The Supreme Court today restored the police's power to arrest those accused in dowry harassment cases, modifying a previous order that mandated a probe by a specially constituted panel before any such step is taken.
The court, however, upheld the right of the husband or in-laws to seek bail -- whether regular or anticipatory. It also asked the police to not arrest anybody on a whim.
"We have protected the pre-arrest or anticipatory bail provision (for the accused) in dowry harassment cases," said a three-member bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud.
Modifying the verdict given by the two-judge bench, the Supreme Court said that there was no scope for courts to constitutionally fill up gaps in penal law. It also directed the deputy generals of police of all states to ensure that investigating officers are sensitised to dowry harassment cases.
Last July, a two-member bench of the Supreme Court had voiced concern over the "abuse" of Section 498 A (subjecting a married woman to cruelty) of the Indian Penal Code, and passed a slew of directions aimed at ensuring that no innocent person is punished. These included an instruction that the police not arrest anybody without verifying the allegations.
Nyayadhar, a women's organisation, opposed the verdict and sought a modification that would give more teeth to the law intended to safeguard wives. It was pointed out that any married woman who approaches the police to complain against her husband or in-laws risks taking on the society at large. It is only when she sees no other remedy to her predicament that she chooses Section 498A as a last resort, it added.
(With inputs from agencies)