Merely naming the husband’s distant relations is not enough to summon them as accused in dowry cases, the Supreme Court has ruled.
A bench of Justice V Gopala Gowda and Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said courts cannot summon distant relations of a man in dowry cases in absence of any specific role attributed to them and material to support the allegations. Courts have to be careful in such cases, it emphasised.
“Only the husband, his parents or at best close family members may be expected to demand dowry or to harass the wife but not distant relations, unless there is tangible material to support allegations made against such distant relations,” the bench said quashing the charges against distant relations of a woman’s husband in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.
The verdict comes barely two-and-a-half-month after the top court put an end to the practice of automatic arrest under the anti-dowry law, expressing concern over the misuse of Section 498A of IPC by “disgruntled wives” against in-laws and husbands. It had asked state governments to ensure that the police didn’t go on an arresting spree -- as was the practice -- in dowry harassment cases.
The attitude to arrest first and then proceed with the rest was "despicable" and must be curbed, it had said, adding police must give reasons and proof to magistrate before making an arrest under Section 498A of IPC, the SC had said in July.
In the instant case, the woman in question had names distant relations of her husband along with her husband and in-laws under Section 406 of IPC (criminal breach of trust) and Section 6 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 after the husband filed a petition for divorce in 2010. Those names in the FIR included the grandson of the brother of her husband’s grandfather and and some others whose names were added in a subsequent complaint without any specific allegations against them.
The Allahabad HC had refused to quash the charges against them. But terming it a clear abuse of process of the court, the SC quashed all charges against the accused – who were all distant relations of the complainant woman.
Concerned over its abuse, the Law Commission and Parliament’s standing committee on home affairs had recommended that offences under Section 498A IPC be made compoundable i.e. husband and wife should be allowed to settle the dispute between themselves.