Report No. 243
7. The arguments, on the other hand, in support of maintaining the status quo are briefly:
Section 498-A and other legislations like Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act have been specifically enacted to protect a vulnerable section of the society who have been the victims of cruelty and harassment. The social purpose behind it will be lost if the rigour of the provision is diluted. The abuse or misuse of law is not peculiar to this provision. The misuse can however be curtailed within the existing framework of law.
For instance, the Ministry of Home Affairs can issue 'advisories' to State Governments to avoid unnecessary arrests and to strictly observe the procedures laid down in the law governing arrests. The power to arrest should only be exercised after a reasonable satisfaction is reached as to the bona fides of a complaint and the complicity of those against whom accusations are made.
Further, the first recourse should be to effect conciliation and mediation between the warring spouses and the recourse to filing of a chargesheet under Section 498-A shall be had only in cases where such efforts fail and there appears to be a prima facie case. Counselling of parties should be done by professionally qualified counsellors and not by the Police.
7.1 These views have been echoed among others by the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
7.2 Further, it is pointed out that a married woman ventures to go to the Police station to make a complaint against her husband and other close relations only out of despair and being left with no other remedy against cruelty and harassment. In such a situation, the existing law should be allowed to take its own course rather than over-reacting to the misuse in some cases.
7.3 There is also a view expressed that when once the offending family members get the scent of the complaint, there may be further torture of the complainant and her life and liberty may be endangered if the Police do not act swiftly and sternly. It is contended that in the wake of ever increasing crimes leading to unnatural deaths of women in marital homes, any dilution of Section 498-A is not warranted. Secondly, during the long-drawn process of mediation also, she is vulnerable to threats and torture. Such situations too need to be taken care of.
8. There is preponderance of opinion in favour of making the said offence compoundable with the permission of the court. Some States, for e.g., Andhra Pradesh have already made it compoundable. The Supreme Court, in a recent case o.--*---, observed that it should be made compoundable. However, there is sharp divergence of views on the point whether it should be made a bailable offence. It is pleaded by some that the offence under Section 498-A should be made bailable at least with regard to husband's relations.* (Crl.) No. 6494 of 2010 (Order dt. July 30, 2010.
8.1 Those against compoundability contend that the women especially from the rural areas will be pressurized to enter into an unfair compromise and further the deterrent effect of the provision will be lost.
9. The Commission is of the view that the Section together with its allied CrPC provisions shall not act as an instrument of oppression and counter-harassment and become a tool of indiscreet and arbitrary actions on the part of the Police. The fact that Section 498-A deals with a family problem and a situation of marital discord unlike the other crimes against society at large, cannot be forgotten. It does not however mean that the Police should not appreciate the grievance of the complainant woman with empathy and understanding or that the Police should play a passive role.
10. Section 498-A has a lofty social purpose and it should remain on the Statute book to intervene whenever the occasion arises. Its object and purpose cannot be stultified by overemphasizing its potentiality for abuse or misuse. Misuse by itself cannot be a ground to repeal it or to take away its teeth wholesale.
11. While the Commission is appreciative of the need to discourage unjustified and frivolous complaints and the scourge of over-implication, it is not inclined to take a view that dilutes the efficacy of Section 498-A to the extent of defeating its purpose especially having regard to the fact that atrocities against women are on the increase. A balanced and holistic view has to be taken on weighing the pros and cons. There is no doubt a need to address the misuse situations and arrive at a rational solutio.- legislative or otherwise.
12. There is also a need to create Section 498-A especially among the poor and illiterate living in rural areas who face quite often the problems of drunken misbehavior and harassment of women folk. More than the women, the men should be apprised of the penal provisions of law protecting the women against harassment at home.
The easy access of aggrieved women to the Taluka and District level Legal Service Authorities and/or credible NGOs with professional counsellors should be ensured by appropriate measures. There should be an extensive and well-planned campaign to spread awareness. Presently, the endeavour in this direction is quite minimal. Visits to few villages once in a way by the representatives of LSAs, law students and social workers is the present scenario.
13. There is an all-round view that the lawyers whom the aggrieved women or their relations approach in the first instance should act with a clear sense of responsibility and objectivity and give suitable advice consistent with the real problem diagnosed. Exaggerated and tutored versions and unnecessary implication of husband's relations should be scrupulously avoided.
The correct advice of the legal professionals and the sensitivity of the Police officials dealing with the cases are very important, and if these are in place, undoubtedly, the law will not take a devious course. Unfortunately, there is a strong feeling that some lawyers and police personnel have failed to act and approach the problem in a manner morally and legally expected of them.
14. Thus, have cropped up in the course of implementation of the provision are:(a) the police straightaway rushing to arrest the husband and even his other family members (named in the FIR), (b) tendency to implicate, with little or no justification, the in-laws and other relations residing in the marital home and even outside the home, overtaken by feelings of emotion and vengeance or on account of wrong advice, and (c) lack of professional, sensitive and empathetic approach on the part of the police to the problem of woman under distress.
15. In the context of the issue under consideration, a reference to the provisions of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (for short PDV Act) which is an allied and complementary law, is quite apposite. The said Act was enacted with a view to provide for more effective protection of rights of women who are victims of violence of any kind occurring within the family. Those rights are essentially of civil nature with a mix of penal provisions. Section 3 of the Act defines domestic violence in very wide terms.
It encompasses the situations set out in the definition of 'cruelty' under Section 498-A. The Act has devised an elaborate machinery to safeguard the interests of women subjected to domestic violence. The Act enjoins the appointment of Protection Officers who will be under the control and supervision of a Judicial Magistrate of First Class. The said officer shall send a domestic incident report to the Magistrate, the police station and service providers.
The Protections Officers are required to effectively assist and guide the complainant victim and provide shelter, medical facilities, legal aid etc. and also act on her behalf to present an application to the Magistrate for one or more reliefs under the Act. The Magistrate is required to hear the application ordinarily within 3 days from the date of its receipt. The Magistrate may at any stage of the proceedings direct the respondent and/or the aggrieved person to undergo counseling with a service provider.
'Service Providers' are those who conform to the requirements of Section 10 of the Act. The Magistrate can also secure the services of a welfare expert preferably a woman for the purpose of assisting him. Under Section 18, the Magistrate, after giving an opportunity of hearing to the Respondent and on being prima facie satisfied that domestic violence has taken place or is likely to take place, is empowered to pass a protection order prohibiting the Respondent from committing any act of domestic violence and/or aiding or abetting all acts of domestic violence.
There are other powers vested in the Magistrate including granting residence orders and monetary reliefs. Section 23 further empowers the Magistrate to pass such interim order as he deems just and proper including an ex-parte order. The breach of protection order by the respondent is regarded as an offence which is cognizable and non- bailable and punishable with imprisonment extending to one year (vide Section 31).
By the same Section, the Magistrate is also empowered to frame charges under Section 498-A of IPC and/or Dowry Prohibition Act. A Protection Officer who fails or neglects to discharge his duty as per the protection order is liable to be punished with imprisonment (vide Section 33). The provisions of the Act are supplemental to the provisions of any other law in force. A right to file a complaint under Section 498-A is specifically preserved under Section 5 of the Act.
15.1 An interplay of the provisions of this Act and the proceedings under Section 498-A assumes some relevance on two aspects: (1) Seeking Magistrate's expeditious intervention by way of passing a protective interim order to prevent secondary victimization of a complainant who has lodged FIR under Section 498-A. (2) Paving the way for the process of counselling under the supervision of Magistrate at the earliest opportunity.
16. With the above analysis and the broad outline of the approach indicated supra, the Commission invites the views of the public/NGOs/institutions/Bar Associations etc. on the following points, before preparing and forwarding to the Government the final report: