The Calcutta High Court quashed proceedings in a plea filed by a man and his family members challenging the criminal cases lodged against them by his estranged wife alleging cruelty under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

A Bench of Justice Subhendu Samanta while acknowledging the legislative intent behind Section 498A noted its potential misuse and observed, “The legislature has enacted the provision of Section 498A to strike out the dowry meance from the society. But it is observed in several cases that by misusing of said provision new legal terrorism is unleashed.”

There were two separate criminal cases filed against the petitioner under different sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), namely 498A, 307, 506(ii), and 406.

Senior Advocate Ayan Bhattacharjee appeared for the Petitioner and Advocate Saswata Gopal Mukherjee appeared for the State.

The petitioner's advocate argued that the criminal proceedings initiated by Banashree were baseless, frivolous, and intended to harass the petitioner. On the other hand, the state's advocate argued that the police have conducted investigations and submitted charge sheets with sufficient evidence to proceed with the criminal cases.

The Court reviewed the petitions and accompanying CDs. The Court noted that the FIR alleged physical and mental torture on October 13, 2017. Police had recorded statements of Banashree's parents and a neighbor. The husband was accused generally, and witnesses did not provide further details.

The petitioners (husband and in-laws) countered that Banashree never lived with them, staying separately in a different flat. Banashree lodged another complaint on December 14, 2017, alleging torture since marriage. Police initiated a new investigation based on this complaint, recording statements under Section 161 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C.). Household articles were seized from the flat, submitted as evidence, and a charge-sheet was filed against all accused.

After assessing all facts and circumstances, the Court concluded that the first complaint did not implicate the in-laws, unlike the subsequent one in December 2017. The Court found this case different from the T.T. Antony case due to distinct incidents. The Court observed that the subsequent FIR cannot be treated as a second FIR.

The December 2017 complaint alleged torture since marriage, the basis for the offense under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The Court listed the specific ingredients of this offense, emphasizing the need for evidence to substantiate it. The Court noted that the allegations in both cases were general and that witness statements lacked specific evidence against the present petitioner (husband).

The Court found that Banashree and her husband were residing separately since marriage. The allegation concerns physical and mental torture on October 13, 2017. Medical evidence and witness statements recorded by investigators did not support the complainant's claims. The Court examined a medical prescription in the CD which showed no injuries to Banashree.

The Court stressed that harassment and torture needed cogent evidence and that the present CDs lacked such evidence. The direct allegation against the husband lacked supporting documentation or medical evidence.

“The direct allegation against the husband by the de-facto complainant is merely from the version of the de-facto complainant herself. It support no documentary or medical evidence.”

The Court considered the revisional application under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The Court acknowledged that a roving inquiry into the materials in the CD isn't permissible at this stage and that an alternative view should not encourage the petitioner to seek quashing orders.

Based on the principles laid out in Hariyana v. Ch. Bhajanlal and Ors., the Court concluded that the criminal proceedings initiated by Banashree against the husband and in-laws did not prima facie establish an offense and the proceedings seem to be motivated by personal grudges.

“I am of a view that the instant criminal proceedings initiated by the de-facto complainant against the husband and in-laws does not disclose prima facie offence against them as alleged. The proceeding are instituted only to fulfil personal grudge.”

Considering the circumstances, the Court invoked the inherent power of the court to quash the proceedings, highlighting that continuing them would amount to an abuse of process.

The Court found merit in the criminal revisions and allowed them. The criminal proceedings arising from the FIRs were quashed.

Cause Title: Swapan Kumar Das v. State of West Bengal & Anr.

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