29 March 2022 5:57 AM GMT
The Punjab and Haryana High Court recently quashed an FIR against a man who had been booked under Sections 386 [Extortion by putting a person in fear of death or grievous hurt] & 506 [Punishment for criminal intimidation] IPC for allegedly sending a WhatsApp message to the complainant using the term 'straight shooter' to extort money.The Bench of Justice Anupinder Singh Grewal concluded...
The Punjab and Haryana High Court recently quashed an FIR against a man who had been booked under Sections 386 [Extortion by putting a person in fear of death or grievous hurt] & 506 [Punishment for criminal intimidation] IPC for allegedly sending a WhatsApp message to the complainant using the term 'straight shooter' to extort money.
The Bench of Justice Anupinder Singh Grewal concluded that the WhatsApp message containing the term 'straight shooter' didn't indicate that the complainant was put in fear of injury, or there was any inducement to deliver property or valuable security by the Accused.
Significantly, the HC also stressed that even if a phrase or an idiom which has been sent through a message is capable of two interpretations, the one which is favorable to the accused would be acceptable. "If a narrow and pedantic view is taken then it may curtail freedom of speech and expression," the Court averred.
The case in brief
A Faridabad company, M/s Friends Auto (India) Private Limited, which is involved in the manufacturing of automotive parts, is being run by the family of the Accused/petitioner [Shailabh Mehndiratta, a 26-year-old Computer Science graduate] and the family of respondent No.2.
However, since the petitioner's family had a dispute with respondent No.2 (another shareholder of the company), therefore, in an attempt to settle the dispute, the petitioner sent a message on WhatsApp to respondent No.2 stating, "62/B-II Mohan corporate indl estate + 50 crs for me and my dad... Boss to Boss, Straight shooter"
In response to this, respondent No.2 (to whom the message was sent) filed a police complaint after which the petitioner was arrested for extortion and criminal intimidation and later released on regular bail. Thereafter, the petitioner approached the HC for quashing the FIR.
It was his primary contention that the message was sent only in furtherance of the talks of settlement and the property and the money mentioned in the message is commensurate with the share of the petitioner's father in the company.
At the outset, the Court opined that the term "straight shooter" refers to a straightforward and forthright person who would call a spade a spade and that the term does not refer to any violent activity or mean literally to shoot with a firearm.
Further, stressing that the use of slang is fairly common amongst the younger generation which is adept at messaging and that It can be misunderstood if taken literally, the Court remarked thus:
"Often these messages may appear to be cryptic but the point is driven home. The art of letter writing with formation of sentences, punctuated with proper grammar is almost on the verge of extinction. One can say that from the standpoint of a semi-literate person, the message may seem threatening but viewed in the afore-noted factual backdrop, it is more plausible that it is part of the process of negotiation between the families of the shareholders of the company. The reference to the property has been made which is stated to be owned by the company wherein the petitioner's family and the complainant are shareholders. It is also borne out that there is dispute with regard to the company's affairs amongst the shareholders."
In view of this, the Court noted that there was a dispute with regard to the shareholding or in connection with the affairs of the company, and the message was sent in an attempt to resolve the dispute.
"A bare look at the Whatsapp message in the attending facts and circumstances would not indicate that the complainant was put in fear of injury, or there was any inducement to deliver property or valuable security. The property has, of course, not been delivered to the accused and there is no allegation in this regard. An offence under Section 386 IPC would, thus, not be attracted," the Court concluded.
Similarly, the Court also opined that offences under Sections 387 and 506 IPC would not be made out in the instant case, as neither there was any intention on the part of the petitioner to put respondent No.2 in fear of grievous hurt or death to deliver property nor did he have any intention to threaten respondent No.2 with injury to his person, reputation or property.
Consequently, the petition was allowed and FIR under Sections 386 & 506 IPC and all subsequent proceedings arising therefrom were quashed.
Case title - Shailabh Mendiratta v. State Of Haryana And Anr
Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (PH) 48
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