Millennium Post

Dowry has chilling effect on marriage: SC

Dowry has chilling effect on marriage: SC
New Delhi: "Dowry has a chilling effect on marriage", the Supreme Court on Monday said while reserving its verdict on a batch of pleas seeking revisiting of a judgement that had reduced the severity of the anti-dowry law on the offence of subjecting a married woman to cruelty by spouse and in-laws.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said it would not deal with the facts of any case and would rather deal with the aspects of gender justice for married woman on one side and the right to life and personal liberty of husbands and in-laws on the other.
"Two concepts are related to section 498A (subjecting married woman to cruelty by her spouse and in-laws) of the IPC.
"There should be gender justice for woman as dowry has a chilling effect on marriage on the hand. On the other hand, there is right to life and personal liberty of the man," the bench, also comprising justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, said.
"How these two sides (of contrasting rights of man and woman) can be juxtaposed is the issue," it said.
During the hearing, senior advocate Indu Malhotra, who is assisting the court as an amicus curiae, said the judgement conferred the powers of the Crime Against Women [CAW] Cell or police to "an extra judicial committee comprising paralegal volunteers" to look into criminal complaints under Section 498A in the first instance. "The power of investigation of a criminal offence in matrimonial cases, as in others, has to be exercised only by the police. The constitution of a Family Welfare Committee to look into criminal complaints under Section 498A IPC is contrary to the procedure prescribed by law," she said adding that the offence was "non-bailable, and a cognisable" one. "In case of matrimonial offences, where the accused is not joining investigation or the offence is committed partly in India and partly abroad, issuance of Red Corner Notice ought not to be prohibited. Issuance of RCN in such cases is necessary to ensure participation of the accused in investigation or trial," the senior lawyer said. Besides Malhotra, senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for NGO 'Social Action Forum', said the court had no occasion to lay down guidelines on the offence committed under section 498A of the IPC.
A two-judge bench of the apex court in July last year had voiced concern over "abuse" of section 498 A (subjecting a married woman to cruelty) and passed a slew of directions, including that no arrest should "normally be effected" without verifying allegations as violation of human rights of innocents could not be brushed aside.
Later, a three-judge bench led by the CJI expressed disagreement with the verdict and appointed senior advocate V Shekhar as an amicus curiae to assist it in revisiting the judgement.
The apex court had issued notices to Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Women and Child Development and National Commission of Women and sought their responses while disagreeing with the July 27 verdict of the smaller bench.
The bench was hearing a plea filed by an NGO 'Nyayadhar', an organisation formed by a group of women advocates of Maharashtra's Ahmednagar district, seeking sharpness in section 498A, claiming that the otherwise "helpful instrument" in the hands of victim women has become "valueless".
The plea suggested that out of three members in family welfare committees, at least two should be women and one member should have done Masters in Social Work.
It also suggested recording of facts at the time of counselling and said the committee should also consider the economic status of the parties.
The two judge bench had passed a slew of directions to deal with complaints under section 498A and had observed that many such complaints are not bonafide and "uncalled for arrest" may ruin the chances of settlement.
It had directed that in every district, one or more family welfare committees should be constituted by the District Legal Services Authorities (DLSA) and every complaint received by police or the magistrate under this provision should be referred to and looked into by the committee.
It had said that such committees might comprise paralegal volunteers, social workers, retired persons, wives of working officers and others who may be found suitable and willing.
The bench had also said that if a bail plea was filed in such matter, it may be decided as far as possible on the same day with at least one day's notice to the public prosecutor or the complainant.
It had said that regarding persons residing out of India, the process of impounding of passports or issuance of Red Corner Notice should not be a routine.
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