Criminal Appeal No. 1452 OF 2023
Sri Gulam Mustafa v State of Karnataka and Anr
Date of Order:
10 May 2023
Hon’ble Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Hon’ble Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah
Appellant: Sri Gulam Mustafa
Respondent: State of Karnataka and Anr
The Supreme Court stated that police officials must be vigilant before employing sections of strict statutes like as the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The officer must be satisfied that the provisions he wishes to use are applicable on the first glance to the case at hand. The court noted that these observations are given not to weaken the scope of application of these special/stringent statutes, but rather to urge police officers not to apply the law mindlessly without consideration of the facts of the case.
- The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989: It is a legislation enacted with the objective of preventing and prohibiting offenses against members of the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). The Act provides for the punishment of various offenses committed against SCs and STs, including atrocities, discrimination, and acts of violence. The Act recognizes certain offenses as specific crimes when they are committed against SCs and STs, such as forced labour, denial of access to public places, and acts intended to humiliate or degrade members of these communities. It also covers offenses such as assault, sexual exploitation, and the destruction of property. To ensure effective implementation and protection, the Act includes provisions for the establishment of special courts, the appointment of special public prosecutors, and the provision of relief and rehabilitation to victims. It also includes safeguards against false complaints to prevent misuse of the law. The Act has been amended over the years to strengthen its provisions and address emerging challenges. The legislation aims to address historical and systemic discrimination faced by SCs and STs and provide them with legal protection, justice, and support.
- Section 482 of the CrPC: This section recognises the fact that High Courts have inherent powers. It lays down as to when the inherent power may be exercised. It enumerates three purposes for which the inherent power may be exercised. The first purpose is that the inherent power may be exercised to make orders necessary to give effect to any order under the Code. The second purpose is that the inherent power may be exercised to prevent abuse of the process of any court. The third purpose is that the inherent power may be exercised otherwise to secure the ends of justice.
- The Appellant is the Managing Director of GM Infinite Dwelling (India) Private Limited (GMID). The company develops residential properties. GMID and the owners (heirs of one Mr A. Hafeez Khan) of the disputed land entered into a Joint Development Agreement (JDA). In 2017, the apartment project was completed and sale deeds were executed in favour of the allottees.
- The landowners claimed ownership based on possessing the sale deed for the land, along with an order from the Special Deputy Commissioner, Inams Abolition, Bangalore in Case No. 86/1959-60. The property's mutation in the names of Mr. A. Hafeez Khan's heirs and its survey numbers (83/1 and 83/2, formerly known as Survey Number 8, now Survey Number 83) were recorded in the revenue records. Through JDA, the landowners obtained permission to change the land's use from agriculture to non-agriculture. After acquiring the No-Objection Certificate from various departments, they obtained the approved map and Building License from the BBMP before starting construction.
- A Venkatesh, son of Late Bylappa, claimed ownership of the disputed land under the new Survey Number 83, which was previously assigned to him due to a change in survey numbers. This led to a lengthy legal dispute involving applications before the Special Tehsildar, appeals before the Assistant Commissioner and Special Deputy Commissioner, all of which ruled against Venkatesh.
- In addition, there were two lawsuits: one filed by the rightful landowners seeking an injunction and another frivolous suit filed by Venkatesh. Venkatesh's suit was unsuccessful, and he appealed to the High Court, but his appeal was dismissed. Venkatesh also made an application to the Additional Director of Town Planning, BBMP, resulting in the cancellation of the sanctioned plan.
- However, GMID challenged the cancellation in the High Court through a writ petition, and the court directed GMID and the landowners to approach the BBMP's Appeal Committee.
- The Appeal Committee overturned the Commissioner's order and reinstated the sanctioned plan. Construction began, and GMID entered into sale agreements with prospective buyers.
- Meanwhile, Venkatesh initiated criminal proceedings against GMID and others, including proxy representatives like Parvathy Reddy.
- Another civil suit has been filed by someone else against the landowners and builders, which is still pending. While defending these civil litigations in various courts, a criminal complaint was filed against GMID's Managing Director, Gulam Mustafa, under various sections of the IPC and the SC/ST Act. The Appellant is listed as Accused No. 18 in the FIR filed at Bagalgunte Police Station in Bangalore City.
- The appellant filed a petition under Section 482 of the CrPC, 1973 seeking to quash the FIR. The High Court issued notice and granted an interim direction to stay further proceedings in the FIR specifically against the appellant. However, the Criminal Petition was eventually dismissed which triggered the filing of the instant appeal before the supreme court.
- Whether the High Court was justified in quashing the criminal petition of the appellant, keeping in mind the facts of the present case as the dispute over the land arose after 60 years of peaceful occupation and possession?
- The landowners who entered into the JDA with GMID, had purchased the land in 1954-1955, and occupancy rights were created in their favour on 09.07.1961. No disputes were raised by anyone until GMID entered into the JDA in 2009, obtained all necessary clearances, started construction, and sold over 400 apartments to buyers/allottees in 2017.
- It was only after these events that the present dispute arose. This suggests a lack of good faith. The court found it highly questionable as to why the complainant, if the land truly belonged to them, remained sedentary for such a long period of time.
- Furthermore, when one civil litigation concluded without relief for the complainant, another civil suit was filed in 2016. When no interim order could be obtained in that suit, the present complaint was registered, leading to the filing of the FIR.
- The court observes that these events indicate a clear lack of bona fide and an apparent malicious intent. The court also found the precedents cited by the respondents inapplicable to the present scenario. While the court recognizes that an FIR need not be detailed and that the police should be allowed to investigate, it clarifies that this does not prevent the court from intervening in appropriate cases.
- The court notes that it has consistently intervened in matters where purely civil disputes, often related to land or money, are falsely presented as criminal cases to exert extrajudicial pressure, which is an abuse of the judicial process. In this case, there is an unexplained delay of over 60 years in initiating a dispute over land ownership, and the criminal case was lodged only after failing to obtain relief in the civil suits.
- It is evident that the criminal proceedings were motivated by ulterior motives and vengeance. The court further noted that even if the allegations are assumed to be true, it is not apparent that any offense under the SC/ST Act has been made out against the appellant. Hence, the complaint and FIR were deemed frivolous, vexatious, and oppressive. The court reminds police officers that they have a duty to exercise vigilance and not invoke stringent statutes like the SC/ST Act without prima facie applying its provisions to the specific case.
The Supreme Court held that the High Court erred in not quashing the FIR under Section 482 of the CrPC. Accordingly, the impugned Judgment was set aside. Consequently, the FIR and any proceedings arising from it, to the extent as they may be related to the appellant, were also quashed and set aside. The Court allowed the appeal. The Supreme Court emphasized the importance of police officers exercising caution and careful consideration before invoking stringent laws such as the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. It is unnecessary to repeat that police officers should take note of the Supreme Court's directions and act accordingly.