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It is most significant to note that while ruling in a very important matter pertaining to the matrimonial disputes cases, the Andhra Pradesh High Court at Amaravati in a most learned, laudable, landmark, logical and latest judgment titled M Sreenivasulu vs State of Andhra Pradesh in Criminal Revision Case No.: 165/2023 and cited in Neutral Citation No.: APHC010100702023 that was pronounced as recently as on May 3, 2024 in the exercise of its "Special Original Jurisdiction" has discharged an accused and minced just no words to observe that there is no utility in prolonging the proceedings under Section 498A IPC and Sections 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 where the Family Court nullified the marriage. It must be mentioned here that the Court was hearing a review petition that had been filed under Section 397 and Section 401 of CrPC. Ultimately, we see that the Court very rightly decided to allow the revision petition.

At the very outset, this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment authored by the Single Judge Bench comprising of Hon’ble Sri Justice T Mallikarjuna Rao of Andhra Pradesh High Court at Amaravati sets the ball in motion by first and foremost putting forth in para 1 that, "This Criminal Revision, under Sections 397 and 401 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (for short, ‘Cr.P.C.’), has been filed by the Revision Petitioners/A.1 to A.3, seeking to set aside the discharge petition order, dated 18.11.2022 in Crl.M.P.No.146 of 2020 in C.C. No.450 of 2016 on the file of I Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Visakhapatnam, (for short, "the trial Court")."

As we see, the Bench states in para 3 that, "In the proceedings before the trial court, the Revision Petitioners/A.1 to A.3 herein, submitted a petition in Crl.M.P.No.146 of 2020 within C.C.No.450 of 2016, invoking section 239 of the Cr.P.C., with the aim of securing their discharge from the case registered under C.C.No.450 of 2016."

To put things in perspective, the Bench then while dwelling briefly on key facts envisages in para 4 that, "The crux of the case at hand revolves around the allegations of procedural irregularities attributed to the investigating officer. It is contended that, devoid of conducting comprehensive counselling or inquiry, the investigating officer swiftly proceeded to register FIR No.98 of 2015, solely relying on the report furnished by the 2nd Respondent. Subsequently, upon the filing of an anticipatory application by the Petitioners, bail was granted by the VII Additional District Court-cum-Mahila Court. A condition of this anticipatory bail was the issuance of a notice under section 41A of the Cr.P.C., by the Sessions Judge, instructing police officials to serve the notice without executing an arrest. It is submitted that, in blatant disregard of these directives, the investigating officer proceeded to arrest the Petitioners without adhering to the Sessions Judge’s orders. It is alleged that the case registered under C.C.No.450 of 2016 seemingly stems from the improper issuance of the FIR, grounded in what is alleged to be a false report, evidently aimed at harassing the Petitioners and besmirching their reputation within society."

It cannot be glossed over that the Bench observes in para 13 that, "The learned Judge of the Family Court, after careful consideration of the admissions made by the 2nd Respondent herein, has observed that the relief requested by the 1st Petitioner to nullify the marriage between himself and his wife is permissible. Consequently, the Judge, Family Court allowed the petition and declared the marriage that was officiated between the parties on 15.03.2015 is null and void."

Most significantly, the Bench mandates in para 16 what constitutes the cornerstone of this notable judgment while also citing the relevant case law that, "Learned counsel for the Petitioners contends that even upon conducting the trial, the ultimate conclusion of the proceedings is anticipated to result in the acquittal of the accused individuals. Consequently, it is asserted that the trial Court, given this foreseeable outcome, should have exercised its discretion to discharge the accused persons from further legal proceedings. In support of their contention, the Petitioners have also placed reliance on the judgment of the Hon’ble Apex Court in P. Siva Kumar & ors. V. State Rep., by the Deputy Superintendent of Police and Ors 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 116, wherein it held that:

7. Undisputedly, the marriage between the appellant No.1 and PW-1 has been found to be null and void. As such the conviction under Section 498-A IPC would not be sustainable in view of the judgment of this Court in the case Shivcharan Lal Verma’s case supra. So far as the conviction under Sections 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act is concerned, the learned trial Judge by an elaborate reasoning, arrived at after appreciation of evidence, has found that the prosecution has failed to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt. In an appeal/revision, the High court could have set aside the order of acquittal only if the findings as recorded by the trial Court were perverse or impossible.

In light of the observations outlined in the aforementioned decision, this Court perceives that there is no utility in prolonging the proceedings against the accused individuals, especially in light of the Family Court's order nullifying the marriage between the 1st Petitioner and the 2nd Respondent."

Be it noted, the Bench notes in para 17 that, "The learned counsel representing the Petitioners ardently asserts that in instances where a marriage is deemed null and void, the pursuit of legal proceedings under sections 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act becomes untenable. Central to this argument is the delineation of "dowry" as envisaged within the Act, positing it as a demand for property or valuable security intricately intertwined with the institution of marriage. Emphasizing the exhaustive scope of dowry as defined in section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, counsel underscores its inclusive nature, encompassing a wide array of assets and properties exchanged directly or indirectly in connection with matrimonial alliances. Furthermore, counsel contends that once a marriage is declared null and void, any purported demand for dowry in relation to said marriage loses legal validity. Notably, in the case of P. Siva Kumar’s case as referred to supra, the Hon’ble Apex Court independently scrutinized the trial court’s decision, despite the nullification of the marriage, to assess the applicability of charges under sections 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act."

Quite significantly, it is worth noting that the Bench notes in para 18 that, "Learned counsel for the Petitioners has apprised the Court of an admission made by the 2nd Respondent herein (wife/Defacto Complainant) during the Family Court proceedings. The order passed in F.C.O.P.No.1275 of 2015 reveals that the wife/Defacto Complainant did not raise any objection to the declaration of the marriage as null and void, but sought leave to contest other allegations pertaining to the recovery of amounts and ornaments through separate proceedings. Additionally, it appears that both parties have reached an amicable compromise, rendering the continuation of the proceedings unnecessary. In light of these circumstances, this Court is inclined to believe that the Petitioners have established a case warranting the allowing of the Revision Case."

Bluntly put, the Bench then clearly states in para 20 that, "The learned counsel for the Petitioners asserts that vague and general allegations have been levied against the Petitioners. While certain documents have been referenced to demonstrate the amount of transfer, no specific documents have been presented to substantiate the actual transfer of amounts. Consequently, the contention raised by the Defacto Complainant, suggesting that the amounts were transferred as dowry, cannot be accepted."

It cannot be lost sight of that the Bench points out in para 21 that, "As rightly pointed out by the Petitioners’ counsel, the expenses purportedly incurred by the family members of the 2nd Respondent/wife for the marriage have been categorized as dowry. The version presented by the 2nd Respondent lacks specificity and consistency concerning the alleged dowry payments and their particulars. Vague assertions have been made in both the police complaint and the Domestic Violence Case, without providing any clear explanation. Furthermore, the 2nd Respondent has failed to explain why she did not produce documentary evidence to support the alleged payments. Additionally, it is noteworthy that the 2nd Respondent, in F.C.O.P.No.1275 of 2015, relinquished her claim in the divorce petition, with the intention to pursue the recovery of the amount through separate proceedings."

As a corollary, the Bench then holds in para 22 that, "On a careful conspectus of the legal spectrum, juxtaposed in my view on the facts and merits expressed hereinbefore, I am satisfied that there is no suspicion, much less strong or grave suspicion that the Petitioners are guilty of the offence alleged under section 3 and 4 of D.P. Act. It would be unjustified to make the Petitioners face a full-fledged criminal trial in this backdrop."

Finally, the Bench then concludes by holding in para 23 that, "Accordingly, the Revision Petition is allowed. The Revision Petitioners, on bail, stand discharged of the liabilities of their bail bonds. The Impugned order of the learned Magistrate dismissing the prayer for discharge is set aside. Consequently, there not being sufficient material on record to proceed against them, the Petitioner shall stand discharged in the criminal case. Miscellaneous applications pending, if any, shall stand closed."

To conclude, we thus see that the Andhra Pradesh High Court has very rightly discharged the accused in the criminal case that was lodged against them. It was also made indubitably clear by the High Court that there is just no utility in merely prolonging the proceedings under Section 498A IPC and so also the Dowry Prohibition Act when the Family Court had nullified the marriage. There can be certainly just no denying it!

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