Patna High Court: The Bench of Ahsanuddin Amanullah, J. quashed the criminal proceeding initiated against Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar by a lower court in a 28-year-old murder case holding that the prosecution against him was mala fide, untenable and solely intended to harass him. With opposition parties, especially Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) targeting Mr Kumar over his name figuring in the case, the present judgment came as a huge relief to the Bihar CM.
The present case related to murder of a Congress worker, Mr Sitaram Singh, on 16-11-1991, during by-elections for the Barh Parliamentary constituency in Patna. The next day, a First Information Report was lodged by one Raja Ram Singh, brother of Sitaram, in which he accused Janata Dal candidate and incumbent Chief Minister of Bihar – Nitish Kumar (petitioner herein) – and several others of hatching a conspiracy to kill Sitaram. It was alleged that the petitioner fired at his brother with the intention to kill and Sitaram died on the spot.
A timeline of the facts of the case is mentioned below:
- Police case was instituted under Sections 147, 148, 149, 302, 307 of the Penal Code, 1860 and Section 27 of the Arms Act, 1959.
- As soon as the petitioner came to know about the FIR, he filed an application before the Investigating Officer stating that, at the relevant time, he was with the District Magistrate and Superintendent of Police, Nalanda and, thus, could not have been present at Barh.
- 30-01-1993: After investigating the case, police filed a final form exonerating the petitioner stating that there was no evidence as to his involvement in the said crime (RJD Chief Lalu Prasad Yadav was the then CM).
- 05-08-2008: After several adjournments in the matter, Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate (ACJM) of Barh accepted the final form submitted by police by which time petitioner had become the Chief Minister.
- 20-01-2009: A Protest-cum-Complaint Petition was filed in ACJM’s Court, challenging petitioner’s exoneration.
- 22-04-2009: Patna High Court ordered a stay on further proceedings in the case at the ACJM’s court, following an appeal by one of the charge-sheeted accused.
- 31-08-2009: Learned ACJM took cognizance against petitioner directed him to appear before the Court on 09-09-2009.
- 08-09-2009: Instant petition was filed by Mr. Kumar before this Court seeking quashing of cognizance order passed by the ACJM; and he succeeded in securing a stay on the lower court’s order on proceedings in the Protest-cum-Complaint Petition.
- 28-10-2009: This Court issued a show cause notice to the ACJM to explain why the order of stay passed by this Court earlier was violated.
- 15-05-2010: Patna High Court admitted an application by Radha Krishna Singh, who claimed to be Sitaram’s brother, challenging this Court’s order dated 08-09-2009 whereby cognizance stayed against petitioner.
- 31-01-2019: This Court reserved its judgment on the instant petition.
Ms Ritika Rani, learned counsel for Radha Krishna Singh, submitted that her client be allowed to be made opposite party no. 3 to oppose petitioner’s prayer. The Court noted that despite its specific order in 2010 directing an application to be filed for being added as a party, the same was not done until 2018. The timing of filing Radha Krishna Singh’s application casted doubts on his real intention, and thus his application lacked bona fide. It was opined that besides there being very limited scope of a third party to interfere or intervene in a criminal matter, the prominent factor militating against the Radha Krishna Singh was his conduct of conveniently remaining dormant from 2010 to 2018.
The Court also took note of its order passed in 2010 wherein repeated filing of applications through one counsel Mr Dinu Kumar was frowned upon by Court, after which he withdrew from the case. However, despite his withdrawal from the matter all applications for intervention or opposing the petitioner’s prayer, were filed or routed through his office. It was opined that once the said Advocate had himself withdrawn from the case, it was not appropriate for him to be associated in any manner and persist with appearing in the matter by changing the persons by whom various petitions were filed. This act was indicative of a personal vendetta to target the petitioner as well as misuse of process of the Court for oblique reasons, which totally lack any element of bona fide whatsoever.
The Court noted that proceedings had been initiated at the instance of opposite party 2, who had filed the Protest-cum-Complaint Petition. However, later he categorically denied having seen the alleged killing of Sitaram. He also admitted to having made false statements in complaint case under influence and persuasion to secure compensation for the deceased. Thus, all the averments made in the Protest-cum-Complaint Petition automatically lost their sanctity and ceased to have value, much less for proceeding against any person in a criminal case, that too, under grave sections of IPC.
Conduct of the applicants was deprecated by the Court stating: “it appears the Court is being taken for a ride and a game is being played in the Court proceedings where one after the other, persons are trying to intervene in the matter, without any legal or justifiable reason, as if it is a kind of race where one person passes the baton to another once his game stands exposed and he is ousted from the race. Such conduct not only needs to be thoroughly deprecated but is also required to be effectively and strictly dealt with so as to prevent such blatant and clear misuse and abuse of the process of the Court, as has been attempted by all the persons who have tried to unnecessarily and clearly with hidden agendas endeavoured to interfere in the present proceeding and in which they have been more than actively encouraged and supported by forces operating in the shadows.”
The Court also took note of the gross judicial impropriety on the part of the then ACJM and opined that taking up of Protest-cum-Complaint Petition was wholly illegal in view of there being an order of stay of further proceedings by this Court. Further, after taking cognizance under Sections triable by a Court of Sessions, non-committal of the case to the Court of Sessions, was highly improper on the part of learned ACJM. Both these acts of ACJM raised a serious question with regard to fairness, propriety and purity of judicial proceedings, and directly pointed a finger at the concerned Presiding Officer.
Further, there were over-writings/scribblings in the Protest-cum-Complaint Petition where names of witnesses were struck-off from the original typed version and names of other persons were, handwritten, as witnesses. Further, it was also noted that one of the witnesses admitted that he was forced to make false statements and depose against petitioner to the effect that he had seen him with rifle in his hand at the time of killing of Sitaram Singh.
In view of the aforesaid, the Court concluded that petitioner was “a victim of false allegations which primarily appeared to have stemmed from him having reached a very high position in public life by virtue of holding Constitutional office and, thus, for damaging him, a concerted and sustained campaign had been orchestrated by elements, who by their own conduct had made themselves totally unreliable for any Court to attach any shred of credence to their evidence.”
Statement of Mr Rajiv Gauba, IAS, the then District Magistrate, Nalanda was considered and it was noted that on the day of polling, i.e., 16-11-1991, when he was in the Control Room, the petitioner had come and met him and complained with regard to some disturbances at a booth upon which he had sent the Magistrate. He further stated that according to his knowledge, petitioner had gone to Biharsharif from Harnaut and met administrative officers during the period when the alleged incident of the present case is said to have taken place.
In view of the aforesaid facts and evidence, it was held that the Protest-cum-Complaint Petition itself was malafide, frivolous, mischievous, without any basis and in fact, totally false and fabricated; and thus the instant petition was allowed. Relying on State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal, 1992 Supp (1) SCC 335, criminal proceedings against the petitioner were quashed under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.[Nitish Kumar v. State of Bihar, Criminal Miscellaneous No. 33116 of 2009, decided on 15-03-2019]