punjab and haryana high court

Punjab and Haryana High Court: In a petition under Section 482 of Criminal Procedure Code filed by Sukhbir Singh Badal, former Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab and President of Shiromani Akali Dal for quashing of First Information Report (‘FIR') for offences under Sections 269, 270, 188, 341 and 506 of Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC') and Section 3 of Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 for being politically motivated in the absence of a case for prosecution, Anoop Chitkara, J. found the instant case bereft of substance against Sukhbir Singh Badal, and therefore, quashed the FIR and all subsequent proceedings.

Prosecution Case

The matter relates to a company that got a contract for mining to desilt without causing loss to the environment, to be strictly carried out as per rules. However, on 30-06-2021, the said company complained before the Senior Superintendent of Police alleging that Sukhbir Singh Badal and other co-accused threatened their staff and employees obstructed and interfered in their legal mining operations and desilting sites, and FIR was registered accordingly. It was alleged that the employees were intimidated, and the accused persons also misled local people by declaring the said mining illegal, thereby tarnishing the company's image. The complainant squarely blamed Sukhbir Singh Badal being the person at whose behest, the legal mining operations were attempted to stop while he was accompanied by 200+ supporters who reached the place of mining and created a nuisance and ruckus, and none of them were wearing masks, thereby endangering further spread of COVID-19 pandemic.

After investigation, mining was found to be without any violations and prosecution was accordingly launched against 13 persons out of the said crowd and the instant petition was filed by Sukhbir Singh Badal seeking to quash the said FIR and police report.

Court's Reasoning

The Court noted that Sukhbir Singh Badal was a well-known political personality in Punjab. It further highlighted the statement in the petition that while he was campaigning for elections, local people informed him about illegal mining in the said area. He visited the mining site on 30-06-2021 and noticed heavy machinery deployed there, which was banned by the State and violated various Court orders, and that the employees working there saw him coming and fled away. It was further stated that a complaint was made against illegal mining and on the contrary, FIR was registered against him mala fide exercise of power and abuse of process of law.

The Court perused the Sections which were invoked in the FIR. The Court pointed out that the place where Sukhbir Singh Badal had gone was a riverbed which was not inhabited, and the workers fled away after knowing about their presence. The Court expressly stated that “there was no occasion at any time for the employees of the complainant to have any infection, even if the petitioner is hypothetically taken as infected with COVID-19.” It further pointed towards the lack of evidence against Sukhbir Singh Badal having symptoms of COVID-19 infection, or any other evidence calling for violation of Sections 269, 270, 188, 341, 506 IPC, and Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897.

The Court further perused the provision under Section 188 of IPC regarding disobedience to orders duly promulgated by public servants, which also related to restrictions on number of people in a public gathering during COVIED-19 under the Disaster Management Act, 2006. The Court held that no case was made against Sukhbir Singh Badal while adding that “argument raised on behalf of the petitioner that it is a misuse of the process of law cannot be taken as incorrect.” Therefore, the Court refused to consider the point of absence of sanction as required under Section 195 of CrPC. The Court also highlighted that as against Section 341 of IPC, there was no occasion for Sukhbir Singh Badal to wrongfully restrain the employees since they voluntarily fled away. The offence of criminal intimidation under Section 506 of IPC was also rejected and its invocation was stated to be an abuse of process of law.

The Court said that “In a democratic country, if a well-established political person, on hearing serious complaints regarding any public issue, decides to verify the same by visiting the spot itself, it cannot be said that he intended to violate any promulgation issued by any government under Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 or Disaster Management Act, 2006.”

The Court supported Sukhbir Singh Badal's claim of case being bereft of substance after joint reference to all the sections. It was found to be a fit case wherein, continuation of criminal proceedings shall amount to an abuse of the process of law. Therefore, the Court invoked its inherent jurisdiction under Section 482 of CrPC and quashed FIR and all subsequent proceedings against Sukhbir Singh Badal.

[Sukhbir Singh Badal v. State of Punjab, 2023 SCC OnLine P&H 1270, decided on 24-08-2023]

*Judgment by: Justice Anoop Chitkara

Advocates who appeared in this case :

For Petitioner: Senior Advocate R.S. Cheema, Advocate A.S. Cheema, Advocate D.S. Sobti, Advocate Satish Sharma

For Respondent: Additional Advocate General Gaurav Garg Dhuriwala, Senior Advocate Bipan Ghai, Advocate Nikhil Ghai, Advocate Malini Singh, Advocate Rishabh Singla

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