New Delhi: With an average 10,000 false dowry harassment cases being registered every year, government plans to amend the criminal law to prevent frequent misuse of its legal provisions.
Under the proposal, Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code will be made a compoundable offence with the permission of the courts as suggested by the Law Commission and Justice Malimath Committee.
Provisions will be kept to allow compromise and settlement between husband and wife at the onset of trial in dowry harassment cases, a Home Ministry official said. The offence at present is non-compoundable and non-bailable, which provides for immediate arrest of the accused.
Conciliatory efforts between the hostile parties are virtually impossible. A husband or his family members are presumed guilty till they prove their innocence in court. The offence is punishable with a jail term of up to three years.
There have been allegations that husbands and in-laws are often charged with false dowry harassment when some marital problems arise.
As per data provided by the National Crime Records Bureau, a total number of 99,135, 1,06,527 and 1,18,866 cases, respectively, were registered in 2011, 2012 and 2013 in the country under Section 498A for cruelty by husband or his relatives.
After police investigation, 10,193 in 2011, 10,235 in 2012 and 10,864 cases in 2013 were found to be false or suffering from mistake of fact or law. If the offence is made compoundable, misuse of the law may come down hugely as there would be scope for initiating conciliation proceedings and out-of-court settlement.
Permission from a court will be a guarantee against attempts where a wife may be compelled into a compromise by her husband or in-laws, the Home Ministry official said.
Under the existing rules, if a dowry harassment case is proved wrong or it is proved that the law was misused, a penalty of only Rs 1,000 is imposed. The amendment, however, provides for a Rs 15,000 fine.
Another new section is expected to be inserted to allow an accused to escape jail by paying a penalty.