The Supreme Court of India has modified an earlier order that directed complaints made under anti-dowry law Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to be examined by a Family Welfare Committee before further action by the police.
A three-Judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra on Friday modified the order issued by a two-Judge Bench in July 2017 providing safeguards to prevent misuse of the legal provision.
The 2017 ruling had said that no arrests would be made under this law unless a special committee, constituted in each district, had looked into a complaint made to the police or a magistrate.
The bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justice DY Chandrachud, and Justice AM Khanwilkar has done away with this requirement. While acknowledging that there was misuse of the provision, the bench said that the court cannot fill in legislative gaps.
What Is The Anti-Dowry Law ?
The section is explained under Chapter XXA of the Indian Penal Code which deals with “cruelty by husband or relatives of husband”.
It explains cruelty as “any wilful 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”.
The definition also covers harassment of the woman 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.
According to the anti-dowry law, the husband or relative of the husband subjecting a woman to such cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.
What The SC Has Said
The July 2017 ruling by the two-Judge Bench had said that each district should have at least one such committee, preferably comprising of three members.
It had also said that complaints under Section 498A and other connected offences would be investigated only by a designated Investigating Officer (IO) of the area. The directions were meant to prevent the misuse of the anti-dowry provision.
The matter came before the three-Judge Bench in October 2017 after a petition was filed seeking the appointment of women members to the Family Welfare Committees.
The bench had, however, said that it was not in agreement with the earlier order since it curtailed the rights of women who were harassed. It had also pointed out that such guidelines had to be legislative in nature.