This can only be done in exceptional cases, for example, where a criminal proceeding has been initiated illegally, vexatiously or without jurisdiction, the bench comprising Justice Mohan M. Shantanagoudar and Justice Ajay Rastogi said.
In this case [Hooghly Mills Company Ltd. vs. State of West Bengal], the High Court had set aside an interlocutory order of a magistrate passed under Section 630(2) of the Companies Act, 1956 directing the petitioner to vacate and hand over possession of the disputed property to the appellant company. The main issues raised in the appeal before the Apex Court were:
• Whether an application under Section 630(2) of the 1956 Act was maintainable, in spite of pendency of the civil suit and issue of temporary injunction in respect of the disputed property?
• Whether an order could be made under Section 630(2) prior to final disposal of the complaint under Section 630(1)?
As regards first issue, the bench observed that the mere issuance of a temporary injunction by the civil court directing maintenance of status quo in respect of the disputed property does not make the dispute bona fide or bar the company's right to recover the disputed property from the accused employee under Section 630 of the 1956 Act. It also held that the pendency of the civil suit and any interim reliefs granted therein would not bar criminal prosecution under Section 630. It was also observed that Section 630 cannot be strictly interpreted to mean that the company must have title by way of ownership to the disputed property and that the accused should have been in possession of the flat as a perquisite of his service.
The court further observed that, where the Magistrate has found that prima facie the company has a right to possession of the disputed property, he may grant interlocutory relief under Section 630(2) prior to conclusion of the trial under Section 630(1). It said:
"There is no stipulation in Section 630(2) that an order for delivery of wrongfully withheld property must be made only after the accused has been convicted under Section 630(1). Rather, it says the Court 'trying' the offence may direct the delivery of such property, which indicates that such an order may be passed at any stage by the trial court. This Court in Baldev Krishna Sahi (supra) upon finding that a case under Section 630(1) was prima facie made out directed the petitioner therein to vacate the disputed premises during pendency of the substantive complaint under Section 630(1). Therefore in the present case, the courts below have not committed any error in allowing the appellant company's application under Section 630(2) during pendency of substantive criminal proceeding."
While allowing the appeal, the bench observed that, in this case there was no exceptional case of illegality or lack of jurisdiction in the interlocutory order of the lower court calling for the exercise of the inherent powers of the High Court under Section 482, Cr.P.C. It noted that the order of the Magistrate under Section 630(2) was an interlocutory relief based on a prima facie assessment of facts and did not conclusively decide the ongoing trial under Section 630(1). If the Magistrate finds that the appellant company has been unable to prove that the 2nd Respondent was wrongfully withholding possession of the property, such interlocutory relief shall stand vacated, it said. Regarding the power of High Court, the bench said:
Section 397(2) of the Cr.P.C provides that the High Court's powers of revision shall not be exercised in relation to any interlocutory order passed in any appeal, inquiry, trial or other proceeding. Whereas Section 482 of the Cr.P.C provides that nothing in the Cr.P.C will limit the High Court's inherent powers to prevent abuse of process or to secure the ends of justice. Hence the High Court may exercise its inherent powers under Section 482 to set aside an interlocutory order, notwithstanding the bar under Section 397(2). However it is settled law that this can only be done in exceptional cases. This is, for example, where a criminal proceeding has been initiated illegally, vexatiously or without jurisdiction.
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