CHANCHALAPATHI DAS V THE STATE OF WEST BENGAL & ANR.
DATE OF ORDER:
AJAY RASTOGI, BELA M. TRIVEDI
Respondent:The State Of West Bengal & Anr.
The Supreme Court fined ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) Kolkata Manager Rs. 1 lakh for launching a frivolous case against an ISKCON Bengaluru official while dismissing criminal proceedings resulting from an FIR made in West Bengal.
- The case in question involves two appellants, Chanchalpati Das and Madhupandit Das, who are accused in a criminal case registered at Ballygunge Police Station in Kolkata, West Bengal. The case is based on a complaint filed by the General Manager of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), Kolkata. The complaint alleges that the accused individuals, along with others, were involved in offenses under Sections 468, 471, 406, and 120-B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
- According to the complainant, ISKCON Mumbai is a registered society operating since 1971 and has various branches/offices across India, including one in Kolkata. The governing body of ISKCON, known as the "Bureau," had entrusted the management of assets and properties at the Kolkata branch to Sri Adridharan Das, who was the President of the branch at that time. One of the assets mentioned in the complaint is a deluxe bus parked at the Kolkata branch premises.
- When a new management team took over the Kolkata branch, it was discovered that the bus was missing. A letter was sent to the Regional Transport Officer, Barasat, Kolkata, requesting not to issue any duplicate registration certificate or tax card for the bus. Subsequently, it was found that the bus was in the possession of Madhu Pandit Das, residing in Bengaluru, Karnataka. The complainant alleges that Adridharan Das conspired with Madhu Pandit Das and others and committed theft and criminal breach of trust by taking the bus to Bengaluru without authority.
- The complainant further alleges that the original registration certificate of the bus was kept at the Kolkata branch and that no one had the authority to transfer the vehicle to Bengaluru or change the registered owner's name.
- The Ballygunge Police Station initially did not take notice of the complaint, prompting the complainant to file a private complaint in 2009 before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Alipore, under Section 156(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C.). The case was registered as criminal case no. 747 of 2009.
- The appellants filed two Criminal Revision Applications before the High Court at Kolkata seeking to quash the charge sheet filed against them. However, the High Court, in its judgment dated 22.03.2017, dismissed both applications, leading to the present appeals before the Supreme Court of India.
- The Supreme Court has granted leave to appeal and is now adjudicating on the matter.
ARGUMENTS ON BEHALF OF APPELLANT
- During the proceedings, senior counsel Shyam Divan, who represented the accused, stated that the complaint was submitted after an unreasonable eight-year delay and was purely intended to harass the accused. Furthermore, the accused stated a willingness to acquire a new luxury bus in the name of ISKCON Kolkata, damaging the credibility of the claims even further.
- ARGUMENTS ON BEHALF OF RESPONDENT
- The Respondent claimed that when the new management took over the management of ISKCON Kolkata, a 42-seat deluxe bus manufactured by Ashok Leyland was not found in the Kolkata branch's premises. Furthermore, it was claimed that the Respondents learned that the bus was in the unauthorized custody of Madhu Pandit Das, who lives in Bengaluru.
- It was further claimed that Mr. Adridharan Das had formed a criminal conspiracy with Mr. Madhu Pandit Das and others and that he had committed theft as well as criminal breach of trust about the above-mentioned vehicle, which was taken to Bengaluru.
- The Respondent argued before the court that since the Ballygunge police station failed to act on his complaint, he filed a private complaint in 2009 against the accused Madhu Pandit Das, Chanchalpati Das, Mahajan Das, and Adridharan Das in the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Alipore, seeking an investigation under Section 156(3) of the Cr.P.C.
ANALYSIS OF COURT
- The court observed that the complaint lacked any substantial evidence or a prima facie case against the accused and looked to be driven by a personal grudge. It also criticized the investigating officer for not gathering sufficient proof to back up the prosecution of the accused-appellants. It became evident that the case was only brought to settle personal scores when the claims presented were shown to be unreasonable and unlikely. The court stated that it is especially troubling when people who identify as world spiritual leaders take part in such pointless legal battles, utilizing the legal system as a platform for their own goals.
- The bench made it clear that abuse of the judicial system would not be accepted and forcefully emphasized that "courts should not be utilized for personal purposes. The court fined the ISKCON Kolkata official Rs. 1 lakh to avoid others from taking a similar route.
- The appeals were made in response to a decision by the Calcutta High Court that upheld the chargesheet against the appellants, who were accused of crimes under several sections of the Indian Penal Code, including forgery, the use of forgeries, criminal breach of trust, and criminal conspiracy.
- The Gaudiya Vaishnava Hindu organization ISKCON, which was established in New York to spread Lord Krishna's teachings, has grown in significance throughout the world. Madhu Pandit Dasa, the primary suspect in the case, is the head of ISKCON Bengaluru and a past recipient of the prestigious Padma Shri award.
- The crimes of forgery and criminal breach of trust were not proven, according to the Supreme Court, which examined the available evidence and arguments. The investigating officer received criticism from the court for not making an effort to gather strong evidence against the appellants. Further emphasis was placed on the fact that "allowing the prosecution to continue would be a mere formality, resulting in a waste of the court's valuable time."
- The eight-year delay in submitting the complaint was excessive and inexplicable, according to the court, and was "clearly indicative of a misuse and abuse of the legal process." The bench emphasized that such frivolous cases impede the resolution of actual issues and prevent the administration of justice.
- Given the foregoing, the Supreme Court ordered the ISKCON Kolkata officer to pay a fine of Rs. 1 lakh and quashed the criminal proceedings.
- The Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association (SCAORA) will receive the fine amount, the court stated.
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