A bench of Hon'ble the Chief Justice of India, Hon'ble Mr. Justice AM Khanwilkar and Hon'ble Mr. Justice DY Chandrachud passed the subject judgment in Criminal Appeal No. 1723 of 2017 against a decision of the Gujarat High Court dismissing an application by the appellants under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) seeking quashing of First Information Report (FIR) registered against them for offences punishable under Sections 384, 467, 468, 471, 120-B and 506(2) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). The plea for quashing the FIR was advanced on the ground that the Appellants had amicably settled the dispute with the complainant. The Court after discussing various precedents on the subject summarised the broad principles in relation to Section 482 for quashing FIRs. The Court then proceeded to dismiss the appeal holding that the High Court was justified in declining to entertain the application for quashing FIR in the exercise of its inherent jurisdiction.
- The complainant stated that certain land in Jamnagar city was his ancestral agricultural land. Out of the plots of land carved out of the aforesaid land, Plot Nos. 45-56 were in the joint names of six brothers and a sister- all represented by the complainant.
- A deal was struck between the first appellant and the complainant, whereby Plot No. 56 was agreed to be sold to the first appellant for a certain consideration, part of which was paid in cash to the complainant.
- Thereafter, when the complainant followed up, regarding the balance payment, the same was not done and per contra the complainant was threatened to forcibly transfer the land.
- The complainant subsequently came to know that a sale deed had been registered not only with respect to Plot No. 56 but also in respect of Plot Nos. 45 to 55 on 27 January 2016. The complainant lodged a complaint on 18 June 2016.
- It was alleged by the complainant that the appellants had conspired to transfer valuable land belonging to him on the basis of forged documents.
DECISION OF THE GUJARAT HIGH COURT
- The High Court held that it was not in the interest of society at large to quash the FIR by accepting the settlement since the case involves extortion, forgery and conspiracy.
- The prayer to quash the FIR was rejected by the High Court, holding that the charges against the appellants are serious in nature and their activities render them a potential threat to society.
MAIN SUBMISSION ON BEHALF OF THE APPELLANT
On the basis of precedents, it was urged that the dispute is essentially civil in nature and since the parties have agreed to an amicable settlement, it would be in the proper course for the High Court to quash the FIR in exercise of the jurisdiction conferred on it by Section 482 of the CrPC.
MAIN SUBMISSION ON BEHALF OF THE PROSECUTION
The complainant emphasised that in light of the seriousness of the allegations, the conduct of the appellants- who were absconding, and their criminal antecedents, they were not entitled to the relief of quashing of the FIR, merely because a settlement had been entered into with the complainant.
DECISION OF THE SUPREME COURT
- Discussing the precedents set in the cases of Gian Singh v. State of Punjab (2012) 10 SCC 303, Narinder Singh v. State of Punjab (2014) 6 SCC 466, State of Maharashtra v. Vikram Anantrai Doshi (2014) 15 SCC 29, Central Bureau of Investigation v. Maninder Singh (2016) 1 SCC 389 and in State of Tamil Nadu v. R Vasanthi Stanley (2016) 1 SCC 376- the Supreme Court culled out broad principles governing the inherent powers of the High Court under Section 482 of the CrPC, and summarised them as follows-
- The provision does not confer any new powers. It only recognises and preserves powers which inhere in the High Court.
- The power to quash under Section 482 is attracted even when the offence is non-compoundable.
- In exercising the jurisdiction of quashing under Section 482, the High Court must evaluate whether the ends of justice would justify the exercise of the inherent power.
- The inherent power granted to the High Court vide this Section has a wide ambit and plenitude and must be exercised to secure the ends of justice or to prevent an abuse of the process of any Court.
- The decision of whether or not an FIR should be quashed on the ground of settlement between the parties, varies based on the facts and circumstances surrounding individual cases and no exhaustive elaboration of principles can be formulated.
- In the exercise of the power under Section 482 of the CrPC and while dealing with a plea that the dispute has been settled, the High Court must have due regard to the nature and gravity of the offence. Heinous and serious offences involving mental depravity or offences such as murder, rape and dacoity cannot appropriately be quashed though the victim or the family of the victim have settled the dispute. Such offences have a serious impact upon society. The decision to continue with the trial in such cases is founded on the overriding element of public interest in punishing persons for serious offences.
- As distinguished from serious offences, there may be criminal cases which have an overwhelming or predominant element of a civil dispute. Such cases stand on a different footing when it comes to Section 482 of the CrPC.
- Criminal cases involving offences which arise from commercial, financial, mercantile, partnership or similar transactions with an essentially civil flavour may in appropriate situations fall for quashing where parties have settled the dispute.
- If in view of the compromise between the disputants, the possibility of a conviction is remote and the continuation of a criminal proceeding would cause oppression and prejudice, the High Court must quash a Complaint/FIR.
- An exception to the principle set out in propositions (viii) and (ix) above was set out, being- economic offences involving the financial and economic well-being of the state having implications which lie beyond the domain of a mere dispute between private disputants. The High Court would be justified in declining to quash where the offender is involved in an activity akin to a financial or economic fraud or misdemeanour. The consequences of the act complained of upon the financial or economic system will weigh in the balance.
- Based on the above principles, it was held that the High Court was justified in declining to entertain the application for quashing of the FIR. The case was held to involve allegations implicating serious offences having a bearing on a vital societal interest in securing the probity of titles to or interest in land. The Appeal was consequently dismissed.
This Judgment rendered by the Supreme Court, after adverting to various precedents has summarised the principles that govern the discretionary power conferred on the High Court vide 482 of the CrPC, thus providing a one stop precedent on the issue. This Judgement provides further clarity on the principles that govern Section 482 of the CrPC, in a concise, succinct and comprehensive manner.
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