Sushil Kumar Sharma v. Union of India & Ors

In this case, the two-judge bench of the Supreme Court was to decide upon the constitutional validity of Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code in view of the misuse of the provision. Read the analysis to find out the bench's judgement.
CITATIONAIR 2005 SC 3100
COURTSupreme Court of India
JUDGES/CORAMJustice Arijit Pasayat and Justice H.K. Sema
DATE OF JUDGEMENT19.07.2006

Introduction

The debate on the merits and misuse of Section 498A, IPC has been on-going for a while now. In the present case, the constitutionality of the section was questioned, and it was contended that the section is often used to trap innocent persons (the husband and his family) by making false accusations. The Supreme Court while taking note of both the increasing misuse of the section as well as its object, held it to be intra vires the Constitution.

Facts

The facts of the case are as follows: A petition was filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India, 1950, whereby it was prayed that Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 be declared ultra vires the Constitution. It was further prayed that whenever any court concludes that false or unfounded allegations as to the commission of offence u/s 498A are made, stringent action should be taken against the person making such allegations in order to discourage the misuse of the section. Lastly, it was prayed to direct investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation in certain matters where the petitioner was arrayed as an accused.

The main contention of the Petitioners was that the section is often misused, and unfounded allegations are made to harass the husband, in-laws and relatives. The Petitioners while relying on a decision of Delhi High Court wherein concern was shown about the increasing false allegations u/s 498A, contended that, “there is no prosecution in these cases but persecution.” It was further argued that often accusers are more at fault than the accused and the former try to take undue advantage of the sympathy exhibited by courts in such matters.

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Issues

The main issue in the case was: Whether or not Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty), is unconstitutional or not.

Summary of court decision and judgment

While deciding this petition, the Hon’ble Supreme Court focused on three aspects:

  • Statement of objects and reasons: The Court noted that the impugned section was introduced in Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act No. 46 of 1983 after much deliberation. Dowry death has been a matter of serious concern in the country for a long time but some cases where, the cruelty of husband and his relatives which culminated in suicide/murder of the woman were not covered under dowry death. Thus, this section was enacted to help combat this evil.
  • Misuse of Law: After citing various case laws, the Court observed that when a statutory provision is otherwise constitutionally valid, mere possibility of its misuse wouldn’t make it ultra vires or unconstitutional.
  • Presumptions made in such cases: The Hon’ble Court observed that while it is true that innocent persons shouldn’t be made to suffer, in such cases, often there is no direct evidence and the courts have to make certain presumptions and act on circumstantial evidence. For this, the law regarding circumstantial evidence has to be kept in view.

The Court acknowledged that in many instances, mala fide complaints were made and thus, legislature should find ways to deal with this problem. Until then, the Court observed, investigating agencies and courts should take care and not follow a strait jacket formula in these cases. Further, it was noted, “But by misuse of the provision a new legal terrorism can be unleashed…. It cannot be lost sight of that ultimate objective of every legal system is to arrive at truth, punish the guilty and protect the innocent.”

Ultimately, the Court held Section 498A of IPC to be constitutionally valid. Regarding the prayer to direct CBI investigation, the Court held that if the petitioner wants to prove his innocence, he can do so in trial. The Writ Petition was thus, disposed of.

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Analysis

The Court rightly pointed out that mere abuse of a section doesn’t imply that it is ultra vires the Constitution. It is well settled that a provision which is otherwise legal, valid and intra vires cannot be declared unconstitutional or ultra vires merely on the ground that there is possibility of abuse or misuse of such power.[1]

The possibility of abuse of a statute otherwise valid does not impart to it any element of invalidity. The constitutional validity of the statute would have to be determined on the basis of its provisions and on the ambit of its operation as reasonably construed. If so judged it passes the test of reasonableness, the possibility of the powers conferred being improperly used is no ground for pronouncing the law itself invalid.[2]

Unfortunately, cases under Section 498A are often riddled with allegations of misuse of the section. While any section may be misused, there is always more back lash against women centric laws. The Supreme Court analysed this misuse in the backdrop of the objects of enacting Section 498A and observed that while caution must be observed by courts in these cases, the section itself cannot be revoked.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court by dismissing this petition emphasised on the importance of Section 498A. While it was enacted in 1983, its significance and relevance still exist to this day. Thus, the section itself cannot be done away with but guidelines may be formulated to keep a check on it. For instance, in Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar[4], the Supreme Court laid down some guidelines with respect to Section 498A. One of these guidelines was that no automatic arrest should be made in Section 498A cases.


[1] Ajit Kumar Nag v. Indian Oil Corpn. Ltd., 7 SCC. 764, 783 (2005).

[2] ShreyaSinghal v. Union of India,5 SCC. 1, 170 (2015) .

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[3] BhaskarLal Sharma v. Monica,[2009] INSC 1282.

[4] Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar, (2014) 8 SCC 273.