Priya Indoria v. State of Karnataka & Ors. Etc.
Date of Order:
20th November 2023
Hon’ble Justice Mrs. B.V. Nagarathna
Hon’ble Justice Mr. Ujjal Bhuyan
Appellant: Priya Indoria
Respondent: State of Karnataka & Ors. Etc.
In the instant case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Supreme Court’ or ‘the Court’), dealt with an appeal arising out of a dispute in the marital relationship of the complainant/appellant wife and accused/respondent husband, where the wife filed an FIR against her husband and her family accusing them of offenses related to dowry harassment. The accused-husband and his family sought anticipatory bail which was granted by the Additional City Civil and Sessions Judge in Bengaluru. The Court explored the interpretation and application of section 438 of the CrPC, considering the constitutional importance of protecting an individual’s rights. Setting aside the impugned orders, the Court addressed the specific circumstance of seeking anticipatory bail in a jurisdiction different from where the FIR was filed and outlined conditions for such situations.
The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC):
- Section 438
- Section 177
- Section 14
- Section 157
- Section 9
- Section 2(e)
- Section 41(A)
The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC):
- Section 498-A
- Section 406
- Section 323
- Section 326
The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (HMA):
- Section 13
- The Complainant/appellant-wife got married to the accused-husband in December 2020 and began living in Bengaluru.
- The husband filed for divorce in November 2021, under section 13 of the Hindi Marriage Act, 1955.
- The complainant filed a transfer petition in March 2022, to transfer the divorce case from Principal Judge, Family Court, Bangaluru to the Additional District Judge, Chirawa, Jhunjunu, Rajasthan.
- The complainant-wife filed a First Information Report (FIR) with the Chirawa Police Station in Rajasthan on January 25, 2022, accusing the accused-husband and his family of offenses under Sections 498A, 406, and 323 of the Indian Penal Code.
- At the time of the marriage, the complainant-wife's two younger siblings were unmarried. Despite the father of the complainant-wife being a heart patient who had undergone Angioplasty, he spent about Rs. 46 Lakhs on the wedding and fulfilled dowry demands made by the accused-husband and his family (father, mother, and younger brother)
- The complainant-wife alleges that she was a victim of harassment, torture, and assault due to dowry demands.
- The complainant-wife alleges continued harassment, even during her COVID-19 infection. Eventually, she was allegedly driven out of the matrimonial house on June 2, 2021, and despite pleas from her father, the accused-husband refused to take her back.
- On June 11, 2021, the complainant-wife's father was compelled to bring her back to Chirawa.
- The complainant-wife asserts that goods and valuables worth Rs. 30,00,000 were still in possession of the accused-husband and his family.
- The Sub-Inspector at Chirawa Police Station, Rajasthan, made a note that, based on the victim's report, the offenses under Sections 498A, 406, and 323 of the Indian Penal Code were indicated, and an investigation was initiated. This section discusses the orders that are being challenged in the appeal:
- The accused-husband and his family filed applications for anticipatory bail under Section 438 of CrPC.
- On July 7, 2022, the Additional City Civil and Sessions Judge, Bengaluru City, granted anticipatory bail to the accused-husband and his family members.
- It is highlighted that both Bagalkunte Police Station, Bengaluru, and Chirawa Police Station, Rajasthan, were respondents in the bail application. Both police stations were represented by the same Public Prosecutor before the Additional City Civil and Sessions Judge, Bengaluru City.
- The judge, in the impugned orders, noted that the Investigating Officer had started the investigation, recorded witness statements, and completed a significant part of the investigation.
- The judge reasoned that the involvement of the accused-husband and his family members was yet to be proven. The judge further reasoned that since the alleged offenses were not punishable with death or life imprisonment and were to be tried before a magistrate, there was no reason to deny the benefit of anticipatory bail.
- The order has been appealed in this Court.
- Whether the power of the High Court or the Court of Session to grant anticipatory bail under Section 438 of the CrPC be exercised with respect to an FIR registered outside the territorial jurisdiction of the said Court?
- Whether the practice of granting transit anticipatory bail or interim protection to enable an applicant seeking anticipatory bail to make an application under Section 438 of the CrPC before a Court of competent jurisdiction consistent with the administration of criminal justice?
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE APPELLANT:
- Section 438 of CrPC mentions 'High Court or the Court of Session,' but it does not explicitly specify whether this court must be the one that can take cognizance of the matter or if it can be any 'High Court or Court of Session' across the country. The lack of specific legislative guidance raises questions about the power of a court to grant anticipatory bail for an offense registered outside its territorial jurisdiction.
- The term 'extra-territorial anticipatory bail' refers to the granting of anticipatory bail by a High Court or Court of Session to a person apprehending arrest for an offense registered in a different state.
- Different High Courts in the country have adopted divergent approaches regarding 'extra-territorial anticipatory bail.' The courts have evolved the concept of 'transit anticipatory bail,' which provides interim relief for an accused residing or traveling in a different state to seek anticipatory bail.
- The distinction between anticipatory bail and 'transit anticipatory bail,' with the latter being granted for a specific time until the applicant can apply for anticipatory bail before a court that can take cognizance of the offense. The Supreme Court previously endorsed the 'transit anticipatory bail' approach in cases like State of Assam vs. Brojen Gogol (Dr) and Amar Nath Neogi vs. State of Jharkhand.
- The amicus referred to the Supreme Court's stance in Nathu Singh vs. State of U.P., highlighting a liberal approach to the grant of anticipatory bail due to the serious impact that the unfair denial of such relief can have on the right to life and liberty under Article 21.
- The amicus drew attention to the ‘cause of action’ theory in criminal law, referring to the judgment in Navinchandra Majithia vs. State of Maharashtra. In the context of the present case, it was argued that the cause of action originated in the matrimonial home in Bengaluru, Karnataka, and continued in the complainant-wife’s paternal home in Chirawa, Rajasthan. Therefore, courts in either of these places may exercise their jurisdiction.
- The right to a fair and impartial investigation and trial is a fundamental right not only for the accused but also for the complainant.
- The grant of bail by the court in Bengaluru for an FIR that was not lodged within its territorial jurisdiction. This action left the complainant-wife without an opportunity to oppose the bail.
- The complainant-wife was reportedly unable to oppose the bail petition, and the jurisdictional prosecutor from Chirawa, Rajasthan, was also absent during the hearing. Only the Public Prosecutor from Bengaluru was present at the time of the bail petition hearing.
- The Bengaluru prosecutor lacked essential documents such as the case diary and had no assistance from the police station where the FIR had been lodged.
- The fundamental right of the complainant to a fair legal process, expressing concerns about the grant of bail outside the territorial jurisdiction and the absence of proper representation and documentation during the hearing.
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE RESPONDENT:
- The counsel for the State of Karnataka expressed confidence in the relevance of judicial precedents concerning Section 438 of CrPC to guide the court in making an appropriate order in this case.
- The complainant-wife had filed a frivolous FIR against the accused-husband and his family based on false allegations.
- The sole motive behind the complaint was to extort money, especially as the accused-husband had refused to pay a specified amount.
- The anticipatory bail applications were filed with the primary objective of securing protection from immediate arrest. It was emphasized that the accused-husband's liberty was at stake, and prompt protection was deemed necessary to safeguard his fundamental rights.
- The accused-husband, being the sole earning member with family responsibilities, was under continuous pressure and threat of arrest. The influential local contacts of the complainant-wife's father in the place where the FIR was registered (Chirawa, Rajasthan) contributed to a reasonable apprehension of arrest, prompting the filing of the application before the Bengaluru Court.
- The counsel questioned the bona fides of the complainant-wife by pointing to the delay in filing the present petition. The FIR was filed in Chirawa Police Station with the aim of causing harassment to the accused-husband and his family, asserting that the alleged offenses took place in Bengaluru. Additionally, the complainant-wife's familiarity with Bengaluru was emphasized, suggesting that she had prior experience working in the city.
- Referring to the case Raghubans Dubey vs. State of Bihar, where the Supreme Court held that the Magistrate takes cognizance of an offense and not the offender. Territorial jurisdiction is emphasized in Dashrath Rupsingh Rathod vs. State of Maharashtra, where it was observed that every offense should ordinarily be inquired into and tried by a court within whose local jurisdiction it was committed.
- Chapter II of the CrPC distributes adjudicatory duties among Magistrates and Courts based on territorial jurisdiction. Section 14 of the CrPC specifically determines the jurisdiction of local Magistrates. Provisions granting power to take cognizance or power to investigate align with the concept of the ordinary place of inquiry and trial, as stated in Chapter XIII of the CrPC.
- The court within whose territorial jurisdiction the offense was committed becomes the court of competent jurisdiction to pass all orders, including bail and anticipatory bail. The power to grant bail is reserved for the Magistrate who is competent to commit the case for trial.
- The power of 'the High Court or the Court of Session' to grant pre-arrest anticipatory bail under Section 438 of the CrPC cannot be invoked by a court that does not have territorial jurisdiction.
- The court granting anticipatory bail must carefully specify the offense or offenses for which the order is effective, and unnecessary restrictions should not be imposed on the scope of Section 438 or CrPC.
- The Court duly considered the provisions of the CrPC, specifically highlighting Section 2(e), which defines "High Court," and Section 2(j), delineating "local jurisdiction" for a Court or Magistrate. According to Section 2(j), "local jurisdiction" signifies the geographical area where the Court or Magistrate can wield its powers under the CrPC.
- The term "Court of competent jurisdiction" is invoked in Section 41-A of the CrPC, granting authority to a police officer to apprehend an individual failing to comply with an arrest notice, subject to the directives of such a Court.
- The Court underscored Section 177 of the CrPC, emphasizing that typically, every offense should be investigated and adjudicated by a Court situated within the local jurisdiction where the offense occurred.
- Anticipatory bail serves as a safeguard against the misuse of legal processes and protects individuals from unwarranted consequences during investigations.
- The Gurbaksh Singh Sibbia v. State of Punjab case underscores the importance of anticipatory bail as a protective mechanism in the face of exceptional circumstances and potential misuse of the criminal justice system.
- The right to personal freedom is a constitutional right and should not be subject to unreasonable restrictions.
- Anticipatory bail orders can extend beyond specific stages of legal proceedings, providing flexibility for the court to impose conditions and determine the duration based on the circumstances of each case.
- The accused should not travel to another State solely for the purpose of seeking anticipatory bail. The reasons for seeking bail from a court outside the territorial jurisdiction where the FIR is filed must be clearly and explicitly stated to that court.
- There should be a genuine reason or imminent apprehension of arrest for a non-bailable offense to justify approaching the court within whose territorial jurisdiction the FIR is not lodged, or demonstrating the inability to approach the court where the FIR is lodged immediately.
- The court granting transit anticipatory bail would assess the degree and seriousness of the apprehension expressed by the person seeking transit anticipatory bail. The purpose of exercising such jurisdiction is to prevent arbitrary police action, protect personal liberty, and provide immediate access to justice, albeit within a limited context.
- The Court of Session or the High Court, depending on the circumstances, can exercise jurisdiction and entertain a plea for limited anticipatory bail even if the FIR has not been filed within its territorial jurisdiction. If the accused, apprehending arrest, makes a case for anticipatory bail, the court may consider granting transit anticipatory bail.
- Transit anticipatory bail is an interim protection of limited duration until the accused approaches the competent Sessions Court or the High Court for seeking full-fledged anticipatory bail.
The Supreme Court of India set aside the impugned orders of the Bengaluru Court, stressing that when granting anticipatory bail, the court must precisely specify the offences covered by the order to avoid unwarranted restrictions in the scope of section 438. The Apex Court asserted that under specific circumstances, the High Court or the Court of Session could take the approach of providing limited anticipatory bail, which aligns with the constitutional imperative of upholding a citizen’s rights. The Court issued a directive to refrain from employing coercive measures against the husband for the ensuing four weeks. The temporary reprieve was granted to facilitate their approach to the appropriate jurisdictional Court in Rajasthan, where they intended to seek anticipatory bail.