New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday referred to a constitution bench plea challenging the constitutional validity of the law governing adultery which only criminalises a man.

Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, 1960 deals with the offence of adultery and imposes culpability on the person who has sexual intercourse with a woman who is and whom he knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of another man, without the consent or connivance of that man (husband).

“Though the offence of adultery is committed by both the man and the woman… Only one party is held liable for the criminal offence," Chief Justice, Dipak Misra had observed at the last hearing.

The court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Joseph Shine, challenging the constitutional validity of the legal provisions governing adultery in India, in so far as it being discriminatory against men.

Kaleeswaram Raj and Suvidutt Sundaram, counsels for the petitioner, had asserted that Section 497 was violative of Article 14 (equality before law), 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, caste, sex) and 21 (right to life) of the Constitution of India as it is heavily gender biased.

“Criminal law is supposed to be neutral. Section 497 is prejudiced against males and imposes an excessive penalty", it was submitted.

It was also sought that in light of the judgment of the Supreme Court on right to privacy, Section 497 must be looked at from a fresh perspective.

Adultery is punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both. The woman, or wife, is exempted from the purview of this section.