Calcutta High Court: A single-judge bench comprising of Shampa Dutt (Paul), * J., held that the present dispute is civil in nature, and the ongoing civil suit with an order of status quo rendered the criminal proceedings an abuse of the legal process. The Court emphasised that the Court should intervene when it finds that a criminal proceeding is maliciously instituted with an ulterior motive or lacks merit.
In the instant matter, the petitioners preferred a petition before the Court to quash the criminal proceedings initiated against them based on a First Information Report (FIR) filed by the complainant accusing the petitioners of various offenses under Sections 448/427/379/406/506/34 of the Penal Code, 1860, (IPC). The FIR alleged that in January 2019, the petitioners broke the padlock of two rooms on the ground floor of premises No.9, Dwarka Nath Tagore Lane, Kolkata-700007, and further accused the petitioners of trespassing and stealing wooden furniture worth Rs. 40,000.
The petitioners claim to be co-owners of a registered co-ownership firm with its office at the same premises, No.9, Dwarka Nath Tagore Lane. The de-facto complainant represents himself as a co-owner with a 1/3rd share in the same property.
In July 2012, the complainant approached the petitioners to sell his 1/3rd share in the property, and they agreed to purchase it. The sale was executed through a registered Deed of Conveyance on 10-08-2012. The petitioners claim to be in possession of the 2nd and 3rd floors of the premises since 2010.
In January 2019, the complainant, with the help of others, allegedly attempted to dispossess the petitioners from the portion under their occupation. The petitioners lodged a diary with Girish Park Police Station on 08-01-2019 against this illegal attempt. The petitioners also filed an application under Section 144(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC), against the complainant. The police conducted an inquiry pursuant to Section 144(2) application and reported the findings to the court, mentioning the details of the property and its occupancy by the petitioners.
A civil suit for declaration and permanent injunction regarding the property was filed by the petitioners in the City Civil Court at Calcutta. The Court granted an order of status quo in respect of the suit property until its disposal.
The petitioners contended that the property originally had three owners, including the complainant, however, since the complainant had sold his share to the petitioners in 2012, he no longer had any legal standing to take legal action against them. The petitioners contend that the complainant suppressed material facts while filing the FIR, including the pending civil suit, with the intention of obtaining a favorable order.
Whether the criminal proceedings initiated against the petitioners should be quashed?
Whether the complainant’s actions amount to an abuse of the legal process?
The Court allowed the revision application and quashed the criminal proceedings initiated against the petitioners. The Court cited various legal precedents and reasoned that the criminal proceedings were frivolous, malicious, and amounted to an abuse of the legal process.
The Court also considered the pending civil suit and the absence of any evidence supporting the allegations in the FIR. The Court observed that “the dispute between the parties is civil in nature and a suit with an order of status quo is also in force in respect of both the parties is also pending before a Civil Court prior to filing of the present criminal case.”
The Court quashed the criminal proceedings against the petitioners, and the matter was resolved in their favor.
[Sreeniwas Agarwal v. State of W.B., 2023 SCC OnLine Cal 2653, order dated 06-09-2023]
*Judgment by Justice Shampa Dutt (Paul)
Advocates who appeared in this case :
Mr. Phiroze Edulji, Mr. Ajit Kumar Mishra, Mr. Abhishek Dey, Ms. Roustavi Mukherjee, Counsel for the Petitioners
Mr. S. G. Mukerji, Ld. P.P Mr. Arijit Ganguly, Mr. Sanjib Kumar Dan, Counsel for the Respondent/State