By Priya Adlakha and Kiratraj Sadana
In a recent case, the Hon’ble High Court of Rajasthan rendered an analysis of the effect of Supreme Court’s order dated March 23, 2020, wherein the Apex Court extended the period of limitation for all general and special laws. The intrinsic issue that the High Court was confronted with in the case was whether the extension of period of limitation as pronounced by Supreme Court in the impugned order would be applicable on investigating agencies and investigating procedures and statutory bodies.
Brief Facts of the case
In view of difficulty being faced by the lawyers and the litigants all over the country in the wake of coronavirus outbreak, the Apex Court of India, took suo-moto cognizance of a writ petition and passed an order on March 23, 2020, suspending the limitation period running under all general and special laws, with effect from March 15, 2020 till further orders passed in the said proceedings.
One of the intriguing concerns that cropped up after this order was the applicability of this order on the right of the Accused to get ‘default bail’ under Section 167(2) of the Cr. P.C. The Jodhpur Bench of Rajasthan High Court on May 22, 2020 had thrown light on the applicability of the said order on investigating agencies and statutory bodies, while hearing a Criminal Revision Petition in the case titled as Pankaj v State, against the rejection of bail of a Juvenile Accused in the case.
One FIR was lodged against two young boys for intercepting the victim when he was on his motorcycle and snatching away his bag containing Rs. 62,460 along with some important documents. Upon investigation, the Petitioner, who was 17 years of age was identified and apprehended by the Police under Section 392 for Robbery along with Section 34 IPC having common intention.
Subsequently, the Petitioner was sent to Rehabilitation Centre as he was a Juvenile and his bail application before the Juvenile Justice Board as well as his criminal appeal before the Appellate Court, were rejected on the ground that two more cases of similar offences were already pending against him. It was also contended by the State that if he is released on bail, he will again go in the same company and is likely to commit offences of similar nature.
The Petitioner inter-alia took the plea that Police has not filed the charge-sheet so far and therefore, he is entitled to be enlarged on bail as the statutory period of 60 days for filing charge sheet as provided under Section 173 of the Code of Criminal Procedure had expired.
Public Prosecutor’s Contentions
The Public Prosecutor placed reliance on the order dated March 23, 2020 passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the aforesaid suo-moto writ petition, to contend that the charge sheet could not be filed as there was a nationwide lockdown, and therefore, the period as prescribed under Section 167(2) of CrPC stands automatically extended till the time the lockdown continues.
Benefit of Supreme Court’s March 23, 2020 order would not be applicable to Section 167 of Code of Criminal Procedure
The Court after hearing the contentions of both the parties observed that on merits, there is no reason to interfere with the finding recorded by the Board and affirmed by the Appellate Court. The Board and Appellate Court were justified in concluding that if he is handed over to the guardian or released on bail, he is likely to go in company or in association of known criminals and the same would expose him to crimes of like nature.
However, the Court proceeded to deal with the argument of the Public Prosecutor for failure to file charge sheet and automatic suspension of Section 167(2) Cr. P.C in view of order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
The Court opined that the legislative intent behind Section 167 of CrPC is not to provide an outer time limit within which the investigation is required to be completed, rather it prescribes the consequence of such failure to complete the investigation within the specified time.
The underlying intention or idea behind this provision, is that an accused cannot be kept in police or judicial custody merely under the guise of or pretext of pending investigation. The provision just puts a limit on the power of the Magistrate to extend the period of detention beyond a period of 60 to 90 days as the case may be. The Police are free to carry out their investigation at their own pace as deemed appropriate.
The Court further relied upon the order of the Madras High Court in Settu v State and in the case of Mohd. Ali v State of Kerala in which a similar plea was raised before the Court. The Madras High Court held that the benefit of Supreme Court’s March 23, 2020 order would not be applicable to Section 167 of Code of Criminal Procedure.
The Court also considered the divergent view taken by another single Bench of Madras High Court vide order dated May 11, 2020 in the case titled as S. Kasi v State in which the Single Judge after noticing the judgement in Settu’s case took the view that in view of the lockdown, the time limit of completing the investigation prescribed under Section 167 stands extended, per order of the Apex Court.
Supreme Court’s order does not extend time period for investigating agencies and statutory bodies
The Hon’ble Rajasthan High Court observed that the intention of the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s order dated March 23, 2020 was to relieve the litigants and the lawyers. The Supreme Court vide its order extended the period of limitation for filing petition, appeal, revision etc.
There was no mention of extension of time period for investigating agencies and statutory bodies. In the absence of any clear stipulation in this regard, the investigating agencies cannot claim such self-serving extension under the pretence or cloak of the Apex Court’s order. Such plea if granted will be violate of right of liberty of the Accused.
The Hon’ble Court also observed that the Government has come out with ordinance related to taxation and other laws, however, no amendment has been introduced in the Cr.P.C, especially for Section 167.
The Court held that as the felony for which the Petitioner was being tried prescribes a punishment for less than 10 years of imprisonment, the investigating officer was required to file a final investigation report and charge-sheet within 60 days of detention. Therefore, the Petitioner was justified in asserting his right to be released on bail by offering requisite bail bonds. In view of the aforesaid observations and facts and circumstances prevailing in the case, the Hon’ble Rajasthan High Court allowed the Review Petition.
 Suo Motu Writ Petition (Civil) No. 3/2020
 S.B. Cr. Rev. Petition no. 335/2020
 Cr. OP(MD) No. 5291/2020 dated May 05, 2020 in Settu vs. State
 Bail Appl. No. 2856/2020
 Cr. OP(MD) No. 5296/2020