Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court:  The 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian*, JJ has reiterated that the Courts should not thwart any investigation unless no cognizable offence or offence of any kind is disclosed in the first information report that the Court will not permit an investigation to go on.

Referring to the decision in State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal, (1992) Supp. (1) SCC 335, the Court said,

“(…) the power of quashing should be exercised very sparingly and with circumspection and that too in the rarest of rare cases. While examining a complaint, the quashing of which is sought, the Court cannot embark upon an enquiry as to the reliability or genuineness or otherwise of the allegations made in the FIR or in the complaint.”

In S.M. Datta v. State of Gujarat, (2001) 7 SCC 659 the Court cautioned that criminal proceedings ought not to be scuttled at the initial stage.

“Quashing of a complaint should rather be an exception and a rarity than an ordinary rule.  (…) if a perusal of the first information report leads to disclosure of an offence even broadly, law courts are barred from usurping the jurisdiction of the police, since the two organs of the State operate in two specific spheres of activities and one ought not to tread over the other sphere.”


FIR against Skoda Auto Volkswagen over alleged use of cheat devices


Skoda Auto Volkswagen India Private Limited is engaged in the business of manufacture, import and sale of passenger vehicles in India. The 3rd Respondent in the case lodged an FIR, alleging that he had bought 7 Audi Brand cars from the authorised dealers of the manufacturing Companies and knowing fully well that their vehicles have been installed with cheat devices, the manufacturer had prepared wrong records and documents.

The Petitioner moved Allahabad High Court seeking quashing of the FIR alleging that the FIR is based entirely upon the order of the NGT, which is the subject matter of two civil appeals before the Supreme Court.

Allahabad High Court rejected the prayer for quashing of the FIR. However, the High Court protected the officers of the petitioner against arrest till the submission of the Report under Section 173(2) Cr.P.C. subject however to the condition that they shall cooperate in the investigation.

Not satisfied with a mere protection against arrest and the refusal of the Allahabad High Court to quash the FIR, the petitioner argued before the Supreme Court:

  1. That the Police cannot investigate an issue, the substratum of which is sub judice before this Court in the civil appeals arising out of the order of the NGT; and
  2. That the High Court failed to take note of the long delay on the part of the 3rd Respondent in lodging the complaint and
  3. That the VAHAN Portal of the Government shows the purchase of only 3 vehicles as against the claim of the 3rd Respondent to have purchased 7 vehicles.

Why the Supreme Court refused to quash FIR


On Issue 1

Should pendency of the Civil Appeals and the interim order passed by Supreme Court be taken as a deterrent for anyone else to lodge a police complaint and seek an investigation?

Two original applications came to be filed before the NGT in the year 2015, alleging that the manufacturers of the vehicles in question were employing deceit devices. This coincided with the issue of notice by the Automotive Research Association of India to the manufacturers. The   applicants before the NGT did not seek any relief for themselves, as purchasers of vehicles. The reliefs sought by the applicants before the NGT were broad and general. Hence,

“ (…) the order of the NGT, passed on the applications filed by certain individuals not claiming as purchasers of vehicles, cannot   be   taken   as   an   impediment   for   an   individual   who purchased cars from the manufacturers, to lodge a complaint, if he has actually suffered on account of any representation made by the manufacturers.”

Further, the interim order passed by the Supreme Court not to take any coercive steps has to be understood only in the context of the aforesaid directions of the NGT which became the subject matter of the Civil Appeals.

Can police investigate into the same set of allegations which form the subject matter of proceedings pending adjudication before Supreme Court?

The question whether such devices are installed in the cars purchased by the 3rd respondent herein and the question whether there was any representation in this regard to the petitioner, are all questions of fact, peculiar and particular to the 3rd respondent herein. NGT had no occasion to examine the cars purchased by the 3rd respondent herein.

The Court said,

“At this stage no one can presume whether the defence of the manufacturer to the police complaint will be purely on a question of fact or purely on a question of law or on mixed questions of fact and law.”

  • If the petitioner takes a defence that no such devices were installed in the cars purchased by the 3rd respondent or that there was no (mis)representation in this regard, it will be a pure question of fact, which cannot be gone into in a quash petition.
  • If the petitioner takes a defence that the installation of such devices, though true, does not violate any law, then it will be a pure question of law.

The Court said that the action initiated by the Automotive Research Association of India in November 2015 and the proceedings that went on before the National Green Tribunal from the year 2015 to the year 2019, have to be seen in the light of the Dieselgate Scandal[1]. All of them were part of the global outrage that actually concerned the damage caused to the environment by the emissions from the cars allegedly fitted with manipulative devices.

The proceedings before the NGT were not intended to address issues relating to individuals, such as

(i) whether any emissions manipulation software, called in common parlance as ‘defeat devices’ were installed in the vehicles purchased by certain individuals; and

(ii) whether any representation was made to the purchasers of the cars in which such devices had been installed, about the emission efficiency level of the cars

Hence, the Court rejected the contention that the substratum of the police complaint is something that is already the subject matter of adjudication before this Court in the appeals arising out of the order of the NGT. It held that the High Court has been fair to the petitioner, by granting protection against arrest till the filing of the report under section 173(2) of the Code.

On Issue 2

Mere delay in lodging the complaint, cannot by itself be a ground to quash the FIR. The law is too well settled on this aspect to warrant any reference to precedents.

On Issue 3

The Court did not go into the third issue as it is a question of fact which has to be established only in the course of investigation/trial.

[Skoda Auto Volkswagen India Private Limited v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 958, decided on 26.11.2020]


*Justice V. Ramasubramanian has penned this judgment 

For Petitioner: Senior Advocate Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi

For 3rd Respondent: Senior Advocate Maninder Singh

[1] In September-2015, allegations of installation of manipulation devices by car manufacturers emerged from the US Environmental Protection Agency triggering investigations in several European Union States. After claims were lodged and legal action initiated, the German Federal Motor Transport Authority appears to have given permission in June-2016 for the recall of about 2 million vehicles across Europe. In the light of these developments, one of the manufacturers entered into an agreement with the US Environmental Protection Agency in December-2016 giving certain options to the customers. These and the subsequent developments, which attained notoriety as the diesel-gate 18 scandal, led to the German Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof-BGH) giving a ruling on May 25, 2020 in favour of the car owners for damages.
Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the case where the National Green Tribunal directed the State of Madhya Pradesh to ensure that no dealer and/or outlet and/or petrol pump should supply fuel to vehicles without Pollution Under Control (PUC) Certificate, the bench of Arun Mishra and Indira Banerjee, JJ has held that NGT had no power to pass such direction as the stoppage of supply of fuel to vehicles not complying with the requirement to have and/or display a valid PUC Certificate is not contemplated either in the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 or in the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010.

“Motor Vehicles not complying with the requirement of possessing and/or displaying a valid PUC Certificate cannot be debarred from being supplied fuel.”

The Court said that when a Statute or a Statutory Rules prescribed a penalty for any act or omission, no other penalty not contemplated in the Statute or a Statutory Rules can be imposed. When a Statute requires a thing to be done in a particular manner, it is to be done only in that manner.

After going through the relevant provisions, the Court summarized that driving a vehicle without a pollution PUC certificate entails:

  • suspension of registration certificate;
  • imprisonment which may extend to three months;
  • fine which may extend to Rs.10,000/- or both
  • disqualification for holding licence for a period of three months
  • imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months or with fine which may extend to Rs.10,000/- or with fine.

It further noticed that as per Rule 116(8) and (9), the suspension of the certificate of registration is temporary. The suspension is until such time as a certificate is produced before the Registering Authority certifying that the vehicle complies with sub Rules (2) and (7) of the Rule 115 of the Central rules. A Certificate of Registration is also to be deemed to have been suspended, until a fresh Pollution Under Control certificate is obtained.

“There can be no doubt that strong measures must be taken to protect the environment and improve the air quality whenever there is contravention of statutory rules causing environmental pollution. Stringent action has to be taken, but in accordance with law.”

The Court, hence, noticed that in passing blanket direction, directing the appellant State Government to ensure that no dealer and/or outlet and/or petrol pump should supply fuel to vehicles without PUC Certificate, de hors the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, NGT overlooked the fact that no vehicle can either be repaired to comply with pollution norms, nor tested for compliance with the political norms upon repair, without fuel.

Hence, the NGT had no power and/or authority and/or jurisdiction to pass orders directing the Appellant State Government to issue orders, instructions or directions on dealers, outlets and petrol pumps not to supply fuel to vehicles without PUC Certificate.

The Court, however, directed that the State shall strictly implement compliance of Rules 115 and 116 and penalize all those who contravene the said Rules in accordance with the provisions of the 1989 Rules.

“The Registration Certificate of vehicles which do not possess a valid PUC Certificate shall be forthwith suspended and/or cancelled, and penal measures initiated against the owner and/or the person(s) in possession and/or control of the offending vehicle, in accordance with law.”

[State of Madhya Pradesh v. Centre for Environment Protection Research and Development, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 687, decided on 28.08.2020]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Green Tribunal (NGT): The Coram comprising of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel (Chairperson) and S.P. Wangdi (Judicial Member), K. Ramakrishnan (Judicial Member) and Dr Nagin Nanda (Expert Member) while deciding an appeal held that,

“Citizens are entitled to breathe in fresh air.”

The present appeal has been filed under Section 16(g) of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 against the order passed by Environment Pollution (Pollution & Control) Authority.

Following was held by the EPCA after noting that there is need to combat pollution so as to ensure that levels of pollution can be contained:

“Ban use of diesel generator sets (other than exclusion/emergency services) in Delhi and in vicinity towns- Ghaziabad, Noida and Greater Noida, Faridabad and Gurgaon, Sonipat, Panipat, Bahadurgarh. EPCA will send a list of the exclusion and emergency services that were permitted in NCR Delhi in the last winter for the use of all State governments.”

“This measure will require you to coordinate with the State Electricity Boards and ensure special efforts are made for 24×7 electricity in these towns to avoid requirement of operating DG sets and inconvenience to public.”

The above measures were asked to be taken in view of the below stated:

“EPCA has been advised by Task Force on Graded Response Action Plan, which is chaired by the member secretary of the Central Pollution Control Board that the coming period, beginning October 12, 2019 is projected to have adverse weather conditions, which will exacerbate the potential forpollution. The region is already in the ‘Moderate/poor’category in terms of air quality and, therefore, all efforts have to be made to ensure that the levels do not rise further, even with adverse weather conditions.”

The grievance of the appellant was that, there are limitations in distributing electricity in the entire area due to technical non-feasibility.

NGT noting the above, stated that Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) was duly notified under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and is binding and that the impugned order is merely enforcing the GRAP, there is no illegality therein.

Adding to the above, tribunal held that,

Impugned action is an undoubted need for protection of environment and public health. If the appellant cannot supply electricity, it is for the appellant to find out ways and means within the purview of law. This cannot be ground to use DG sets in violation of air quality protection norms. Citizens are entitled to breathe in fresh air. Thus, no interference is called for. [Dakshin Haryana Bijli Vitaran Nigam v. Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority, Appeal No. 88 of 2019, decided on 15-10-2019]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of RF Nariman and Navin Sinha, JJ has refused to allow reopening of Vedanta’s Sterlite plant in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin, which was at the centre of massive protests over pollution concerns. It, however, granted the company liberty to approach the Madras High Court.

The Vedanta group was, hence, seeking a direction to Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to implement the National Green Tribunal (NGT) order which had set aside the government’s decision to close the plant. The state had, however, moved the Supreme Court, saying the NGT had “erroneously” set aside various orders passed by the TNPCB last year with regard to the Sterlite plant. It had said the tribunal had consequentially directed the TNPCB to pass fresh orders of renewal of consent and issue authorisation to handle hazardous substances to Vedanta Limited.

The bench allowed Tamil Nadu’s appeal against the NGT order on grounds of maintainability and said the tribunal has no jurisdiction to order reopening of the plant. It said:

“If an appellate authority is either not yet constituted, or not properly constituted, a leapfrog appeal to the NGT cannot be countenanced. As has been held by us supra, the NGT is only conferred appellate jurisdiction from an order passed in exercise of first appeal. Where there is no such order, the NGT has no jurisdiction.”

The Court, hence, held that since an appeal was pending before the appellate authority when the NGT set aside the original order dated 09.04.2018, the NGT’s order being clearly outside its statutory powers conferred by the Water Act, the Air Act, and the NGT Act, would be an order passed without jurisdiction.

The Court, however, directed that it will be open for the respondents to file a writ petition in the High Court against all the aforesaid orders. It added:

“If such writ petition is filed, it will be open for the respondent to apply for interim reliefs considering that their plant has been shut down since 09.04.2018. Also, since their plant has been so shut down for a long period, and they are exporting a product which is an important import substitute, the respondent may apply to the Chief Justice of the High Court for expeditious hearing of the writ petition, which will be disposed of on merits notwithstanding the availability of an alternative remedy in the case of challenge to the 09.04.2018 order of the TNPCB.”

Background of the case:

  • At least 13 people were killed and several injured on May 22 last year when police had opened fire on a huge crowd of people protesting against environment pollution being allegedly caused by the factory.
  • The Tamil Nadu government had, on May 28, ordered the state pollution control board to seal and “permanently” close the mining group’s copper plant following violent protests over pollution concerns.
  • On December 15, the NGT had set aside the state government’s order for closure of the Sterlite copper plant, saying it was “non sustainable” and “unjustified”.

[Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board v. Sterlite Industries (I) Ltd., 2019 SCC OnLine SC 221, decided on 18.02.2019]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of Madan B lokur and Deepak Gupta, JJ directed the Executive in all the States to frame appropriate guidelines or recruitment rules within six months, considering the institutional requirements of the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) and the law laid down in the Statutes, by this Court and as per the reports of various committees and authorities and ensure that suitable professionals and experts are appointed to the SPCBs.

The Court was hearing the appeal against the decision of the National Green Tribunal where it was held that the necessary expertise or qualifications to be members or chairpersons of such high powered and specialized statutory bodies and therefore did not deserve their appointment or nomination. The Court, agreeing with the reasoning of the Tribunal, set aside the order as the Tribunal had exceeded its jurisdiction in directing the State Governments to reconsider the appointments and in laying down guidelines for appointment to the SPCBs.

The Court referred to a number of recommendations of various committees, the laws laid down in various Statutes and Judgements and said:

“All these suggestions and recommendations are more than enough for making expert and professional appointments to the SPCBs being geared towards establishing a professional body with multifarious tasks intended to preserve and protect the environment and consisting of experts. Any contrary view or compromise in the appointments would render the exercise undertaken by all these committees completely irrelevant and redundant.”

The Court, noticing that notwithstanding all these suggestions, recommendations and guidelines the SPCBs continue to be manned by persons who do not necessarily have the necessary expertise or professional experience to address the issues for which the SPCBs were established by law, said that the concern is not one of a lack of professional expertise, but the lack of dedication and willingness to take advantage of the resources available. It further said:

“With this couldn’t-care-less attitude, the environment and public trust are the immediate casualties.”

The Court said that any damage to the environment could be permanent and irreversible or at least long-lasting and

“unless corrective measures are taken at the earliest, the State Governments should not be surprised if petitions are filed against the State for the issuance of a writ of quo warranto in respect of the appointment of the Chairperson and members of the SPCBs.”

The Court left it open to public spirited individuals to move the appropriate High Court for the issuance of a writ of quo warranto if any person who does not meet the statutory or constitutional requirements is appointed as a Chairperson or a member of any SPCB or is presently continuing as such. [Techi Tagi Tara v. Rajendra Singh Bhandari, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 1165 , decided on 22.09.2017]