Following observations made by the Supreme Court and various High Courts and representations received from different quarters, the Home Ministry had recently requested the Law Commission to consider whether amendments to Section 498 A were required to check the alleged misuse of the provision.
The Commission, which advises government on complex legal issues, will use the opinions from public, NGOs and Bar Councils to firm up its views before submitting the report on the ticklish issue. Section 498 A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) allows the police to arrest the husband and in-laws of a woman for subjecting her to cruelty. The offences under the Section are cognisable, non-compoundable and non-bailable.
The apex court had recently observed that a serious re look of the provision is warranted by the Legislature. "It is a matter of common knowledge that exaggerated versions of the incidents are reflected in a large number of complaints. The tendency of over-implication is also reflected in a very large number of cases," the SC observation has been quoted by the Law Commission.
According to the paper, the apex court took note of the common tendency to implicate husband and all his immediate relations. "...by misuse of the provision, a new legal terrorism can be unleashed," the SC had said.
But at the same time, several views have been expressed in support of maintaining status quo, including that by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the Commission has noted. Those favouring status quo suggest that Section 498 A has been specifically enacted to protect a vulnerable section of the society, which has been subjected to cruelty and harassment. The social purpose behind it will be lost if the rigour of the provision is diluted.
The misuse can be curtailed within the existing framework of law. For instance, the Home Ministry can issue 'advisories' to state governments to avoid unnecessary arrests and to strictly observe the procedures laid down in the law governing arrests. Section 498 A was introduced in 1983 to protect married women from being subjected to cruelty by the husband or his relatives. A punishment extending to 3 years and fine has been prescribed.
The expression 'cruelty' has been defined in comprehensive terms to include inflicting physical or mental harm to the body or health of the victim with a view to coerce her or her relations to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security.