Sec 498-A of IPC has been one of the fiercely debated IPC sections, especially after multiple decisions of the Supreme Court. Between 2006 & 2016, the conviction rate for cases under this section is among the lowest conviction rates of all IPC crimes.
Further to the Supreme Court’s decision in 2014 ruling out automatic arrests in Sec 498-A cases, the Supreme Court had issued important directions in dealing with cases registered under Sec 498-A of the IPC. The Supreme Court had also directed in 2017 that family welfare committees be constituted by the District Legal Services Authority. The committee will look into all such cases filed under Sec 498-A and submit a report within one month. A three judge bench of the Supreme Court has now modified the 2017 judgment holding that the family welfare committees were an extra judicial authority and they cannot exercise statutory function. The bench however, upheld other directions given in the 2017 judgment. As different courts have in the recent past acknowledged the misuse of Sec 498-A, we look at the number of cases registered under this section and the corresponding conviction rate.
What is Section 498A? Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code deals with domestic violence and cruelty towards women by the Husband or his family. It reads
Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty.—Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. Explanation.—For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means—
(a) any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or
(b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand. Conviction rate for Sec 498-A Screen Shot 2017-07-28 at 6.05.48 PM
What happened to these cases in the last 11 years? The National Crime Records Bureau releases ‘All India Crime data’ every year. The report titled ‘Crime in India’ has detailed information on every type of crime registered. This report also has data on number of cases registered under the important IPC sections and their disposal by courts including Sec 498-A.
In the last 11 years between 2006 & 2016, the number of cases being filed under Sec 498-A of IPC is on the rise and there is more than 10% increase on average, in the number of pending cases each year. The number of pending cases at the end of 2016 is more than twice the number of pending cases at the end of 2006. At the end of 2006, 2.06 lakh cases were pending and this number increased to 5.15 lakh by the end of 2016, an increase of more than 150% in 11 years.
Acquittals increase while Convictions decrease While the number of convictions was between 5000 and 8000 in each of these 11 years, the number of acquittals increased consistently. From 24404 acquittals in 2006, this number went up to 39248 in 2016, an increase of more than 60%. From the year 2012, the number of cases withdrawn has overtaken the number of convictions in each year. The number of convictions under Sec 498-A, in the year 2016, was the lowest in 11 years. In the last 11 years, for every case that resulted in conviction, five other cases resulted in an acquittal and one case was withdrawn with the net result being that only one out of every seven cases resulted in a conviction.
Conviction Rate of crimes under Sec 498-A Vs other IPC Crimes While the number of cases registered under Sec 498-A is increasing each year, the conviction rate in these cases is falling. This could be because of false cases or the failure of the prosecution to prove that the accused were guilty of the offense. The conviction rate of cases under Sec 498-A was 21.9% in 2006 and dropped to 12.2% in 2016 while the average conviction rate in other IPC crimes remained at around 40% in these 11 years. In fact, the conviction rate of all IPC crimes has increased in the last two years where as the conviction rate of Sec 498-A cases was at its lowest 2016. The conviction rate of cases under 498-A was almost 1/4th the conviction rate for all other IPC crimes in the year 2016.>