DSWOs cannot be precluded from enquiry just because complaint was lodged with police, says judge

District Social Welfare Officers (DSWO) cannot be precluded from enquiring into dowry-demand complaints in their additional capacity as Dowry Prohibition Officers even if the plaints had actually been lodged with the police department, the Madras High Court Bench here has held.

Justice K. Venkataraman passed the ruling while dismissing a writ petition filed by a woman to quash an order passed by the Madurai DSWO on March 7 giving a clean chit to her husband and in-laws who were accused of demanding dowry and ill-treating her. The woman also sought for a consequential direction to the police to enquire into the matter.

According to the petitioner, she had lodged a complaint with the All Women Police Station (AWPS), Madurai South, on August 18 alleging that her husband abused her in a filthy language and also slapped her two days ago. She accused her mother-in-law of wielding a vegetable cutter and threatening to kill her if she did not bring enough dowry.

Immediately, the petitioner’s husband and his parents filed an anticipatory bail application before the High Court Bench which, in turn, referred the matter to the Mediation and Conciliation Centre in the court campus. However, efforts to solve the issue through talks could not succeed and hence a negative report was filed before the judge concerned.

Thereafter, the AWPS Inspector referred the matter to the DSWO, who had been designated by the State Government as an officer competent to enquire into complaints received under the Dowry Prohibition Act. The police also informed the petitioner to appear before the DSWO for an enquiry on November 9.

After a detailed enquiry, the DSWO filed a report in favour of the petitioner's in-laws and it formed the basis for them being granted anticipatory bail on April 7. Alleging that the DSWO had colluded with the accused, the woman had filed the present writ petition on the ground that the officer had no locus standi to enquire into a complaint lodged with the police.

Rejecting the contention, Mr. Justice Venkataraman said: “Since the first respondent (AWPS Inspector) has no jurisdiction to enquire into the complaint made by the petitioner, she has rightly forwarded the same to the second respondent (DSWO) who has enquired into the matter and passed the impugned (under challenge) order.”

The judge also pointed out that the DSWO had passed the order only after giving an opportunity of hearing to the petitioner. In so far as the petitioner’s plea seeking a direction to the police to enquire into her complaint was concerned, the judge said that it could be done only if the petitioner resorts to appropriate legal proceedings under the Code of Criminal Procedure.

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