The Supreme Court has held that the District Council Courts in Meghalaya has jurisdiction to entertain criminal cases in which both the victim and the accused belong to Scheduled Tribes.
The court was considering the appeal filed by the State against the judgment of High Court of Meghalaya transferring a criminal case against an accused from the Court of Sessions Judge, Nongstoin, West Khasi Hills District to the Court of Judge, Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council, Shillong.
The contention raised in appeal was that, under paragraph 4 of the 6th Schedule to the Constitution, all of the parties to a suit or case must necessarily belong to Scheduled Tribes within such areas, for the District Council Court to have exclusive jurisdiction over such suits or cases. Given that a criminal case is always prosecuted by the State, he submitted that the instant case against the accused cannot be said to be a dispute between two tribals, as the deceased is not and cannot be a party to such a case.
Addressing this argument, the bench comprising Justices Mohan M. Shantanagoudar and R. Subhash Reddy observed that the expression 'suit' is used to connote legal proceedings of a purely civil nature, while the term 'case' is used to connote either a civil suit or a criminal proceeding. It also noted that In the absence of a notification by the State Government extending the Cr.P.C. to such areas, except the three chapters referred above, the provisions of the Cr.P.C. are not applicable to the tribal areas in the State of Meghalaya, including the Khasi Hills District. It said:
" In view of this, when we look to the argument raised by the Petitioner that the term 'case' as used in paragraph 4 of the 6 th Schedule precludes criminal cases, merely because the State is the de jure complainant in all such cases, it appears that their interpretation suggests that paragraph 4 of the 6th Schedule does not comprehend trial of criminal cases by the District Council Court at all. This, however, is not supported by the scheme of the 6 th Schedule, specifically when a conjoint reading of paragraphs 4 and 5 is undertaken. As mentioned supra, paragraph 4 itself refers to suits and cases to which provisions of paragraph 5(1) apply. Thus, to examine the content of "suits and cases" under paragraph 4, it is first necessary to look to the content of paragraph 5(1). Under paragraph 5(1), the Governor is invested with the power to confer the District or Regional Council, or the courts set up by a District Council, or on any officer appointed by the Governor in that behalf, such powers under the Cr.P.C. or the C.P.C. as he deems appropriate, for the trial of certain suits, cases, and offences. The conferral of powers under the Cr.P.C. in certain instances, as has been done by the notification dated 07.02.2017 here, makes it amply clear that the District Council Court has jurisdiction to entertain criminal cases, notwithstanding the fact that the State is the de jure Complainant in such cases and cannot be considered as a tribal party. In fact, it is reflective of an intention to ascribe a broad meaning to the term 'case' under paragraph 4 of the 6th Schedule. Such a reading of the term 'cases' is also substantiated by the fact that paragraph 5 only empowers the Governor to make the Cr.P.C. applicable to those cases where the punishment for the offence is not less than five years under the IPC. By necessary implication then, the Governor is not authorized to invest any of the bodies mentioned in paragraph 5(1) with the powers under Cr.P.C. for offences where the punishment is less than five years. Reading paragraph 5 in conjunction with paragraph 4 inevitably leads to the conclusion that all such criminal cases are triable by the Courts constituted under paragraph 4 of the 6th Schedule, irrespective of the fact that de jure Complainant is the State, as long as both the accused and the victim of the offence belong to the same Scheduled Tribe. Thus, in our considered opinion, the term "case" does not preclude criminal cases merely because the State is a party to such cases. Upon a close reading of paragraphs 4 and 5 to the 6 th Schedule, it becomes clear that the reference to "suits and cases between the parties all of whom belong to Scheduled Tribes" was in fact to the affected party (victim/Complainant) and the accused party. "
In the present case, the bench noted that the victim and the accused both belong to the Khasi Scheduled Tribe and there is a specific notification dated 07.02.2017 that confers the District Council Court with the powers under Cr.P.C. to try certain criminal offences. In fact, upon a combined reading of paragraphs 4 and 5 of the 6th Schedule, such District Council Court has the exclusive jurisdiction to entertain such a case, the bench said while dismissing the appeal.
Case name: THE STATE OF MEGHALAYA vs. MELVIN SOHLANGPIAW Case no.: SLP (CRL.) NO.1218 OF 2018Coram: Justices Mohan M. Shantanagoudar and R. Subhash Reddy
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