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Supreme Court says No immediate arrest in dowry cases

To prevent the misuse of anti-dowry laws, the Supreme Court directed the District Legal Services Authorities (DLSA) to constitute a three-member welfare committee which would examine complaints before arrests are made.

The court has laid down guidelines to prevent the misuse of anti-dowry laws and with the added aim of felicitating increase in instances of amicable settlement of matrimonial disputes. However, the court was careful to stress that these guidelines would not be applicable in cases where there are tangible physical injuries or death.

This arrangement is on trial for six months. The National Legal Services Authority will review it and file a report by March 2018.

The judgment came on the heels of an appeal where a question arose whether any directions were called for to prevent the misuse of Section 498A.

The main contention raised was that there was a need to check the tendency to rope in all family members to settle a matrimonial dispute. “Omnibus allegations against all relatives of the husband cannot be taken at face value, when in normal course it may only be the husband or his parents who may be accused of demanding dowry or causing cruelty,” the court said.

“We are conscious of the object for which the provision was brought into the statute. At the same time, violation of human rights cannot be brushed aside. Certain safeguards against uncalled for arrest or insensitive investigation have been addressed by this Court.”

The apex court reasoned that Section 498A (arrest of husband or his relatives for demanding dowry) was inserted in the statute with the laudable object of punishing perpetrators, particularly when such cruelty could potentially result in suicide or murder.

However, the Bench found that most such complaints are filed in the heat of the moment over trivial issues. Many are not bona fide. At times, they lead to harassment of not only the accused but also the complainant. The uncalled for arrests could ruin chances of settlement.

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