Supreme Court of India
Geeta Mehrotra & Anr. vs State Of U.P. & Anr. on 17 October, 2012
Criminal Appeal No. 1674 of 2012 (Arising out of SLP (Crl.) No. 10547/2010)
1. This appeal by special leave in which we granted leave has been filed by the Appellants against the order dated 6.9.2010 passed by the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad in Crl. Miscellaneous Application No. 22714/2007 whereby the High Court had been pleased to dispose of the application moved by the Appellants under Section 482 Code of Criminal Procedure for quashing the order of the Magistrate taking cognizance against the Appellants under Sections 498A/323/504/506 Indian Penal Code read with Section 3/4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act with an observation that the question of territorial jurisdiction cannot be properly decided by the High Court under Section 482 Code of Criminal Procedure for want of adequate facts. It was, therefore, left open to the Appellants to move the trial court for dropping the proceedings on the ground of lack of territorial jurisdiction. The High Court however granted interim protection to the Appellants by directing the authorities not to issue coercive process against the Appellants until disposal of the application filed by the Appellants with a further direction to the trial court to dispose of the application if moved by the Appellants, within a period of two months from the date of moving the application. The application under Section 482 Code of Criminal Procedure was thus disposed of by the High Court.
2. The Appellants in spite of the liberty granted to them to move the trial court, have filed this appeal for quashing the proceedings which had been initiated on the basis of a case lodged by the Respondent No. 2 Smt. Shipra Mehrotra (earlier known as Shipra Seth) against her husband, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law and sister-in-law.
3. The case emerges out of the first information report lodged by Respondent No. 2 Smt. Shipra Mehrotra under Sections 498A/323/504/506 Indian Penal Code read with Section 3/4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act bearing F.I.R. No. 52/2004. The F.I.R. was registered at Mahila Thana Daraganj, Allahabad wherein the complainant alleged that she was married to Shyamji Mehrotra s/o Balbir Saran who was living at Eros Garden, Charmswood Village, Faridabad, Suraj Kund Road at Faridabad Haryana as per the Hindu marriage rites and customs. Prior to marriage the complainant and her family members were told by Shyamji Mehrotra and his elder brother Ramji Mehrotra who is Appellant No. 2 herein and their mother Smt. Kamla Mehrotra and her sister Geeta Mehrotra who is Appellant No. 1 herein that Shyamji is employed as a Team Leader in a top I.T. Company in Chennai and is getting salary of Rs. 45,000/- per month. After negotiation between the parents of the complainant and the accused parties, the marriage of the complainant Shipra Seth (later Shipra Mehrotra) and Shyamji Mehrotra was performed after which the Respondent-complainant left for the house of her in-laws.
4. It was stated that the atmosphere in the house was peaceful for sometime but soon after the wedding, when all the relatives left, the maid who cooked meals was first of all paid-off by the aforesaid four persons who then told the complainant that from now onwards, the complainant will have to prepare food for the family. In addition, the above mentioned people started taunting and scolding her on trivial issues. The complainant also came to know that Shyamji was not employed anywhere and always stayed in the house. Shyamji gradually took away all the money which the complainant had with her and then told her that her father had not given dowry properly, therefore, she should get Rupees five lakhs from her father in order to enable him to start business, because he was not getting any job. When the complainant clearly declined and stated that she will not ask her parents for money, Shyamji, on instigation of other accused-family members, started beating her occasionally. To escape every day torture and financial status of the family, the complainant took up a job in a Call Centre at Convergys on 17.2.2003 where the complainant had to do night shifts due to which she used to come back home at around 3 a.m. in the morning. Just on her return from work, the household people started playing bhajan cassettes after which she had to getup at 7'o clock in the morning to prepare and serve food to all the members in the family. Often on falling asleep in the morning, Shyamji, Kamla Devi and Geeta Mehrotra tortured the complainant every day mentally and physically. Ramji Mehrotra often provoked the other three family members to torture and often used to make the complainant feel sad by making inappropriate statements about the complainant and her parents. Her husband Shyamji also took away the salary from the complainant.
5. After persistent efforts, Shyamji finally got a job in Chennai and he went to Chennai for the job in May, 2003. But, it is alleged that there was no change in his behaviour even after going to Chennai. The complainant often called him on phone to talk to him but he always did irrelevant conversation. He never spoke properly with the complainant whenever he visited home and often used to hurl filthy abuses. The complainant states that she often wept and tolerated the tortures of the accused persons for a long time but did not complain to her family members, as that would have made them feel sad. At last, when the complainant realized that even her life was in danger, she was compelled to tell everything to her father on phone who was very upset on hearing her woes. On 15.7.2003 complainant heard some conversation of her mother-in-law and sister-in-law from which it appeared to her that they want to kill the complainant in the night only.
6. When father and brother of the complainant went home in the evening, they were also insulted by all the four and video camera and tape were played and in the end they were told that they should leave from here. Insulted, they came back from there and then came back to Allahabad with the complainant. For many days the complainant and her family members hoped that the situation would improve if the matter was resolved. Many times other people tried to persuade the in - laws but to no avail. Her brother went to their house to talk to her in - laws but it came to his knowledge that the in - laws had changed their house.
7. On hearing these talks of the accused, the complainant believed that her in-laws will not let the complainant enter their home without taking ten lakhs and if the complainant went there on her own, she will not be safe. Hence, she lodged the report wherein she prayed that the SHO Daraganj should be ordered to do the needful after registering the case against the accused Shyam Mehrotra, Ramji Mehrotra, Kamla Mehrotra and Geeta Mehrotra. Thus, in substance, the complainant related the bickering at her matrimonial home which made her life miserable in several ways and compelled her to leave her in-law's place in order to live with her father where she lodged a police case as stated hereinbefore.
8. On the basis of the complaint, the investigating authorities at P.S. Daraganj, Allahabad started investigation of the case and thereafter the police submitted chargesheet against the Appellants and other family members of the complainant's husband. 9. Hence, the Appellants who are sister and brother of the complainant's husband filed petition under Section 482 Code of Criminal Procedure for quashing of the chargesheet and the entire proceedings pending in the court of learned Judicial Magistrate, Court No. IV, Allahabad, inter-alia, on the ground that FIR has been lodged with mala fide intentions to harass the Appellants and that no case was made out against the Appellants as well as other family members. But the principal ground of challenge to the FIR was that the incident although was alleged to have taken place at Faridabad and the investigation should have been done there only, the complainant with mala fide intention in connivance with the father of the complainant, got the investigating officer to record the statements by visiting Ghaziabad which was beyond his territorial jurisdiction and cannot be construed as legal and proper investigation. It was also alleged that the father of the complainant got the arrest warrant issued through George Town Police Station, Allahabad, in spite of the cause of action having arisen at Allahabad.
10. This appeal has been preferred by Kumari Geeta Mehrotra i.e. the sister of the complainant's husband and Ramji Mehrotra i.e. the elder brother of the complainant's husband assailing the order of the High Court and it was submitted that the Hon'ble High Court ought to have appreciated that the complainant who had already obtained an ex-parte decree of divorce, is pursuing the present case through her father with the sole purpose to unnecessarily harass the Appellants to extract money from them as all efforts of mediation had failed.
11. However, the grounds of challenge before this Court to the order of the High Court, inter alia is that the High Court had failed to appreciate that the investigation had been done by the authority without following due process of law which also lacked territorial jurisdiction. The relevant documents/parcha diary for deciding the territorial jurisdiction had been overlooked as the FIR has been lodged at Allahabad although the cause of action of the entire incident is alleged to have taken place at Faridabad (Haryana). It was, therefore, submitted that the investigating authorities of the Allahabad have traversed beyond the territorial limits which is clearly an abuse of the process of law and the High Court has failed to exercise its inherent powers under Section 482 Code of Criminal Procedure in the facts and circumstances of this case and allowed the proceedings to go on before the trial court although it had no jurisdiction to adjudicate the same.
12. It was further averred that the High Court had failed to examine the facts of the FIR to see whether the facts stated in the FIR constitute any prima facie case making out an offence against the sister-in-law and brother-in-law of the complainant and whether there was at all any material to constitute an offence against the Appellants and their family members. Attention of this Court was further invited to the contradictions in the statement of the complainant and her father which indicate material contradictions indicating that the complainant and her father have concocted the story to implicate the Appellants as well as all their family members in a criminal case merely with a mala fide intention to settle her scores and extract money from the family of her ex-husband Shyamji Mehrotra and his family members.
13. On a perusal of the complaint and other materials on record as also analysis of the arguments advanced by the contesting parties in the light of the settled principles of law reflected in a catena of decisions, it is apparent that the High Court has not applied its mind on the question as to whether the case was fit to be quashed against the Appellants and has merely disposed of the petition granting liberty to the Appellants to move the trial court and raise contentions on the ground as to whether it has territorial jurisdiction to continue with the trial in the light of the averment that no part of the cause of action had arisen at Allahabad and the entire incident even as per the FIR had taken place at Faridabad.
14. The High Court further overlooked the fact that during the pendency of this case, the complainant-Respondent No. 2 has obtained an ex-parte decree of divorce against her husband Shyamji Mehrotra and the High Court failed to apply its mind whether any case could be held to have been made out against Kumari Geeta Mehrotra and Ramji Mehrotra, who are the unmarried sister and elder brother of the complainant's ex-husband.
15. Under the facts and circumstance of similar nature in the case of Ramesh v. State of Tamil Nadu reported in (2005) SCC (Cri.) 735 at 738 allegations were made in a complaint against the husband, the in-laws, husband's brother and sister who were all the Petitioners before the High Court wherein after registration of the F.I.R. and investigation, the charge sheet was filed by the Inspector of Police in the court of Judicial Magistrate III, Trichy. Thereupon, the learned magistrate took cognizance of the offence and issued warrants against the Appellants on 13.2.2002. Four of the accused-Appellants were arrested and released on bail by the magistrate at Mumbai. The Appellants had filed petition under Section 482, Code of Criminal Procedure before the Madras High Court for quashing the proceedings in complaint case on the file of the Judicial Magistrate III, Trichy.
16. Aggrieved by the order of the Madras High Court dismissing the petition under Section 482 Code of Criminal Procedure, the special leave petition was filed in this Court giving rise to the appeals therein where threefold contentions were raised viz., (i) that the allegations are frivolous and without any basis; (ii) even according to the FIR, no incriminating acts were done within the jurisdiction of Trichy Police Station and the court at Trichy and, therefore, the learned magistrate lacked territorial jurisdiction to take cognizance of the offence and (iii) taking cognizance of the alleged offence at that stage was barred under Section 468(1) Code of Criminal Procedure as it was beyond the period of limitation prescribed under Section 468(2) Code of Criminal Procedure Apart from the subsequent two contentions, it was urged that the allegations under the FIR do not make out any offence of which cognizance could be taken.
17. Their Lordships of the Supreme Court in this matter had been pleased to hold that the bald allegations made against the sister in law by the complainant appeared to suggest the anxiety of the informant to rope in as many of the husband's relatives as possible. It was held that neither the FIR nor the charge sheet furnished the legal basis for the magistrate to take cognizance of the offences alleged against the Appellants. The learned Judges were pleased to hold that looking to the allegations in the FIR and the contents of the charge sheet, none of the alleged offences under Section 498A, 406 and Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act were made against the married sister of the complainant's husband who was undisputedly not living with the family of the complainant's husband. Their Lordships of the Supreme Court were pleased to hold that the High Court ought not to have relegated the sister in law to the ordeal of trial. Accordingly, the proceedings against the Appellants were quashed and the appeal was allowed.
18. In so far as the plea of territorial jurisdiction is concerned, it is no doubt true that the High Court was correct to the extent that the question of territorial jurisdiction could be decided by the trial court itself. But this ground was just one of the grounds to quash the proceedings initiated against the Appellants under Section 482 Code of Criminal Procedure wherein it was also alleged that no prima facie case was made out against the Appellants for initiating the proceedings under the Dowry Prohibition Act and other provisions of the Indian Penal Code.
19. Coming to the facts of this case, when the contents of the FIR is perused, it is apparent that there are no allegations against Kumari Geeta Mehrotra and Ramji Mehrotra except casual reference of their names who have been included in the FIR but mere casual reference of the names of the family members in a matrimonial dispute without allegation of active involvement in the matter would not justify taking cognizance against them overlooking the fact borne out of experience that there is a tendency to involve the entire family members of the household in the domestic quarrel taking place in a matrimonial dispute specially if it happens soon after the wedding.
20. It would be relevant at this stage to take note of an apt observation of this Court recorded in the matter of G.V. Rao v. L.H.V. Prasad and Ors. reported in MANU/SC/3156/2000 : (2000) 3 SCC 693 wherein also in a matrimonial dispute, this Court had held that the High Court should have quashed the complaint arising out of a matrimonial dispute wherein all family members had been roped into the matrimonial litigation which was quashed and set aside.
21. In yet another case reported in MANU/SC/0230/2003 : AIR 2003 SC 1386 in the matter of B.S. Joshi and Ors. v. State of Haryana and Anr. it was observed that there is no doubt that the object of introducing Chapter XXA containing Section 498A in the Indian Penal Code was to prevent the torture to a woman by her husband or by relatives of her husband. Section 498A was added with a view to punish the husband and his relatives who harass or torture the wife to coerce her relatives to satisfy unlawful demands of dowry.
22. In the instant matter, when the complainant and her husband are divorced as the complainant-wife secured an ex-parte decree of divorce, the same could have weighed with the High Court to consider whether proceeding initiated prior to the divorce decree was fit to be pursued in spite of absence of specific allegations at least against the brother and sister of the complainant's husband and whether continuing with this proceeding could not have amounted to abuse of the process of the court. The High Court, however, seems not to have examined these aspects carefully and have thus side-tracked all these considerations merely on the ground that the territorial jurisdiction could be raised only before the magistrate conducting the trial.
23. In the instant case, the question of territorial jurisdiction was just one of the grounds for quashing the proceedings along with the other grounds and, therefore, the High Court should have examined whether the prosecution case was fit to be quashed on other grounds or not. At this stage, the question also crops up whether the matter is fit to be remanded to the High Court to consider all these aspects.
24. However, we deem it appropriate to add by way of caution that we may not be misunderstood so as to infer that even if there are allegation of overt act indicating the complicity of the members of the family named in the FIR in a given case, cognizance would be unjustified but what we wish to emphasize by highlighting is that, if the FIR as it stands does not disclose specific allegation against accused more so against the co-accused specially in a matter arising out of matrimonial bickering, it would be clear abuse of the legal and judicial process to mechanically send the named accused in the FIR to undergo the trial unless of course the FIR discloses specific allegations which would persuade the court to take cognisance of the offence alleged against the relatives of the main accused who are prima facie not found to have indulged in physical and mental torture of the complainant-wife.
25. In the case at hand, when the brother and unmarried sister of the principal accused Shyamji Mehrotra approached the High Court for quashing the proceedings against them, inter-alia, on the ground of lack of territorial jurisdiction as also on the ground that no case was made out against them under Sections 498A,/323/504/506 including Sections 3/4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, it was the legal duty of the High Court to examine whether there were prima facie material against the Appellants so that they could be directed to undergo the trial, besides the question of territorial jurisdiction. The High Court seems to have overlooked all the pleas that were raised and rejected the petition on the solitary ground of territorial jurisdiction giving liberty to the Appellants to approach the trial court.
26. The High Court in our considered opinion appear to have missed that assuming the trial court had territorial jurisdiction, it was still left to be decided whether it was a fit case to send the Appellants for trial when the FIR failed to make out a prima facie case against them regarding the allegation of inflicting physical and mental torture to the complainant demanding dowry from the complainant. Since the High Court has failed to consider all these aspects, this Court as already stated hereinbefore, could have remitted the matter to the High Court to consider whether a case was made out against the Appellants to proceed against them. But as the contents of the FIR does not disclose specific allegation against the brother and sister of the complainant's husband except casual reference of their names, it would not be just to direct them to go through protracted procedure by remanding for consideration of the matter all over again by the High Court and make the unmarried sister of the main accused and his elder brother to suffer the ordeal of a criminal case pending against them specially when the FIR does not disclose ingredients of offence under Sections 498A/323/504/506, Indian Penal Code and Sections 3/4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act.
27. We, therefore, deem it just and legally appropriate to quash the proceedings initiated against the Appellants Geeta Mehrotra and Ramji Mehrotra as the FIR does not disclose any material which could be held to be constituting any offence against these two Appellants. Merely by making a general allegation that they were also involved in physical and mental torture of the complainant-Respondent No. 2 without mentioning even a single incident against them as also the fact as to how they could be motivated to demand dowry when they are only related as brother and sister of the complainant's husband, we are pleased to quash and set aside the criminal proceedings in so far as these Appellants are concerned and consequently the order passed by the High Court shall stand overruled. The appeal accordingly is allowed.
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