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SC re-look at 498A dilution

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday said it would strike a balance between gender justice and the personal liberty of an accused as it agreed to revisit a two-judge bench directive that had ruled against immediate arrest under the penal code's Section 498A.

Before the July 2017 judgment, a husband and his family faced immediate arrest if a married woman filed a case against them under this section that mandates three years' jail for any person found guilty.

"We will examine whether the ruling had sought to fill the gaps permissible under Article 142 (of the Constitution) or has read down (diluted) the spirit of 498A," Chief Justice Dipak Misra told amicus curiae Indu Malhotra and other lawyers present in the court.

"The law protects gender justice and there should not be any kind of cruel treatment on women.... We will go by the criminal procedure code and lay down a procedure on how to arrest so that the liberty of the accused is also protected and women are saved from cruelty. Liberty of the husband and a woman's right needs to be reconciled."

The bench, which also included Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud, was dealing with a petition filed by Nyayadhar, a non-government organisation.

The NGO had challenged the July 2017 judgment by a bench of Justices R.K. Goel and U. Lalit that there could be no immediate arrest under Section 498A unless a three-member family welfare committee gave its nod. The bench had invoked Article 142, which gives the top court extraordinary powers to pass any order to render complete justice to a party.

The bench had cited National Crime Records Bureau figures for 2012. While chargesheets had been filed in 93.6 per cent of the cases under Section 498A, and approximately a quarter of those arrested were women, the conviction rate was 14.4 per cent.

"We are conscious of the object for which the provision was brought into the statute.... At the same time, violation of human rights of (the) innocent cannot be brushed aside," the bench had said.

It ordered family welfare committees to be set up in every district to prevent the act from being misused.

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