Courts must closely scrutinise Section 498A IPC complaints: Delhi High Court

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The Delhi High Court recently observed that courts should closely scrutinise complaints citing Section 498A (cruelty to married women) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), particularly to ensure that the relatives of an accused man are not unnecessarily roped into such cases [Rajesh Aggarwal and Anr. v State NCT of Delhi and Anr.].

Court musts scrutinise such complaints or first information reports (FIR) to ascertain whether the allegations are only a case of clever drafting or whether they have at least some element of truth, the High Court said.

Justice Navin Chawla made the observation while quashing a Section 498A case

The judge observed that if a wife is set on implicating her husband’s family, a Section 498A complaint filed by her could contain specific allegations against each family member.

However, it would defeat the ends of justice if a man’s family members have to face the agony of a trial only because such allegations are made, the Court added.

“In my opinion, therefore, the Court must scrutinise the complaint/FIR to determine whether the allegations are a case of clever drafting or have at least some element of truth in the same,” the Court said in its March 12 order.

Justice Navin Chawla
The judge added that while the court is not expected to conduct a mini trial, it cannot also remain a mere spectator when it finds that the continuance of criminal proceedings would defeat justice.

“Though the Court is not expected to conduct a mini trial, the Court also cannot be a mere spectator and refuse to exercise the power that is vested in it under Section 482 of the Cr.P.C., where it finds that the continuation of such proceedings would defeat the ends of the justice and would amount to insurmountable harassment, agony and pain to the accused and be an abuse of the criminal process,” the order said.

It also highlighted the Supreme Court’s observation in Kahkashan Kausar @ Sonam & Ors v State of Bihar and Ors. that FIRs containing general or omnibus allegations against the in-laws are liable to be quashed.

“It was further held that, in fact, in such cases if the family members are forced to go through the tribulations of trial, it would inflict severe scars upon them and such exercise must be discouraged,” the Court added.

The Court made the observations while allowing a plea filed by the relatives of a man whose wife had accused them of harassment and dowry demands.

The complainant’s in-laws (petitioners) had filed the plea to quash a 2017 criminal case against them. They denied the allegations made against them and contended that the FIR was a counterblast to property case initiated by the complainant’s mother-in-law against the complainant.

The complainant countered that there were specific allegations against the petitioners. In this regard, the Court was told that the accused-relatives had allegedly demanded ₹10 lakh as dowry from the complainant in 2007. She was mercilessly beaten for not complying with such a demand, the complainant alleged.

She further submitted that she did not file a complaint earlier to maintain her marital relationship, but that would not mean that the case was a false one.

On examining the complaint, the Court concluded that the allegations in the FIR were mostly general and vague. While there were some specific allegations, these dated back to around 1994-95 and 2007, the Court noted.

After examining certain other factual aspects on the record, the Court was ultimately not persuaded by the genuineness of the complaint and quashed the case against the petitioners (in-laws of the complainant or relatives of her husband).

The Court clarified that its observations must not influence the trial court, which was yet to decide on the Section 498A case against the complainant’s husband.

The petitioners were represented by advocates Manoj Taneja and Vishal Khadia.

The complainant was represented by advocates KP Toms and Piyush Mehra.

Assistant Public Prosecutor Shoaib Haider led the arguments for the State.

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