In the Supreme Court of India 1992 AIR 604, 1990 SCR Supl. (3) 259 Appellant State of Haryana Respondent Bhajan Lal and Ors. Date of Judgement 21/11/1990 Bench Pandian, S.R. (J); Reddy, K. Jayachandra (J)
Cases of corruption against political leaders in India are not rare. This is one such case that notified the alleged corruption carried out by a significant political figure leading to registration of a case against him by his rival. Inevitably the suit underwent the question of legitimacy that led to the appearance of the same before the Supreme Court. The case holds importance as it significantly points out the powers and limitations of various authorities at different points of time throughout the trial of the matter. It re-emphasized the power of investigation that police holds and in what nature of cases, the necessity of filing an FIR, and the extent to which High Courts should use their special power of quashing criminal proceedings.
Bhajan Lal at the time of the case was the Union Minister of Environment and Forests and Devi Lal was elected as the Chief Minister of the State of Haryana. In the same election Respondent 2, Dharam Pal lost the election against Smt. Jasma Devi, wife of Bhajan Lal. Owing to various political rivalries and institutions of various criminal cases there was a lot of bad blood between Bhajan Lal and Devi Lal. Consequently, Respondent 2 placed a complaint before the CM, Devi Lal against Bhajan Lal where he alleged that Bhajan Lal possesses disproportionate property or pecuniary resources compared to his indefinite sources of income. It was also alleged that the accumulation of that much property was far beyond his legal means. Special Officer on Duty in CM’s secretariat passed the message to the office Director General of Police stating that the CM has sought appropriate action in the said case. The complaint was further passed on to the Superintendent of Police (SP) asking for the necessary measure to be taken and report back. The SP asked the SHO (Station House Officer) to register the case and investigate. Subsequently, a case was filed under sections 161 and 165 of the IPC and Section 5(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act in November 1987. The copy of the FIR was then sent to the magistrate and the investigation was started.
Constitutional and Statutory Provisions Involved:
- Articles 226 of the Constitution, 1950
- Section 482 of CrPc (Code of Criminal Procedure), 1973
- Sections 161 and 165 of the IPC (Indian Penal Code), 1860
- Section 5(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act in November 1987
Following the filing of an FIR, Bhajan Lal through writs [i]of Certiorari and Prohibition under Articles 226 and 227 pleaded before the High Court to quash the proceedings taken in the current case where the allegations didn’t make for a cognizable offense thereby giving no power of investigation to the police. The High Court ruled in favor of Bhajan Lal as it was in consonance with the fact that it didn’t make for a cognizable offense, referring to Swapan Kumar Guha and the State of Bengal,[ii] and quashed the registered FIR along with charging a heavy fine on the respondent 2 for the recovery of the costs writ petition of respondent 1. The appellants then moved to Supreme Court by way of special leave against the judgment of the high court of not only quashing the Criminal proceedings but also the registration of the FIR.
- Whether just the allegations are enough to constitute a cognizable offense and give the power of investigation to the police?
- Whether the action of investigating on the part of SHO on just the order of one word “investigate” from SP is enough as per Section 5 of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947?
- Whether the High Court was justified in quashing the FIR and criminal proceedings and acted under the ambit of 226 of the Constitution and sections 482, 154 and 157, and to what extent the orders suffer from legal infirmity?
Contentions from both sides:
- It was stated that the complainant has cited more than 20 instances with an exordial note that Mr. Bhajan Lal before 1969 was an ordinary man without having any definite source of income and after becoming the Chief Minister and Minister of the Central cabinet has accumulated enormous wealth and property worth crores under shady transactions.
- After a bunch of vitriolic comments, it was submitted that the instances of corruption pointed out by Respondent 2 are on an increase and though the instances are out of sight of common public, the instances collectively or individually immutably constitute a cognizable offense assuredly leading to the filing of a first information report as mentioned under 154(1) of CrPc thereby guaranteeing a thorough investigation in the case as is needed to comply with various statutory provisions; Sections 156, 157 and 159 falling under chapter XII of the code of criminal procedure.
- It was also submitted that the high court had no power whatsoever to come in the way of the investigation being carried out by the police officials and has committed a grave and substantial illegality by quashing the First Information Report and further proceedings of the investigation.
- The respondent’s counsel submitted that the judgment of the high court is a well-reasoned one and that the present court cannot justify the deposing and questioning of the conclusion. Referring to Swapan Kumar Guha Case,[iii]“the legal position appears to be that the court will not normally interfere with the investigation into the case”, clearly shows that courts have carved out an area where they would interfere in criminal proceedings that if they so warrant, they will be quashed and on the basis of which High courts judgment should be sustained.
- It was stated that the registration of case where the allegations of corruption full of ambiguity, falsity and vagueness was nothing more than a result of personal and political animosity between Devi Lal and Bhajan Lal that crept up after Devi Lal lost the 1978-82 general election against Bhajan Lal and did not become the chief minister of Haryana.
- The complainant Dharam Pal also suffered a bad defeat against Bhajan Lal’s wife and is Devi Lal’s puppet and is used as an instrument to file a defaming and scurrilous complaint against Bhajan Lal.
- It was contended by them that the investigation was carried out by the Station House Officer which is against Section 5(A) of the Prevention of Corruption Act as it says that no officer below the rank of Superintendent of Police.
The court after a thorough discussion of the legal principles attached to cognizable offenses and the investigation arising thereon held that on the basis of neither the facts nor law can the high court’s judgment be sustained. The Supreme court stated that there is a certain category of cases wherein the high court is empowered to stop the abuse of power by any of the courts and secure the ends of justice although it is not possible to set a particular standard for the determination of the same some informal guidelines are dealing with the same. It was pointed out that the particular power of quashing the criminal proceeding should be applied by the High courts sparingly in rarest of rare cases.
- In the present case, however, it was stated that the exercise of this extraordinary inherent power wasn’t justified and there was a definite constitution of a cognizable offense thereby justifying registration of a case. The stage at which the case was on, it was too soon to decide the relevance and reliability of the facts alleged and no negative inference can be drawn before any investigation and inquiry is carried out. Therefore, it cannot be expected out of police officials to necessarily reply to questions without any investigation being started.
- With respect to the action of filing a case by the SHO is concerned, according to section 154(1) of Crpc the official has no other option but to file a case if any information disclosing a cognizable offense is laid before it. And as far as the investigation proceeding is concerned, if the officer in charge has reason to suspect or otherwise the commission of a cognizable offense he has a right to investigate under section 156 of CrPc and thereby send a report of it to the magistrate as was done in the case. The case of State of Bihar vs J.A.C Saldanha,[iv] was also referred where it was said while contemplating on section 156(1) of CrPc that ‘Investigation of an offense is a field exclusively reserved for the executive through the police department the superintendence over which lies with the state Government The officer which is charged with a duty to keep vigilance over law and order situation is obliged to prevent the crime and if an offense is alleged to have been committed it is its bounden duty to investigate into the offense and bring the offender to book.’
- The Court, however, stated that any commencement or any investigation conducted would be quashed as it was carried out by SHO that is below the rank desired As per section 5(A)(1) of the Prevention of the Corruption Act and therefore it was not under valid legal Authority.
- The court also set aside the order of the high court awarding costs with the direction the said costs would be paid by the respondent 2, Dharam Pal to respondent 1, Bhajan Lal.
The case reestablished that our Constitution is based on the concept of Rule of Law which serves as an aorta of governance in our democratic system and no one or authority is higher than law and that Law Is Supreme. Everybody exclusively and on the whole is undeniably under the authority of Law irrespective of the wealth and power they possess. The case likewise relooks at the complete and resultant backlogs of evils like corruption that exist in our country. Therefore this parasite of bribery if not battled against on all fronts and at all levels checked and completely removed, will destabilize the very establishments of democracy and erode the foundations of rule of law and make the whole administration ineffectual and broken.
“The views of the authors are personal“
[i] Writ Petition no. 9172 of 1987.
[ii] Swapan Kumar Guha and the State of Bengal, 1982 SCR (3) 121.
[iv] State of Bihar vs J.A.C Saldanha, (1980) 1 SCC 554.