Frivolous Cases of Sexual Harassment – Recent Judgement of Hon’ble Delhi High Court

Hon’ble Delhi High Court on February 23, 2021 imposed costs of INR 30,000 (approximately USD 400) each on the Petitioners who had approached the Court for quashing of first information reports (FIRs) lodged by them against each other on allegations of sexual harassment.

The backdrop of the dispute is that the Petitioners filed criminal complaints against each other before the Police Station, Vasant Kunj (North) Delhi, alleging the other person for having indulged in acts that amounted to assault, sexual harassment, and outraging the modesty of a woman. The Police registered FIR # 238/2017 and FIR # 239/2017 for offences punishable under Sections 509, 506, 323, 341, 354, 354A and 34 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”). The incident took place on May 12, 2017, and all the persons involved in the FIRs were neighbors and residents of a posh residential colony of Delhi.

Subsequent to registration of FIRs, with the intervention of family members and friends, the Petitioners amicably resolved their disputes and differences. The Petitioners filed petitions under Section 482 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) which grants inherent powers to a High Court to quash an FIR and proceedings emanating therefrom. Two petitions (i) CRL. M.C. 533/2021 titled ‘Laishram Premila Devi & Ors. v. The State & Ors.’ and (ii) CRL. M.C. 534/2021 titled ‘Nirmala Khatri & Ors. v. The State & Ors.’ were listed before a bench of Hon’ble Delhi High Court on February 23, 2021.

Upon examining the contents of the FIRs, the Hon’ble Court was of the opinion that the Petitioners have abused the process of law over a quarrel which seemed to be a small fight concerning ‘parking’ of vehicle’ that escalated into frivolous allegations of assault, outraging the modesty of a woman and sexual harassment and registration of FIRs. The Hon’ble Court made observations that in this day and age, a trend has spun to register FIRs alleging offences under Section 354 (assault with intent to outrage the modesty of a woman), Section 354A (sexual harassment), Section 354B, (assault with intent to disrobe a woman), Section 354C (voyeurism) and Section 354D (stalking) of IPC to, force a party from withdrawing a complaint filed by it against other party or; arm-twist a party. The Hon’ble Court further observed that such allegations are serious offences, and they cannot be made at the drop of a hat by any person as such allegations have the effect of tarnishing the image of a woman. The Hon’ble Court held that the instant cases amounted to misusing the bona fide intent behind Sections 354 and 354A of IPC.

The Hon’ble Court stated that the frivolous acts of the Petitioners led to consumption of valuable time and resources of the Police Officials who spent time to investigate the complaints, attend court proceedings, prepare status reports and other ancillary duties as mandated by law in criminal trial and investigation. It further stated that a court and Police cannot be taken for granted by citizens and they should not operate under the misconception that legal battles can be settled by filing false cases.

In view of the peculiar facts and circumstances arising from the quashing petitions, the Hon’ble Court quashed both the FIRs and imposed costs of INR 30,000 (approximately USD 400) on each Petitioner with a warning not to file false and frivolous cases.

Anhad Law’s Perspective

Sections 354A, 354B, 354C and 354D of IPC were incorporated few years back with an intent to curb violence against women and set-out deterrent punishment against offenders for their heinous crimes.

A bare reading of Sections 354A, 354B, 354C and 354D IPC clearly expresses ‘intent’ to be the chief ingredient of an offence.

In the instant case, the observations by the Hon’ble Court are significant because the IPC does not provide for any punishment against a person who intentionally lodges a false complaint under Sections 354, 354A, 354B, 354C and 354D IPC. The Hon’ble Court exercised the powers vested in it by imposing costs on litigants for having used the tool of sexual harassment to achieve their illegitimate objectives.

While the instant case is not on the basis of provisions of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act 2013 (“POSH Act”), it is pertinent to mention that Section 14 of the POSH Act prescribes for punishment to a female employee who files a frivolous complaint with malicious intent or produces false or misleading documents with the intent to misuse the bona fide provisions of law.

The case law discussed herein could be relevant for employers to help them convey the true intent behind a statute including the POSH Act. An employer is under an obligation (in the POSH Act) to disseminate the information pertaining to POSH Act and while the statute prescribes rights of a female at workplace and consequences due to its misuse, employers may want to use such case laws to convey the true expectations behind such a statute.

-Manishi Pathak, Founding Partner & Pankaj Arora, Sr. Associate.

Disclaimer: These are personal views of authors and do not constitute a legal opinion, analysis or interpretation. This is an initiative to share developments in the world of law. No reader should act on the basis of any statement above without seeking professional legal advice.