“It is really unfortunate that due to pendency of this litigation and the stay operating, the trial in the case remained stayed for all these years. It obviously benefited the respondents who, despite not questioning the altering of the charge by the High Court, did not face trial even for altered charge.”
Usually, it is at the instance of the accused, criminal proceedings against them get stayed. But this appeal disposed on Monday by the Supreme Court is interesting for its unusuality.
In this case, the State of Haryana is the appellant. The accused enjoyed the benefit of stay granted by the apex court for more than a decade now.
The accused are the directors of the company who were accused of the murder of seven workers who died in a stampede which followed a blast that happened in the factory owned by the company.
In the year 2006, the Punjab and Haryana High Court partly allowed the plea of the accused by converting murder case to that under Section 304-A IPC.
The special leave petition (SLP) challenging this ‘conversion’ was filed by the state in the year 2007. The case records reveal that the apex court granted an ad-interim stay when the SLP was moved. Ever since, till this day, the matter was adjourned for one reason or the other.
The bench of Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, in its judgment delivered on Monday, found no merit in the appeal.
In our opinion, the reasoning and the conclusion arrived at by the High Court for altering the charge for the offence from Section 302 to Section 304-A IPC at this stage cannot be faulted with, the bench said directing the trial court to proceed with the trial in terms of the direction of the high court for deciding as to whether any case under Section 304-A IPC has been made out against the accused or not.
The bench then remarked: “It is really unfortunate that due to the pendency of this litigation and the stay operating, the trial in the case remained stayed for all these years. It obviously benefited the respondents who, despite not questioning the altering of the charge by the High Court, did not face trial even for an altered charge.”
Recalling the interim stay it granted a decade ago, the apex court bench directed the trial court to complete the trial within one year.
LiveLaw had recently reported a similar instance of the Supreme Court taking more than a decade for dismissing a technical plea, as a result of which a criminal complaint filed in 2001 is still pending. The question posed in the report is still more relevant in this case.
But whose fault is it anyway? If the state prosecutes on behalf of the victim, should it not be as vigilant as the victim?
If the highest court of the country imposes on itself time limits to dispose of such criminal appeals which in the end it finds meritless, justice would have dawned sooner for victims of crime.