra, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 1752, decided on 15-10-2020]

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