One instance, unless portentous, may not be sufficient to implicate person for offence of cruelty: SC

The Supreme Court has said a single instance, “unless portentous”, may not be sufficient to implicate someone in a case of subjecting to cruelty a married woman in the absence of material evidence of interference and involvement in the marital life of the complainant.

The apex court quashed the criminal proceedings against four people, including the sister and cousins of a man accused of committing alleged offences under sections 498A and 506 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the provisions of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.

While section 498A of the IPC deals with the offence of husband or his relatives subjecting a woman to cruelty, section 506 pertains to punishment for criminal intimidation.

A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and SVN Bhatti, which perused the charge sheet filed in the case, noted the assertions made against the appellants were “very vague and general”.

“One instance unless portentous, in the absence of any material evidence of interference and involvement in the marital life of the complainant, may not be sufficient to implicate the person as having committed cruelty under section 498A of the IPC,” the bench said in its November 30 order.

It observed the appellants were not residing in the marital home and one of them was not even living in India.

The top court passed the order on a plea challenging the March 2019 order of the Karnataka High Court which had refused to quash the charge sheet against the four.

It said in the absence of specific details that constitute cruelty, “we would accept the present appeal”.

It noted the complainant got married in June 2015 and she made a complaint pursuant to which an FIR was registered in Karnataka in November 2016.

The bench, which perused the complaint, noted the woman had alleged that in February 2016 one of the appellants had allegedly commented on her physical appearance and later thrown her personal belongings into the dustbin.

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The only allegation in the charge sheet that was found to have been substantiated was that one of the appellants had thrown some of the personal belongings of the woman onto the ground as they were not kept at the proper place.

The bench said regarding the other three appellants, the charge sheet alleged that they were present in the ‘panchayat’ which was called to resolve the differences between the parties.

The top court noted it was informed that a decree of divorce was passed in November last year and the woman has filed an appeal against it.

While quashing the criminal proceedings against the four appellants, the bench said, “However, we clarify that if any material comes on record during the recording of evidence, it will be open to the trial court to take recourse to section 319 of the code (Code of Criminal Procedure) and proceed following the law”.

Section 319 of the CrPC deals with power to proceed against other persons appearing to be guilty of an offence.

The bench also clarified that it has not made any comments or observations on the allegations by the woman and the charge sheet against the other three accused.

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