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Offences Under Special Statutes Including SC/ST Act Can Also Be Quashed By Exercising Powers U/S 482CrPC/ Article 142: Supreme Court

Ashok KM
25 Oct 2021 4:04 PM GMT
Offences Under Special Statutes Including SC/ST Act Can Also Be Quashed By Exercising Powers U/S 482CrPC/ Article 142: Supreme Court
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"The mere fact that the offence is covered under a 'special statute' would not refrain this Court or the High Court, from exercising their respective powers under Article 142 of the Constitution or Section 482 CrPC" a three judges bench headed by CJI NV Ramana observed.

The Supreme Court observed that criminal proceedings arising out of Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989 can be quashed invoking powers under Article 142 of Constitution or Section 482 of Criminal Procedure Code.The mere fact that the offence is covered under a 'special statute' would not refrain this Court or the High Court, from exercising...

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The Supreme Court observed that criminal proceedings arising out of Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989 can be quashed invoking powers under Article 142 of Constitution or Section 482 of Criminal Procedure Code.

The mere fact that the offence is covered under a 'special statute' would not refrain this Court or the High Court, from exercising their respective powers under Article 142 of the Constitution or Section 482 CrPC, a three judges bench headed by CJI NV Ramana observed.

Such quashing powers, according to the court, can be invoked in these two situations:

(1) Where it appears to the Court that the offence in question, although covered under the SC/ST Act, is primarily private or civil in nature, or where the alleged offence has not been committed on account of the caste of the victim, or where the continuation of the legal proceedings would be an abuse of the process of law, the Court can exercise its powers to quash the proceedings.

(2) When considering a prayer for quashing on the basis of a compromise/settlement, if the Court is satisfied that the underlying objective of the Act would not be contravened or diminished even if the felony in question goes unpunished.

The bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, clarified that if there is even a hint of compulsion or force, no relief can be given to the accused party.

In this case, the appellants were convicted under SC-ST Act. Before the Apex Court, it was submitted that the matter had been settled between the parties, and the Complainant had filed an application for compromise.They prayed for invocation of Court's powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to quash the criminal proceedings.

The state opposed this prayer and therefore the court considered these issues: First, whether the jurisdiction under Article 142 of the Constitution can be invoked for quashing of criminal proceedings arising out of a 'non­compoundable offence? If yes, then whether the power to quash proceedings can be extended to offences arising out of special statutes such as the SC/ST Act?

On the first issue, the court referred to its recent judgment in Ramgopal & Anr v.  State of Madhya Pradesh LL 2021 SC 516 and observed that Article 142 can be invoked to quash a criminal proceeding on the basis of a voluntary compromise between the complainant/victim and the accused. The court, however, added:

"13. We, however, put a further caveat that the powers under Article 142 or under Section 482 Cr.P.C., are exercisable in post-­conviction matters only where an appeal is pending before one or the other Judicial forum. This is on the premise that an order of conviction does not attain finality till the accused has exhausted his/her legal remedies and the finality is sub ­judice before an appellate court. The pendency of legal proceedings, be that may before the final Court, is sine ­qua ­non to involve the superior court's plenary powers to do complete justice. Conversely, where a settlement has ensued post the attainment of all legal remedies, the annulment of proceedings on the basis of a compromise would be impermissible. Such an embargo is necessitated to prevent the accused from gaining an indefinite leverage, for such a settlement/compromise will always be loaded with lurking suspicion about its bona fide. We have already clarified that the purpose of these extra­ordinary powers is not to incentivise any hollow­hearted agreements between the accused and the victim but to do complete justice by effecting genuine settlement(s)."

Regarding the second question, the court made the following observations:

Court can altogether ignore the statutory provisions or other express prohibitions in law.

14.. Even though the powers of this Court under Article 142 are wide and far­reaching, the same cannot be exercised in a vacuum. True it is that ordinary statutes or any restrictions contained therein, cannot be constructed as a limitation on the Court's power to do "complete justice". However, this is not to say that this Court can altogether ignore the statutory provisions or other express prohibitions in law. In fact, the Court is obligated to take note of the relevant laws and will have to regulate the use of its power and discretion accordingly

The Courts have to be mindful of the fact that the SC-ST Act has been enacted keeping in view the express constitutional safeguards 

15. Ordinarily, when dealing with offences arising out of special statutes such as the SC/ST Act, the Court will be extremely circumspect in its approach. The SC/ST Act has been specifically enacted to deter acts of indignity, humiliation and harassment against members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The Act is also a recognition of the depressing reality that despite undertaking several measures, the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes continue to be subjected to various atrocities at the hands of upper­castes. The Courts have to be mindful of the fact that the Act has been enacted keeping in view the express constitutional safeguards enumerated in Articles 15, 17 and 21 of the Constitution, with a twin­fold objective of protecting the members of these vulnerable communities as well as to provide relief and rehabilitation to the victims of caste­based atrocities.

Mere fact that the offence is covered under a 'special statute' would not refrain this Court or the High Court

16. On the other hand, where it appears to the Court that the offence in question, although covered under the SC/ST Act, is primarily private or civil in nature, or where the alleged offence has not been committed on account of the caste of the victim, or where the continuation of the legal proceedings would be an abuse of the process of law, the Court can exercise its powers to quash the proceedings. On similar lines, when considering a prayer for quashing on the basis of a compromise/settlement, if the Court is satisfied that the underlying objective of the Act would not be contravened or diminished even if the felony in question goes unpunished, the mere fact that the offence is covered under a 'special statute' would not refrain this Court or the High Court, from exercising their respective powers under Article 142 of the Constitution or Section 482 Cr.P.C.


18. We may hasten to add that in cases such as the present, the Courts ought to be even more vigilant to ensure that the complainant victim has entered into the compromise on the volition of his/her free will and not on account of any duress. It cannot be understated that since members of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe belong to the weaker sections of our country, they are more prone to acts of coercion, and therefore ought to be accorded a higher level of protection. If the Courts find even a hint of compulsion or force, no relief can be given to the accused party. What factors the Courts should consider, would depend on the facts and circumstances of each case


The Court, the quashed the proceedings in the instant case for the following reasons:

Firstly, the very purpose behind Section 3(1)(x) of the SC/ST is to deter caste­ based insults and intimidations when they are used with Page | 12 the intention of demeaning a victim on account of he/she belonging to the Scheduled Caste/ Scheduled Tribe community. In the present case, the record manifests that there was an undeniable pre­existing civil dispute between the parties. The case of the Appellant, from the very beginning, has been that the alleged abuses were uttered solely on account of frustration and anger over the pending dispute. Thus, the genesis of the deprecated incident was the afore­stated civil/property dispute. Considering this aspect, we are of the opinion that it would not be incorrect to categorise the occurrence as one being overarchingly private in nature, having only subtle undertones of criminality, even though the provisions of a special statute have been attracted in the present case.

Secondly, the offence in question, for which the Appellant has been convicted, does not appear to exhibit his mental depravity. The aim of the SC/ST Act is to protect members of the downtrodden classes from atrocious acts of the upper strata of the society. It appears to us that although the Appellant may not belong to the same caste as the Complainant, he too belongs to the relatively weaker/backward section of the society and is certainly not in any better economic or social position when compared to the victim. Despite the rampant prevalence of segregation in Indian villages whereby members of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe community are forced to restrict their quartes only to certain areas, it is seen that in the present case, the Appellant and the Complainant lived in adjoining houses. Therefore, keeping in mind the socio­economic status of the Appellant, we are of the opinion that the overriding objective of the SC/ST Act would not be overwhelmed if the present proceedings are quashed.

Thirdly, the incident occurred way back in the year 1994. Nothing on record indicates that either before or after the purported compromise, any untoward incident had transpired between the parties. The State Counsel has also not brought to our attention any other occurrence that would lead us to believe that the Appellant is either a repeat offender or is unremorseful about what transpired.

Fourthly, the Complainant has, on her own free will, without any compulsion, entered into a compromise and wishes to drop the present criminal proceedings against the accused.

Fifthly, given the nature of the offence, it is immaterial that the trial against the Appellant had been concluded.
Sixthly, the Appellant and the Complainant parties are residents of the same village and live in very close proximity to each other. We have no reason to doubt that the parties themselves have voluntarily settled their differences. Therefore, in order to avoid the revival of healed wounds, and to advance peace and harmony, it will be prudent to effectuate the present settlement.

Case name and Citation: Ramawatar vs. State of Madhya Pradesh |  LL 2021 SC 589

Coram : CJI NV Ramana, Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli

Click here to Read/Download Judgment





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