M/s Neeharika Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd.
State of Maharashtra and others
CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 330 OF 2021 decided on April 13, 2021
Bench: Dr. Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud & M.R. Shah, JJ
When and where the High Court would be justified in passing an interim order either staying the further investigation in the FIR/complaint or interim order in the nature of “no coercive steps” and/or not to arrest the accused either pending investigation by the police/investigating agency or during the pendency of the quashing petition under Section 482 Cr.P.C. and/or under Article 226 of the Constitution of India pending before the High Court?
The Supreme Court examining the legality of the impugned interim order passed by the High Court directing the investigating agency/police “not to adopt any coercive steps” against the accused is concerned, for the reasons stated hereinbelow and the same is unsustainable because
i) that such a blanket interim order passed by the High Court affects the powers of the investigating agency to investigate into the cognizable offences, which otherwise is a statutory right/duty of the police under the relevant provisions of the Cr.P.C.;
ii) that the interim order is a cryptic order;
iii) that no reasons whatsoever have been assigned by the High Court, while passing such a blanket order of “no coercive steps to be adopted” by the police;
iv) that it is not clear what the High Court meant by passing the order of “not to adopt any coercive steps”, as it is clear from the impugned interim order that it was brought to the notice of the High Court that so far as the accused are concerned, they are already protected by the interim protection granted by the learned Sessions Court, and therefore there was no further reason and/or justification for the High Court to pass such an interim order of “no coercive steps to be adopted”. If the High Court meant by passing such an interim order of “no coercive steps” directing the investigating agency/police not to further investigate, in that case, such a blanket order without assigning any reasons whatsoever and without even permitting the investigating agency to further investigate into the allegations of the cognizable offence is otherwise unsustainable. It has affected the right of the investigating agency to investigate into the cognizable offences. While passing such a blanket order, the High Court has not indicated any reasons.
In exceptional situations where such orders are necessary to be passed, the Supreme Court held that while passing such an interim order, in exceptional cases with caution and circumspection, the High Court has to give brief reasons why it is necessary to pass such an interim order, more particularly when the High Court is exercising the extraordinary and inherent powers under Section 482 Cr.P.C. and/or under Article 226 of the Constitution of India.
The Supreme Court coming up to the final conclusion gave following guidelines in such cases:
i) Police has the statutory right and duty under the relevant provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure contained in Chapter XIV of the Code to investigate into a cognizable offence;
ii) Courts would not thwart any investigation into the cognizable offences;
iii) It is only in cases where 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;
iv) The power of quashing should be exercised sparingly with circumspection, as it has been observed, in the ‘rarest of rare cases (not to be confused with the formation in the context of death penalty).
v) While examining an FIR/complaint, 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/complaint;
vi) Criminal proceedings ought not to be scuttled at the initial stage;
vii) Quashing of a complaint/FIR should be an exception rather than an ordinary rule;
viii) Ordinarily, the 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;
ix) The functions of the judiciary and the police are complementary, not overlapping;
x) Save in exceptional cases where non-interference would result in miscarriage of justice, the Court and the judicial process should not interfere at the stage of investigation of offences;
xi) Extraordinary and inherent powers of the Court do not confer an arbitrary jurisdiction on the Court to act according to its whims or caprice;
xii) The first information report is not an encyclopaedia which must disclose all facts and details relating to the offence reported. Therefore, when the investigation by the police is in progress, the court should not go into the merits of the allegations in the FIR. Police must be permitted to complete the investigation. It would be premature to pronounce the conclusion based on hazy facts that the complaint/FIR does not deserve to be investigated or that it amounts to abuse of process of law. After investigation, if the investigating officer finds that there is no substance in the application made by the complainant, the investigating officer may file an appropriate report/summary before the learned Magistrate which may be considered by the learned Magistrate in accordance with the known procedure;
xiii) The power under Section 482 Cr.P.C. is very wide, but conferment of wide power requires the court to be more cautious. It casts an onerous and more diligent duty on the court;
xiv) However, at the same time, the court, if it thinks fit, regard being had to the parameters of quashing and the self-restraint imposed by law, more particularly the parameters laid down by this Court in the cases of R.P. Kapur (supra) and Bhajan Lal (supra), has the jurisdiction to quash the FIR/complaint;
xv) When a prayer for quashing the FIR is made by the alleged accused and the court when it exercises the power under Section 482 Cr.P.C., only has to consider whether the allegations in the FIR disclose commission of a cognizable offence or not. The court is not required to consider on merits whether or not the merits of the allegations make out a cognizable offence and the court has to permit the investigating agency/police to investigate the allegations in the FIR;
xvi) The aforesaid parameters would be applicable and/or the aforesaid aspects are required to be considered by the High Court while passing an interim order in a quashing petition in exercise of powers under Section 482 Cr.P.C. and/or under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. However, an interim order of stay of investigation during the pendency of the quashing petition can be passed with circumspection. Such an interim order should not require to be passed routinely, casually and/or mechanically. Normally, when the investigation is in progress and the facts are hazy and the entire evidence/material is not before the High Court, the High Court should restrain itself from passing the interim order of not to arrest or “no coercive steps to be adopted” and the accused should be relegated to apply for anticipatory bail under Section 438 Cr.P.C. before the competent court. The High Court shall not and as such is not justified in passing the order of not to arrest and/or “no coercive steps” either during the investigation or till the investigation is completed and/or till the final report/chargesheet is filed under Section 173 Cr.P.C., while dismissing/disposing of the quashing petition under Section 482 Cr.P.C. and/or under Article 226 of the Constitution of India.
xvii) Even in a case where the High Court is prima facie of the opinion that an exceptional case is made out for grant of interim stay of further investigation, after considering the broad parameters while exercising the powers under Section 482 Cr.P.C. and/or under Article 226 of the Constitution of India referred to hereinabove, the High Court has to give brief reasons why such an interim order is warranted and/or is required to be passed so that it can demonstrate the application of mind by the Court and the higher forum can consider what was weighed with the High Court while passing such an interim order.
xviii) Whenever an interim order is passed by the High Court of “no coercive steps to be adopted” within the aforesaid parameters, the High Court must clarify what does it mean by “no coercive steps to be adopted” as the term “no coercive steps to be adopted” can be said to be too vague and/or broad which can be misunderstood and/or misapplied.