Gauhati High Court

Gauhati High Court: While deliberating over the instant petition brought in by Indian Youth Congress President, Srinivas B.V., wherein he requested the Court to quash the case against him filed under several provisions of Penal Code, 1860 and Section 67 of Information and Technology Act, 2000, the bench of Ajit Borthakur, J.*, refused to interfere in the FIR in exercise of the extraordinary inherent jurisdiction of Court under Section 482 CrPC. Upon perusal of the victim’s statement under Section 164, CrPC and the FIR, the Court was of the view that allegations of commission of cognizable offences, which continued for about 6 months preceding the date of filing the FIR on 19-04-2023 certainly attract the offences under Sections 509/294 and 506 of the Penal Code, 1860. Furthermore, perusing the petitioner’s comments to the victim while attending Indian Nation Congress’ plenary session, the Court was of the opinion that the utterances, as a whole, prima facie constitute the offences which apparently satisfy the ingredients of Sections 352/354/354-A(iv) of the Penal Code, 1860.

Background: FIR was lodged against Srinivas B.V. by Angkita Dutta, the President of the Assam Youth Congress, who alleged that the petitioner has been persistently harassing her mentally by way of sexist words and threatening her with dire consequences if she discloses the same before the high office bearers of the Congress Party. It was further alleged that when Angkita Dutta went to Raipur, Chhattisgarh, to attend the plenary session of the Congress Party held on 25-03-2023, the petitioner heckled her by holding her arms at the entrance of the venue Mayfair Hotel, and also, threatened her by using slangs.

It was also alleged that despite informing the behaviour of the petitioner before the high office bearers of the Congress Party, it did not yield any result, hence, she lodged the FIR in Dispur Police Station.

As the wheels of criminal procedure set in motion upon lodging of the FIR, the petitioner approached the High Court for interim relief, which was denied on the ground of necessity to peruse the victim’s statement and case diary of the police. The Court set the next date of hearing on 02-05-2023.

Contentions: The petitioner’s counsel contended that a bare perusal of the FIR would reveal that the allegations are vague, fabricated and an afterthought motivated by political vendetta. It was further submitted that the FIR does not reveal the manner in which the alleged outraging comments were made and more particularly, where such comments were made. Furthermore, there was a delay in lodging the FIR.

It was also contended that there is a political conspiracy against the petitioner, who is a popular national political stalwart, to harm his reputation and desist him from participating in the campaigning for the upcoming assembly election in the State of Karnataka.

Per contra, the respondents argued that the test for quashing an FIR in exercise of inherent jurisdiction of the High Court under Section 482 CrPC is that whether the allegations, as they stand without adding or detracting from the complaint/FIR, prima facie establish the ingredients of the offences alleged.

The respondents also contended that if it is uncertain in which of the several local areas the offence was committed or where several acts were done in different local areas, then the said offences can be enquired into or tried by Court having jurisdiction over any of such local areas.

Court’s Assessment: The Court perused the contentions of the parties and cases relied by them. It was noted that both the petitioner and the victim woman belong to the same national political party and the allegations are that the petitioner has subjected the alleged victim to harassment by making sexist comments using slang words persistently and threatened her not to report his misdemeanour of ill treatment, misbehaviour and sexist remarks passed against her to the high office bearers of their party.

The Court while noting that the alleged victim was threatened not to go outside the border of Assam to attend any meeting of the party, was of the opinion that the ingredients of the offence of criminal restraint punishable under Section 341 of Penal Code, 1860, was prima facie satisfied.

The Court stated that contradictions and improvisations of the statement of the victim between the allegations made in the FIR and her interview to the media house are not ascertainable at the present stage as the xeroxed copy of the unauthenticated documents, which the petitioner has relied on as annexures have not been seized by the police yet.

The Court also stated that there is also no indication on the case diary that the FIR is politically motivated, and that the nature of offences disclosed in the FIR pertain to outraging of the modesty of woman. Thus, at the present stage of investigation, the Court cannot scrutinize the correctness or veracity of those allegations in the instant petition under Section 482 CrPC.

Regarding delay in lodging the FIR, the Court noted that the victim complained to the higher officers of the Indian National Congress, which yielded no results and she had to face legal notice, dated 18-04-2023 raising some counter-allegations of defaming the petitioner. Finally, the FIR was filed on 19-04-2023, and the same cannot be said to be inordinate delay.

Responding to an out of context contention raised by the petitioner regarding working of the judiciary, the Court said that, “A Judge performs his duties with absolute fairness based on record and relevant laws only applicable to the facts and circumstances in each case, without fear or favour or affection or ill-will (…) This Court is, however, unfortunately compelled to record its displeasure and reserves the right for reference in future in the event of recurrence of such avoidable embarrassing situation in the Court”.

[Srinivas B.V. v. State of Assam, 2023 SCC OnLine Gau 1545, decided on 04-05-2023]

*Judgment and Order by written by Justice Ajit Borthakur

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Petitioner- K.N. Choudhury, Sr. Counsel;

Respondents- D. Saikia, Advocate General, Assam and M. Phukan, Public Prosecutor appearing for the State/respondent No.1 and P. Bora, Sr. Advocate for respondent No. 2.

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