“Solemn duty to protect innocent persons”; Madhya Pradesh High Court issues directions to prevent criminalization of civil disputes

Madhya Pradesh High Court

Madhya Pradesh High Court: While quashing the FIR registered in relation to a 36-year-old sale deed, a Single bench comprising of Anand Pathak*, J., directed the Superintendent of Police (SP) of every Districts to cooperate with the District Prosecution Officers (DPO) and undertake periodic appraisal of pending charge-sheets specifically in those cases where civil disputes are tried to be converted into criminal prosecution.

Factual Matrix

In the instant matter, a FIR was registered against the petitioners on 07-07-2021 for alleged offence under Sections 420, 467, 468, 471 and 34 of the Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) alleging that the petitioners had fabricated the sale deeds of the properties as the same was never sold by the respondent 2-complainant’s father.

The petitioners-accused preferred the present petition under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC) praying to quash the impugned FIR along with charge sheet and all consequential proceedings.

Contentions

The petitioners contended that the complainant along with present petitioners consented to compromise in the civil suit for declaration of title on the basis of Will for the said properties and civil suit was withdrawn. The petitioners moved an application for mutation before Tahsildar and their names were mutated by the Tahsildar and immediately, thereafter the complainant registered the impugned FIR. The petitioners further contended that for the last more than 2 years, investigation is pending, and charge-sheet has not been filed.

The petitioners further contended that the complainant is trying to convert a civil case into criminal offence, when the complainant failed to get any results in civil litigation then on false pretext had registered an FIR after 34 years of alleged cause of action.

The respondents opposed the petitioners’ submissions and contended that the registered sale deeds have been fabricated by the petitioners as the same was never sold

Court’s Observation

The Court observed that on close scrutiny of the sale deeds, it is clear that complainant himself signed the same and gave no objection over those documents, moreover, the complainant’s brother in his statement before Police endorsed the fact that father of complainant sold the part of land to petitioners.

The Court observed that the authenticity of Sale deeds cannot be put to challenge that too after 34 years when the limitation period had expired. The Court further observed that “it is settled proposition of law that in the lifetime of owner of property, heirs do not have any right in the property and such owner may deal with the property as per his wish” and when the owner of the property in his lifetime never challenged the same, then the owner’s legal heir after his death cannot challenge the same. Moreover, when the complainant in civil suit had supported the petitioners and categorically admitted that he executed sale deeds to petitioners, and then his claim stands rebutted.

The Court relied on G. Sagar Suri v. State of U.P., (2000) 2 SCC 636, where the Supreme Court held that “it is to be seen if a matter, which is essentially of civil nature, has been given a cloak of criminal offence. Criminal proceedings are not a short cut of other remedies available in law. Before issuing process a criminal court has to exercise a great deal of caution. For the accused it is a serious matter. This Court has laid certain principles on the basis of which High Court is to exercise its jurisdiction under Section 482 of the Code. Jurisdiction under this Section has to be exercised to prevent abuse of the process of any court or otherwise to secure the ends of justice.”

The Court observed that when a case which can be settled through Arbitration or Civil proceedings or through Mediation but the is given criminal nature, then the before registration of FIR strict guidelines laid down in Lalita Kumari v. State of U.P., (2014) 2 SCC 1, directing preliminary enquiry in certain cases should be followed.

The Court observed that the police officer is duty-bound in light of M.P. Police Regulations (MPPR) to get the charge-sheet scrutinized for expert opinion for the Directorate of Prosecution, police department of Madhya Pradesh, before filing the same before the Court.

“Superintendent of Police of district is required to be more vigilant and is meant to ensure that investigations of criminal cases proceed in Just and Fair manner. In those cases where civil dispute is tried to be converted into criminal allegations, then the Superintendent of Police should intervene with the help of District Prosecution Officer and they must come out for course correction so that innocent may not be targeted.”

Relying on Vinubhai Haribhai Malaviya v. State of Gujarat, (2019) 17 SCC 1, the Court observed that it is the duty of Magistrate to look into the allegations and if he is not satisfied with the investigation then he should refer the same for further investigation, specifically when civil disputes are tried to be converted into criminal prosecution.

The Court observed that the petitioners might have committed some procedural irregularity or not have been done things in the ways it ought to have been done, but the same does not constitute criminal offence per se.

Although, some procedural irregularity might have been committed by petitioners or even things might not have been done like the way which they ought to have been done, but still that does not constitute criminal offence per se. Relying on State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal, 1992 Supp (1) SCC 335, the Court observed that even if the allegations made by the complainant are taken on face value and accepted in their entirety, they do not prima facie constitute offence or make out a case against the petitioners. The Court further observed that the present criminal proceeding “is manifestly malafide and is maliciously instituted with an ulterior motive to wreak vengeance on the accused with a view to spite him due to private and personal grudge.”

The Court conveyed the word of caution to the Police Officers (Superintendent of Police (SP)/Station House Officer/ Investigating Officer) as well as District Prosecution Officers (DPO) to be aware of provisions under Chapter IX (of offences by or relating to public servants) specifically Sections 166, 166-A and 167 of IPC and to perform their duties as assigned to them.

Court’s Verdict

The Court allowed the present petition and quashed the FIR registered against the petitioners for alleged offence under Sections 420, 467, 468, 471 and 34 of the IPC.

[Shrichand Bhau v. State of M.P., 2023 SCC OnLine MP 2077, order dated 04-07-2023]

*Judgment by Justice Anand Pathak


Advocates who appeared in this case:

Mr. Sameer Kumar Shrivastava, Counsel for the Petitioners;

Mr. Ravindra Singh, Dy. Advocate General, Counsel for the Respondent No. 1.

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