The Gujarat High Court on Monday pulled up tribal land owners and a lawyer for blackmailing and extorting money from builders by utilizing the “powerful potent weapon in their hands in the form of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.”
The Court was hearing a bunch of Petitions by the builders, seeking to quash an FIR registered against them on the basis of a complaint alleging that the Petitioners had fraudulently obtained the piece of land in Surat from its tribal owners on the basis of a forged power of attorney, and undertaken construction on the same.
The complainants had alleged violation of Section 73AA of the Gujarat Land Revenue Code, which mandates Collector’s permission for transfer of land from a tribal owner to a non-tribal person.
The applicant’s had now contended that the complaint was “malicious, frivolous and vexatious”, averring that the complainants were acting on the directions of one Mr. Manish Patel, who is a lawyer by profession, and is in the habit of indulging in “such dubious tactics”. He had further pointed out the delay in filing the FIR, when construction on the disputed land had finished by the year 2001.
Furthermore, they had submitted that application of provisions of the Atrocities Act, simply because the complainant land-owners were tribals, amounts to “mockery of justice and misuse of the benevolent provisions of the legislation”.
The main plank of the submission before the Court was, therefore, that the land belonged to tribals, and that since the construction came up to be put on their land in breach of the provisions of Section 73AA of the Land Revenue Code, the provisions of Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 could be invoked.
Justice J.B. Pardiwala, however, held that mere breach of provisions of Section 73AA of the Gujarat Land Revenue Code or the land laws by itself will not amount to atrocity within the meaning of Atrocities Act.
“There cannot be a better case than the one on hand of gross abuse of the provisions of the Atrocities Act. The F.I.R. on hand is an indication of the extent the members of the Scheduled Castes can go to abuse the provisions of the Atrocities Act, which are otherwise meant for the protection of the underprivileged and downtrodden class of the society,” the Court observed in this regard.
Justice Pardiwala, further, pointed out that the complainants had failed to raise an alarm over the construction for a substantially long period of time. It was also revealed that they were not aware of the content of the complaints filed on their behalf.
The Court, therefore, observed, “I have reached to the conclusion that the land owners, who claim themselves to have been exploited and cheated, are playing to the tune of unscrupulous persons, interested only in blackmailing and extortion. At any cost, this Court should prevent such blackmailing and extortion, and if any particular person, be it Mr. Manish Patel or any other person is involved, then an appropriate action needs to be taken at the earliest in accordance with law.”
Justice Pardiwala noted that the tribals were “dancing to the tune of few unscrupulous persons, like Mr. Mani Patel and other and were only trying to blackmail and extort money”.
The Bench, thereafter, took note of similar complaints lodged against Mr. Patel, and also pondered upon the source of funding of the proceedings initiated by the applicants, who had claimed to be poor tribals.
“I fail to understand how the tribals, who claim themselves to be very poor, were able to reach up to the Supreme Court three to four times in the past. From the orders on record, it appears that a senior counsel appeared for them in certain proceedings. How did they afford to incur these expenses? Who is funding them? These are the questions to which the answers of obvious,” the Court observed.
It, therefore, allowed the Petitions partly, quashing the offences under Sections 406 (criminal breach of trust), 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code, and other Atrocities Act. It, however, opined that the allegations with regard to the forging of the two PoAs needed investigation.
The Court, thereafter, directed the investigation to be transferred from the current Investigating Officer to the Commissioners of Police, who was also ordered to look into allegations of blackmailing and extortion.
Besides, it noted that the proceedings with regard to the breach of Section 73AA had already been initiated by the authorities, and ordered such proceedings to continue, without any regard to the observations made in the Petitions in hand.