AMENDMENT IN CrPC MAY MAKE DOWRY LAW TOOTHLESS
19 Jan 2009, 0043 hrs IST, TNN
Buried under vociferous calls by bar associations for court boycott and strikes, a largely unnoticed fallout of the CrPC amendments has begun to bother astute legal observers in the capital. Had lawyers agitating against the amendments highlighted this instead of issuing threats to shut courts, they would have better mobilized public opinion against these amendments.
For, once the amended law comes into force, Section 498A of IPC (dowry harassment) will become a toothless penal provision as errant husbands and in-laws will no longer face the possibility of being shunted to jail for harassment. The amendment empowers police to simply issue a ‘notice of appearance' to the accused instead of putting him behind bars in cases under Section 498A of IPC, which has a maximum punishment of three years.
It also means the deterrent effect behind Section 498A — fear of arrest by police — evaporates. Experience has shown that, at present, in-laws and husband fall in line as soon as they realize they might be whisked away to jail by cops, and more often than not, readily undertake to take care of the victim before courts hear their anticipatory bail pleas.
However, this might now change with the sting being taken out from the provision, says advocate Shipli Jain. She explains: "Almost half of the cases in criminal courts in Delhi are related to dowry-harassment bail pleas. We often notice that a husband and his parents become very forthcoming for a settlement when they realize a court might dismiss their bail applications. The amendment makes matters very easy and convenient for them. Most dowry cases get settled at the bail stage itself, something that won't happen now."
But isn't the provision of arrest under 498A a grossly misused one? Jain counters by saying: "Lots of divorces have been saved because men are scared of throwing women out of the house lest they be booked under 498A. In a way, it is the most effective provision despite the presence of the special laws like Domestic Violence Act."
Another noted women lawyer from Delhi, Minaxi Lekhi, also felt the CrPC changes will lead to problems: "At the end of the day, criminal laws mean threat of arrest."