Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Sunil Gaur, J. allowed a batch of petitions filed against the trial court’s order whereby the petitioners including Group President of Reliance Industries Public Ltd. and the Vice-President of Reliance Industries Ltd. were put on trial for the offences punishable under the Official Secrets Act, 1923.

On 28-10-1998, the Delhi Police raided the office of Group President of RIL and recovered copies of 4 ‘secret’ documents of the Government of India. The recovered copies related to policy documents related to economy and disinvestment.

It was submitted by the petitioners that the documents in the question were not prejudicial to the security of the State and by merely marking them to be secret, does not bring the documents in question within the ambit of the Official Secrets Act. They contended that the ‘secret’ information was already in public domain, which had been supplied through Government channels and that it was so apparent from the copies of newspaper reports on record.

Referring to Sama Alana Abdulla v. State of Gujarat, (1996) 1 SCC 427 and State (NCT of Delhi) v. Jaspal Singh, (2003) 10 SCC 586 the High Court noted: “A person cannot be put on trial merely because a document has been marked as secret, as it is necessary to see the nature of information contained in it, to find out if any offence under the Official Secrets Act is made out or not.” The Court was of the view that the trial court erred in ignoring the newspaper reports produced on a technical plea of want of proof. It was reiterated that substantial justice cannot be sacrificed on technicalities.

As per the Court, a bare perusal of the statement of the Secretary, Department of Telecommunication, revealed that he was not categoric about the documents in question being prejudicial to the security of the nation. It was further noted that since the documents in question had been already made public, therefore, they lost their confidentiality. The Court was of the opinion that the impugned order suffered from utter non-application of mind, and therefore, the same was set aside. The proceedings against the petitioners were quashed.[Shankar Adawal v. CBI, 2019 SCC OnLine Del 9434, decided on 01-08-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court: N. Anand Venkatesh, J. dismissed a petition filed by Prisoners Right Forum against the order of the Chief Judicial Magistrate whereby he had dismissed a complaint filed in the matter of the death of a prisoner in judicial custody. It was held that the forum, being a third party who was neither a victim not an aggrieved person, had no locus standi to file the present petition.

The deceased, a prisoner, died in judicial custody in April, 2014. An FIR was registered, enquiry conducted, and criminal proceedings initiated against the respondent officials. However, ultimately, the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate came to the conclusion that no offence was established against the accused persons, and therefore he dismissed the complaint. The said order was challenged by the Forum in the present petition under Section 482 CrPC.

The High Court was of the opinion that the preliminary issue to be decided was as to the locus standi of the petitioner Forum to file the petition. M. Radhakrishnan, Advocate led arguments on behalf of the Forum. Per contra, the respondents were represented by C. Emilias, Additional General, assisted by M. Mohamed Tiyaz, APP; and Senior Advocate N.R. Elango; and A. Gokulakrishnan, Advocate; all of whom opposed the petition.

The Court noted that the term locus standi is commonly understood as the right or the capacity to bring an action or to appear in a Court. The march of law, more particularly by way of public interest litigations, has now allowed anyone from the society, not related to the cause of action to approach the Court seeking justice for those who cannot or who could not approach themselves or in cases which involves the public interest at large. However, it was held that such right cannot be extended in a criminal case to a third party who is not in any way related to the case. It was observed: “If this practice is permitted in a casual manner, a meddlesome bystander can easily decide to attack a person who has been held to be not guilty by a Subordinate Court, by initiating a frivolous proceeding and thereby cause irretrievable injury to the life and liberty of the accused person.” The only exception that has been created in this regard is by the Supreme Court which has held that third parties will have right, in very exceptional cases, to approach the Supreme Court under Article 136 of the Constitution of India. Reference was made to Amanullah v. State of Bihar, (2016) 6 SCC 699; National Commission for Women v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2010) 12 SCC 599; Harsh Mandar v. Amit Anilchandra Shah, (2017) 13 SCC 420.

Holding that the petitioner had no locus standi to maintain the present petition, the Court dismissed the same.[Prisoners Right Forum v. State of T.N., 2019 SCC OnLine Mad 2476, decided on 22-07-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Chhattisgarh High Court: Prashant Kumar Mishra, J. quashed criminal proceedings pending against the petitioner-assessee before the Chief Judicial Magistrate for the commission of offences under Section 276-C (willful attempt to evade tax) and Section 277 (false statement in verification) of the Income Tax Act, 1961.

The gravamen of the offence alleged against the petitioner was that it concealed its income for the assessment year 1990-1991. Consequent to that, a penalty was imposed upon him by the Commissioner of Income Tax. He also granted sanction for petitioner’s prosecution, pursuant to which the criminal case which the subject matter of the present petition, was registered. The petitioner filed an appeal before the appellate authority — CIT (Appeals) — which appeal was allowed and the penalty was set aside on the finding that the petitioner did not conceal its income.

S. Rajeshwara Rao and M.K. Sinha, Advocates for the petitioner, contended that in view of the position that the penalty levied on the petitioner was set aside, the criminal proceedings pending on the file of CJM may also be quashed. Per contra, Naushina Ali appearing on behalf of A. Choudhary, Standing Counsel for the Revenue, opposed the present petition.

The High Court relied on K.C. Builders v. CIT, (2004) 2 SCC 731, wherein the Supreme Court held that “once the finding of concealment and subsequent levy of penalties under Section 271 (1)(c) of the Act has been struck down by the Tribunal, the assessing officer has no other alternative except to correct his order under Section 154 of the Act as per the directions of the Tribunal.” It was further held in the said case that “the finding of the Appellate Tribunal was conclusive and the prosecution cannot be sustained since the penalty after having been decided by the complainant following the Appellate Tribunal’s order, no offence survives under the Income Tax Act and thus quashing of prosecution is automatic.”

In the matter at hand, the High Court, following the law laid down in K.C. Builders, held that it will an empty formality to direct the petitioner to approach the trial Magistrate, who had otherwise kept the application preferred by the petitioners pending since 15-01-2014. Resultantly, the Court exercised its inherent powers and quashed the criminal proceedings pending against the petitioner. The petition was allowed. [System (India) Castings v. CIT, 2019 SCC OnLine Chh 63, decided on 26-06-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Meghalaya High Court: A Bench of Mohammad Yaqoob Mir, CJ, and H.S. Thangkhiew, J. dismissed an appeal filed against the trial court decision whereby the appellant was convicted for the offence punishable under Section 376 (punishment for rape) IPC.

The appellant was accused of committing rape upon the child-victim. Pertinent to note that he was acquitted by the trial court of the charge of rape levelled against him, in the first instance. Thereafter, the State appealed against his acquittal which was allowed by the High Court and the matter was remanded back for re-trial. After the conclusion of the re-trial, the appellant was convicted under Section 376 and sentenced accordingly. He challenged the decision of the trial court by filing the present appeal.

Senior Advocate S.P. Mahanta assisted by A. Thungwa, Advocate appeared for the appellant. Per contra, S. Sen Gupta, Additional Public Prosecutor represented the State. One of the many contentions raised by the appellant was that his case was prejudiced at the re-trial.

The High Court in reference to the aforesaid contention noted that it has no force as the High Court Judgment which ordered the re-trial was not challenged. It was also found that the appellant and his counsel actively participated in the proceedings at the re-trial and at no stage it was agitated that any rights of the appellant were infringed. The Court said: “It was nowhere mentioned that any of the witnesses during examination or cross-examination has made any improvement or has made any substantial deviation giving rise to any prejudice. Now, after the accused is convicted and sentenced, to contend that by re-trial gaps and lacunas have been filled up is an otiose theory only to be rejected.” On such and other incidental reasoning, the Court dismissed the appeal while upholding the trial court’s decision. [Small Phawa v. State of Meghalaya, Crl. A. No. 5 of 2016, dated 02-04-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Punjab and Haryana High Court: This petition was filed before the Bench of Jaishree Thakur, J., under Section 482 of Criminal Procedure Code invoking the inherent power of High Court seeking quashing of FIR registered under Sections 498-A, 406, 323, 506 and 34 of Penal Code and all subsequent proceedings arising therefrom on the basis of compromise entered between the parties.

Facts of the case were that the respondent was married with petitioner and out of this wedlock, a child was born. However, temperamental differences arose between the husband and wife and FIR was registered by respondent. But the same was compromised between the two with the intervention of respectable persons. It was submitted before the Court that their statements were recorded in support of the compromise. In pursuance of which a report was received from the Judicial Magistrate (First Class) stating that the compromise was done without any pressure or coercion from anyone. DAG, Haryana had admitted before the Court that the parties had settled their dispute and had no objection to the quashing of the FIR.

High Court was of the view that a decision which is based on compromise causes no loss to any party rather it would bring peace and harmony between the parties to a dispute and restore tranquility in the society. In the light of nature of offence alleged and compromise entered between the parties continuing the prosecution was considered futile. Therefore, this petition was allowed and FIR was quashed. [Vikas Khatri v. State of Haryana, CRM-M-38284-2017 (O&M), decided on 01-08-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench comprising of S.B. Shukre and S.M. Modak, JJ. allowed a set of criminal appeals filed against the judgment of Sessions Judge whereby the appellants were convicted under Section 376 (2)(n) IPC and under various sections of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 and Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006.

The appellants were the husband, parents, neighbours, etc. of the victim. The prosecution alleged that the victim was married to her husband when she was 15 years of age. She was pressurised by her parents. Soon after the wedding, the husband consummated the marriage with the victim. She was not able to resist the advances and acts of the husband who was 29 years of age. One day, on the pretext of celebrating he birthday with her parents, the victim ran away and lodged an FIR against the husband, her parents and other accused. The matter went to trial and the court convicted the accused as aforesaid. Aggrieved thereby, the convicts preferred the present appeals.

Mahesh Rai and A.A. Dhawas, Advocates for the appellants vehemently argued against the conviction and seriously disputed age of the victim at the time of the incident. They relied on evidence of one Vasanti, an employee of Municipal Council, Chandrapur. Notably, Vasanti was a prosecution witness but her evidence wherein she brought birth register proved that the victim was born in 1994 and not in 1999 as claimed by the prosecution. Thus, at the relevant time, the victim was more than 18 years of age. Therefore she could not be treated as a ‘child’ for the purpose of either POCSO or the Child Marriage Act.

The High Court, noting the above evidence stated that the same was reliable. It observed, “After having examined its own witness and after having not declared the witness with the permission of the Court as hostile to the prosecution, it is not permissible under the law for the prosecution to disown its own witness”. On the aspect of other evidence especially the ossification test, the Court relied on Mahadeo v. State of Maharashtra, (2013) 14 SCC 637 and State of M.P. v. Anoop Singh, (2015) 7 SCC 773. The Court stated, “The ossification test would come into picture only when the documentary and other evidence brought on record by the prosecution does not convincingly or beyond reasonable doubt establish the age of the victim, wherever it is relevant”. Thus, the victim not being a ‘child’ at the relevant time, the appellants were acquitted of offences under POCSO and Child Marriage Act. Further, regarding Section 376(2)(n) IPC, it was noted that the victim admitted that after the marriage she did not object to the acts of the husband and therefore even that offence was not established. Hence, the appellants were acquitted of all the charges. [Vimalbai Manohar Doballiwar v. State of Maharashtra, 2018 SCC OnLine Bom 6956, dated 19-12-2018]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Green Tribunal (NGT): The Principal Bench of NGT at New Delhi comprising of Adarsh Kumar Goel, S.P. Wangdi JJ. and expert member Dr. Nagin Nanda, while considering an application moved by the petitioner, passed directions for implementation of steps to control and stop the release of toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are released in the atmosphere during transfer of petroleum products at fuel delivery outlets.

The application moved before the Hon’ble Tribunal sought directions for installation of Stage I and Stage II vapor recovery devices at all fuel stations, distribution centers, terminals, railway loading/unloading facilities and airports in Delhi. The applicant averred that petroleum products contain traces of benzene, toluene, and xylene (BTX) that are VOCs and highly toxic in nature. During the transfer of petroleum products at fuel delivery outlets, VOCs turn into vapours from liquid and enter the atmosphere. Exposure to high level of BTX causes neuro-toxic symptoms and persistent exposure to the same may cause injury to the human bone marrow, DNA and immune system damage.

The factum of hazardous impact of VOC was not disputed by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas and it was stated that the Government of India had already directed public sector oil marketing companies to install Vapour Recovery System (VRS) during fueling of vehicles at all the retail outlets in Delhi and in all high selling retail outlets (selling more than 300 kilo litre per month) in the country.

Having regard to the averments of MoEF&CC, CPCB and Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, the Bench observed that there was no dispute in relation to the need for installing Stage-I and Stage-II vapor recovery devices and the only roadblock was that of implementation. It was noted that the timelines prescribed by CPCB had expired and there was no justification for the long delay in taking requisite steps for protection of the environment and public health.

On the aforesaid observations, the Hon’ble Tribunal directed all oil companies to install Stage-I and Stage-II vapour recovery devices on or before 31-10-2018, failing which Chairman of erring oil companies would be subject to prosecution. Further, it was also directed that a compliance report be filed by the CPCB after taking compliance reports from all the oil companies on or before 15-01-2019. [Aditya N. Prasad v. Union of India, 2018 SCC OnLine NGT 333, decided on 28-09-2018]

 

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The Bench comprising of S.A. Bobde and L. Nageswara Rao, JJ. disposed of a criminal appeal filed by the State of Maharashtra against the judgment of the Bombay High Court whereby an FIR  filed against the respondents was quashed.

The FIR was filed against the respondents, for the transportation and sale of gutkha/pan masala, under Sections 26 and 30 of the Food and Safety Standards Act, 2006 along with Sections 188, 227, 273 and 328 IPC. The respondents filed criminal petitions before the High Court for quashing the FIRs. The High Court allowed the petitions. Aggrieved thereby, the State filed the instant appeal.

The Supreme Court was of the view that the judgment of the High Court could not be sustained. It was unable to agree with the conclusion of the High Court that non-compliance of the provisions of FSS Act cannot be the subject matter of a prosecution under IPC. The High Court was, observed the Supreme Court, clearly wrong in interpreting the scope of Section 188 IPC. The section does not only cover breach of law and order but is attracted even in cases where the Act complained of causes or tends to cause danger to human life, health or safety. Furthermore, the Court did not accept the position that Section 55 of FSS Act was the only provision which can be resorted to for non-compliance of orders passed under the Act as it is a special enactment. Reference was made to State of Bihar v. Murad Ali Khan, (1988) 4 SCC 655; State of Rajasthan v. Hat Singh, (2003) 2 SCC 152; State (NCT of Delhi) v. Sanjay, (2014) 9 SCC 772. It was observed that there is no bar to a trial or conviction of an offender under two different enactments, but the bar is only to the punishment of the offender twice for the same offence. Section 26 of the General Clauses Act, 1897 was also discussed to observe that prosecution under two different acts is permissible if the ingredients of the provisions are satisfied on the same facts. It was held that there is a bar for prosecution under IPC merely because provisions in FSS Act prescribe penalties. Therefore, the finding of the High Court on this point was set aside. Regarding the point as to whether offences under Sections 188, 272, 273 and 328 IPC were made out against the respondents, the matter was remanded back to High Court for reconsideration. The appeal was disposed of in the terms above. [State of Maharashtra v. Sayyed Hassan Sayyed Subhan,2018 SCC OnLine SC 1580, decided on 20-09-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Karnataka High Court: A Single Judge Bench comprising of K.N. Phaneendra, J. allowed a petition wherein the bench stated that a customer encouraging the services of a prostitute cannot be held liable for any prosecution.

The petition was filed under Section 482 of CrPC in order to quash the entire proceeding in crime registered by the respondent under Section 370 of IPC and Sections 3, 4, 5 and 7 of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act.

Taking into account the FIR and the respective evidences placed before the Court by the respondent, the only inference that could be drawn was that the petitioner was a ‘customer’ in the brothel house indulged committing prostitution with a lady which was corroborated by the raid conducted by the respondent.

The High Court referred to the case of Goenka Sajan Kumar v. State of A.P., 2014 SCC OnLine Hyd 1192 and a few others, wherein it was stated that, in order to be covered under the ambit of Sections 3, 4, 5 and 7 of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, it has to be established that:

  • The petitioner should have lived on the earnings of prostitution.
  • Maintained a brothel house or allowed his premises to be used for the same.
  • Procured, or induced a person for the sake of prostitution.

Further, the High Court concluded by stating its opinions that the customer does virtually encourage prostitution along with exploiting the victim for money, but due to the absence of any specific penal provision, the Court cannot make the petitioner liable for prosecution under the said offences. [Sarvan v. State of Karnataka,2018 SCC OnLine Kar 634, order dated 31-05-2018]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

“Courts shoulder a great responsibility while trying an accused on charge of rape. They must deal with such cases with utmost sensitivity.”

Supreme Court: The Bench comprising of N.V. Ramana and Mohan M. Shantanagoudar, JJ., while addressing an appeal against the judgment and order passed by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana, allowed the said appeal on the basis that the Courts below had convicted the accused merely on “conjectures and surmises.”

The present appeal was filed by two convicts accused Jai Singh and Sham Singh, but the former had already undergone his term of sentence and had been released which left Sham Singh as the appellant. It was submitted by the victim that both the accused had forcibly taken the victim in their house and tied her hands with rope and committed “rape”. On filing of charge sheet against the accused the Lower Courts convicted both of them under Section 376(2)(g), 342 and 506 IPC.

The appellant in his submissions had placed that the material witnesses were not examined and the Courts below had ignored the material facts as well which are fatal to the case of prosecution. The appreciation of evidence by the Trial Court and the High Court has not been proper and correct.

The Supreme Court on giving due consideration to the appeal realized that it was amply clear that the case of the prosecution as made out, appears to be artificial and concocted. If the incident would have actually taken place then the medical report would have gone against the accused. The court stated that “We find that this is a case wherein incriminating materials are lacking against the accused”. Further, the Court also stated that the circumstances in this case themselves suffer from serious infirmities and lack of legal credibility to merit acceptance in the hands of the court of law. The appeal is thus allowed. [Sham Singh v. State of Haryana,2018 SCC OnLine SC 1042, decided on 21-08-2018]

Hot Off The PressNews

National Green Tribunal (NGT): The Bench headed by NGT chairperson Adarsh Kumar Goel, J., stated that Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has been repeatedly defiant on issuing circular to airlines operating at the IGI airport in order to restrict them from emptying the toilet tanks mid-air.

The Bench further stated that “Since there is a repeated defiance by the DGCA with absolutely no acceptable explanation, we have no option but to direct the DGCA to comply with the directions already issued on or before August 31, 2018.” If the same act continues, NGT would have to consider prosecution against the Director-General.

[Source: The Times of India]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of Dipak Misra, Amitava Roy and AM Khanwilkar, JJ held that a public servant facing charge of criminal misconduct, cannot be comprehended to furnish any explanation in absence of the proof of the allegation of being in possession by himself or through someone else, of pecuniary resources or property disproportionate to his known sources of income.

The bench held that the primary burden to bring home the charge of criminal misconduct is indubitably on the prosecution to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the public servant either himself or through anyone else had at any time during the period of his office been in possession of pecuniary resources or property disproportionate to his known sources of income and it is only on the discharge of such burden by the prosecution, if he fails to satisfactorily account for the same, he would be in law held guilty of such offence.

In the case where the appellant had challenged the Madhya Pradesh High Court’s order convicted him under Section 13(1)(e) read with Section 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 by drawing adverse inference without any conclusive proof, the Court, setting aside his conviction, said that the appellant must be given a benefit of doubt. The Court said that the prosecution, to succeed in a criminal trial, has to pitch its case beyond all reasonable doubt and lodge it in the realm of “must be true” category and not rest contended by leaving it in the domain of “may be true”. [Vasant Rao Guhe v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 893, decided on 09.08.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the matter where the accused, along with a group of co-accused persons, each armed with deadly weapons fired a gunshot in the abdomen of the deceased after a quarrel thereby resulting into his death, the Court set aside the conviction of the accused on the ground that the investigation in the matter was carried out in a lackluster manner.

The Court said that normally, when a culprit perpetrates a heinous crime of murder and takes away the life of a human being, if appropriate punishment is not awarded to that offender, the Court will be failing in its duty. However, the Investigating Officer, dealing with a murder case, is expected to be diligent, truthful and fair in his approach and his performance should always be in conformity with the police manual and a default or breach of duty may prove fatal to the prosecution’s case.

The Court said that, in the present case, no doubt, an innocent man has lost his life at the hands of another man, but merely the seizure of gun and cartridges from the appellant, the ongoing enmity between the parties on account of various criminal litigations and the altercation and exchange of heated words between the rival groups on the morning of the same day, cannot establish the guilt of accused beyond reasonable doubt. Also, when there are material exaggerations and contradictions, which inevitably raise doubt which is reasonable in normal circumstances and keeping in view the substratum of the prosecution case, it cannot be inferred beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant had caused the death of the deceased.

The bench of Dr. A.K. Sikri and N.V. Ramana, JJ, said that the investigation was carried out with unconcerned and uninspiring performance. There was no firm and sincere effort with the needed zeal and spirit to bring home the guilt of the accused. Also, considering the fact that the accused has already undergone nine years’ of imprisonment and the Court said that it is a fit case inviting interference by this Court. [Mahavir Singh v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2016 SCC Online SC 1250 , decided on 09.11.2016]