Friday, March 24, 2023

Speedy trial right of complainant and accused, says Allahabad High Court in 1998 case

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The Allahabad High Court has said that a speedy trial is a right not only of the complainant but of the accused person as well while setting aside an order of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Aligarh.

A single-judge bench of Justice Saurabh Shyam Shamshery passed this order while hearing an application under Section 482 filed by Dr Meraj Ali and Another.

The applicants are facing trial arising out of First Information Report dated 17.07.1999, being a case for committing offences under Sections 420, 467, 468 IPC. After investigation, a chargesheet was filed on 18.11.2000 and cognizance was also taken.

The applicants filed an application for discharge under Section 239 CrPC on 23.12.2021 which has been rejected by means of impugned order dated 09.03.2022.

The facts of the case are that an election of society, namely, “All India Muslim and Rehabilitation Education Society, Aligarh” was conducted on 15.03.1998 and applicants and others were declared office-bearers of society and the complainant and others were defeated.

A dispute arose between elected and defeated office-bearers of Society which led to filing a civil suit by applicants on 03.11.1998 against Opposite Party No 2/ Complainant for permanent prohibitory injunction against Opposite Party No 2 and its agents, servants, friends and associates, to restrain them for interfering in the functioning and management of plaintiffs (applicants herein).

The Opposite Party No 2 initially did not appear in suit proceedings and approached the Magistrate by way of filing application dated 17.07.1999 under Section 156(3) CrPC and on the basis of direction passed by Magistrate concerned, First Information Report, referred above, was lodged alleging that applicants have committed forgery and cheating and a fraudulent election was conducted wherein presence of some of members was wrongly shown and even the signatures of members were forged.

Investigation commenced and meanwhile in the suit proceedings by order dated 06.11.1998 an ex parte interim injunction was granted restraining Opposite Party No 2 (defendant in suit) in the working of Society. Suit is still pending and presently it is at the stage of recording of evidence and defendants therein have also appeared.

Meanwhile, investigation remained pending for one or another reason and finally a chargesheet dated 18.11.2000 was filed against applicants for above referred offences. It appears that trial could not proceed due to one or other reason and finally the discharge application dated 23.12.2021 was filed, which was rejected by means of impugned order dated 09.03.20022.

Pradeep Kumar Upadhyay, the counsel for applicants, submitted that the election of society was fairly conducted by election officer and list of elected members was duly submitted to the office of Registrar of Societies. Opposite Party No 2/ complainant has not filed any objection before the Registrar of Societies to the process of election or result thereof. There was interference from the side of Opposite Party No 2 in the day-to-day working of Society, therefore, applicants have filed civil suit wherein interim injunction was granted in their favour restraining Opposite Party No 2/ Complaint/ Defendant therein, from any interference in the day-to-day working of Society. Opposite Party No 2/ Complaint/ Defendant has not appeared in civil suit for many years and for one or other reason the suit is not decided due to their non-cooperation.

Counsel further submitted that in order to give criminal colour to civil proceedings belated application was filed under Section 156(3) Cr.P.C on 17.07.1999, i.e, after a period of more than 15 months making baseless allegations of cheating and forgery. The criminal proceedings were initiated only to harass the applicants with ulterior motive for wreaking vengeance on applicants with a view to spite him due to private and personal grudge. Since on a similar issue a civil suit is pending, therefore, criminal proceedings initiated on a belated application is an abuse of process of law.

The above submissions are vehemently opposed by Munne Lal, AGA for State and Sri Suresh Chandra Dwivedi, Advocate for Opposite Party No 2. They submitted that the offence of cheating and forgery are prima facie made out even on the basis of contents of First Information Report which has been found true during investigation and thereafter charge sheet has also been filed. At the stage of discharge application a Court ought not to enter into question the evidentiary value of material available as it is impermissible to look into the merit of case while exercising power under Section 239 Cr.P.C. Entire election proceeding was a fraudulent act as there was forgery with regards to putting signatures of members who were not even present during election proceedings and as such it is not a case where civil and criminal proceedings cannot go simultaneously.

The Court considered the rival submission in the backdrop of above referred law that, on the basis of material available, whether there is sufficient ground to try the applicants and whether the discharge application has rightly been rejected or not.

The Court noted,

From the above referred facts it is not in dispute that an election was conducted of the Society concerned on 15.03.1998 by Election Officer wherein Applicant-1 was elected as General Secretary and Applicant-2 was elected as President of Society whereas the Complainant was defeated. The details of the election were also submitted to the office of Registrar of Societies. Nothing has been placed on record to show that Opposite Party No 2 has made any objection or initiated any proceeding as provided under Societies Registration Act, 1860 before appropriate authority. On the other hand, applicants being aggrieved by interference in day-to-day working of Society after election by Opposite Party No 2 and his agents, filed suit for permanent prohibitory injunction on 06.11.1998 wherein initially Opposite Party No 2/ defendant therein, has not appeared and an ex parte interim injunction was granted restraining Opposite Party No 2 and his agents from making interference in day-to-day working of Society.

It is also not in dispute that Opposite Party No 2/ Complainant has filed an application under Section 156(3) CrPC on 17.07.1999, i.e, after about 15 months alleging cheating and forgery committed by applicants during the election process. A First Information Report was lodged in pursuance of direction passed by Magistrate concerned and investigation was conducted wherein allegations were found to be true against applicants. Charge sheet was filed on 18.11.2000, however, stage of filing discharge application came after about 21 years and application was rejected by means of impugned order dated 09.03.2022 on the ground that at the stage of discharge, power of Court concerned is only to look whether a prima facie case is made out or not.

The Court observed,

From the facts as discussed above, it is evident that issues in civil proceedings as well as allegations in the First Information Report are arising out of the election conducted on 15.03.1998. Opposite Party No 2 has not challenged the result of the election under the provisions of Act 1860 despite the election result being submitted before the Registrar of Societies whereas the applications have approached the Civil Court seeking injunction against Opposite Party No 2.

As held in Sanjay Kumar Rai (supra) while considering discharge application, the Court has to consider broad probabilities, total effect of evidence and documents produced and the basic infirmities appearing in the case and so on.

However, Trial Court has not appreciated the entire evidence and documents produced along with police report that the allegations of cheating and forgery or that the election was vitiated by fraudulent practice, has to be considered firstly by the authority concerned under Act, 1860 and also that there is no proceedings initiated by Opposite Party No 2 to annul the election.

Therefore, the evidence collected during police investigation without even verification of alleged disputed signatures, are not supported by any expert evidence to take at least a prima facie view that signatures were forged. The prosecution has not even examined Tarik Ahmad, whose presence was allegedly shown in the election proceedings and even he is not a proposed witness. There is no evidence that the Election Officer (Syed Anwar) was not appointed as Election Officer. All these infirmities were not considered which were essential to come to the conclusion that prima facie case was made out against applicants at the time of considering application for discharge.

“In view of above findings it is evident that criminal proceedings initiated against applicants are manifestly attended with mala fide and proceedings are maliciously instituted with an ulterior motive for wreaking vengeance on applicants with a view to spite them due to private and personal grudge.

The Court considered whether on the basis of above findings the Court can exercise its inherent power under Section 482 CrPC to quash the criminal proceedings.

As held in Babu Venkatesh (supra), power to quash criminal proceedings should be exercised very sparingly with caution and that too in rarest of rare cases and certain categories of cases are specified in State of Haryana and others vs Bhajan Lal and others, 1992 Supp (1) SCC 335.

In view of above analysis on facts and law, the Court is of the view that it is a fit case where the Court should exercise its inherent power under Section 482 CrPC”, the Court further observed while allowing the application.

“The order dated 09.03.2022 passed by Chief Judicial Magistrate, Aligarh in Criminal Case under Sections 420, 467, 468 IPC, Police Station Civil Lines, District Aligarh, is hereby set aside.

Before parting, the Court feels it appropriate to express its anguish that unnecessary and baseless criminal proceedings are pending for last many years, as in the case the criminal proceedings are pending since 1998, i.e, for about 24 years and it has reached only upto the stage of discharge application. Since this Court has quashed the proceedings but after 24 years, therefore, the suffering of accused persons/ applicants cannot be compensated. Speedy trial is a right not only of Complainant but accused persons also. There is no explanation why the proceedings are reached only upto the stage of discharge application after a lapse of more than two decades. Supreme Court in Hussainara Khatoon & Ors vs Home Secretary, State Of Bihar. AIR 1979 SC 1369 has declared that speedy trial is an integral part of the fundamental right to life and liberty enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution. Thereafter Supreme Court has issued guidelines for speedy trial in P. Ramachandra Rao vs State of Karnataka (2002) 4 SCC 578, however, it appears that due to one or other reasons the directions are not followed in letter and spirit. Therefore, the Trial Courts are directed to undertake endeavour that every criminal proceedings shall be concluded expeditiously, as speedy trial is a right of both Complainant and accused persons,” the Court order reads.

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