27 Nov 2020

Prima Facie evaluation of FIR should be done by the High Court before prayer for bail under Article 226 is accepted or declined - Supreme Court of India

Case : Arnab Manoranjan Goswami v. The State of Maharashtra & Ors. Criminal Appeal No. 742 of 2020

Court : Supreme Court of India

Bench : Justice Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and Justice Indira Banerjee

Decided on : 27 Nov 2020

Relevant Statutes

Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India

Sections 34 and 306 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860

Sections 482, 439, 91 and 173(8) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

Para 219 (3) Bombay Police Manual, 1959

Brief Facts and Procedural History

1. In December 2016, when a company ARG Outlier Media Private Limited (ARG), owned by the appellant, awarded a contract for civil and interior work to another company, Concorde Design Private Limited (CDPL) which was owned substantially by Anvay Naik.

2. On 5th May 2018, Akshyata Anvay Naik, the informant registered an FIR at Alibaug Police Station u/s 306 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. It was also revealed that the appellant had not paid an amount of ₹83 lakh for the Bombay Dyeing Studio project. The spouse of the informant, Anvay Naik had not received payment for the work which was carried out by him, as a result of which he was under mental pressure and that he committed suicide by hanging on 5th May 2018. There is a suicide note holding the three individuals responsible including the appellant. The mother-in-law of the informant, Kumud Naik was also found lying dead on the bed.

3. On 26th May 2020, the Home Department of the State of Maharashtra transferred the said FIR to the crime investigation department for re-investigation.

4. On 15 October 2020, the Local Crime Investigation Branch, Raigad addressed a communication to the CJM, Alibaug recording the commencement of further investigation under Section 173(8), the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 in respect of the said FIR under Section 306 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

5. The appellant was arrested on 4 November 2020 in connection with the aforesaid FIR.

6. After the appellant’s arrest, a remand application was filed before the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM), Raigad. By an order dated 4 November 2020, the CJM declined to grant police custody, remanded the appellant to judicial custody till 18 November 2020.

7. The State challenged the order of the CJM declining police custody in a revision before the Additional Sessions Judge, Raigad.

8. The appellant filed a Writ Petition before the Bombay High Court, invoking the provisions of Articles 226/227 of the Constitution and Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

9. On 7 November 2020, the High Court reserved orders and granted liberty to the appellant to file an application for regular bail under Section 439 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 with a direction that it should be heard expeditiously within four days of the date of filing. Following the above direction, the appellant moved the Sessions Court, Raigad for bail under Section 439 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

10. The High Court declined the prayer for bail relying on State of Telangana v. Habib Abdullah Jeelani, (2017) 2 SCC 779 and on the ground that no case has been made out for the exercise of the extra-ordinary jurisdiction and that the appellant had an alternate and efficacious remedy under Section 439 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

The Issues of the Case

Whether the decision of refusal to grant bail by the High Court appropriate?

Whether a case for grant of interim protection to the appellant was made out?

The Observations of the Court

The Honourable Supreme Court observed and explained that:

1. The High Court in the present case has misdirected itself in declining to enquire prima facie on a petition for quashing whether the parameters in the exercise of that jurisdiction have been duly established and if so whether a case for the grant of interim bail has been made out.

2. The striking aspect of the impugned judgment is that the High Court failed to apply its mind to a fundamental issue which needed to be considered while dealing with a petition for quashing under Article 226 of the Constitution or Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. The High Court, by its judgment dated 9th November 2020, has declined to allow the appellant’s prayer for interim bail and relegated him to the remedy under Section 439 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. While liberty has been the casualty.

3. Before a person may be said to have abetted the commission of suicide, they must have played an active role by an act of instigation or by doing certain action to facilitate the commission of suicide. Instigation, as this Court held in Kishori Lal v. State of MP, (2007) 10 SCC 797, literally means to provoke, incite, urge on or bring about by persuasion to do anything. Several similar other cases were quoted such as especially State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal, 1992 Supp. 1 SCC 335 in which it was observed that the suicide note expressed a state of the anguish of the deceased and cannot be depicted as expressing anything intentional on the part of the accused that the deceased might commit suicide, the petition under Section 482 was allowed and the FIR was quashed. Prima facie, thus, it cannot be said that the appellant was guilty of having abetted the suicide within the meaning of Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

4. Criteria were laid down for the High Courts to follow while considering an application for the grant of bail under Article 226 in a suitable case,

a.The nature of the alleged offence, the nature of the accusation and the severity of the punishment in the case of a conviction;

b. Whether there exists a reasonable apprehension of the accused tampering with the witnesses or being a threat to the complainant or the witnesses;

c.  The possibility of securing the presence of the accused at the trial or the likelihood of the accused fleeing from justice;

d. The antecedents of and circumstances which are peculiar to the accused;

e. Whether prima facie the ingredients of the offence are made out, based on the allegations as they stand, in the FIR; and

f. The significant interests of the public or the State and other similar considerations.

5. These principles are likewise applicable to the exercise of jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution when the court is called upon to secure the liberty of the accused. The High Court must exercise its power with prudence, acknowledging the fact that this jurisdiction is not an alternative to the remedy of bail u/ s 439 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

6. Prima facie evaluation of the FIR does not establish the ingredients of the offence of abetment of suicide under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The appellants being residents of India do not pose a flight risk during the investigation or the trial. The apprehension of tampering of evidence or witnesses does not exist. Thus, the order dated 11 November 2020 contemplated the release of the appellants on bail.

7. The Bench highlighted the preciousness of human liberty as a constitutional value with the help of Romila Thapar v. Union of India, (2018) 10 SCC 753 and State of Rajasthan, Jaipur vs Balchand, (1977) 4 SCC 308. Data from sourced from the National Judicial Data Grid on the number of bail applications currently pending in High Courts and District Courts across India was referred to and the Chief Justices of High Court have been encouraged to make use of such data in their administrative capacities to ensure that access to justice is democratized and equitably allocated.

The Decision Held by the Court

The Honourable Supreme Court reserved the judgement and held that:

1. The appellants are directed to be released, subject to each of them executing a personal bond in the amount of ₹50,000/- to be executed before the Jail Superintendent.

2. The interim protection which has been granted to the appellants by the order dated 11 November 2020 shall continue to remain in operation pending the disposal of the proceedings before the High Court and thereafter for four weeks from the date of the judgment of the High Court, should it become necessary for all or any of them to take further recourse to their remedies in accordance with the law.

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