Centre says decriminalizing of adultery must not apply to the armed forces; SC issued notice on plea seeking court’s clarification

The Supreme Court Wednesday issued notice on a plea filed by the Central Government seeking to clarify that a decision of the 2018 Constitution bench decriminalising adultery under Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) did not apply to the Armed Forces.

A three-judge bench led by Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman also directed that the matter be placed before the Chief Justice of India (CJI) for constituting a five-judge bench as the 2018 decision was rendered by the bench of the same strength.

“Since the clarification is on a Constitution Bench decision, it is appropriate that Hon’ble The Chief Justice issues orders to post this matter before a Bench of Five Learned Judges. The Registry is directed to place the matter before Hon’ble The Chief Justice for appropriate orders”, the Court said.

The Centre contended that the 2018 verdict should not apply to the armed forces where personnel could be cashiered from service on the grounds of “unbecoming conduct” for committing adultery with a colleague’s wife.

It also said decriminalizing adultery may cause ‘instability’ within the armed forces as defence personnel are expected to stay separated from their families for long durations.

In 2018, the Supreme Court bench led by the then CJI Dipak Misra had unanimously struck down Section 497 of the IPC that makes adultery a punishable offence for men.

The bench had found Section 497 unconstitutional and fell foul of Article 21 (Right to life) and Article 14 (Right to equality).