17 April 2023 12:34 PM GMT
The Supreme Court of India on Monday directed a Varanasi court to provide a ‘legible’ charge sheet to Rajya Sabha MP RS Surjewala, who has allegedly been issued a summons for the first time in a 23-year-old criminal case. A bench of Justices BR Gavai and Vikram Nath was hearing a plea by the Congress legislator against the Allahabad High Court refusing to quash the proceedings in...
The Supreme Court of India on Monday directed a Varanasi court to provide a ‘legible’ charge sheet to Rajya Sabha MP RS Surjewala, who has allegedly been issued a summons for the first time in a 23-year-old criminal case.
A bench of Justices BR Gavai and Vikram Nath was hearing a plea by the Congress legislator against the Allahabad High Court refusing to quash the proceedings in the criminal case pending before a trial court in Varanasi for over two decades. The case against Surjewala dates back to the year 2000 when he, along with other Congress leaders, were booked under Sections 147, 332, 353, 336, 333, and 427 of the Indian Penal Code as well as Section 3 of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act. Surjewala, who was then the national president of the youth wing of the Indian National Congress, along with some others, had allegedly forcibly entered the premises of the commissioner’s office in Varanasi, created a ruckus, and assaulted public servants.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing on behalf of Surjewala told the bench today, “From 2000 to 2022, he has not once been summoned, or served. Then suddenly, last year, I am finally given a charge sheet, although it is entirely unreadable.” However, the high court did not notice these contentions before declining to quash the proceedings, alleged Singhvi. “And now, they have fixed it for framing of charges,” the senior counsel exclaimed.
“The trial court will dispose of his application for discharge at the same time as framing of charges,” Justice Nath countered, after emphasising that the single judge of the Allahabad High Court had directed the local court to decide Surjewala’s discharge plea expeditiously within six weeks.
“I am not on discharge,” Singhvi responded, as he proceeded to take the court through various judgements, in which the top court had quashed the proceedings on account of an inordinate delay. “No notice for the appellant, no summons, nothing. Civil law is strict, but criminal law has to be stricter.”
“Bailable warrants have been issued against the appellant and the trial had to be adjourned because of his absence,” Justice Nath said.
Singhvi replied, “Surjewala’s name is mentioned for the first time, last year. After so many years.”
However, the bench was reluctant to accept this submission. Justice Nath pointed out that Surjewala had not been individually named but was part of a group of absentee accused. “They have said, ‘rest of the accused are absent, while others are present.’ Only the names of those who have appeared have been mentioned. You are not right in saying that nothing has been happening. The appellant has been absenting himself and the trial has not been proceeding.”
“How could he have appeared if he wasn’t served?” Singhvi shot back.
“Summons, bailable warrants, and non-bailable warrants have been issued by the court. If the appellant does not appear, what is to be done?” Justice Nath asked. He then added that an unreasonable delay in the trial not attributable to the accused could be a ground for quashing of the proceedings in the trial. “Here, this is not the case.”
Singhvi attempted to convince the bench again, by repeating that the appellant had not received any notice, or summon. “The high court has not considered these facts,” the senior counsel argued. Justice Gavai remarked, “If the police was helping you there, what can be done?”
Besides this, Singhvi also argued that the charge-sheet produced to the legislator was mostly illegible. “I can read Hindi fairly well, but even I cannot make head or tail of what is written on most of the pages.” The senior counsel further alleged that the lower courts had not granted him any relief in this regard, despite highlighting this grievance before them. “How can anyone argue in favour of the discharge of the appellant without knowing the contents of the charge-sheet?” he asked. “This is a violation of the rights of the accused and a denial of justice.”
While the bench refused to be swayed by Singhvi’s contention on why the proceedings in the trial were liable to be quashed, it directed the local court to produce a legible copy of the charge-sheet to the appellant, before hearing his discharge application in accordance with the law. Justice Gavai pronounced, “It would not be in the interest of justice to permit the discharge application to be heard unless the petitioner has been served with a legible copy of the charge-sheet.”
In March, Justice Rajiv Gupta of the Allahabad High Court refused to quash the 23-year-old criminal case pending before the Varanasi court against Surjewala, noting that the accused could file a discharge application before the trial court. The high court further directed that in case the Congress MP filed a discharge plea before the local court within a period of two weeks, the same would be considered and decided expeditiously within six weeks.
Randeep Singh Surjewala v. State of Uttar Pradesh & Anr. | Special Leave Petition (Criminal) No. 4791 of 2023