A Single Judge Bench of Justice Asha Menon of the Delhi High Court while allowing interim relief to a person accused under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, granted interim relief to the accused, but at the same time rejected the prayer of quashing the FIR. The order to this effect was passed on May 30. 2020. `
Background of the Case:
The petitioner had filed an application for quashing of FIR under Section 482 (it grants inherent power on High Court to prevent abuse of the process of any Court or to secure the ends of justice) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. The FIR was registered under Sections 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) and 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation) of the IPC, 1860 and Sections 3(1)(r) and 3(1)(s) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (the SC & ST Act).
The petitioner contended that the FIR was prompted by enmity as the complainant was annoyed with the petitioner for having complained against him for diverting food meant for the poor to the Mittal Gardens for consumption by animals. on May 04, 2020, the petitioner had informed the DM (South) on WhatsApp about this illegal and clandestine transport of food by the complainant Ajay Kumar who was known to him as Ajay Mathur. A video that had been taken at Mittal Gardens was also circulated to the DM (South) through WhatsApp. On the next day, the petitioner went to MCD Primary School Chattarpur and assisted in the distribution of food when, the complainant, who was present there, publicly insulted and abused him for having filed the complaint and a verbal altercation occurred during which, the complainant allegedly threatened to teach the petitioner a lesson.
The petitioner had claimed that he was informed by his well-wishers that the complainant Ajay Mathur was attempting to implicate him in a false case. The petitioner further submitted that this sequence had firmly established the mala fide intentions of the complainant to take revenge and as no copy of the FIR was supplied to the petitioner and till the filing of the petition, he was clueless about the allegations against him.
The petitioner also submitted that he was not at all aware that the complainant belonged to the SC community as in public notices/posters, the complainant was described as “Ajay Mathur” though in the FIR he had given his name as “Ajay Kumar”. Moreover, no witness had made a statement to the police that they had witnessed the incident where the complainant was publicly insulted using caste aspersions. Based on the prima facie mala fide case made out, the petitioner urged the Court that it was a fit case in which the Court could exercise its inherent powers to quash the FIR or at the very least, grant anticipatory bail to the petitioner.
The complainant under the SC & ST Act submitted that the defense raised by the petitioner that he did not know the caste of the complainant was wholly irrelevant for the purposes of the petition as the Supreme Court has held in numerous cases that it is only when the FIR failed to disclose a prima facie case that it could be quashed. He also submitted that the complainant and the petitioner were living in the same area/locality and it was impossible to believe that the petitioner was unaware of the caste of the complainant.
The reasoning of the Court:
The Court noted that the Supreme Court had in the State of Haryana & Ors. V. Bhajan Lal & Ors. (1992) Supp (1) SCC 335 cautioned the High Courts while exercising their inherent powers to use them sparingly, either to prevent abuse of process of any court or otherwise to secure the ends of justice. Relying on the above judgment, the Court noted that,
“The matter is still under investigation. While it is no doubt true that the CCTV footage showing the petitioner gesticulating would not be enough for the prosecution to establish that caste aspersion were thrown at the complainant, the Status Report refers to the presence of several others at the spot at the time of the alleged incident, some of whom have been examined and others are yet to be examined. It is not possible for this Court to come to a conclusion on the mere word of the petitioner that the complaint/FIR was bereft of truth.”
Concluding that without a complete investigation, it may not be possible for the Court to come to any conclusion that the FIR was indeed false, the Court rejected that demand of quashing the FIR.
To inquire whether the petitioner would be entitled to anticipatory bail, the Court referred Prithvi Raj Chauhan v Union of India and Others, 2020 SCC Online SC 159. Section 18 and 18A of the SC & ST Act provide that the provisions of Section 438 Cr.P.C. (provision of anticipatory bail for a person apprehending arrest) will not be available in cases under the SC & ST Act. But in Prithvi Raj case, the SC had held that the Court continued to have inherent powers to grant pre-arrest bail in appropriate cases.
From the facts, the Court noted that the possibility of embellishments in the FIR to enhance the seriousness of the allegations could not be discounted at a preliminary stage, due to the sequence of events of a complaint being filed by the petitioner against the complainant and a quarrel taking place between the two the next day and the FIR being lodged almost a week thereafter, the Court considered it appropriate in “the interest of justice, to grant anticipatory bail to the petitioner.”