Misuse of Section 498-A
- Misuse of Section 498-A in many cases has been judicially noticed by the apex court as well as various High Courts. This has also been taken note of by Parliamentary Committee on Petitions (Rajya Sabha). However, misuse (the extent of which is not established by any empirical study) by itself is not a ground to abolish S,498-A or to denude the Section of its teeth. The social objective behind the Section and the need for deterrence should be kept in view while at the same time ensuring that the complaints filed with false or exaggerated allegations out of ulterior motives or in a fit of emotion should be curbed.
- The need to spread awareness of the provision and available remedies especially in rural areas both among women and men is necessary and in this regard the District and Taluka Legal Services Authorities, the media, the NGOs and law students can play a meaningful role.
- All endeavours shall be made for effecting reconciliation at the earliest with the help of professional counsellors, mediation and legal aid centres, retired officials/medical and legal professionals or friends and relations in whom the parties have faith. An action plan has to be drawn up for forming the panels in every district as well as extending necessary help to he aggrieved women. The I.O. should refrain from participating in the conciliation process.
- The law on the question whether registration of FIR could be postponed for a reasonable time is in a state of uncertainty. Some High Courts have been directing that FIR shall not be registered under S, 498A (except in cases of visible violence, and the like) till the preliminary investigation is done and reconciliation process is completed. The issue has been referred to a larger Bench of Supreme Court recently. In this regard, the police has to follow the law laid down by the jurisdictional High Court until the Supreme Court decides the matter.
- The offence under S, 498-A shall be made compoundable, with the permission of Court and subject to cooling off period of 3 months, as already recommended by this Commission in 237thReport. The preponderance of view is to make it compoundable.
- The offence should remain non-bailable. However, the safeguard against arbitrary and unwarranted arrests lies in strictly observing the letter and spirit of the conditions laid down in Sections 41 and 41-A of Cr. PC relating to power of arrest and sensitizing the Police on the modalities to be observed in cases of this nature. The need for custodial interrogation should be carefully assessed. Over-reaction and inaction are equally wrong. Police should take necessary steps to ensure safety of the complainant and to prevent further acts of harassment.
- The Home Ministry’s Advisory dated 20th October 2009 on the subject of “Misuse of Section 498-A of IPC” as well as the guidelines / additional precautions set out in para 14 of this Report should be compiled and at a conference of DGPs specially convened for this purpose by the Home Secretary, they must be apprised of the need to follow the said principles and guidelines and to issue circulars / standing orders accordingly. There should be a monitoring mechanism in the police Dept. to keep track of S, 498A cases and the observance of guidelines.
- Without prejudice to the above suggestions, it has been recommended that as set out in para 16 above, sub-section (3) shall be added to Section 41 Cr. PC to prevent arbitrary and unnecessary arrests. The legislative mandate which is not materially different from the spirit underlying Sections 41 and 157 Cr. PC should be put in place in the interests of uniformity and clarity.
- The compensation amount in Section 358 of Cr. PC shall be increased from one thousand rupees to fifteen thousand rupees and this proposed change is not merely confined to the Section under consideration.
- The women police stations (under the nomenclature of Crimes Against Women Cell) should be strengthened both quantitatively and qualitatively. Well trained and educated lady police officers of the rank of Inspector or above hall head such police stations. CWCs should be established in every district with adequate trained personnel. Panels of competent professional counsellors and respected elders / professionals who can counsel and conciliate should be maintained by SP/SSP for every district. There shall be separate room in the police stations for women complainants and the accused women in S, 498-A related cases.
- Hostels or shelter homes for the benefit of women who would not like to go back to marital homes should be maintained in cities and District headquarters with necessary facilities. The assistance given to them shall be treated as a part of social welfare measure which is an obligation of the welfare State.
- The passport of non-resident Indians involved in Section 498-A cases should not be impounded mechanically and instead of that, bonds and sureties for heavy amounts can be insisted upon.
- Above all, the need for expeditious disposal of cases under section 498A should be given special attention by the prosecution and Judiciary.
State’s obligation to take care of estranged women in distress
Attention should also be bestowed by the states and Union Territories is providing necessary aid and assistance to the hapless women who having gone to the Police Station with a genuine grievance and in a state of distress do not venture to go back to marital home or even unable to stay with relatives. Either they do not have parents who can take care of or maintain them during the period of trauma or there is reluctance on the part of even close relations to allow her to stay with them without hassles. The process of reconciliation and compromise may take some time and there is no knowing what will be its outcome. Further, the victim woman in distress would need immediate solace in the form of medical assistance and a temporary abode to stay, apart from proper counseling. In the circumstances in which she is placed, only the State or its instrumentalities can take care of her immediate needs. At present, even in cities, there are no Hostels and Shelter Homes worth mentioning which are catering to the welfare of victimized women. Even if there are a few, no proper facilities are in place. There are no Crisis Centres attached to Women Police Stations even in major cities (excepting few) which can immediately provide succour and relief to the women in distress. The Commission would therefore like to emphasize the obvious that every Government should treat it as a paramount obligation on their part to cater to the immediate needs of victimized women leaving the matrimonial home and not in a position to stay with their relatives for various reasons. The women who are worst hit if assistance is not provided are those from the poor and middle class background. The States should consider this problem on a priority basis and initiate necessary steps to alleviate the suffering of women in need of help as a part of the welfare goal ingrained in our Constitution.