Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of AM Sapre and Indira Banerjee, JJ has held that the appellate forum for deciding the appeals arising out of the order passed by the Adjudicating Officer under Section 51 of Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1973 (FERA) whether filed prior to 01.06.2000 or filed after 01.06.2000 must be the same, i.e., Appellate Tribunal under Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 (FEMA)

Going into the legislative intent behind Section 49 (5)(b) of FEMA, that deals with repeal and saving in relation to the action taken and to be taken under FERA, 1973, the Court noticed that the legislature has equated the Appellate Board constituted under FERA with the Appellate Tribunal constituted under FEMA for disposal of the appeals filed under Section 52(2) of FERA against an order passed under Section 51 of FERA which were   pending   before   the   Appellate   Board   which was dissolved on 01.06.2000.  Such appeals stood transferred from the Appellate Board to the Appellate Tribunal for their disposal in accordance with law.

The Court noticed that the Special Director (Appeals) is subordinate in hierarchy to the Appellate Tribunal prescribed under Section 49(5)(2) of FEMA and hence, said that if the argument that the appellate forum in this case for filing appeal is ­ “Special Director (Appeals)” and not the “Appellate Tribunal” under FEMA is accepted, then it will result in anomalous situations which will again be incongruous. The Court explained:

“the orders passed by the Appellate Tribunal in the appeals, which stood transferred to the Appellate Tribunal by virtue of Section 49 (5)(b), are appealable to the High Court under Section 35 of FEMA whereas the orders passed by the Special Director (Appeals) in the   appeals   filed   after   01.06.2000 are not appealable to the High Court under Section 35 of FEMA. So, against the same order, one appellant has a right of appeal to the High Court but the other appellant has no such right of appeal because he suffered   dismissal   of his appeal from Special Director (Appeals) against whose order appeal does not lie under Section 35 to the High Court.”

It was, hence, held that it was not possible to hold that one appeal would be maintainable before the Appellate Tribunal and the other appeal arising out of similar order would be maintainable before the Special Director (Appeals),  who is subordinate in hierarchy to the Appellate Board.  [Union of India v. Premier Ltd., 2019 SCC OnLine SC 95, decided on 29.01.2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: A Full bench comprising of CJ Dilip B. Bhosale, Ramesh Sinha and Yashwant Varma, JJ. struck down the proviso to Section 14A (3) of the Scheduled Castes/ Schedules Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015, which imposed a 180-day bar for preferring appeals against judgments, sentences, bail orders and other orders passed by Special Courts under the SC/ST Act and gave a comprehensive interpretation to questions arising from Section 14A of the Act.

The Court took suo motu cognizance of the validity of Section 14A of the Act, in view of divergent opinions of two Single Benches of the court. The present PIL was tagged along with another PIL, numbered as Criminal Writ-PIL No. 11 of 2018, challenging the validity of Sections 14A (2) and 14A (3) of the Act for being violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India. The provisions relevant to the present matter were:

  • Section 14A(1) stating that appeals from judgments, sentences or orders, except interlocutory orders, of a Special/Exclusive Court, trying SC/ST cases would lie to the High Court on both facts and law.
  • Section 14A(2) stating that appeals from bail orders of the Special/ Exclusive Court would lie to the High Court, even if it is an interlocutory order.
  • Section 14A(3) stating that an appeal under this Section should be preferred within a period of 90 days (extendable on court’s discretion). However, the second proviso to this clause laid down that the limitation period to not be extendable beyond 180 days.
  • Section 14A(4) providing for disposal of every appeal preferred under sub-section (1) within three months from the date of admission of appeal.

The aforesaid provisions had an overriding effect over provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).

The court noted that Section 14A primarily created an appellate forum at the level of the High Court to challenge any judgment, sentence or order, not being an interlocutory order, including an order refusing or granting bail. It was noted that though an appeal is not maintainable against interlocutory orders since an interlocutory order refusing or granting bail pertains to the liberty of the accused, an exception had been carved against the said general exclusion.

The challenge to Section 14A(2) was on the sole ground that Section 14A (2) ousted the concurrent jurisdiction of High Court under Section 439 CrPC in matters pertaining to grant of bail. The said challenge was dismissed holding that SC/ST Act is a special statute and as per the general principles of statutory construction, its non-obstante clauses had to be given overriding effect over a general enactment such as CrPC.

The Bench struck down the second proviso to Section 14A (3) holding it to be manifestly arbitrary in as much as it took away the salutary right of the first appeal, an integral facet of fair procedure under Article 21. It was held that absence of discretion in the court to consider condonation of delay even on the existence of sufficient cause rendered the said proviso wholly capricious, irrational and excessive.

The Bench further noted that the inherent and constitutional powers of High Court under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution were not ousted by Section 14A of the Act. However, a note of caution was given by the Bench stating that courts must exercise the principle of judicial restraint and allow such powers to be invoked only in exceptional and rare cases to secure justice.

The Court also noted thatthe scheme of the Act showed the manifest legislative intent to oust revisional powers of High Court under Section 397 CrPC and therefore Section 14A eclipsed the revisional jurisdiction of High Court.

Another question posed before the court was that since Section 14A of the Act, introduced by the amendment in 2015, came into effect from 26-1-2016, whether offences committed before the said date would also be subject to Section 14A. It was clarified that applicability of Section 14A would depend on the date of the judgment or order sought to be assailed. If the judgment sought to be appealed against was passed after the 26-01-2016, then only would Section 14A be triggered. It was further clarified that even if the impugned judgment was passed before 26-01-2016 but if the appeal against it is preferred after the said date, Section 14A would apply.

The 2015 amendment to SC/ST Act empowered Exclusive Special Courts established under the amended provisions to directly take cognizance of offences under the Act. The last question for determination before the Bench was as to whether the power to directly take cognizance of offences shall be exercisable by the existing Special Courts (constituted under the 1989 Act). On this point, the court held that the existing Special Courts did not have jurisdiction to directly take cognizance of offences; such existing courts could take cognizance of offences under the Act only after the concerned Magistrate commits the case as per Section 193 of CrPC. However, it was clarified that the same not be construed to be a disrobing of these courts’ powers to try offences under the Act.

The PIL was disposed of answering the issues framed for the consideration of the Full Bench, as detailed above, along with a parting observation that although the Amending Act came into force with effect from 26-01-2016, neither any Exclusive Special Courts had been established nor had any Special Courts been designated till the date of order. The Bench directed the State government to initiate the consultative process, as envisaged under Section 14 of the Act, to ensure that Exclusive Special Courts and Special Courts are constituted and designated within a period of eight weeks from the date of order. [Provision of Section 14A of SC/ ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015, In Re; Criminal Writ – PIL No. 8 of 2018, decided on 10-10-2018]