SUPREME COURT QUASHES FIR OWING TO UNEXPLAINED DELAY OF 60 YEARS IN INITIATING PROCEEDINGS IN LAND OWNERSHIP DISPUTE
A two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court, comprising of Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah, passed a judgment dated 10.05.2023 in the matter of Sri Gulam Mustafa Vs. The State of Karnataka & Anr. [Criminal Appeal No. 1452 of 2023], wherein, the Bench observed that there has been an unexplained delay of over 60 years in initiating the dispute over the ownership of the land in question and that the criminal case was initiated only after the failure to obtain relief in the civil suits. Hence, it was evident that the initiation of criminal proceedings at such belated stage was motivated by ulterior motives, with the intention of seeking vengeance and thus, such criminal proceedings ought to be quashed.
1) The Appellant (Gulam Mustafa) is the Managing Director of GM Infinite Dwelling (India) Private Limited (GMID), a company engaged in residential property development and GMID entered into a Joint Development Agreement dated 17.08.2009 (JDA) with the landowners i.e. the heirs of Mr. A. Hafeez Khan (Landowners), in respect of Survey Number 83 in Jodi Mallasandra Village, Bengaluru (Property).
2) The Apartment Project, as planned in the JDA, was successfully completed in 2017. The sale deeds were executed for the apartment allottees. The original Landowners established their ownership through the possession of the sale deed.
3) The Order dated 09.07.1961 passed by the Special Deputy Commissioner, Inams Abolition, Bangalore in Case No. 86/1959-60 supported the Landowners’ claim. The Revenue Records reflected the Property mutation in the names of Mr. A. Hafeez Khan’s heirs, i.e. the Landowners, in respect of Survey Numbers 83/1 and 83/2.
4) After entering into the JDA, the Landowners successfully obtained a change in land-use from agriculture to non-agriculture. They acquired the necessary No-Objection Certificate from relevant Government Departments and the sanctioned map and also secured the Building License from the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagar Palike (BBMP) before initiating the construction process.
5) One, Venkatesh, son of Late Bylappa, was allegedly the initial owner of the old Survey Number 83. The Property underwent a reassignment, receiving new Survey Numbers 80/1 and 80/3. As a result of this change, the land in question obtained the new Survey Number 83, which Venkatesh claimed ownership of and led to extensive civil litigation. He also made an application before the Special Tehsildar, filed an Appeal before the Assistant Commissioner, Bangalore, North Sub-Division, and pursued another Appeal before the Special Deputy Commissioner. He also filed an Application before the Additional Director, Town Planning, BBMP, which resulted in the cancellation of the sanctioned plan. Further, in all these proceedings, orders were passed against Venkatesh and his claim of ownership in respect of Sy. No. 83 was rejected.
6) However, upon challenge made by GMID against the cancellation of the sanctioned plan before the BBMP’s Appeal Committee, the said sanctioned plan was reinstated.
7) Thereafter, the GMID finalized sale agreements with prospective apartment buyers.
8) Meanwhile, Venkatesh initiated legal action against the Appellant-MD of GMID and others by initiating criminal proceedings.
9) Simultaneously, multiple civil proceedings were pending against the Appellant-MD of GMID including S. No. 8163 / 2016.
10) Further, another Criminal Complaint was filed against the Appellant-MD of GMID by Venkatesh’s mother.
11) The said Criminal Complaint was lodged against the Appellant-MD of GMID under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code 1860 (IPC) including Section 420 IPC (Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property) read with Section 120B IPC (Punishment of criminal conspiracy).
12) The said Complaint was registered as a First Information Report (FIR) in Crime No. 317 / 2017 at Bagalgunte Police Station, Bangalore City, under various provisions of IPC and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (SC/ST Act).
13) The Appellant-MD of GMID filed a Criminal Petition No. 3788 of 2019 before the High Court on 28.05.2019 under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) (Saving of inherent power of High Court), seeking quashing of the FIR.
14) The High Court issued a notice vide Order dated 07.08.2019 and granted ad-interim direction to stay further proceedings in the FIR specifically related to the Appellant-MD of GMID. But eventually, the Criminal Petition was dismissed by the High Court, vide Order dated 23.02.2021.
Supreme Court Observations
Aggrieved by the High Court Order dated 23.02.2021, the Appellant-MD of GMID filed Criminal Appeal No. 1452 of 2023 before the Supreme Court. The Apex Court passed a Judgment dated 10.05.2023 and made the following observations:
i) That the Property was purchased by the original Landowners in 1954-1955 and they were granted occupancy rights on 09.07.1961. However, the Complainant-Venkatesh or other persons failed to raise any disputes or claim ownership of the Property, until (a) the JDA was executed between GMID and the Landowners on 17.08.2009, (b) necessary clearances were obtained and over 400 apartments were constructed and sold to buyers in 2017. The same raised suspicion regarding the genuineness of the claims of the Complainant-Venkatesh and others.
ii) That the High Court is empowered under Article 226 of the Constitution of India 1950 (Power of High Courts to issue certain writs) and Section 482 CrPC (Saving of inherent powers of High Court) to quash frivolous criminal proceedings that are filed out of vengeance or where purely civil disputes, relating to land etc are given the colour of criminality for the purposes of exerting extra-judicial pressure on the opposite party. However, the said inherent powers may be exercised with proper caution and in an unarbitrary manner, only in exceptional circumstances.
iii) The Bench referred to a case of State of Haryana v Bhajan Lal, 1992 Supp (1) SCC 335, where the Supreme Court laid down the following categories of cases, where the powers under Article 226 of the Constitution of India and Section 482 CrPC can be exercised to prevent abuse of court processes and ensure justice:
a) When the allegations, even if accepted in their entirety, do not constitute an offence or make a case against the accused.
b) When the allegations in the FIR and accompanying materials do not disclose a cognizable offence, except under a Magistrate’s order.
c) When the uncontested allegations and supporting evidence do not establish an offence or make a case against the accused.
d) When the allegations in the FIR amount to a non-cognizable offence requiring a Magistrate’s order for investigation.
e) When the allegations in the FIR or complaint are inherently absurd and improbable, making it unreasonable to proceed against the accused.
f) When there is a specific legal bar or a provision for an effective remedy in the IPC or relevant law.
g) When a criminal proceeding is tainted by malicious intent or initiated with ulterior motives to seek revenge or settle personal grudges
iv) That applying the aforesaid principles of law to the present case, the Bench held that (a) there is a huge unexplained delay of over 60 years in initiating the civil proceedings by the Complainant-Venkatesh and others against the Appellant and (b) the Criminal Complaint was filed by Venkatesh’s illiterate mother for no cogent reason, only after failure to obtain reliefs including interim reliefs in the Civil Suits. Thus, the same clearly establishes the fact that the criminal proceedings were initiated with ulterior motives and for seeking vengeance against the Appellant.
Therefore, for the reasons stated above, the Apex Court held that the Criminal Complaint and the FIR registered against the Appellant are frivolous and vexatious. As a result, the Appeal filed by the Appellant-MD of GMID was allowed and the High Court Order dated 23.02.2021 was set aside, as the High Court failed to exercise its inherent powers under Section 482 of CrPC to quash such frivolous FIR.
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