Pratibha Manchanda & Anr. vs. State of Haryana & Anr.
Date of Order:
July 07, 2023
Hon’ble Justice Surya Kant and Hon’ble Justice C.T. Ravikumar
Appellant(s)- Pratibha Manchanda & Anr.
Respondent(s)- State of Haryana & Anr
Section 438 of Criminal Procedure Code- Direction for grant of bail to person apprehending arrest.
- The immediate appeal arises from a judgment passed by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana at Chandigarh on 31st May 2022. In this judgment, the High Court granted anticipatory bail to Respondent No. 2 in FIR No. 113 of 2022, which was registered at PS Badshahpur, district Gurugram.
- The FIR included charges under Sections 406, 420, 467, 468, 471, and 120-B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The High Court allowed the petition filed under Section 438 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (Cr.P.C).
- The Appellants lodged an FIR against Respondent No. 2 and other co-accused individuals, namely, Shel Narang, Bhim Singh, and Vinod. According to the contents of the FIR, the Appellants, who are senior citizens, claimed ownership and possession of a land known as rect. No. 55, Killa No. 3/1 (7-9), 4/1 (7-13), measuring 15 Kanal 2 Marla, located in the revenue estate of Village Begampur Khatola, Tehsil Kadipur, District Gurugram (referred to as the 'Subject Land') for a period of 30 years.
- The Appellants asserted that they never sold the Subject Land to anyone nor executed any power of attorney (GPA) in favor of a third party. They maintained that the land has always been under their possession and has never been transferred outside the family.
- On 28th February 2022, Appellant No. 2 visited Patwar Bhawan in Gurugram to obtain revenue papers for the Subject Land. There, he discovered that a person named Bhim Singh Rathi had approached the halqa patwari for mutation of the land based on a forged and fabricated sale deed dated 24th February 2022 (referred to as the '2022 Sale Deed').
- Further investigation revealed that the said sale deed was registered in the office of Sub-Registrar Kadipur, District Gurugram and was executed by Respondent No. 2. The execution was supposedly based on another forged and fabricated GPA dated 18th September 1996 (referred to as the '1996 GPA'), registered in the office of Sub-Registrar-V, South East Delhi.
- The Appellants maintained that they never executed or registered any GPA in favor of Respondent No. 2 and were not acquainted with him in any way. Instead, they alleged that both the 1996 GPA and the 2022 Sale Deed were fraudulent documents created by Respondent No. 2 and the other co-accused in collusion with officials at the Sub-Registrar's office, without the Appellants' involvement.
- The Appellants claimed that they possessed the original sale deed for the Subject Land, and a true copy of it was attached to the complaint. Upon examination of the 2022 Sale Deed, they noticed that it lacked a PAN Number, which is a mandatory requirement for a valid sale deed. Additionally, there was no mention of the 1% amount of Tax Deducted at Source (TDS), which is also a prerequisite for the execution and registration of a sale deed.
- The complaint also mentioned that the current market value of the Appellants' land, measuring 15 Kanal 2 Marla, was approximately not less than Rs. 50 crores. However, the 2022 Sale Deed showed the sale consideration as an extremely low amount of Rs. 6,60,62,500/-, significantly below the actual asking price. Furthermore, the Appellants had not received even this small amount, even if the 2022 Sale Deed was hypothetically considered valid. Hence, the Appellants contended that this document was clearly fabricated by Respondent No. 2 and the co-accused, along with witnesses, the scribe, and officials of the Sub-Registrar Tehsil Kadipur, District Gurugram, with the intention of unlawfully taking the property away from the complainants and transferring it to the accused.
- Subsequently, the First Information Report was registered at Police Station, Badshahpur, Gurugram, and an investigation was initiated. In response, Respondent No. 2 applied for Anticipatory Bail before the Additional Sessions Judge, Gurugram, fearing arrest during the investigation.
- The Additional Sessions Judge in Gurugram rejected Respondent No. 2's application for anticipatory bail in an order dated 23rd May 2022. The judge observed the following:
- Respondent No. 2 was accused of allegedly forging a GPA and executing the 2022 Sale Deed.
- The police were yet to recover the original 1996 GPA, and many questions regarding the 1996 GPA's whereabouts, execution of the sale deed, payment of sale consideration, mutation sanctioning, and the relationship between Respondent No. 2 and the Appellants remained unanswered.
- The allegations against Respondent No. 2 were serious, and seeking civil remedies did not absolve them of criminal liability. Anticipatory bail could only be granted under exceptional circumstances since a person under pre-arrest bail might not disclose all relevant facts during questioning, invoking the safeguard provided by Section 438 of the Cr.P.C. Custodial interrogation of Respondent No. 2 was necessary for a comprehensive investigation due to the numerous pending inquiries.
- Feeling aggrieved, Respondent No. 2 filed an application for Anticipatory Bail before the High Court. On 31st May 2022, the High Court granted him Anticipatory Bail after observing the following:
- The dispute involved the validity of the 1996 GPA and the misappropriation of the purported sale consideration. Civil suits had already been filed regarding the ownership and possession of the property, and a handwriting expert's report would be vital in determining the authenticity of the signatures.
- The High Court acknowledged the ongoing civil suits and suggested that the validity of the 1996 GPA's execution could be determined by the civil court, which did not have to be the determining factor in the anticipatory bail proceedings.
- It seemed prima facie that the involvement of the criminal justice system, initiated by the Appellants, might be an attempt to settle transactions and resolve ongoing disputes between them. To ensure justice for both the Appellants and Respondent No. 2, directions were given for them to provide their specimen signatures, which would be compared by a handwriting expert to assess their similarity.
- The High Court ordered that no arrest of Respondent No. 2 would be made as long as he provided personal and surety bonds of Rs. 2 lakhs each to the satisfaction of the investigating officer. He was also instructed to cooperate with the investigation whenever required and to give an undertaking not to tamper with prosecution evidence or influence witnesses. Moreover, a deposit of Rs. 1.50 Crores was to be submitted before the concerned Magistrate, serving as victim compensation, disbursed based on the trial's outcome.
- The Appellants, dissatisfied with the grant of anticipatory bail, have now approached the court.
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE APPELLANT
- The learned counsel for the Appellants, strongly argued that the High Court made a mistaken assumption in considering the alleged 1996 GPA in favor of Respondent No. 2 as genuine. He pointed out that the police have not yet recovered the original copy of the 1996 GPA, which necessitates custodial interrogation.
- Moreover, the High Court overlooked the fact that despite the 1996 GPA being executed in favor of Respondent No. 2, he only applied for its certified copy in February 2022, a staggering 26 years later. This raises doubts about the legitimacy of his claim.
- The current case involves Respondent No. 2 colluding with other accused individuals to carry out an elaborate fraud against the Appellants, who are vulnerable due to their age and NRI status.
- Additionally, the signatures used by Appellant No. 2 during the period between 1990 and 2000 differ significantly and are dissimilar from those purportedly inscribed on the alleged GPA dated 18th September 1996. Furthermore, the consideration mentioned in the alleged sale deed, which is Rs. 6.60 crores, is significantly lower than the market value of the Subject Land, estimated at Rs. 50 crores.
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE RESPONDENT
- The learned Additional Advocate General, representing Respondent No. 1 - State of Haryana, vehemently opposed the grant of anticipatory bail to Respondent No. 2 and supported the position taken by the Appellants.
- It was argued that a compelling prima facie case has been established against Respondent No. 2, and his custodial interrogation is crucial to uncovering the broader conspiracy involved in the case.
- Certainly, the purported crimes of forging documents to transfer ownership of valuable land are of significant and severe nature. While protecting an individual's personal freedom remains paramount, it is equally crucial for us to thoroughly evaluate the seriousness of the offense and determine if custodial interrogation is justified.
- In the case of Siddharam Satlingappa Mhetre v. State of Maharashtra, this Court thoroughly examined the principles established by the Constitution Bench in the Gurbaksh Singh Sibbia v. State of Punjab case. After careful deliberation, the Court reached the following conclusion:
- "The following factors and parameters may be taken into consideration when dealing with anticipatory bail:
- The nature and seriousness of the accusation and the precise role of the accused must be well understood before making an arrest.
- The applicant's background, including whether the accused has a previous history of undergoing imprisonment for any cognizable offense.
- The possibility of the applicant attempting to escape from justice.
- The likelihood of the accused committing similar or other offenses in the future.
- Whether the accusations have been made with the sole purpose of injuring or humiliating the applicant by arresting them.
- The impact of granting anticipatory bail, especially in cases of significant magnitude affecting a large number of people.
- In the case of Sushila Aggarwal v. State (NCT of Delhi), the Constitution Bench reiterated that while considering applications for anticipatory bail, courts should take into account factors such as the nature and seriousness of the offenses, the role attributed to the applicant, and the specific circumstances of the case."
- Given the facts and circumstances of this case, the Supreme Court has expanded the scope of inquiry in these proceedings and issued directives. The Court has instructed the Commissioner of Police, Gurugram, to establish a Special Investigation Team (SIT) led by an officer of no lower rank than the Deputy Superintendent of Police, along with two Inspectors as its members.
- The SIT is to take over the investigation immediately. The SIT has the authority to subject Respondent No. 2, the buyers, the Sub Registrar/officials, or other suspects to custodial interrogation to arrive at a definitive conclusion, strictly following the law.
- If the buyers or the officers/officials of the Registering Authority have already obtained anticipatory bail from Sessions Court/High Court, the SIT is allowed to seek appropriate modifications to such orders to ensure an unhindered and impartial investigation.
- Furthermore, the ongoing investigation shall not be obstructed by any interlocutory/interim orders passed by the Civil Court. From this point forward, the Civil Court is prohibited from issuing any such orders in pending civil suits that might impede the ongoing investigation