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Supreme Court Opines That Courts Must Rule Out Frivolous Allegations Made Out Of Vengeance In Marital Disputes To Safeguard The Sanctity Of Marriage And Prevent Abuse Of Legal Provisions

Ifrah Murtaza ,
  14 May 2024       Share Bookmark

Court :
Hon’ble Supreme Court of India
Brief :

Citation :
Criminal Appeal No. 2379 of 2024

Case title:

Achin Gupta v. State of Haryana & Anr

Date of Order:

03.05.2024

Bench:

Hon’ble Mr. Justice J.B. Pardiwala

Hon’ble Mr. Justice Manoj Misra

Parties:

Appellant: Achin Gupta

Respondent(s): State of Haryana & Anr

SUBJECT:

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India (hereinafter referred to as the ‘Supreme Court’ or ‘the Court’) dealt with a matter revolving around a matrimonial dispute involving allegations of harassment and cruelty. The Supreme Court found that the allegations in the FIR filed by the wife (respondent) against the husband (appellant) and his family were vague and did not contain any specific details, making it look like a retaliatory move to the husband’s application for divorce. The Court ruled that due to the lack of details and evidence, the criminal proceedings levelled against the appellant ought to be quashed under section 482 of CrPC. The Court also made observations on the judiciary’s role to safeguard the sanctity of marriage and promoting justice within the context of familial conflicts. 

IMPORTANT PROVISIONS:

The Constitution of India, 1950:

  • Article 227

The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC): 

  • Section 323
  • Section 498A: Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine
  • Section 406: Whoever commits criminal breach of trust shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both
  • Section 506

The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973(CrPC): 

  • Section 482: preserves its inherent powers to prevent abuse of court processes and ensure justice. Section 482 can be used to quash even non-compoundable offences.
  • Section 156
  • Section 155
  • Section 41
  • Section 320

The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (DPA):

  • Section 4

The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023 (BNS):

  • Section 85
  • Section 86

OVERVIEW:

  • The Appellant/accused Achin Gupta got married to Respondent/First Informant Tanu Gupta on 09.10.2008 in New Delhi. They had a son in 2012. The respondent’s stridhan and jewellery were handed over to the accused on the belief that they would be returned to the respondent whenever she needed it. 
  • Soon after the solemnization of their marriage, the accused and his family (the other accused) began verbally abusing and harassing her, demanding dowry thereby causing mental and physical trauma to the respondent. The respondent-wife also found out that the husband was involved in an extra-marital relationship. 
  •  Tired of the accused-husband’s harassment, the respondent-wife left with her son and moved her matrimonial home during the initial days of COVID-19 lockdown. The accused-husband then cut off the water supply to the home, compelling her to move in with her parents. Efforts were made for reconciliation, but the accused and his family insisted on more dowry and refused to take her back. When she asked for her jewellery and Stridhan for their child, the accused-husband and his family refused to return her stridhan and jewellery. Furthermore, they threatened to kill her if she asked for her stridhan or went to the police about it.  
  • The respondent-wife filed an FIR on 09.04.2021 alleging that accused-husband was an alcoholic, who had an extra-marital affair and mentally and physically tortured her for dowry. 
  • The Judicial Magistrate, First Class, Hisar, ruled to proceed with the criminal proceedings against the accused and his family on the basis of the FIR filed. 
  • The accused approached the High Court and sought to get the criminal proceedings against him get quashed. But the High Court, in its impugned order, upheld the prior judgment and rejected the petition seeking the quashing of the u/s 482 of CrPC. 
  • The accused/appellant has now challenged the High Court’s order in the instant appeal.

ISSUES RAISED:

  • Whether the FIR was filed motivated by vengeance?
  • Whether the legal proceedings against the appellant should be dropped?

ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE APPELLANT:

  • The respondent-wife had filed the FIR after an unjustified period of 11 months since she left her matrimonial home. The delay puts in question the true motives behind the filing of the FIR.
  • The FIR was filed with an oblique agenda, as there was no apparent reason why the respondent would make such allegations against the appellant suddenly after having spent 12 years as a married couple. 
  • There was no concrete evidence against the appellant and the FIR was filed against no specific incident. 
  • The appellant had initiated legal proceedings against the respondent for divorce and domestic violence in 2019 and 2020 respectively. The FIR in question is in retaliation to the appellant’s legal proceedings initiated against the respondent.

ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE RESPONDENT(S):

  • The appellant and his family constantly pressured the respondent-wife to give them additional dowry after the marriage, and subjected her to physical and verbal abuse from very early on, even went on to confiscate her entire salary from her job. 
  • The appellant cut off any and all financial support to the respondent when he filed for divorce. In addition, he cut her off from basic amenities such as water supply, forcing her to seek refuge at her parents’ house.
  • When the respondent first found out about her husband’s extra-marital affair, she confronted him about it and he assured her that he would stop seeing the other woman. The respondent chose not to act on it then in an effort to save her marriage.  
  • The case of domestic violence filed against the respondent was baseless and its only purpose was to subject her to further harassment. 
  • The appellant had hidden the fact that he withdrew his divorce application when the respondent filed the FIR. 
  • Respondent no. 1 (The State) argued that a thorough investigation had been conducted by the police following the FIR, charges against the other accused (the appellant’s family) were dropped after due consideration. 
  • The Investigating officer found it appropriate to file a chargesheet against the appellant given the gravity of the allegations. 

JUDGEMENT ANALYSIS:

  • The Supreme Court recognized that as the couple had gotten married in 2008, and the respondent had moved out of her matrimonial home for nearly a year before filing the FIR, the delay raised questions regarding the motives of the respondent in filing the FIR. 
  • For the matter of withdrawal of the divorce petition, it was established that the appellant had indeed filed for divorce in 2019 on grounds of cruelty but had withdrawn it as attending the Court dates and taking care of his child posed difficulties for him. 
  • Furthermore, a case was filed by the appellant’s mother (accused no. 2) against the respondent alleging domestic violence in 2020. 
  • Concurring with the appellant’s arguments, the Court observed that the allegations against the appellant were indeed vague and lacking specific details of criminal conduct such as the date and time. Moreover, even the police had dropped the charges against the other accused after the investigation. A charge sheet was filed solely against the appellant due to the severity of the allegations against him. 
  • The Supreme Court found the filing of the FIR in retaliatory nature as the FIR was filed nearly 2 years after the filing of the divorce and 6 months after the filing of the domestic violence case. 
  • As far as the Court’s jurisdiction under section 482 of CrPC was concerned, the Apex Court held that the provision aims at preventing any abuse of authority that could result in injustice or hinder the administration of justice. 
  • he Court also ruled that it must examine all materials collected by the investigating agency since the FIR loses its significance once the chargesheet has been filed, in order to prevent any miscarriage of injustice. 
  • Relying on the ruling in the case of State of AP v. Vangaveeti Nagaiah, the Court highlighted that when individuals have to face criminal trials on the basis of vague and unspecific allegations, it amounts to an abuse of the legal process. In such instances, courts must carefully scrutinize any such allegations arising from matrimonial disputes to ensure justice is served. 
  • Highlighting the case of Preeti Gupta v. State of Jharkhand, the Apex Court emphasized the alarming rise in matrimonial disputes under section 498A of IPC, often resulting in frivolous complaints. The Court urged legal professionals to promote amicable resolutions and warned against the abuse of legal provisions. 
  • It also urged the legislature to review the observations made in Preeti Gupta v. Jharkhand and consider amendments to sections 85 and 86 of BNS, keeping in mind the prevalence of exaggerated complaints and their adverse societal effects. 
  • It opined that since every matrimonial dispute did not amount to cruelty, the mechanical application of section 498A of IPC should be avoided, while also recognizing the genuine cases of ill-treatment. 
  • It was held that in light of the vague allegations and lack of evidence, it would be unfair and misuse of the legal process to continue the proceedings against the appellant and accordingly quashed the proceedings invoking section 482 of CrPC.  

CONCLUSION:

The Supreme Court set aside the order of the High Court, invoked section 482 of CrPC and directed that the proceedings against the appellant. The Court pointed out that it was imperative to judiciously balance legal remedies with realities of matrimonial disputes. It instructed for a copy of the judgment to be sent to the Union Law Secretary and Union Home Secretary, to the Govt. of India. Any pending applications, if any, stood disposed of with no order as to cost. 


 

 
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