Exoneration in departmental proceedings would not absolve the accused of a criminal charge: J&K High Court

High-Court-of-J&K
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  • Post published:December 19, 2020
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The Court on Friday dismissed a petition filed under Section 482 Cr.P.C seeking quashment of FIR registered by the Vigilance Department against the petitioner. While dismissing the petition the Court held that exoneration of the petitioner in the departmental enquiry would not ipso facto entitle the petitioner to his exoneration from the criminal proceedings.

The Court observed that the validity and authenticity of the documents cannot be gone into by this Court in the exercise of its powers under Section 482 CRPC. This Court cannot be converted into an investigating agency or a trial court for examining the authenticity of the documents.

The Court refused to interfere with the investigation of the case and dismissed the petition.

The Facts giving rise to this petition:

A secret verification on the basis of a complaint was undertaken by Police Station, Anti Corruption Bureau, Jammu against the petitioner, who was posted as Technical Officer to Chief Engineer, PHE, Jammu at the relevant time. During the secret verification, it was revealed that the petitioner had acquired huge assets, both movable and immovable, that were disproportionate to his known sources of income by resorting to corrupt and illegal practices and by abuse and misuse of his official position. On the basis of the aforesaid verification an FIR was registered against the petitioner under Section 5(1)(e) punishable under Section 5(2) of the J&K Prevention of Corruption Act.

The grounds on which the FIR was challenged by the petitioner.

  1. That the allegations made in the F.I.R are without any basis and the same are factually incorrect.
  2. That the properties mentioned above do not belong to the petitioner but some of these properties belong to his son, who is an Engineer by profession and has his own trading business.
  3. That the properties, which the petitioner actually owns, have been regularly reflected by him in his annual property returns.
  4. That the F.I.R is actuated by malafides inasmuch as, the purpose of lodging the same was to deny promotion to the petitioner and to promote the junior officers of the petitioner over and above him.
  5. That a detailed inquiry has been conducted by the Chief Engineer, PHE, Jammu with regard to the same issue, which is the subject matter of the impugned F.I.R, whereafter, the petitioner has been exonerated of all the charges and
  6. That the impugned F.I.R is nothing but an outcome of malice and concoction.

The Response of the State/Prosecution

  1. That the investigation of the case is still at the initial stage and it is being ascertained as to from where the money has come for the acquisition of the properties in question.
  2. The documents attached with the petition to justify the ownership of the properties in question are required to be examined so as to ascertain the exact ownership and value of these properties.
  3. That the petition is premature and allegations against the petitioner are still under investigation.
  4. That the respondents have nothing to do with the promotion of the petitioner to the post of Chief Engineer, which is purely a service matter.

Arguments of the petitioner:

The subject matter of the impugned F.I.R was also the subject matter of departmental enquiry conducted by Chief Engineer, PHE Jammu and the petitioner had been exonerated of the charges after holding a detailed enquiry and urged that criminal proceedings against the petitioner cannot go on because the standard of proof in criminal proceedings is higher than the standard of proof in departmental inquiry

The petitioner had placed on record the documents to show that the properties which the prosecution is alleging to be under the ownership of the petitioner, in fact, belong to persons other than the petitioner. Adverting to these facts, the Court observed that the validity and authenticity of these documents cannot be gone into during these proceedings. It is only the investigating agency that can examine these documents and come to a conclusion on the basis of these documents.

The Court further observed that this Court cannot be converted into an investigating agency or a trial Court for examining the authenticity of these documents. Even the facts pertaining to malafides in prosecution can be gone into by the investigating agency or the trial Court and not by this Court in the exercise of its power under Section 482 Cr.PC.

Judgments relied upon by the petitioner in support of his arguments

P.S Rajya Vs. State of Bihar; (1996) 9 SCC 1

Ashoo Surendra Nath Tiwari Vs. The Deputy Superintendent of Police, EOW, CBI and anr. ; 2020 SCC Online 739.

Judgments relied upon by the High Court

State Vs. M. Krishna Mohan – (2007) 14 SCC 667

The Court referred to the observations of the Supreme Court in aforesaid case that exoneration in departmental proceeding ipso facto would not lead to acquittal of the accused in criminal trial and that decision in P.S Rajya’s case was rendered on peculiar facts obtaining therein.

Central Bureau of Investigation Vs. V.K Bhutiani – (2009) 10 SCC 674

In this case, the Court had noted that exoneration in departmental proceedings would not lead to automatic exoneration in criminal proceedings. It was a case where the accused had challenged his prosecution before the High Court relying on the decision of the Supreme Court in P.S Rajya’s case and the High Court quashed the prosecution. On a challenge by the CBI, the decision was reversed and after relying on the decision in the case of M. Krishna Mohan, the Supreme Court came to the conclusion that quashing of the prosecution is illegal.

State (NCT of Delhi) Vs. Ajay Kumar Tyagi (2012) 9 SCC 685

While applying the ratio laid down by the Supreme Court in the aforesaid judgment, the Court held that exoneration of the petitioner in departmental enquiry held by Chief Engineer Jammu would not ipso facto entitle the petitioner to his exoneration from the criminal proceedings

Scope of Powers of the High Court under Section 482 CRPC

The Court observed that the High Court has a limited jurisdiction under Section 482 Cr. PC and cannot go into disputed questions of fact in these proceedings. The Court referred to the decision of the Supreme Court in case of Dineshbhai Chandubhai Patel Vs. State of Gujarat; (2018) 3 SCC 104 wherein the Supreme Court had examined the extent of inherent jurisdiction of the High Court under Section 482 CRPC.

The High Court, in our view, failed to see the extent of its jurisdiction, which it possess to exercise while examining the legality of any FIR complaining commission of several cognizable offences by accused persons. In order to examine as to whether the factual contents of the FIR disclose any prima facie cognizable offences or not, the High Court cannot act like an investigating agency and nor can exercise the powers like an appellate Court. The question, in our opinion, was required to be examined keeping in view the contents of the FIR and prima facie material, if any, requiring no proof. 30.At this stage, the High Court could not appreciate the evidence nor could draw its own inferences from the contents of the FIR and the material relied on. It was more so when the material relied on was disputed by the Complainants and 18 CRM(M) No. 265/2019 visa-se-versa. In such a situation, it becomes the job of the investigating authority at such stage to probe and then of the Court to examine the questions once the charge sheet is filed along with such material as to how far and to what extent reliance can be placed on such material. 31.In our considered opinion, once the Court finds that the FIR does disclose prima facie commission of any cognizable offence, it should stay its hand and allow the investigating machinery to step in to initiate the probe to unearth the crime in accordance with the procedure prescribed in the Code.”

Observations and Decision of the Court:

The Court observed that “it is clear that this Court in exercise of its inherent powers cannot stretch the same to any extent nor can such powers be used to examine the validity of submissions and disputed documents on which reliance has been placed upon by the petitioner.”

The Court while dismissing the petition held that there is no reason to interfere with the investigation of the case.

Note: The Judgment has also considered the issue regarding the course to be followed by the High Court when confronted with contrary decisions of the Supreme Court which has not been dealt in this compiled report by the author. Please download and refer to the Judgment of the High Court linked with this report.

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Case Title: Swaran Singh vs State

Case Number: CRM(M) No. 265/2019

Coram: Hon’ble Mr. Justice Sanjay Dhar, Judge

Date of Decision: 17-12-2020.