Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a significant case relating to an organized crime syndicate allegedly involved in funding underworld dons, the Division Bench of Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud* and Surya Kant, JJ., upheld the impugned order of the Bombay High Court declining to quash FIRs against the accused persons.

The Court held that the stipulation under Section 18 of the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, 1999 (MCOCA) that only the confessions made to a police officer, not below the rank of Superintendent of Police (SP) are admissible in evidence will not make the confessions made to Addl. SP inadmissible. The Court said,

“The expression “rank” must be understood as a class or category which encompasses multiple posts and that the posts of SP, Addl. SP, and DCP all fall within the same rank as they exercise similar functions and powers and operate within similar spheres of authority.”

Mumbai Matka

The prosecution alleged that the appellants are members of an organized crime syndicate which has engaged in a systematic course of activities for cheating members of the public by conducting the ‘Mumbai Matka1‘. The prosecution case was that what appeared to be a case of gambling at the outset, was an organized crime syndicate involved in funding underworld dons/criminal gangs by the proceeds from the Matka business.

Invocation of MCOCA

The Assistant SP, Kolhapur and a team of police personnel raided a gambling den controlled by one Salim Mulla. Consequently, an FIR was filed for offences punishable under Sections 143, 147, 149, 395, 307, 353, 332, 155, 109, 324, 323 and 427 of the Penal Code 1860, Sections 4 and 5 of the Maharashtra Prevention of Gambling Act 1887, Section 65(e) of the Maharashtra Prohibition Act 1949 and Sections 37 and 135 of the Bombay Police Act 1951.

Later on, with the approval of the competent authority Sections 3(1)(ii), 3(2), 3(4), and 3(5) the MCOCA was added to the FIR as the Investigating Officer opinioned that the accused were members of an organized crime syndicate.

Aggrieved thereby, the appellants approached the Bombay High Court with a petition for quashing the FIR, which was dismissed by the Court.

Issues

Assailing the impugned order of the High Court, the appellants raised the following questions:

a. Whether a confession recorded by an Addl. SP admissible under Section 18 MCOCA; and

b. Whether the provisions of MCOCA have been validly invoked.

Analysis and Findings

a. Whether confession made before Addl. SP are valid under Section 18 MCOCA

Section 18 MCOCA stipulates that the confessions made to — a police officer not below the rank of Superintendent of Police are admissible in evidence. The Section begins with a non-obstante clause overriding the Evidence Act because Section 25 of the Evidence Act stipulates that no confession made to a police officer shall be proved as against a person accused of an offence.

Relying on para 25 (2) of the Police Manual, the appellants contended that Addl. SP is not in the same rank as the SP; therefore, the confession made before the Addl. SP would not be admissible.

The Court opined that the reliance on para 25(2) of the Police Manual was misconceived because MCOCA is a special Act enacted with an overriding provision in Section 25. The tenability of the submission that an Addl. SP does not fit the description of an officer not below the rank of SP cannot be determined by reading into the MCOCA provisions for authorization contained either in the Police Manual (para 25(2) as noticed above) or in another statute (Section 8(2) of the Police Act). The answer to the challenge must turn on the interpretation of the provisions of Section 18(1) MCOCA itself.

Observing that Section 18(1) MCOCA uses the expression “rank” which cannot be conflated or equated with a designation or post, the Court opined that the true question should be whether the rank of the SP comprehends within it an Addl. SP?

The Court noted that a DCP is competent to record confessions under the MCOCA. Observing that if an SP or Addl. SP is transferred to the area of a Commissionerate, he/she is posted as a DCP and is competent to record the confession under the MCOCA, the Court opined that there is therefore no basis to conclude that an Addl. SP does not fulfil the description specified in Section 18(1) MCOCA as being — a police officer not below the rank of the Superintendent of Police. The Court further remarked,

“The authority which attaches to the post of a DCP to record a confession under Section 18(1) is not diluted when the posting is in a district either as an Addl. SP or, as the case may be, as an SP.”

The Court referred to Nyadar Singh v. Union of India, (1988) 4 SCC 170, wherein the Supreme Court observed that the expression “rank” in “reduction in rank” for purposes of Article 311(2) has an obvious reference to the stratification of the posts or grades or categories in the official hierarchy. It does not refer to the mere seniority of the government servant in the same class or grade or category.

Hence, the Court held that the expression “rank” must be understood as a class or category which encompasses multiple posts and that the posts of SP, Addl. SP, and DCP all fall within the same rank as they exercise similar functions and powers and operate within similar spheres of authority. The Court clarified that every person within a particular rank will not be of the same seniority. Officers of the same rank may have been in service for a different number of years. At times, this may even bear on the post to which they are appointed but their rank remains undisturbed. A difference in the seniority of a particular officer is not the same as a difference in their ranks.

b. Conditions for invocation of the MCOCA

Approval Order under Section 23(1)(a) MCOCA

The appellants contended that the provisions of the MCOCA had not been validly invoked since some of the appellants had not been named in the FIR and/or in the order granting approval under Section 23(1)(a) MCOCA.

Considering that often, limited information is available to the investigating authorities at the time of recording information about the commission of an offence; and the involvement of persons other than those named initially might come to light during the course of investigation by the police, the Court said that the very purpose of an investigation is to determine whether a crime has been committed and if so, to shed light on the details of the crime including the identity of the perpetrators. The Court expressed,

Section 23(1)(a) MCOCA speaks of recording information about the commission of an offence of organized crime, and not of recording information about the offender.”

Therefore, the Court held that the approval order under Section 23(1)(a) MCOCA is with respect to the offence and not with respect to the offender and it need not name every accused person at the outset.

Whether Gambling an Organized Crime

Rejecting the contention of the appellants that gambling is punishable with a maximum sentence of 2 years and does not, therefore, fall within the scope of MCOCA (which requires the commission of a crime punishable with imprisonment of 3 years or more), hence the allegation of engaging in illegal gambling would not sustain invocation of the penal provisions of Section 3(2) MCOCA.

Section 2(1)(e) MCOCA indicates that persons are said to commit an organized crime when they are involved in continuing unlawful activity which means a prohibited activity which is a cognizable offence punishable with imprisonment of at least three years.

The Court noted that the accused of abetting the commission of organized crime need not themselves be charged with committing a cognizable offence punishable with imprisonment of at least three years. They need only be abetting those who are guilty of committing a cognizable offence punishable with imprisonment of at least three years, which offence amounts to an organized crime. The definition of “abet” in Section 2(1)(a) MCOCA would be applicable in such cases. The Court observed,

“Although gambling may not, by itself, constitute an organized crime, it may be the route through which the accused are abetting the commission of organized crime.”

Hence, the Court opined that the questions of whether the appellants were in fact abetting organized crime and whether offences under the IPC would attract MCOCA are to be determined at the stage of the trial.

Requirement of More than One Charge-sheet

Rejecting another contention of the appellants was that in the preceding ten years, more than one charge-sheet has not been filed in respect of each of them, the Court held that such submission did not hold water as it is settled law that more than one charge sheet is required to be filed in respect of the organized crime syndicate and not in respect of each person who is alleged to be a member of such a syndicate. Rather, charge-sheets with respect to the organized crime syndicate are sufficient to fulfil the condition in Section 2(1)(d) MCOCA.

Conclusion

In the backdrop of above analysis, the Court held that the appeals were without any merit. Accordingly, the appeals were dismissed with the following directions that the appellants will be at liberty to approach the High Court for release on bail; and the evidentiary value of confessions alleged to have been made by the appellants shall be considered by the Trial Court and the mere validation of their being recorded by an officer in the rank of Superintendent of Police shall not be construed as the approval of the contents or voluntary nature of the alleged confessions by the Supreme Court.

[Zakir Abdul Mirajkar v. State of Maharashtra, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 1092, decided on 24-08-2022]

*Judgment by: Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud


Advocates who appeared in this case :

Senior Counsels Amit Desai, Siddharth Luthra, Abad Ponda, V. Giri, Pradeep Rai, and ANS Nadkarni, Advocates, for the Appellants;

Senior Counsel Raja Thakare, Advocate, for the State.


*Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together.


1. Where those wishing to gamble bet on numbers/playing cards, at the end of the cycle, the results are to be declared based on a random draw of numbers/playing cards, and those who correctly guess the winning digits/playing cards win while the others lose.

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The Division Bench comprising B.R. Gavai and Hima Kohli, JJ., (Vacation Bench) reversed the order of the Gujarat High Court, by which the applicant was denied the benefit of bail under the Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Act, 2015 (GCTOC Act). The Court held that existence of more than one charge sheet against the accused is essential for invoking the provisions of GCTOC Act.

Issues Involved

The applicant contended that for invoking the provisions of the Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Act, 2015 (GCTOC Act) which is analogous to the Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act, 1999 (MCOCA), two requirements have to be satisfied, i.e. the activity undertaken is either singly or jointly as a member of an organized crime syndicate or on behalf of such a crime syndicate and that in respect of such an activity, more than one charge-sheet must have been filed in the preceding period of last 10 years.

However, the applicant claimed that in the instant case, the second requirement was not satisfied since the Chart indicating all the crimes registered against the applicant revealed that only FIR 64 of 2021 dated 26-07-2021 was in respect of an activity committed by two members of the syndicate.

Further, to strengthen his case, the applicant submitted that he had already been released on bail in respect of other FIRs and it was only on account of him being implicated in FIR 64 of 2021 under the GCTOC Act, that he was deprived of his liberty.

On the contrary, the State submitted that all the offences alleged in the FIRs which were given in the Chart, were directly or indirectly committed for the benefit of the crime syndicate of which the applicant is a member.

Analysis and Findings

The Court noted that only one offence, i.e., FIR 64 of 2021 was there which had been committed by seven accused out of which two were the members of the syndicate and in respect to offences at Serial Nos. 1 to 4 in the Chart, no members of the syndicate were arrayed as accused.

Considering the provisions of the GCTOC Act, the Court held that the following conditions will have to be fulfilled for invoking the provisions of the GCTOC Act:

  • Such activity should be prohibited by law for the time being in force;
  • Such an activity is a cognizable offence punishable with imprisonment of three years or more;
  • Such activity is undertaken either singly or jointly, as a member of an organised crime syndicate or on behalf of such syndicate;
  • In respect of such activity more than one charge sheet must have been filed before a competent Court; and
  • The charge sheet must have been filed within a preceding period of ten years; and
  • The Courts have taken cognizance of such offences.

However, in the instant case, only one charge sheet was filed in respect of activity which could be said to have been undertaken by the applicant as a member of an organised crime syndicate on behalf of such syndicate.

Conclusion

In the backdrop of above, and considering the factum that the applicant had already been granted bail in respect of crime registered at Serial Nos. 1 to 5, the Court allowed the instant petition. Accordingly, the applicant was directed to be released on bail with the directions to report to the investigating officer every Monday between 10.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m and not to attempt to influence the witnesses or tamper with the records.[Mohamad Iliyas Mohamad Bilal Kapadiya v. State of Gujarat, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 713, decided on 30-05-2022]


Appearance by:

For Petitioner(s): Mr. Mukul Rohatgi, Adv.

Ms. Diksha Rai, AOR

Mr. Ankit Agarwal, Adv.

For Respondent(s): Ms. Deepanwita Priyanka, AOR


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of MR Shah* and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ has set aside the Bombay High Court order releasing a man allegedly involved in organized crime with International Gangster Chota Shakil and has held that the High Court ought not to have released the accused on bail by way of interim relief.

Factual Background

An FIR was registered under Sections 384, 386, 387 read with Section 34 of the IPC against three named accused persons namely Iqbal Ibrahim Kaskar, Israr Jamil Sayyed and Mumtaz Ejaj Shaikh @ Raju.

During the course of the investigation, it was found that there is organized crime by international gangster Shakil Babu Mohiddin Shaikh @ Chhota Shakil and Iqbal Ibrahim Kaskar and it was also found that from time to time, Pankaj Jagshi Gangar, the respondent herein, was paying the amount to such organized crime syndicate and other gangs which they used to use the said amount for taking help of other members by paying amount to them. It was also found that Gangar is running the Matka business in Borivali, Mumbai, after prior sanction the provisions of Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) came to be applied.

After investigation a charge sheet was submitted under the provisions of the IPC as well as under the MCOCA. Gangar filed the bail application before the Special Judge, which was rejected by a detailed and reasoned judgment and order dated 26.03.2018.

Gangar, hence, approached the High Court. However, when the High Court was not inclined to grant any relief, the counsel on instructions withdrew the said bail application. Immediately on withdrawal of the aforesaid bail application, Gangar filed the writ petition before the Division Bench of the High Court.

The Division Bench released the accused on bail that too by way of interim relief, which otherwise the accused could not get before the Single Judge.

Ruling

The Court noticed that the allegations against Gangar were very serious in nature and that after investigation a charge sheet has been filed against the accused for the offences under the IPC as well as under the MCOCA.

The Court, at the outset, held that the Division Bench ought not to have released the accused on bail by way of interim relief as the same is against the law laid down by the Supreme Court.

[See Neeharika Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd v. State of Maharashtra2021 SCC OnLine SC 315

Read: “No coercive measures to be taken”| Can High Courts pass such blanket orders while refusing to quash investigation? Here’s the law laid down by the Supreme Court]

The Court noted that while releasing the accused on bail that too by way of interim relief the High Court has not at all considered the seriousness of the offences alleged against the accused.

“After the investigation it has been found that the respondent – accused is running the Matka business; is providing funds to the Chhota Shakil and his gangs; that the accused is arranging funds for the expenses of purchasing weapons, information and he is active member of organized crime syndicate.”

Further, by the impugned order, the High Court had observed that the sanction to invoke the provisions of the MCOCA is bad in law as there is no evidence on record. Therefore, even the High Court has not at all considered the allegations with respect to other offences under the IPC. Even such an observation at the interim relief stage on the sanction to prosecute/invoke the provisions of MCOCA was not warranted.

The Court, hence, observed that

“Virtually the High Court has acquitted the accused for the offence under the MCOCA at the interim relief stage and has granted the final relief at the interim stage exonerating the respondent from   MCOCA, which is wholly impermissible. “

The Court also highlighted the fact that the present is a glaring example of forum shopping by the accused which cannot be approved at all and that on this ground also, the accused was not entitled to be released on bail and the impugned order passed by the High Court releasing the accused on bail deserves to be quashed and set aside.

The Court, hence, directed the accused to surrender immediately and to face the trial. If he does not surrender immediately, his presence is to be secured by issuing non-bailable warrant.

[State of Maharashtra v. Pankaj Jagshi Gangar, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1172, decided on 03.12.2021]


*Judgment by: Justice MR Shah

Know Thy Judge | Justice M. R. Shah

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a major development in the Gauri Lankesh murder case, the bench of AM Khanwilkar*, Dinesh Maheshwari and CT Ravikumar, JJ has set aside the Karnataka High Court order wherein it had quashed chargesheet filed against one Mohan Nayak.N regarding offences under Section 3(1)(i), 3(2), 3(3) and 3(4) of Karnataka Control of Organised Crimes Act, 2000.

Brief Facts

On 05.09.2017 in which Gauri Lankesh, who was a leading journalist, was shot dead by certain unknown assailants near her house at Rajarajeshwari Nagar, Bengaluru.

In absence of at least two chargesheets filed against the writ petitioner Mohan Nayak. N in respect of specified offences and of which cognizance had been taken by the competent Court as required to attract to offence of organized crime, the High Court noticed that he was not engaged in continuing unlawful activity. On this finding, the High Court concluded that Mohan Nayak.N cannot be proceeded further and thus, partly allowed the writ petition by not only quashing the order of the Commissioner of Police, Bengaluru City according approval for invoking Section 3 of the 2000 Act, but also the chargesheet filed against the writ petitioner-Mohan Nayak.N for offences punishable under Section 3(1)(i), 3(2), 3(3) and 3(4) of the 2000 Act.

Analysis

Finding the said order erroneous, the Supreme Court said that the High Court, without analysing the material presented along with chargesheet on the basis of which cognizance has been taken by the competent Court including against Mohan Nayak. N, concerning commission of organized crime by the organized crime syndicate of which he is allegedly a member, committed manifest error and exceeded its jurisdiction in quashing the chargesheet. 

It was further explained that the fact that the Investigating Agency was unable to collect material during investigation against Mohan Nayak.N for offence under Section 3(1) of the 2000 Act, does not mean   that the information regarding commission of a crime by him within the meaning of Section 3(2), 3(3) or 3(4) of the 2000 Act cannot be recorded and investigated against him as being a member of the organized crime syndicate and/or having played role of an abettor, being party to the conspiracy to commit organized crime or of being a facilitator, as the case may be. For the latter category of offence, it is not essential that more than two chargesheets have been filed against the person so named, before a competent court within the preceding period of ten years and that court had taken cognizance of such offence.  That requirement applies essentially to an offence punishable only under Section 3(1) of the 2000 Act.

As regards offences punishable under Section 3(2), 3(3), 3(4) or 3(5), it can proceed against any person  sans  such previous offence registered against him, if there is material to indicate that he happens to be a member of the organized crime syndicate who had committed the offences in question and it can be established that there is material about his nexus with the accused who is a member of the organized crime syndicate.

It is important to note that in Ranjitsingh Brahmajeetsing Sharma v. State of Maharashtra, (2005) 5 SCC 294, the Supreme Court had held that

“…in order to invoke MCOCA even if a person may or may not have any direct role to play as regards the commission of an organised crime, if a nexus either with an accused who is a member of an “organised crime syndicate” or with the offence in the nature of an “organised crime” is established   that would attract the invocation of Section 3(2) of MCOCA.”

Explaining the law, the Court said that while considering the proposal for grant of prior approval under 25 Section 24(1)(a) of the 2000 Act, what is essential is the satisfaction of the competent authority that the material placed before him does reveal presence of credible information regarding commission of an offence of organized crime by the organized crime syndicate and, therefore, allow invocation of Section 3 of the 2000 Act.  As a consequence of which, investigation of that crime can be taken forward by the Investigating Agency and chargesheet can be filed before the concerned Court and upon grant of sanction by the competent authority under Section 24(2), the competent Court can take cognizance of the case.

At the stage of granting prior approval under Section 24(1)(a) of the 2000 Act, therefore, the competent authority is not required to wade through the material placed by the Investigating Agency before him along with the proposal for grant of prior approval to ascertain the specific role of each accused. The competent authority has to focus essentially on the factum whether the information/material reveals the commission of a crime which is an organized crime committed by the organized crime syndicate. In that, the prior approval is qua offence and not the offender as such.

“As long as the incidents referred to in earlier crimes are committed by a group of persons and one common individual was involved in all the incidents, the offence under the 2000 Act can be invoked.”

The prior sanction under Section 24(2), however, may require enquiry into the specific role of the offender in the commission of organized crime, namely, he himself singly or jointly or as a member of the organized crime syndicate indulged in commission of the stated offences so as to attract the punishment provided under Section 3(1) of the 2000 Act.  However, if the role of the offender is merely that of a facilitator or of an abettor as referred to in Section 3(2), 3(3), 3(4) or 3(5), the requirement of named person being involved in more than two chargesheets registered against him in the past is not relevant.

“Regardless of that, he can be proceeded under the 2000 Act, if the material collected by the   Investigating Agency reveals that he had nexus with the accused who is a member of the organized crime syndicate or such nexus is related to the offence in the nature of organized crime. Thus, he need not be a person who had direct role in the commission of an organized crime as such.”

Conclusion

It was, hence, held that the conclusion reached by the High Court in partly allowing the writ petition filed by Mohan Nayak.N, is manifestly wrong and cannot be countenanced.

“In any case, the High Court has completely glossed over the crucial fact that the writ petition was filed only after the sanction was accorded by the competent authority under Section 24(2) and more so cognizance was also taken by the competent Court of the offence of organized crime committed by the members of organized crime syndicate including the writ petitioner — to which there was no challenge. The High Court has not analysed the efficacy of these developments as disentitling the writ petitioner   belated   relief claimed in respect of prior approval under Section 24(1)(a) of the 2000 Act.”

It was held that the High Court has clearly exceeded its jurisdiction in quashing the chargesheet filed against Mohan Nayak. N for offences punishable under Section 28 3(2), 3(3) and 3(4) of the 2000 Act at this stage [of prior approval under Section 24(1)(a)].

[Kavitha Lankesh v. State of Karnataka, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 956, decided on 21.10.2021]


Counsels:

For appellant: Senior Advocate Huzefa Ahmedi

For State: Advocate V.N. Raghupathy

For Respondent: Senior Advocate Basava Prabhu S. Patil


*Judgment by: Justice AM Khanwilkar

.https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2020/07/30/know-thy-judge-justice-am-khanwilkar/

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of SA Bobde and L Nageswara Rao, JJ defined the scope of the words ‘competent Court’ in Section 2(d) of Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, 1999 (MCOCA) and held that the meaning of the term is not restricted to Courts in Delhi and charge sheets filed in Courts in other States can be taken into account for the purpose of constituting continuing unlawful activity. It was also held that there cannot be a prosecution under MCOCA without an organised crime being committed within Delhi.

The Court was hearing the issue relating to conviction of the respondent who was involved in in committing unlawful activities along with other members of a crime syndicate since 1985 in an organized manner, apart from being involved in 20 cases of attempt to murder, murder, extortion, rioting, cheating, forgery and for offences under the Uttar Pradesh Gangsters and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act, 1986. The competent criminal Courts in and outside Delhi had taken cognizance of 8 crimes. Considering the nature of the crimes committed by the respondent, it was deemed proper to invoke MCOCA.

Senior Advocate Siddharth Luthra, appearing for the State of Delhi submitted before the Court that:

“organized crime is a serious threat to the society and that statement of objects and reasons have to be taken into account for interpretation of the provisions of the Act.”

He said that criminal cases in which cognizance was taken by Courts outside Delhi are relevant for the purpose of proceeding against the respondents under MCOCA. He added that organized crime is not restricted to territory within a State and a restrictive reading of the word ‘Competent Court’ would defeat the purpose for which the statute was enacted.

Respondent’s counsel, Senior Advocate UU Lalit, on the other hand, argued that MCOCA operates only within the territorial limits of National Capital Territory of Delhi and said:

“MCOCA is a special legislation which deals with organized crime and unless the essential ingredients of the offences under Sections 3 and 4 are made out, a case under the said statute cannot be registered.”

He further supported his argument by the fact that 6 out of 8 charge sheets filed against the respondents were filed in the State of Uttar Pradesh and had no nexus with the charge sheets filed in Delhi.

Agreeing with the arguments of the State, the Court said:

“Organised crime is not an activity restricted to a particular State which is apparent from a perusal of the Statement of Objects and Reasons. A restrictive reading of the words “competent Court” appearing in Section 2 (1)(d) of MCOCA will stultify the object of the Act.”

The Court further said that if members of an organised crime syndicate indulge in continuing unlawful activity across the country, it cannot by any stretch of imagination said, that there is no nexus between the charge sheets filed in Courts in States other than Delhi and the offence under MCOCA registered in Delhi.

The Court, however, agreed with the respondents on the argument that an activity of organized crime in Delhi is a sine qua non for registration of a crime under MCOCA. In the absence of an organized crime being committed in Delhi, the accused cannot be prosecuted on the basis of charge sheets filed outside Delhi. Noticing that there was no organised crime committed by the Respondents within the territory of Delhi, the Court held that there was no cause of action for initiation of proceedings under MCOCA in the present case and that the case should be heard by the competent court that has the territorial jurisdiction. [State of NCT of Delhi v. Brijesh Singh,  2017 SCC OnLine SC 1206, decided on 09.10.2017]