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Supreme Court: Violators of nature cannot be allowed to go scotfree on payment of penalty only

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The Supreme Court on Thursday has said it might be true that by permitting the violators of nature to compound offence under Mines & Mineral (Development & Regulation) Act, 1957 (MMDR), the State may get revenue but increasing violations are causing serious damage to nature and the earth and is also affecting the ground water level. 

The Court said, “We are of the opinion that the violators cannot be permitted to go scotfree on payment of penalty only. There must be some stringent provisions which may have deterrent effect so that the violators may think twice before committing such offenses and before causing damage to the earth and the nature.” 

It further observed that it is the duty cast upon the State to restore the ecological imbalance and to stop the damages being caused to the nature. Excessive in-stream sand-and-gravel mining from river beds and like resources causes the degradation of rivers. That apart from threatening bridges, sand mining transforms the riverbeds into large and deep pits, as a result, the groundwater table drops leaving the drinking water wells on the embankments of these river dry. Even otherwise, sand/mines is a public property and the State is the custodian of the said public property and therefore State should be more sensitive to protect the environment and ecological balance and to protect the public property the State should always be in favour of taking a stern action against the violators who are creating serious ecological imbalance and causing damage to the nature in any form. 

A two-judge bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and M. R. Shah pronounced its verdict on an appeal to quash the FIR for offences under Sections 379 and 414 IPC, Sections 4/21 of the Mines & Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 1957 & under Rule 18 of the M. P. Minerals (Prevention of illegal Mining, Transportation and Storage) Rules, 2006. 

The petitioners had challenged the order of the High Court which had refused to quash the orders passed by Judicial Magistrate which in turn had took suo motu cognisance of a news article alleging illegal sand mining published in daily newspaper Bhaskar and directed registration of FIR under the MMDR Act and Indian Penal Code. 

The petitioner challenged the FIR on grounds that Magistrate cannot direct registration of FIR under 156(3), CrPC as the same is barred by Section 22 and 23A of the MMDR Act, as well as, Rule 53 of the 1996 Rules. Secondly, the Magistrate can take cognisance only if there is any written complaint and in their case, there is no written complaint made by the Mining officer/authorised officer. Thirdly, MMDR Act does not contemplate the taking of suo motu cognisance by the Magistrate. It was also contended by the petitioners that the offence done by them already been compounded since these are compoundable under the MMDR Act. Therefore, Magistrate was not justified in directing to initiate fresh proceedings which would be hit by the principle of “double jeopardy”. 

The Supreme Court held that the High Court has not committed any error for not quashing the criminal proceedings for the offences under Sections 379 and 414. Further, the learned Magistrate in exercise of the suo motu powers conferred under Section 156(3) CrPC directed the concerned In-charge/SHO of the Police Station to lodge/register the crime case/FIR and directed initiation of investigations directed the concerned In-charge/SHO of the police station to submit a report after due investigation. 

“At this stage it cannot be said that there is a bar against registration of a criminal case or investigation by the probe agency or submission of a report by the police on completion of investigation, as contemplated by Section 173, CrPC,” said the Apex Court. 

The Supreme Court said the criminal complaint/proceedings for the offence under Section 4/21 of the MMDR Act are not permissible and are not required to be proceeded further in view of the bar contained in sub-section 2 of Section 23A of the MMDR Act. At the same time, the criminal complaint/proceedings for the offences under the IPC-Sections 379/414 IPC which are held to be distinct and different can be proceeded further. 

The Supreme Court passed a slew of directions in light of the relevant provisions of the MMDR Act and the Rules made there under vis-a-vis the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Penal Code, as follows; 

1- that the learned Magistrate can in exercise of powers under Section 156(3) of the Code order/direct the concerned In charge/SHO of the Police station to lodge/register crime case/FIR even for the offences under the MMDR Act and the Rules made there under and at this stage the bar under Section 22 of the MMDR Act shall not be attracted;

2- the bar under Section 22 of the MMDR Act shall be attracted only when the learned Magistrate takes cognizance of the offence under the MMDR Act and Rules made there under and orders issuance of process/summons for the offences under the MMDR Act and Rules made thereunder;

3- for the commission of the offence under the IPC, on receipt of the Police Report, the Magistrate having jurisdiction can take cognizance of the said offence without awaiting the receipt of complaint in respect of violation of various provisions of the MMDR Act and Rules made thereunder; and 

4- that in respect of violation of various provisions of the MMDR Act and the Rules made thereunder, when a Magistrate passed an order under Section 156(3) of the Code and directs the concerned In-charge/SHO of the police station to register/lodge the crime case/FIR in respect of the violation of various provisions of the Act and Rules made thereunder and thereafter after the investigation the concerned In-charge of the police station/investigating officer submits a report, the same can be sent to the concerned Magistrate as well as to the concerned authorised officer as mentioned in Section 22 of the MMDR Act and thereafter the concerned authorised officer may file the complaint before the learned Magistrate along with the report submitted by the concerned investigating officer and thereafter it will be open for the learned Magistrate to take cognizance after following due procedure, issue process/summons in respect of the violations of the various provisions of the MMDR Act and Rules made thereunder and at that stage it can be said that cognizance has been taken by the learned Magistrate.

5- in a case where the violator is permitted to compound the offences on payment of penalty as per sub­section1 of Section 23A, considering sub­section 2 of Section 23A of the MMDR Act, there shall not be any proceedings or further proceedings against the offender in respect of the offences punishable under the MMDR Act or any rule made thereunder so compounded. However, the bar under sub­section 2 of Section 23A shall not affect any proceedings for the offences under the IPC, such as, Sections 379 and 414 IPC and the same shall be proceeded with further.

In view of the above, the Supreme Court has allowed the appeal partly to the extent quashing the proceedings for the offences under the MMDR Act – Sections 4/21 of the MMDR Act only. 

Jayant-Supreme-Court

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