AP ignores MHA guidelines on dowry cases

Written by DC Correspondent,

Hyderabad , April 26: Section 498 A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which imposes stringent penalties on the husband and his relatives if they are found to be guilty in dowry related cases, had promised to be a boon for women. However, legal loopholes have led to rampant misuse of the legislation.

Dowry harassment is cognisable, non-compoundable and non-bailable. But allegations have surfaced for some time now that loopholes in the law have left it open to abuse and exploitation.

The ministry of home affairs (MHA) issued an advisory last month on dealing with dowry harassment cases under Section 498A of the IPC to prevent it being misused. But the state police is yet to begin the exercise of differentiating between real and false cases when affecting arrests. In its annual report 2009-10, the MHA has said: “MHA is of the view that 498A, the Dowry Prohibition Act and the Domestic Violence Act, which provide protection and legal remedies to women should not be tinkered with.

However, these special laws need to be uniformly implemented. As amending the law is not contemplated at this stage and waiting for law commission views. Meanwhile to avoid misuse of the section an advisory is issued.

At the same time if some set procedures are followed the misuse may be curtailed. So we have suggested several measures. The ministry has said that in case of matrimonial disputes the first recourse should be to effect reconciliation and mediation between the spouses and their families. Filing charges under 498A of IPC may be resorted to when reconciliation fails and there appears a prima facie case under section 498A and other laws.

Around 10,000 cases of dowry harassment are booked every year in Andhra Pradesh. With most police stations having no professional counsellors and revenue divisional officers, who are the designated dowry prohibition officers, not being proactive, the MHA’s directive is difficult to follow.

Mr S. Umapathi, IG, state women’s protection cell, says, “In the state we have made 498A a compoundable offence. If the Dowry Prohibition Act is added to it, then it can’t be made compoundable and there has to be a trial conducted in a court of law.”

Police says that usually when a 498A case is booked, the accused number 1 the husband of the complainant is arrested. At the police commissionerate level it is the DCP who takes the decision on arresting other accused such as sister-in-law, brother-in-laws, mother-in-law etc.

At the district level it is the deputy superintendent of police who takes the decision. “This is enough to safeguard an innocent person. The dowry system and harassment by men is still prevalent in society,” says Mr Umapathi. But a body called the All-India Forgotten Women’s Association has been calling for more safeguards.

Its president, Ms Challa Uma, says: “The advisory issued by MHA is not followed by the state police. In fact, the then commissioner of police issued a memo to all police stations in 2002 and the same is not being implemented properly.” Ms Uma says that marital disputes should not be treated as criminal disputes. “Police involvement has to be decreased. Arrests are made without prima facie evidence. The girl’s statement against her husband and family members is considered as evidence. Women can file a false complaint too,” she says.

“We have filed our representations with the law commission. There should be some deterrence for those who misuse it. It should not be a tool of blackmail and extortion,” Ms Uma added.

Legal experts say that the revenue divisional officials in the districts who are designated as dowry prohibition officers are busy with regular administrative matters and cannot devote time to dowry issues.

As the matter is in the concurrent list, the comments of the states were sought. Andhra Pradesh was not on the list of states that responded, according to the MHA annual report 2009-10.

The MHA has asked the government to create mahila desks at police stations and a “crime against women cell” at district level which would cater to women.

The Law Commission in its 154th report recommended that offences under section 498 A of the IPC shall be made compoundable with the permission of the court.

The Malimath Committee on reforms also recommended that it should be made bailable and compoundable.

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