Petty quarrels don’t amount to cruelty, says HC quashing FIR against couple; slams IO for high-handed probe

Petty quarrels do not amount to cruelty, the Bombay High Court said on Thursday while quashing an FIR lodged against a senior citizen couple accused of harassing the estranged wife of their adopted son.

A division bench of Justices Anuja Prabhudessai and NR Borkar also castigated the police for the manner in which it conducted the probe in the case and for treating the accused as hardened criminals.

The court noted that while the mother-in-law died during the pendency of the plea, the case against her too was quashed as it was necessary to clear her name, image and reputation.

The bench, in its order, said the petitioners (the accused couple) were treated like hardened criminals by the police during the investigation by freezing their bank accounts and FDs too.

The court said such action was “manifestly arbitrary and against the mandate of law”. “The action, which is totally high handed and arbitrary gives an impression of unfairness and /or ulterior motive,” the HC said.

“By such drastic and high handed action, the Investigating Officer compelled the petitioner to beg and borrow money from their relatives for their survival and sustenance, striking at the very right to live with human dignity,” the court said.

The court also noted that despite an earlier order directing the police to not file a chargesheet in the case, the police went ahead and submitted the same.

This gives rise to a suspicion that the investigation is tainted and far from being fair and impartial, the HC said.

The court said the investigating officer does not have unfettered discretion to brand an innocent person as an accused, to file chargesheet and send him or her for trial.

Such an action on the part of the police would compel an innocent person to approach court for discharge, quashing or even to go through a trial, thereby, subjecting him to mental trauma, humiliation, stigmatization and loss of reputation, which would imperil his personal liberty that is sacred and sacrosanct, HC said.

“Hence, the investigation, which is said to be the backbone of criminal justice system, should at all times be fair, proper and in accordance with constitutional guarantees and legal provisions,” the order said.

The complainant had married the adopted son of the couple in 2018. She alleged that during her one-month stay with her in-laws, they had harassed her by constantly taunting her, smirking at her and not letting her touch the refrigerator.

The complainant said she later went to Dubai to live with her husband, but returned to her parents’ home in India following harassment by him too.

The HC, in its order, however, noted that to prove the offence of harassment under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, it has to be established that the woman has been subjected to cruelty continuously or persistently or at least in close proximity of time of lodging the complaint.

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“Petty quarrels do not amount to cruelty. Allegations against the petitioners that they taunted the woman, looked at her with a smirk, that they did not allow her to touch the refrigerator and so on even if accepted in their entirety do not constitute ‘cruelty’ within the meaning of Section 498A of IPC,” the court said.

The bench noted that, in view of constant threats and allegations from the woman and her father, the petitioners decided to distance themselves from their son to give him time and space to resolve his matrimonial dispute.

They also issued a public notice in 2019 stating they had decided to disown their son and they had nothing to do with his marital life.

The bench quashed the FIR and ordered for the bank accounts/ Fixed Deposits in the names of the petitioners to be de-freezed.

The court also directed for a copy of its judgment to be forwarded to police commissioner to make necessary entry in the service record of the investigating officer for filing chargesheet in the case despite an order from the court to not do so.

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