By Nihit Nagpal and Anmol Sethi
The Division Bench of the Hon’ble High Court of Bombay in a judgment titled “Ramesh vs State of Maharasthra & Anr.”, bearing Criminal Application No. 2810 of 2021, while quashing an F.I.R. bearing No. 401/2021 dated 13.10.2021 registered under sections 385, 341, 323, 504, 506, 507 read with 34 of I.P.C. to the extent of the Applicant therein, has opined that when there is the use of criminal law in the backdrop of civil disputes and when the proceedings are initiated with an ulterior motive, it amounts to abuse of process of law.
1. The complaint was registered by one Mr. Laxman alleging that his father, his stepbrother, and his relatives were pressurizing him into selling his ancestral land and self-acquired property and giving Rs.60,00,000/- to them by issuing life threats and blackmailing him.
2. That on 12.10.2021, the complainant was returning from Newasa on his motorbike at night when the vehicle was intercepted by his father and his stepbrother. The complainant alleged that his father and stepbrother gave him fist and kick blows and continuously demanded Rs.60 Lakhs from him. It is also alleged that the father and the stepbrother threatened the complainant that if he does not meet their demands, false cases would be lodged against him, apart from issuing life threats.
3. Accordingly, the above-mentioned F.I.R. was registered at the behest of the Complainant against the father, the stepbrother, the step brother-in-law and a relative of the step-brother-in-law (the applicant in the present case) for the alleged offenses took place on the night of 12.10.2021.
1. Can a criminal proceeding be initiated with ulterior motive when there is a blend of civil disputes pending between the parties?
2. If there is no material against the accused person and he/she is named as an accused person in the F.I.R., can the criminal proceedings be continued against him/her?
3. Can a complaint which is a counterblast to the civil disputes between parties be tenable in eyes of law?
1. After scrutinization of documents along with the F.I.R., the Hon’ble Division Bench opined that there is an ancestral land in the picture and dispute regarding the same is pending before the civil court. On examination of the complaint, it was observed that no overt act whatsoever was attributed to the applicant, who happens to be the relative of step brother-in-law, in the incident which took place on the night of 12.10.2021 and still he was named as an accused in the complaint along with others.
2. The Hon’ble court held that since there is a blend of civil cases pending before the civil courts and there is also a case pending from the applicant’s side against the complainant, the present F.I.R. is a result of counterblast and is a mere afterthought.
3. The Hon’ble Bombay High Court relied upon the ratio laid down by the Hon’ble Apex court in various landmark judgments and held that when there is use of criminal law in the backdrop of civil disputes and when it is clear that the proceedings are initiated with ulterior motive, it amounts to gross abuse of process.
4. The Hon’ble Division Bench relied upon the case of M. Suresh & Ors. Vs State of Andhra Pradesh & Anr.1 wherein the Hon’ble Supreme court observed that process of criminal law cannot be present into service merely for settling a civil dispute when no offence is committed. Further, reliance was placed upon the case of Chandran Ratnaswami vs K.C. Palanisamy & Ors.2 wherein the Hon’ble Supreme court has observed that there is an impression that civil law remedies are time-consuming and do not adequately protect the interests of lenders/creditors. Therefore, it is the duty and obligation of the criminal court to exercise a great deal of caution in issuing the process, particularly when matters are essentially of civil nature.
5. The reliance was also placed on the judgment of Inder Mohan Goswami3 wherein the Hon’ble Apex court referred to various judgments including the landmark judgment passed in State of Haryana & Ors. Vs Bhajan Lal & Ors.4 Where it has been observed that the dispute in question was purely of civil nature and initiating criminal proceedings was clearly an abuse of the process of the court.
6. In the present dispute, the Hon’ble Bombay High Court found it transparent and clear that there is a history of civil dispute between the complainant, his father and his step brother. The present applicant is not in close relation with either the complainant or the other accused. It was further observed that no role was attributed pertaining to the present applicant, however, still his name is inserted in the F.I.R. without attributing any overt act to him.
After taking into account the facts and circumstances of the case and aligning them with the necessary judicial precedents, it was opined by the Division Bench of the Bombay High Court that continuation of criminal proceedings against the applicant would amount to sheer abuse of process of law. In view of the same, F.I.R. in question and the proceedings emanating therefrom were quashed and set-aside, only to the extent if the applicant.