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  • Writer's pictureDevika Agarwal

FIR in Dowry Death Case Cannot be Quashed even if Parties have Settled

Updated: Dec 29, 2023




Case Details:

Dalbir Singh & Ors. (Petitioners) v. State Government NCT of Delhi & Anr. (Respondents)

W.P. (Crl.) 2137/2021

High Court of Delhi


Bench: Justice Mukta Gupta


Date of Decision: 17th December, 2021


Keywords: dowry death; section 304B; quashing of FIR; compoundable offence; social evil


Synopsis:

The Delhi High Court rejected a petition to quash a first information report (FIR) registered against the petitioner and his family under sections 498A (husband or his relative subjecting a woman to cruelty) and 304B (dowry death) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The Court held that dowry death is an “offence against the society” and keeping in mind the deterrent effect of punishment in such cases, the FIR cannot be quashed based on a settlement between the accused and the victim’s family.


A. Background:

The complainant/respondent (victim’s father) had filed an FIR against the petitioners in which he had stated the following: Petitioner №1 (victim’s husband) had an arranged marriage with the victim on 31st March, 2021. After the marriage, the petitioners started demanding dowry although no dowry demand had been made at the time of marriage. Consequently, the victim was harassed and taunted by the petitioners. On 30th August 2021, the victim committed suicide. While an investigation into the matter was pending, the petitioners and the victim’s father entered a memorandum of understanding (MoU) which noted that the parties had entered into a settlement without any element of coercion or transfer of money. The MoU further noted that the victim’s father had no claim/grievance/grudge against the victim’s husband and would co-operate in the quashing of the FIR against the victim’s husband.


B. Legal Issue(s):

Whether an FIR for the offence of dowry death and the proceedings pursuant thereto can be quashed based on a compromise between the parties?


C. Legal Arguments by the Petitioner(s):

The petitioner relied on the following judgments to argue that the FIR against him in the dowry death case should be quashed as a compromise had been reached between the parties:


a) Kawaljit Kaur v. State of Punjab (CRM-M-37203–2017)- In this case, a Single Judge Bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court quashed an FIR filed under sections 306 (abetment of suicide) and 304B of the IPC in view of a compromise between the parties. The Court noted that although the offences punishable under sections 306 and 304B were of grave nature, no useful purpose would be served in continuing the FIR.

In deciding Kawaljit Kaur, the Punjab and Haryana High Court relied on the ruling of the Division Bench of the Supreme Court in Narinder Singh.


b) Narinder Singh v. State of Punjab (CRM-M-23846 of 2014)- In this case, the Supreme Court, while dealing with an offence under section 307 of IPC (attempt to murder), held that in case of offences against the society, the State was obliged to punish the offender irrespective of whether there was a settlement between the offender and the victim. This, the Court reasoned, was in the interest of the society as it would deter others from committing a similar offence. The Court, however, held that in case of certain offences, the correctional objective of criminal law was paramount to the theory of deterrence and therefore, the Court may allow a settlement between the parties.


The relevant facts in Narinder Singh were that the investigation was in its infancy and the settlement between the parties was arrived at immediately after the commission of the alleged offence. Importantly, the Court noted that the parties had buried the hatchet and agreed to live peacefully in future “which becomes an important consideration” (para 6).


D. Delhi High Court’s Ruling in Dalbir Singh:

The Delhi High Court in the instant case rejected the reliance placed by the petitioner on Kawaljit Kaur and Narinder Singh. The Delhi HC differed from the view taken by the Punjab & Haryana HC in Kawaljit Kaur and noted that Narinder Singh would not apply in cases involving offences of a grave nature.


The Delhi HC Court relied on a decision by a three Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Parbatbhai Aahir v. State of Gujarat (SLP (Crl) №9549 of 2016) which laid down that an FIR could not be quashed based on a compromise in offences of serious and grave nature.


In Parbatbhai Aahir, the SC laid down the following principles for High Courts to exercise their inherent power for quashing of an FIR under section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (the CrPC):


1. Quashing of an FIR differs from compounding an offence- The SC recognised that a High Court’s power to quash an FIR/criminal proceeding under section 482 is different from the power of a HC to compound an offence which is governed by section 320 of the CrPC. “The power to quash under section 482 is attracted even if the offence is non-compoundable” (para 15 of Parbatbhai Aahir).


{Annotation- Section 320 of the CrPC specifies the offences which may be compoundable by the victim. While the term, ‘compoundable offences’, is not defined in the IPC or the CrPC, paragraph 8 of section 320 lays down that compounding of an offence shall have the effect of “an acquittal of the accused with whom the offence has been compounded”. Beyond merely stating that quashing of criminal proceedings is different from compounding an offence, the Court did not clarify what the difference between quashing and compounding was. One may infer that quashing of FIR/criminal proceedings refers to the scenario wherein any criminal proceedings which are underway are terminated, whereas, compounding an offence refers to a scenario where a person has been prosecuted and acquitted of the offence pursuant to section 320 of CrPC. Another important difference between compounding and quashing is that an offence is compoundable by the aggrieved party (typically the victim) and “the State’s prosecuting agency is not involved” (Law Commission of India, 2011, para 1.2). On the other hand, the petition to quash the FIR/criminal proceedings is filed by the accused and does not require any legal intervention by the victim although it is common in such cases for the victim and the accused to have amicably resolved the dispute.}


2. The ends of justice should be met, and the court process should not be abused- A HC must exercise its inherent power under section 482 with the objective that the ends of justice are met, and the process of the court is not abused.


3. The decision to quash depends on the unique facts and circumstances of the case at hand- The SC acknowledged the difficulty in elaborating an exhaustive list of principles for quashing of an FIR on the basis of a compromise between the parties. The SC laid down that ultimately the decision depends on the facts and circumstances of each case.


4. Criminal disputes resembling civil wrongs are amenable to be quashed, as compared to crimes of a grave and heinous nature- An important distinction which the Court made was between offences in the nature of private disputes between the parties arising from “commercial, financial, mercantile, partnership or similar transactions” and those involving “mental depravity” such as murder, rape and dacoity. The Court laid down that the former category of offences (i.e. those with a civil flavour) may be appropriate for quashing based on a settlement between the parties, given that “the possibility of a conviction is remote and the continuation of a criminal proceeding would cause oppression and prejudice”. On the other hand, in case of offences having a serious impact on the society, the decision to continue with the trial is based on the “overriding element of public interest in punishing persons for serious offences” (para 15 of Parbatbhai Aahir).


Referring thus to the SC’s guidelines in Parbatbhai Aahir, the Delhi HC in Dalbir Singh found that the victim had committed suicide within five months of her marriage due to harassment by her husband and his family. The HC recognised that the offence of dowry death is an offence against the society caused due to the social evil of dowry and needs to be deterred. The Court, therefore, ruled that an FIR in a case of dowry death cannot be quashed based on a settlement between the accused and the victim’s family. Accordingly, the HC dismissed the quash petition.


E. Commentary:

Courts and policy-makers in India have frequently highlighted the importance of terminating criminal proceedings even in case of certain non-compoundable offences to prevent “undesirable consequences” such as breaking the “marital harmony” between the husband and wife where the wife is prepared to forgive the husband and live amicably with him. For instance, the Law Commission of India appears to argue in favour of quashing of criminal proceedings/compoundability of the offence under section 498A of the IPC (presently a non-compoundable offence), reasoning that termination of proceedings in such a case would not encourage the social evil of dowry (Law Commission of India, 2011, para 5.4).

The above reasoning may well be applied to quash an FIR/criminal proceedings in certain offences where a victim and accused have resolved their differences and want to bury the hatchet, considering the broader objective of promoting harmony and marital concord. However, in case of graver offences such as dowry death (section 304B), the ends of justice may not be served for a woman if the Courts permit quashing of an FIR based on a settlement between the accused and the victim’s family. Worryingly, this may signify to the society that the death of a woman (in harassing her for dowry) is condoned by the legal justice system if the victim’s family reaches a compromise with the accused. Further, no societal objective such as promoting matrimonial harmony is served in allowing the quashing of an FIR in such cases. In the earlier scenario involving section 498A (cruelty to a woman by her husband or husband’s relatives), the power to reach a compromise vested in the woman. As a similar power (to reach a compromise) cannot vest in a woman following her death, the power to quash an FIR should not be exercised by Courts in dowry death cases.


F. Reference(s):

§ Law Commission of India. 2011. Compounding of (IPC) Offences. Report №237.

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