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Bombay HC Criticizes Investigating Officer as Petty Quarrels not Amounting to Cruelty under Section 498A IPC

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Published on: November 13, 2023 at 11:10 IST

The Bombay High Court has quashed a criminal case against an elderly couple, asserting that petty quarrels do not amount to cruelty under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The court criticized the Investigating Officer (IO) for their high-handed actions in the matter.

In this instance, the elderly couple, aged 80 and 75 years, who were the parents-in-law of a woman, filed a petition to quash the FIR. The charges included offenses under Sections 498-A, 420, 406, 323, 506(ii) read with Section 34 of the IPC.

A Division Bench, comprising Justice Anuja Prabhudessai and Justice N.R. Borkar, asserted that, for an offense under Section 498-A, there must be prima facie material proving willful conduct likely to drive the woman to suicide or cause grave injury, along with harassment for an unlawful dowry demand.

The court emphasized that continuous or persistent cruelty is essential to establish an offense under Section 498-A, and petty quarrels alone do not meet this criterion.

The Bench referred to the Supreme Court’s judgment in the case of Manju Ram Kalita v. State of Assam (2009) 13 SCC 330 to support its stance.

Advocate Shubhada Khot represented the petitioners, while APP M.M. Deshmukh and Advocate Gayatri Gokhale represented the respondents.

In the detailed facts of the case, the respondent wife and her husband, the adopted son of the petitioners, faced familial discord.

The wife alleged taunting and harassment by the mother-in-law over trivial issues, such as restricting access to the refrigerator and providing leftover food. The father-in-law allegedly looked at her with a smirk. The respondent also made various allegations against her husband and the petitioners.

The court noted that despite the absence of prima facie material indicating the petitioners’ involvement in any cognizable offense, the Investigating Officer resorted to freezing their bank accounts and lockers. The court criticized this action as manifestly arbitrary and against the law.

The Bombay High Court, in its order, emphasized the need for fair, proper, and constitutional investigation, underscoring the importance of preserving the personal liberty of individuals.

The court highlighted that implicating innocent individuals in a matrimonial dispute without prima facie evidence can cause mental trauma, humiliation, and stigmatization.

The court concluded by allowing the petition and quashing the case against the elderly couple.

Case Title: Ramesh Sitaldas Dalal & Anr. v. The State of Maharashtra and Ors.