In a landmark judgment that will give huge relief to people facing arrest in dowry harassment cases, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said a person accused of an offence punishable with jail term, which may be less than or up to seven years, cannot be arrested by the police on the basis of mere allegations.
Expressing concern over misuse of anti-dowry law by "disgruntled" wives against their husbands and in-laws, the Supreme Court ruled that the police must give reasons for arresting an accused which would be judicially examined.
The apex court said the attitude to arrest first and then proceed with the rest is "despicable" which must be curbed and directed all state governments to ensure that police do not resort to arresting in all offences punishable up to seven- year jail term including dowry harassment cases.
"The fact that Section 498-A is a cognizable and non-bailable offence has lent it a dubious place of pride amongst the provisions that are used as weapons rather than shield by disgruntled wives. The simplest way to harass is to get the husband and his relatives arrested under this provision," the court said.
The bench headed by Justice C K Prasad said, "No arrest can be made in a routine manner on a mere allegation of commission of an offence made against a person. It would be prudent and wise for a police officer that no arrest is made without a reasonable satisfaction reached after some investigation as to the genuineness of the allegation..."
It made clear that the police officer before arresting an accused has to be further satisfied that the arrest is necessary to prevent such a person from committing any further offence or there is apprehension that the accused would tamper with or destroy the evidence of the offence.
The bench observed that in the six decades of independence, police still use this as a tool of harassment, oppression and courts have passed rulings to curtail the power of arrest but it has not yielded desired result.
The apex court order came on a man's plea in a dowry harassment case from Bihar.
Referring to the National Crime Records Bureau 2012 statistics which showed arrest of 1,97,762 persons all over India for offence under Section 498-A of the IPC including 47, 951 women arrested, the bench said "it depicts that mothers and sisters of the husbands were liberally included in their arrest net....The rate of charge-sheeting in cases under Section 498A of IPC is as high as 93.6%, while the conviction rate is only 15%, which is lowest across all heads. As many as 3,72,706 cases are pending trial of which on current estimate, nearly 3,17,000 are likely to result in acquittal."