Definition of “aggrieved person” to be construed considering wide ambit of factors

In this landmark judgement, the Supreme Court made important observations on the definition of "aggreived persons" under the Indian Penal Code and held that the second wife could file a complaint under Sections 494 and 498 of the IPC.
TITLEA. Subhash Babu Vs. State Of Andhra Pradesh & Anr.
CITATION(2011) 3 SCC (Cri) 267
COURTSupreme Court of India
JUDGES/CORAMJustice J.M. Panchal and Justice H.L. Gokhale
DATE OF JUDGEMENT21.07.2011

Introduction

In the present case, the Court made some stark observations as to the scope of “aggrieved persons” with respect to Sections 494 and 494, Indian Penal Code 1860. The Court also delved into the question as to what happens in case on inconsistencies between State amended law and Central law. Finally, the Court also decided whether a second wife could file a complaint for commission of offences under Section 498A, IPC, when the first marriage of the accused is already subsisting.

Facts

The facts of the case are as follows: Originally, Respondent no. 2 had filed a complaint alleging that the Petitioner (who was Sub-Inspector of Police) cheated her and her parents by lying to them that his first wife had died after delivering two children who were studying and staying in a hostel, even though she was very much alive and living with the Petitioner. Based on this fraudulent representation, he married Respondent no. 2.

He collected Rs. 28,000/- from her father towards loan on the false plea that he was constructing his own house and further, demanded a sum of Rs. 20,000/- from her father. When her father refused to do so, the petitioner allegedly threatened Respondent no. 2 and her father with his licensed revolver. On several occasions, he also tried to snatch her gold ornaments and cash that she received from her parents. When his demands were not fulfilled, he threatened to leave Respondent no. 2 and destroy all evidence of their marriage. Subsequently, Respondent no. 2 lodged a FIR for alleged commission of offences under sections 498A and 420 IPC.

The Investigating Officer (I.O.) submitted the charge sheet for commission of offences punishable under Sections 494, 495, 417, 420 and 498A IPC. The Magistrate took cognizance of the offences and summoned the petitioner. The petitioner filed a Criminal Petition in the High Court for quashing the proceedings in the Criminal Case pending before the learned Magistrate.

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This petition was filed mainly claiming that the proceedings were registered for commission ofabove-mentioned offences based on charge sheet submitted by the Sub-Inspector of Police,Women Police Station, Amberpet, R.R. District and not based on complaint made by theaggrieved person within the meaning of Section 198 of the Code. According to the appellant, theperson aggrieved by alleged commission of Reportable offences under Sections 494 and 495 was his wife and cognizance of those offences could have been taken only on the basis of the complaint filed by his wife in the Court or by someone on her behalf, and therefore, the learned Magistrate could not have taken cognizance of those offences on the basis of submission of charge sheet by Sub-Inspector of Police which was based on the FIR lodged by respondent no. 2 who cannot be an aggrieved person within the section.

It was also pleaded that there was no allegation that there was any delivery or destruction of property done pursuant to the fraudulent inducement and thus, section 420 cannot be attracted. Further, section 498A could also not be attracted because Respondent no. 2 was not his wife.

Issues

The main issues in the case were:

  1. Whether or not Respondent no. 2 was an aggrieved person with respect to Sections 494 and 495 IPC.
  2. Whether or not the Magistrate had the power to take cognizance of offence punishable under Sections 494 and 495 IPC on the basis of the police report.
  3. Whether or not Section 498A could be attracted in the present case.

Contentions of the Parties

The appellant argued before the Court that even though a State Amendment made the offences under section 494 and 495 cognizable, according to the Central Act i.e., Section 198 of Code of Criminal Procedure 1973, the procedure did not change and in case of conflict between the two, the legislation made by the Parliament would prevail.

The respondents on the other hand argued that Section 198 of Code of Criminal Procedure must be read in light of the State amendment.

Summary of Court Decision and Judgement

The High Court concluded that Section 494 was amended by the State of Andhra Pradesh and made cognizable and even though there was no corresponding amendment made to Section 198 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the I.O. was entitled to investigate and the Magistrate can take cognizance on report filed by police. The High Court further concluded that taking cognizance of the offences punishable under Sections 417, 420, 494 and 495 IPC was also in accordance with law; however, since the complainant was not the wife of the accused (their marriage being void), Section 498A could not be attracted. Thus, only proceedings under Section 498A were quashed by the High Court.

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When the case came before the Supreme Court, the Court upheld the maintainability of proceedings under Section 494 as well as Section 495. Additionally, the Court held that the Magistrate did not have powers to take cognizance of the present case in view of the State Amendment. Further, the Court also rejected the contention that the quashing wasn’t challenged by the State or original complainant and observed, “This Court while disposing of an appeal arising out of grant of special leave can make any order which justice demands and one who has obtained illegal order would not be justified in contending before this Court that in absence of any appeal against illegal order passed by the High Court the relief should not be appropriately moulded by the Court or that the finding recorded should not be upset by this Court.” Thus, the quashing of complaint with regard to Section 498A was set aside.

Analysis

The object of Section 494 should be seen at first. The first wife may not file a complaint, but this does not mean that the offence is wiped out and monogamy sought to be achieved by means of Section 494 IPC merely remains in statute book. For this purpose, there is no doubt that the complainant should be an aggrieved person. The expression “aggrieved person” denotes an elastic and an elusive concept. It cannot be confined within the bounds of a rigid, exact and comprehensive definition. Its scope and meaning depends on diverse, variable factors such as the content and intent of the statute of which contravention is alleged, the specific circumstances of the case, the nature and extent of complainant’s interest and the nature and the extent of the prejudice or injury suffered by the complainant.Thus, complaint filed by Respondent no. 2, in the present case, against the appellant for commission of offence punishable under Section 494 and 495 was maintainable.

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Article 226 and 13 of the Indian Constitution must also be kept in mind. The Code of Criminal Procedure (Andhra Pradesh Second Amendment) Act, 1992 was given the Presidential assent and thus, Sections 494 and 495 IPC are cognizable offences as far as State of Andhra Pradesh is concerned. Section 198 of Code of Criminal Procedure cannot be interpreted in isolation and has to be read in light of the State Amendment. Thus, the Magistrate did have the power to take cognizance in the present case.

The view taken by the HC regarding section 498A was contrary to the law declared by the Supreme Court.[1] It has been observed that a person who enters into marital arrangement cannot be allowed to take shelter behind the smoke screen of contention that since there was no valid marriage the question of dowry does not arise.

The Supreme Court after discussing the plight of the second wife rightly observed that she could file a complaint under both Section 494 and Section 498A. Just because the second marriage is void, does not mean that the offences did not happen. Just as it is the choice of the first wife to file a case of bigamy, the second wife has the right too and it cannot be curtailed just because the first wife chose not to file a case. Bigamy harms both the first and the second wife and thus, both should have the choice to file a case. Similarly, if it is found that cruelty under Section 498A was otherwise meted out, the second wife cannot be denied justice.

Conclusion

In cases of bigamy and cruelty, the accused i.e. the husband cannot be let off on a mere technicality. If the section isn’t extended to the second wife as well, it would defeat the purpose of enacting the two sections and will be a gross failure of justice.


[1]Reema Aggarwal v. Anupam, (2004) 3 SCC 199.