Supreme Court: In an appeal challenging the final judgment and order dated 2-08-2017 passed by the Allahabad High Court for a matter involving Sections 482, 378 and 407 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (‘CrPC’) upholding the rejection of discharge of appellants, Vikram Nath and Ahsanuddin Amanullah*, JJ. surveyed precedents on discharge of accused and set aside the impugned judgments and orders. The Court also avoided reconsidering the decision in Minakshi Bala case by a larger bench.
The appellants in the instant matter were husband and wife, the owners of the shop situated in a house wherein the complainant was a tenant. It was alleged that on 29-06-2011, the appellants along with others locked the complainant’s shop from inside, broke the wall and looted wheat (APL), sale money, kerosene oil worth approximately Rs 21,000, goods in stock, all registers of the shop, documents and a two-wheeler. The complainant got a case registered under Sections 448, 454 and 380 of the Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC’).
Court’s Analysis of Facts
The Court noted the submissions on behalf of the appellants that the Indian National Rupee symbol (₹) did not exist when the purported ‘Memorandum of Agreement of Tenancy’ was signed on 24-11-2005. Also, the complainant had based the entire claim of tenancy on a document which was prima facie found to be forged and fabricated, which the Court had directed the lodging of a criminal case. The Court highlighted that there was no other claim to depict the complainant’s possession. Noting the fact that the police did not find any offences being made out against the appellants under Sections 454 and 380 of IPC, the Court expressed that “the case against the appellants under Section 448, IPC finds itself on shaky ground” since the complainant did not object to the same or take any further action.
The Court viewed that the appellant being an undisputed landlord, the instant criminal case so filed amounted to clear abuse of process of the Court. The Court found the decision of the Chief Judicial Magistrate dated 2-06-2017 as “unreasoned as to why discharge is to be denied. Thus far on facts and merits. Now, on the law.”
Court’s Analysis of Law
Pointing the instant case instituted on a police report, pertaining to trial of warrant cases by Magistrates, the Court found Sections 239, 240, 245, 227 and 228 of CrPC relevant. The Court went on to peruse the precedents regarding the extent of scrutiny permissible when an application for discharge is considered. For Section 245 of CrPC, the Court referred to the instructive decision in Ajoy Kumar Ghose v. State of Jharkhand, (2009) 14 SCC 115 marking the difference of procedure between trial of warrant case based on a police report and a case instituted otherwise than a police report regarding the role of the Magistrate. The Court in this case was ultimately convinced that as per Section 245(2) of CrPC, the Magistrate can discharge the accused at any previous stage, even before any evidence is recorded under Section 244(1) CrPC.
For Sections 239 and 240 of CrPC, the Court referred to Minakshi Bala v. Sudhir Kumar, (1994) 4 SCC 142 wherein it was explained that “once charges are framed under Section 240 CrPC the High Court in its revisional jurisdiction would not be justified in relying upon documents other than those referred to in Sections 239 and 240 CrPC; nor would it be justified in invoking its inherent jurisdiction under Section 482 CrPC to quash the same except in those rare cases where forensic exigencies and formidable compulsions justify such a course.”
The Court expressed some reservations against the decision in Minakshi Bala (supra) and interpreted that “the necessary concomitant would be that despite examining the matter in detail, a Court would find its wings clipped to intercede. This would amount to forcing a person to stand trial, even when the overwhelming material points to his/her innocence.” The Court was of the view that the hands of a Court should not be tied down, especially not by a higher Court, and not against liberty. Though the decision in Minakshi Bala (supra) enables examination of unimpeachable documents, conscious of the fact that the said decision has been followed in later decisions, the Court commented that “we have chosen to survey the precedents further, and then decide on the road we wish to take.”
Survey of Supreme Court Judgments on Discharge of Accused
In Rumi Dhar v. State of W.B., (2009) 6 SCC 364, the Court bound the Judge dealing with an application under Section 239 of CrPC to go into details of allegations made to form an opinion. In State of T.N. v. N. Suresh Rajan, (2014) 11 SCC 709 it was concluded that the approach of the Court, notwithstanding the language of Sections 227 and 239 of CrPC, has to be common under both the provisions. Followed by a catena of cases, the Court cited Niranjan Singh Karam Singh Punjabi v. Jitendra Bhimraj Bijjaya, (1990) 4 SCC 76 wherein, it was commented that “it cannot be expected even at the initial stage to accept all that the prosecution states as gospel truth even if it is opposed to common sense or the broad probabilities of the case.”
The Court opined that if a view arose suspicion as against grave suspicion, the Court could discharge the accused as per Sajjan Kumar v. CBI, (2010) 9 SCC 368. While citing Dinesh Tiwari v. State of U.P., (2014) 13 SCC 137; Dipakbhai Jagdishchandra Patel v. State of Gujarat, (2019) 16 SCC 547 and State of Gujarat v. Dilipsinh Kishorsinh Rao, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 1294, the Court expressed its satisfaction that there was no suspicion against the appellants being guilty of the offence alleged and said that making the appellants face a full-fledged criminal trial in such a backdrop would be unjustified.
The Court was of the strong view that the High Court should have intervened and discharged the appellants while explaining that “The protection against vexatious and unwanted prosecution and from being unnecessarily dragged through a trial by melting a criminal proceeding into oblivion, either through quashing a FIR/Complaint or by allowing an appeal against an order rejecting discharge or by any other legally permissible route, as the circumstances may be, in the deserving case, is a duty cast on the High Courts.” The Court sought to intervene being “the sentinel on the qui vive.”
Therefore, the Court allowed the instant appeal and discharged the appellants in the instant criminal case while setting aside the impugned judgments and orders passed by the High Court and the Trial Court.
Coming back to the decision in Minakshi Bala (supra) having expressed its doubt on the limited aspect, the Court did not find any need to burden a larger bench for reconsidering the said judgment at this juncture, and concluded with the saying “In a more appropriate case…”
[Vishnu Kumar Shukla v. State of U.P., 2023 SCC OnLine SC 1582, decided on 28-11-2023]
Judgment authored by: Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah
Advocates who appeared in this case :
For Petitioner: Advocate of Record Dr. Vinod Kumar Tewari
For Respondent: Advocate of Record Shaurya Sahay, Advocate Shobhit Dwivedi, Advocate of Record Adarsh Upadhyay, Advocate Aman Pathak, Advocate Pallavi Kumari