NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday took note of the ‘misuse’ of Section 498A and said that the accused can now seek anticipatory bail.
The court said that though Section 498A of the IPC was enacted to protect women from cruelty in matrimonial homes, its misuse to harass the other side too is causing social unrest.
“There should be gender justice for women as dowry has a chilling effect on marriage on the one hand. On the other hand, there is right to life and personal liberty of the man,” the bench had said while reserving its verdict.
Modifying its earlier order and erasing role of NALSA (National Legal Services Authority) and NGOs, the apex court in a judgment said courts are there to protect harassed husbands and their relatives, who are not remotely connected to matrimonial cruelty, by granting them anticipatory bail.
“We have protected pre-arrest or anticipatory bail provision in dowry harassment cases,” said a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud.
The top court had on April 23 reserved 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.
The apex court, while modifying the verdict given by its two-judge bench, said that there is no scope for courts for constitutionally filling up gaps in penal law. The earlier order had provisions for setting up of a committee to deal with complaints of dowry harassment.
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.
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”.
Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code deals with husband or relatives of husbands subjecting a woman to cruelty. Punishment under the Section is a maximum of three years and was so far a non-bailable offence.