Section 498A IPC : Recent Supreme Court Judgments

Section 498A IPC : Recent Supreme Court Judgments

498A Complaints Can Be Filed At A Place Where A Woman Driven Out Of Matrimonial Home Takes Shelter

[Rupali Devi vs. State of UP]

In this case, three Judge bench comprising CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul considered the following question: "Whether in a case where cruelty had been committed in a matrimonial home by the husband or the relatives of the husband and the wife leaves the matrimonial home and takes shelter in the parental home located at a different place, would the courts situated at the place of the parental home of the wife have jurisdiction to entertain the complaint under Section 498A, in a situation where no overt act of cruelty or harassment is alleged to have been committed by the husband at the parental home where the wife had taken shelter?

The bench observed that mental cruelty borne out of physical cruelty or abusive and humiliating verbal exchanges would continue in the parental home even though there may not be any overt act of physical cruelty at such place. Thus, it held that the courts at the place where the wife takes shelter after leaving or driven away from the matrimonial home on account of acts of cruelty committed by the husband or his relatives, would, dependent on the factual situation, also have jurisdiction to entertain a complaint alleging commission of offences under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code.

Complaint Need Not Be Filed By The Woman Subjected To Cruelty Herself

[Rashmi Chopra vs. State of UP]

Here, the bench comprising Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice KM Joseph was considering the submission that since complaint is not made by the woman, but filed by her father, it is not maintainable. Rejecting this contention, it held that the Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code does not contemplate that complaint for offence under Section 498A should be filed only by women, who is subjected to cruelty by husband or his relative.There is nothing in Section 498A, which may indicate that when a woman is subjected to cruelty, a complaint has to be filed necessarily by the women so subjected, it said.

No To Family Welfare Committees

In September 2018, a three judge bench modified the directions issued in Rajesh Sharma case for preventing misuse of Section 498A of Indian Penal Code. It recalled the earlier direction issued by a two judges bench that complaints under Section 498A IPC should be scrutinised by Family Welfare Committees before further legal action by police. Other directions issued by the two judge bench were not interfered with.

Directives To Prevent 498A Misuse

[Rajesh Sharma vs. State of UP]

A two Judge Bench of Justices AK Goel and UU Lalit observed that Section 498A was inserted in the statute with the laudable object of punishing cruelty at the hands of husband or his relatives against a wife particularly when such cruelty had potential to result in suicide or murder of a woman. It also expressed its concern about large number of cases continue to be filed under Section 498A alleging harassment of married women. The bench issued the following directives read as follows:

  • Complaints under Section 498A and other connected offences may be investigated only by a designated Investigating Officer of the area. Such designations may be made within one month from today. Such designated officer may be required to undergo training for such duration (not less than one week) as may be considered appropriate. The training may be completed within four months from today;
  • In cases where a settlement is reached, it will be open to the District and Sessions Judge or any other senior Judicial Officer nominated by him in the district to dispose of the proceedings including closing of the criminal case if dispute primarily relates to matrimonial discord;
  • If a bail application is filed with at least one clear day's notice to the Public Prosecutor/complainant, the same may be decided as far as possible on the same day. 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. Needless to say that in dealing with bail matters, individual roles, prima facie truth of the allegations, requirement of further arrest/ custody and interest of justice must be carefully weighed;
  • In respect of persons ordinarily residing out of India impounding of passports or issuance of Red Corner Notice should not be a routine;
  • It will be open to the District Judge or a designated senior judicial officer nominated by the District Judge to club all connected cases between the parties arising out of matrimonial disputes so that a holistic view is taken by the Court to whom all such cases are entrusted;
  • Personal appearance of all family members and particularly outstation members may not be required and the trial court ought to grant exemption from personal appearance or permit appearance by video conferencing without adversely affecting progress of the trial.
  • These directions will not apply to the offences involving tangible physical injuries or death.

Mere Extra-Marital Relationship By Husband Not 'Cruelty' To Attract Section 498A/306 IPC

In this case, it was observed that, solely because the husband is involved in an extra-marital relationship and there is some suspicion in the mind of wife that cannot be regarded as mental cruelty which could attract Section 498A/306 IPC. The prosecution case was that the wife felt extremely hurt and, eventually being unable to withstand the conduct of the husband who was allegedly involved in an extra-marital affair, put an end to her life. The high court had upheld the trial court judgment convicting him under Section 498A and also held him guilty for driving his wife to suicide.

Extra-marital affair might be an illegal or immoral act, but other ingredients are to be brought home so that it would constitute a criminal offence, the bench had said while setting aside the conviction.

Incidents Which Happened Much Before Wife's Death Can't Be Treated As Conduct Which Drove Her To Suicide

The Supreme court observed that Incidents which had taken place between husband and wife much before latter's death by suicide could not be treated as the conduct which drove her to commit suicide. All those incidents of alleged cruelty by the husband, in this case, had taken place much before the commission of the suicide by the deceased and, therefore, they cannot be treated as the immediate cause of provocation for the deceased to take the extreme step.

Prosecution Not Sustainable When Complaint Is Filed Long After Divorce

It was held that the prosecution under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, is not sustainable when the complaint is filed long after the divorce. In this case, admittedly the couple had got divorced almost four years before the filing of the FIR.

Acquittal For 498A Will Bar Prosecution To Use 113A Presumption To Prove Abetment To Suicide

The Apex Court bench observed that, in a case of suicide of wife, acquittal of the relatives or husband under Section 498A IPC will bar prosecution to use presumption available under Section 113A of the Evidence Act prove abetment to suicide under Section 306 IPC. A bench comprising Justice RF Nariman and Justice Mohan M Shantanagoudar also held that harassment is something of a lesser degree than cruelty, and the mere fact that there is a finding of harassment would not lead to the conclusion that there is "abetment of suicide".