Ramawatar vs The State Of Madhya Pradesh on 25 October, 2021


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Supreme Court of India

Ramawatar vs The State Of Madhya Pradesh on 25 October, 2021

Author: Surya Kant

Bench: Hon’Ble The Justice, Surya Kant, Hon’Ble Ms. Kohli

                                                                        REPORTABLE



                                   IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
                                 CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

                                 CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 1393 OF 2011



       Ramawatar                                                         … Appellant
                                               VERSUS
       State of Madhya Pradesh                                        … Respondent



                                               JUDGMENT

SURYA KANT, J.

A civil dispute over the ownership and possessory rights of a

piece of land between the Appellant and his neighbour Prembai took

an ugly turn when the Appellant allegedly not only threw a brick on

the Complainant but also made filthy and slur remarks on her caste,

which prompted the Complainant to lodge FIR No. 18/94 at Police

Station O.E. Panna under Section 3(1)(x) of the Scheduled Castes and

the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989 (in short

‘SC/ST Act’) read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (in

short ‘I.P.C.’). The Appellant and his co­accused were subsequently
Signature Not Verified

Digitally signed by
Vishal Anand
Date: 2021.10.25

tried, which led to the Appellant’s conviction under Section 3(1)(x) of
17:18:10 IST
Reason:

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the SC/ST Act and consequential sentence of six months rigorous

imprisonment and fine of Rs. 1000/­. The Appellant challenged his

conviction and sentence before the High Court of Madhya Pradesh,

Jabalpur Bench but his appeal was dismissed vide the impugned

judgment dated 02.08.2010.

BRIEF FACTS:

2. Ramawatar (Appellant) and Prembai (Complainant), who are

neighbours and live in adjoining houses, were entangled in a property

dispute with respect to a portion of land over which Prembai’s house

was built. On 25.06.1994, Ramawatar and his brother Katulal @

Kuddu (Co­accused) broke down a wall to make a door that opened

into the house of Prembai. When this was resisted by her, a quarrel

ensued between the parties and the Appellant threw a brick at the

Complainant. Thereafter, this incident was reported and a complaint

was lodged at Police Station, Devendra Nagar on the same date itself,

and an M.L.C was also performed. Since the nature of the injury was

simple, and the offence was found non­cognizable, the Police took no

further steps. On the following day, i.e., 26.06.1994, when the

Complainant was sitting in front of her residence, the Appellant and

his brother appeared at the scene. They were visibly enraged by the

fact that Prembai had lodged an F.I.R. against them. They started

abusing her with repeated reference to her caste whilst also

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threatening her of dire consequences. After that, the Complainant and

her husband Chotelal reported this incident before the Harijan Welfare

Police Station, and the subject­F.I.R. under the SC/ST Act was lodged

against the Accused.

3. The investigation commenced in light of the afore­stated facts.

Upon collection of substantial evidence, Appellant and co­accused

were committed to trial under Section 3(1)(x) of the SC/ST Act read

with Section 34 of the I.P.C.

4. The Trial Court noted that the Complainant belonged to the

‘Prajapati’ community which is a Scheduled Caste. It was also

observed that the parties had candidly admitted to a pending property

dispute between them. The Trial Court further discerned that the

prosecution witnesses had, by and large, supported the version of the

Complainant and had indubitably substantiated that Ramawatar and

Kuddu used deprecatory language upon the Complainant. It was

found that the Appellant had made specific reference to the

Complainant’s caste escorted by the intent to insult her. The actions

of the Appellant & co­accused Kuddu were thus held to be in

contravention of Section 3(1)(x) of the SC/ST Act read with Section 34

I.P.C. The Trial Court, therefore, convicted both the accused persons

for the said offences and sentenced each of them to undergo rigorous

imprisonment for 6 months.

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5. Discontented with their conviction, the accused preferred an

appeal before the High Court of Madhya Pradesh, Jabalpur Bench.

However, during the pendency of the proceedings, co­accused Kuddu

passed away, and the appeal only survived qua the present Appellant.

His primary contention before the High Court was that the abuses, if

any, were not meant to demean the Complainant on account of her

being a member of the Scheduled Caste community. Instead, the

incident occurred on account of a property dispute between the

parties. It was thus submitted that the alleged incident could not

attract the provisions of the SC/ST Act. However, after re­appraising

the evidence on record, the High Court disagreed with the Appellant’s

contention and held that there was sufficient material to establish that

the Complainant being a member of the Scheduled Caste community

was humiliated by the Appellant. Thus, concurring with the findings of

the Trial Court, the High Court maintained the order of conviction and

sentence passed against the Appellant.

6. Aggrieved, the Appellant has approached this Court.

CONTENTIONS :

7. When the instant appeal came up for hearing, what prompted

this Court to issue notice was that the matter had been settled

between the parties, and the Complainant had filed an application for

compromise. Reiterating the same plea, learned Counsel for the

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Appellant canvassed before us that the parties are residents of the

same village and there is no existing enmity between them. It was

submitted that the parties wished to settle their dispute so that they

may continue to have cordial relations. He drew our attention to a

decision of this Court in Hitesh Verma v. The State of Uttarakhand

& Anr1, wherein, it was held that a property dispute between a

vulnerable section of the society and a person of upper caste would

not attract an offence under the SC/ST Act, unless the allegations are

on account of the victim being a Scheduled Caste. Learned Counsel for

the Appellant thus prayed for invocation of this Court’s powers under

Article 142 of the Constitution to quash the instant criminal

proceedings. The Appellant’s stand and the application for

compromise were fully supported by the learned Counsel for the

Complainant.

8. Per Contra, learned Counsel for the Respondent State, without

controverting the factum of compromise, vehemently opposed such a

recourse. It was contended that there was a concurrent finding of

conviction, and no substantial question of law was involved in the

present appeal. Referring to the decisions of this Court in the case of

Ram Lal & Anr v. State of J&K 2, Surendra Nath Mohanty & Anr

1 (2020) 10 SCC 710, ¶ 22 & 24
2 (1999) 2 SCC 213

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v. State of Orissa3 and Bankat & Anr v. State of Maharastra4,

learned State Counsel submitted that the purported settlement

between the parties is inconsequential as the offence in question is not

compoundable in terms of Section 320 of the Code of Criminal

Procedure, 1973 (in short ‘Cr.P.C’). It was thus argued that the

present case did not warrant any interference by this Court.

ANALYSIS:

9. Having heard learned Counsel for the parties at some length, we

are of the opinion that two questions fall for our consideration in the

present appeal. First, whether the jurisdiction of this Court under

Article 142 of the Constitution can be invoked for quashing of criminal

proceedings arising out of a ‘non­compoundable offence? If yes, then

whether the power to quash proceedings can be extended to offences

arising out of special statutes such as the SC/ST Act?

10. So far as the first question is concerned, it would be ad rem to

outrightly refer to the recent decision of this Court in the case of

Ramgopal & Anr v. The State of Madhya Pradesh5, wherein, a two­

Judge Bench of this Court consisting of two of us (N.V. Ramana, CJI &

Surya Kant, J) was confronted with an identical question. Answering

in the affirmative, it has been clarified that the jurisdiction of a Court

under Section 320 Cr.P.C cannot be construed as a proscription

3 (1999) 5 SCC 238
4 (2005) 1 SCC 343
5 Criminal Appeal No. 1489 of 2012

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against the invocation of inherent powers vested in this Court under

Article 142 of the Constitution nor on the powers of the High Courts

under Section 482 Cr.P.C. It was further held that the touchstone for

exercising the extra­ordinary powers under Article 142 or Section 482

Cr.P.C., would be to do complete justice. Therefore, this Court or the

High Court, as the case may be, after having given due regard to the

nature of the offence and the fact that the victim/complainant has

willingly entered into a settlement/compromise, can quash

proceedings in exercise of their respective constitutional/inherent

powers.

11. The Court in Ramgopal (Supra) further postulated that

criminal proceedings involving non­heinous offences or offences which

are predominantly of a private nature, could be set aside at any stage

of the proceedings, including at the appellate level. The Court,

however, being conscious of the fact that unscrupulous offenders may

attempt to escape their criminal liabilities by securing a compromise

through brute force, threats, bribes, or other such unethical and

illegal means, cautioned that in cases where a settlement is struck

post­conviction, the Courts should, inter­alia, carefully examine the

fashion in which the compromise has been arrived at, as well as, the

conduct of the accused before and after the incident in question. While

concluding, the Court also formulated certain guidelines and held:

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“19… Nonetheless, we reiterate that such powers of wide
amplitude ought to be exercised carefully in the context
of quashing criminal proceedings, bearing in mind: (i)
Nature and effect of the offence on the conscious of
the society; (ii) Seriousness of the injury, if any; (iii)
Voluntary nature of compromise between the
accused and the victim; & (iv) Conduct of the
accused persons, prior to and after the occurrence of
the purported offence and/or other relevant
considerations.”
[Emphasis Applied]

12. In view of the settled proposition of law, we affirm the decision of

this Court in Ramgopal (Supra) and re­iterate that the powers of this

Court under Article 142 can be invoked to quash a criminal

proceeding on the basis of a voluntary compromise between the

complainant/victim and the accused.

13. We, however, put a further caveat that the powers under Article

142 or under Section 482 Cr.P.C., are exercisable in post­conviction

matters only where an appeal is pending before one or the other

Judicial forum. This is on the premise that an order of conviction does

not attain finality till the accused has exhausted his/her legal

remedies and the finality is sub­judice before an appellate court. The

pendency of legal proceedings, be that may before the final Court, is

sine­qua­non to involve the superior court’s plenary powers to do

complete justice. Conversely, where a settlement has ensued post the

attainment of all legal remedies, the annulment of proceedings on the

basis of a compromise would be impermissible. Such an embargo is

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necessitated to prevent the accused from gaining an indefinite

leverage, for such a settlement/compromise will always be loaded with

lurking suspicion about its bona fide. We have already clarified that

the purpose of these extra­ordinary powers is not to incentivise any

hollow­hearted agreements between the accused and the victim but to

do complete justice by effecting genuine settlement(s).

14. With respect to the second question before us, it must be noted

that even though the powers of this Court under Article 142 are wide

and far­reaching, the same cannot be exercised in a vacuum. True it is

that ordinary statutes or any restrictions contained therein, cannot be

constructed as a limitation on the Court’s power to do “complete

justice”. However, this is not to say that this Court can altogether

ignore the statutory provisions or other express prohibitions in law. In

fact, the Court is obligated to take note of the relevant laws and will

have to regulate the use of its power and discretion accordingly. The

Constitution Bench decision in the case of Supreme Court Bar Assn.

v. Union of India & Anr6 has eloquently clarified this point as

follows:

“48. The Supreme Court in exercise of its jurisdiction
under Article 142 has the power to make such order as
is necessary for doing complete justice “between the
parties in any cause or matter pending before it”. The
very nature of the power must lead the Court to set limits
for itself within which to exercise those powers and
6 (1998) 4 SCC 409, ¶ 48

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ordinarily it cannot disregard a statutory provision
governing a subject, except perhaps to balance the
equities between the conflicting claims of the litigating
parties by “ironing out the creases” in a cause or matter
before it. Indeed this Court is not a court of restricted
jurisdiction of only dispute­settling. It is well recognised
and established that this Court has always been a law­
maker and its role travels beyond merely dispute­settling.
It is a “problem­solver in the nebulous areas” (see K.
Veeraswami v. Union of India
[(1991) 3 SCC 655 : 1991
SCC (Cri) 734] but the substantive statutory provisions
dealing with the subject­matter of a given case cannot be
altogether ignored by this Court, while making an order
under Article 142. Indeed, these constitutional powers
cannot, in any way, be controlled by any statutory
provisions but at the same time these powers are not
meant to be exercised when their exercise may come
directly in conflict with what has been expressly provided
for in a statute dealing expressly with the subject.”

15. Ordinarily, when dealing with offences arising out of special

statutes such as the SC/ST Act, the Court will be extremely

circumspect in its approach. The SC/ST Act has been specifically

enacted to deter acts of indignity, humiliation and harassment against

members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The Act is also a

recognition of the depressing reality that despite undertaking several

measures, the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes continue to be

subjected to various atrocities at the hands of upper­castes. The

Courts have to be mindful of the fact that the Act has been enacted

keeping in view the express constitutional safeguards enumerated in

Articles 15, 17 and 21 of the Constitution, with a twin­fold objective of

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protecting the members of these vulnerable communities as well as to

provide relief and rehabilitation to the victims of caste­based atrocities.

16. On the other hand, where it appears to the Court that the offence

in question, although covered under the SC/ST Act, is primarily

private or civil in nature, or where the alleged offence has not been

committed on account of the caste of the victim, or where the

continuation of the legal proceedings would be an abuse of the process

of law, the Court can exercise its powers to quash the proceedings. On

similar lines, when considering a prayer for quashing on the basis of a

compromise/settlement, if the Court is satisfied that the underlying

objective of the Act would not be contravened or diminished even if the

felony in question goes unpunished, the mere fact that the offence is

covered under a ‘special statute’ would not refrain this Court or the

High Court, from exercising their respective powers under Article 142

of the Constitution or Section 482 Cr.P.C.

17. Adverting to the case in hand, we note that the present Appellant

has been charged and convicted under the unamended Section 3(1)(x)

of the SC/ST Act7, which was as follows:

“3. Punishments for offences of atrocities­ (1)
Whoever, not being a member of a Scheduled Caste or a
Scheduled Tribe,—
xxxx

7 Section 3(1)(x) of the Act stands substituted by Act No. 1 of 2016 w.e.f. 26.01.2016.

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(x) intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to
humiliate a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled
Tribe in any place within public view;

xxxx”

18. We may hasten to add that in cases such as the present, the

Courts ought to be even more vigilant to ensure that the complainant­

victim has entered into the compromise on the volition of his/her free

will and not on account of any duress. It cannot be understated that

since members of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe belong to

the weaker sections of our country, they are more prone to acts of

coercion, and therefore ought to be accorded a higher level of

protection. If the Courts find even a hint of compulsion or force, no

relief can be given to the accused party. What factors the Courts

should consider, would depend on the facts and circumstances of each

case.

19. Having considered the peculiar facts and circumstances of the

present case in light of the afore­stated principles, as well as having

meditated on the application for compromise, we are inclined to invoke

the powers under Article 142 and quash the instant Criminal

proceedings with the sole objective of doing complete justice between

the parties before us. We say so for the reasons that:

Firstly, the very purpose behind Section 3(1)(x) of the SC/ST is to

deter caste­based insults and intimidations when they are used with

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the intention of demeaning a victim on account of he/she belonging to

the Scheduled Caste/ Scheduled Tribe community. In the present

case, the record manifests that there was an undeniable pre­existing

civil dispute between the parties. The case of the Appellant, from the

very beginning, has been that the alleged abuses were uttered solely

on account of frustration and anger over the pending dispute. Thus,

the genesis of the deprecated incident was the afore­stated

civil/property dispute. Considering this aspect, we are of the opinion

that it would not be incorrect to categorise the occurrence as one

being overarchingly private in nature, having only subtle undertones

of criminality, even though the provisions of a special statute have

been attracted in the present case.

Secondly, the offence in question, for which the Appellant has been

convicted, does not appear to exhibit his mental depravity. The aim of

the SC/ST Act is to protect members of the downtrodden classes from

atrocious acts of the upper strata of the society. It appears to us that

although the Appellant may not belong to the same caste as the

Complainant, he too belongs to the relatively weaker/backward

section of the society and is certainly not in any better economic or

social position when compared to the victim. Despite the rampant

prevalence of segregation in Indian villages whereby members of the

Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe community are forced to restrict

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their quartes only to certain areas, it is seen that in the present case,

the Appellant and the Complainant lived in adjoining houses.

Therefore, keeping in mind the socio­economic status of the Appellant,

we are of the opinion that the overriding objective of the SC/ST Act

would not be overwhelmed if the present proceedings are quashed.

Thirdly, the incident occurred way back in the year 1994. Nothing on

record indicates that either before or after the purported compromise,

any untoward incident had transpired between the parties. The State

Counsel has also not brought to our attention any other occurrence

that would lead us to believe that the Appellant is either a repeat

offender or is unremorseful about what transpired.

Fourthly, the Complainant has, on her own free will, without any

compulsion, entered into a compromise and wishes to drop the

present criminal proceedings against the accused.

Fifthly, given the nature of the offence, it is immaterial that the trial

against the Appellant had been concluded.

Sixthly, the Appellant and the Complainant parties are residents of

the same village and live in very close proximity to each other. We

have no reason to doubt that the parties themselves have voluntarily

settled their differences. Therefore, in order to avoid the revival of

healed wounds, and to advance peace and harmony, it will be prudent

to effectuate the present settlement.

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CONCLUSION:

20. Consequently, and for the aforementioned reasons, we find it

appropriate to invoke our powers under Article 142 of the Constitution

and quash the criminal proceedings to do complete justice between

the parties. As a sequel thereto, judgment and orders passed by the

Trial Court and the High Court are set aside. Bail bonds, if any, are

discharged. The appeal is allowed in above terms.

……………………….. CJI.

(N.V. RAMANA)

………..………………… J.

(SURYA KANT)

………..………………… J.

(HIMA KOHLI)
NEW DELHI
DATED: 25.10.2021

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