The Bombay High Court has recommended that the offence under Section 498A (cruelty to wife by husband or family) of the Indian Penal Code be made compoundable. A division bench of Justices Revati Mohite Dere and Prithviraj Chavan observed that in situations where there is an amicable settlement, parties still have to physically appear before the High Court to have the proceedings quashed under Section 498A, causing inconveniences.
“We should note that, because Section 498A is a non-compoundable offence, we get at least ten petitions/applications every day seeking the quashing of Section 498A by consent. Concerned parties must appear personally before the Court from wherever they reside, including villages, causing great hardship for the parties involved, in addition to travel expenses, litigation fees, and stay expenses in the city. “If parties are working, they must take a day off,” the bench stated. Aside from the difficulties faced by the parties, the bench stated that if Section 498A is made compoundable with the approval of the court hearing the matter, the High Court’s valuable time can be saved.
The State of Andhra Pradesh had rendered Section 498A compoundable in 2003, according to the High Court.
“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 plea in which three family members asked Justice Dere’s bench to invalidate the proceedings under Section 498A. The bench noted that the three petitioners lived in three distinct and remote regions – Pune, Satara, and Navi Mumbai – and were forced to travel all the way to Mumbai to attend the proceedings since they had to remain personally present. Given the amicable settlement between the complainant woman and her in-laws, the bench cancelled the FIR filed against the petitioners in Pune’s Hadapsar police station. It was noticed that the woman consented to have the FIRs dismissed after receiving alimony payments of 10 lakh out of a total of 25 lakh.
The bench did remark, however, that a considerable number of applications are filed in the High Court on a daily basis seeking quashing of Section 498A and other compoundable offences once parties reach an acceptable settlement.
As a result, the bench sought assistance from Advocate General (AG) Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, who informed the court that the State has approved a bill in both houses in July 2018 to compound the offence under Section 498A. The law, according to the AG, was sent for the President’s approval, and as per protocol, the President’s office transmitted it to the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development for comments. According to the AG, the Union Ministry said that “diluting the offence would not be in the interest of the victim,” and thus the State reacted with a clarification for its action to compound the charge. However, the ministry has yet to reply to the clarification, according to the report.
The bench further noted that the Law Commission had suggested compounding of the aforementioned offence in its 237th and 243rd reports. It also considered the fact that, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2020 report, a total of 1,11,549 cases were reported 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.
Despite law commission recommendations, NCRB statistics, and court rulings requesting a relook at the provision, the bench concluded that the charge under Section 498A remains non-compoundable. As a result, it directed ASG Anil Singh to obtain directions from the Union Ministry. The case would be heard again on December 19.