Bombay High Court asks Central government to make Section 498A compoundable

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In a significant order, the Bombay High Court has recommended the Central government to make the offence under Section 498A (cruelty to wife by husband, relatives) of the Indian Penal Code compoundable [Sandip Sule vs State of Maharashtra].

A division bench of Justices Revati Mohite Dere and Prithviraj Chavan observed that in cases where there is an amicable settlement, parties have to personally come to the High Court for quashing the proceedings under Section 498A, leading to hardships.

“We may note, that everyday, we have a minimum of 10 petitions/applications seeking quashing of Section 498A by consent, since 498A is a non-compoundable offence. Concerned parties, have to come personally before the Court from wherever they are residing, including from villages, thus incurring tremendous hardships for the parties concerned, apart from travelling expenses, litigation expenses and staying expenses in the city. Parties, if working, are required to take a day off,” the bench noted.

Apart from the hardships caused to parties, the bench said that if Section 498A is made compoundable with the permission of the concerned court hearing the case, precious time of the High Court can be saved.

The High Court noted that the State of Andhra Pradesh had made Section 498A compoundable way back in 2003.

“We direct the registry to forward a copy of this order to the Additional Solicitor General, for taking necessary steps or action and to enable him to take up the issue before the concerned Ministry, at the earliest,” the bench ordered.

The bench was hearing a petition wherein three members of a family had approached Justice Dere’s bench to quash the proceedings under Section 498A.

The bench noted that the three petitioners lived in three different and far off districts – Pune, Satara and Navi Mumbai and were compelled to travel all the way to Mumbai to attend the proceedings as they had to remain personally present for the hearing.

The bench quashed the FIR lodged against the applicants in Pune’s Hadapsar police station given the amicable settlement between the complainant woman and her in-laws. It noted that the woman has agreed to get the FIRs quashed after she was paid ₹10 lakh out of the total ₹25 lakh alimony.

However, the bench noted that a large number of petitions are filed daily in the High Court, seeking quashing of Section 498A along with other compoundable offences after parties reach an amicable settlement.

“It is immaterial, whether the parties have reconciled or have amicably resolved their disputes and entered into consent terms, the fact remains, that to quash the proceeding, parties are required to file applications or writ petitions in this Court, are required to remain present in this High Court, and to file affidavits and give proof of their identity,” the bench observed.

The bench, therefore, sought assistance from Advocate General (AG) Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, who informed that the State had in July 2018 passed a bill to compound the offence under Section 498A, in both its houses. The bill, the AG said, was sent for President’s assent and as per protocol, the office of the President forwarded the bill to the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development for its comments.

The Union ministry, the AG said responded that “diluting the offence would not be in the interest of the victim” and, therefore, the State had replied with a clarification for its move to compound the offence. However, the ministry is yet to respond to the clarification, it was stated.

The bench further noted that the Law Commission in its 237th and 243rd reports had recommended compounding of the said offence.

It further took into account the fact that the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2020 report, shows that a total of 1,11,549 cases were registered under 498A in 2020.

“Of these, 5,520 were closed by Police citing as false and overall 16,151 cases were closed by police either because they were false or there was a mistake of fact or law or it was a civil dispute etc. That is 14.4% of cases were closed by police for not finding merit in the case. Around 96,497 men, 23,809 women were arrested under 498A, making total arrests under this section of 1,20,306 persons. A total of 18,967 cases were tried in courts of which 14,340 led to acquittal and 3,425 led to conviction,” the bench noted from the data.

The data further revealed that around 6,51,404 were pending for trial in 2020 alone.

The bench opined that despite the law commission reports, the NCRB data, the judgments of courts recommending a relook at the provision, the offence under Section 498A continues to be non-compoundable.

Therefore, it ordered ASG Anil Singh to get instructions from the Union ministry for the same. It would next hear the matter on December 19.

Advocate Datta Mane appeared for the Petitioners.

Advocate Akash Yadav appeared for the Complainant.

Additional Public Prosecutor JP Yagnik represented the State.

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