Supreme Court: The bench of MM Shantanagoudar* and Vineet Saran, JJ has held that Section 195(1)(b)(i) CrPC will not bar prosecution by the investigating agency for offence punishable under Section 193 IPC, which is committed during the stage of investigation. This is provided that the investigating agency has lodged complaint or registered the case under Section 193, IPC prior to commencement of proceedings and production of such evidence before the trial court. In such circumstance, the same would not be considered an offence committed in, or in relation to, any proceeding in any Court for the purpose of Section 195(1)(b)(i) CrPC.
Background and issues raised
A case was registered against the Appellant/Accused No. 1, who was working as Regional Manager (South) at Chennai with the Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd, under Section 120B read with Sections 420, 467, 468 and 471 IPC; and Section 13(2) read with Section 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (PC Act).
In the present case, the Accused Nos. 2 and 3 had colluded with Appellant/Accused No. 1 to create a false sale deed, and gave false explanation of escrow arrangement amongst the three parties, to justify how the seized currency came to be in the Appellant’s possession. This was done to exonerate the Appellant/Accused No. 1 and recover the seized currency at the stage of investigation itself.
This gave rise to the question before the Court as to
- Whether Section 195(1)(b)(i), CrPC bars lodging of case by the investigating agency under Section 193, IPC, in respect of offence of giving false evidence which is committed at the stage of investigation, prior to production of such evidence before the Trial Court?
- Whether an offence under Section 193, IPC committed at the stage of investigation, prior to production of the false evidence before the Trial Court by a person who is not yet party to proceedings before the Trial Court, is an offence “in relation to” a proceeding in any court under Section 195(1)(b)(i), CrPC?
- Whether the words “stage of a judicial proceeding” under Explanation 2 to Section 193, IPC can be equated with “proceeding in any court” under Section 195(1)(b)(i), CrPC?
Analysis by the Court
Import of the Words “in relation to” in Section 195(1)(b) (i) CrPC
The construction of the words “in relation to” must be controlled by the overarching principle applicable to Section 195(1)(b), CrPC i.e., even if the offence is committed prior to giving of the fabricated evidence in court, it must have a direct or reasonably close nexus with the court proceedings.
Section 195(1)(b)(i), CrPC may be attracted to the offence of fabricating false evidence prior to its production before the Court, provided that such evidence is led by a person who is party to the court proceedings, for the purpose of leading the Court to form a certain opinion based on such evidence. The bar against taking of cognizance under Section 195(1)(b)(i) may also apply where a person who is initially not a party to the court proceedings fabricates certain evidence, and
1) subsequently becomes a party and produces it before the Court; or;
2) falsely deposes as a witness before the Court on the strength of such evidence,
for the purpose of causing the Court to form an erroneous opinion on a point material to the result of the proceedings.
However, where a person fabricates false evidence for the purpose of misleading the investigating officer, this may not have any direct nexus with the subsequent court proceedings.
“There is an indirect nexus inasmuch as if the investigating agency does not suspect any wrongdoing, and the Court commits the case for trial, the evidence will be produced for the Court’s perusal and impact the judicial decision-making process. However, it may be equally possible that even if the fabricated evidence appears sufficiently convincing, the investigating agency may drop proceedings against the accused and divert its time and resources elsewhere. Therefore, the offence may never reach the stage of court proceedings. Further, if it subsequently comes to light that the evidence was falsely adduced, it will be the investigating agency which will suffer loss of face and be forced to conduct a fresh investigation.”
Hence, though the offence is one which affects the administration of justice, it is the investigating agency, and not the Court, which is the aggrieved party in such circumstance.
“Just like a private party who has been a victim of forgery committed outside the precincts of the Court, the investigative agency should not be left remediless against persons producing false evidence for the purpose of interfering with the investigation process. Moreover, the present case concerns offences alleged to have been committed under the PC Act. Public interest and the reputation of the State will suffer significant harm if corrupt public servants are facilitated by third parties in hiding their assets from scrutiny. Hence any interpretation which negates against the speedy and effective trial of such persons must be avoided.”
Whether “stage of a judicial proceeding” under Explanation 2 to Section 193 IPC is synonymous with “ proceeding in any court” under Section 195(1)(b)(i) CrPC?
Section 195(1)(b) is meant to restrict the right to make complaint in respect of certain offences to public servants, or to the relevant Court, as they are considered to be the only party who is directly aggrieved or impacted by those offences. Furthermore, for the purpose of Section 195(1)(b)(i), CrPC, there must be an intention on part of the alleged offender to directly mislead the Court into forming a certain opinion by commission of offence under Section 193 IPC.
“Though a criminal investigation is certainly a stage of a judicial proceeding insofar as it may culminate in issue of process and trial against the accused, it would not be a proceeding in relation to a certain Court under Section 195(1)(b) (i), CrPC before the Court has even taken judicial notice of such investigation.”
Section 2(i) CrPC defines “judicial proceeding” as including any proceeding in the course of which evidence is or may be legally taken by oath. The investigation under the PC Act was admittedly a stage of a judicial proceeding by virtue of Explanation 2 to Section 193 IPC. However, neither was the fabricated evidence in the present case given on oath before the investigating officer, nor is the investigating authority under the PC Act deemed to be a “court” for the purpose of Section 195(1) (b), CrPC.
In the present case, it is not the Trial Court but the Investigating authority/agency which has been directly impacted due to fabrication of evidence by the Appellants/accused.
“The Appellants’ intention was not to mislead the Trial Court, at least not at the first instance. Rather, their goal was to ensure that the Appellant/Accused No. 1 was cleared of wrongdoing at the stage of investigation itself. It was after being charged under Section 193 IPC, that the Appellants/accused reiterated the fictitious escrow arrangement story before the Trial Court so as to prove their innocence. Hence it cannot be said that the offence under Sections 120B read with 193 IPC was committed by the Appellants “in relation to” a proceeding in a court under Section 195(1)(b)(i), CrPC.”
Thus, the investigation conducted by the agency under the PC Act cannot be equated with a proceeding in a court of law under Section 195(1) (b)(i) CrPC, though it is deemed to be a stage of a judicial proceeding under Section 193, IPC.
“Had this been a case wherein the Investigating agency had not developed any suspicion against Accused Nos. 2 and 3, and the Trial Court had subsequently discovered the subterfuge caused by them, we may have taken a different view.”
[Bhima Razu Prasad v. State, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 210, decided on 12.03.2021]
*Judgment by: Justice MM Shantanagoudar
Appearance before the Court by:
For Appellants: Senior counsel Basava Prabhu Patil, and counsels Amit Anand Tiwari and B. Karunakaran
For State: Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati