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Quashing of a complaint should rather be an exception and a rarity than an ordinary rule: SC

It is needless to point out that ever since the decision of the Privy Council in King Emperor vs. Khwaja Nazir Ahmed, the law is well settled that Courts would not thwart any investigation. It is only in cases where no cognizable offence or offence of any kind is disclosed in the first information report that the Court will not permit an investigation to go on. As cautioned by this Court in State of Haryana vs. Bhajan Lal, the power of quashing should be exercised very sparingly and with circumspection and that too in the rarest of rare cases. While examining a complaint, the quashing of which is sought, the Court cannot embark upon an enquiry as to the reliability or genuineness or otherwise of the allegations made in the FIR or in the complaint. In S.M. Datta vs. State of Gujarat, this Court again cautioned that criminal proceedings ought not to be scuttled at the initial stage. Quashing of a complaint should rather be an exception and a rarity than an ordinary rule. In S.M. Datta (supra), this Court held that if a perusal of the first information report leads to disclosure of an offence even broadly, law courts are barred from usurping the jurisdiction of the police, since the two organs of the State operate in two specific spheres of activities and one ought not to tread over the other sphere. (Para 41)

Skoda Auto Volkswagen India Private Limited v. The State Of Uttar Pradesh & Ors.

Special Leave Petition (Criminal) No.4931 Of 2020

Decided on November 26, 2020.

Counsel for Petitioner: Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi

Counsel for Respondent: Mr. Maninder Singh

The present case was decided by CJI S.A. Bobde, Justice A.S. Bopanna and Justice V. Ramasubramanian.

On 04.11.2015, The Automotive Research Association of India issued a notice to the Managing Directors of Skoda Auto India Private Limited, Volkswagen India Private Limited and Volkswagen Group Sales India Private Limited (amalgamated into the Petitioner company) stating that a study conducted by them on limited vehicle models fitted with Diesel EA 189 Engines, caused them to believe that the vehicles manufactured by Volkswagen, when tested on road, indicate 39 times more NOx pollution compared with the tests carried out in the laboratory on Modified Indian Driving Cycle (MIDC), and also that these Engines are equipped with ‘defeat devices’, thereby violating the requirements of the Central Motor Vehicles Rules. Around the same time, two Original Applications were filed before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) against the three above-mentioned companies and the Union of India, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and a few others were also made parties to this dispute. These original applications sought relief for inspecting the vehicles manufactured by Volkswagen to ensure no deceit devices were used and rectify the same and pay damages for restoration of the environment.

On 16.11.2018, the NGT prima facie recorded a finding that the manufacturer’s claim of not causing any damage to the environment could not be accepted and directed them to deposit Rs. 100 crores with the CPCB. Aggrieved by this, the manufacturers filed appeals before this Court; the Expert Team filed a Report during the pendency of the appeals. The Court disposed these appeals and allowed the manufacturers to file objections to the Report and directed the Tribunal to consider the same and to pass orders. The NGT heard both the applications and held the manufacturers liable by order dated 07.03.2019. Challenging this, two Civil Appeals were filed and this Court ordered the issue of notice in the appeals and directed that no coercive steps shall be taken against the Petitioner. At this stage, the 3rd Respondent lodged a complaint with the S.H.O., Gautam Budh Nagar, on 10.07.2020, alleging that he had bought 7 Audi cars from the authorised dealers of the manufacturers and later realised that he had been duped by the Company who had clarified that they had not installed cheat devices, and hence guilty of various offences under IPC.

The petitioner filed a Criminal Miscellaneous Writ Petition No.9233 of 2020 before the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad claiming that the 3rd Respondent had purchased only 3 vehicles as per the particulars mentioned in the VAHAN Portal of the Government, and that the complaint was lodged after more than 2½ years of purchase, was malicious and full of false particulars; and that the FIR is based only upon the NGT’s orders, which is the subject matter of the two Civil Appeals before this Court, and hence sought to quashing of the FIR. On order dated 01.10.2020, the High Court rejected the relief sought by the petitioner, but protected the officers of the petitioner against arrest till the submission of the Report under Section 173(2) of CrPC under the condition that they shall cooperate in the investigation and also appear whenever called upon to assist in the investigation. Dissatisfied with this, the petitioner has approached this Court with the above SLP.

The Court heard the Counsels for both sides.

In response to the contention of the petitioner that the High Court failed to take note of the long delay in lodging the complaint and also the fact that the 3rd respondent purchased only 3 vehicles, the Court stated:

The question whether the 3rd Respondent-complainant purchased 3 vehicles as revealed by the VAHAN Portal of the Government or 7 vehicles as claimed by him in his complaint, is a question of fact which has to be established only in the course of investigation/trial. In a petition for quashing the FIR, the Court cannot go into disputed questions of fact. (Para 18)

The mere delay on the part of the 3rd Respondent-complainant in lodging the complaint, cannot by itself be a ground to quash the FIR. The law is too well settled on this aspect to warrant any reference to precedents. Therefore, the second ground on which the petitioner seeks to quash the FIR cannot be countenanced. (Para 19)

With respect to the first contention of the petitioner which revolves around the two Civil Appeals arising out of the order of the NGT, the Court held that the interim order passed for those Appeals should not be a deterrent for anyone else to lodge a complaint:

Therefore, the order of the NGT, passed on the applications filed by certain individuals not claiming as purchasers of vehicles, cannot be taken as an impediment for an individual who purchased cars from the manufacturers, to lodge a complaint, if he has actually suffered on account of any representation made by the manufacturers. (Para 23)

Further, the Court stated:

At this stage no one can presume whether the defence of the manufacturer to the police complaint will be purely on a question of fact or purely on a question of law or on mixed questions of fact and law. If the petitioner takes a defense that no such devices were installed in the cars purchased by the 3rd respondent or that there was no misrepresentation in this regard, it will be a pure question of fact, which cannot be gone into in a quash petition. If the petitioner takes a defence that the installation of such devices, though true, does not violate any law, then it will be a pure question of law. We may be entitled to go into this question in a quash petition, provided the petitioner comes up with a categorical admission that they had installed such devices and yet there was no violation of the law. We do not expect the petitioner to disclose their defence at this stage nor would we speculate what type of defence the petitioner would have to the prosecution. (Para 37)

Disagreeing with the contention of the Counsel for the petitioner that the substratum of the police complaint is something that is already the subject matter of adjudication before this Court in the Appeals arising out of the order of the NGT, the Court observed:

It is in the backdrop of what transpired in Europe and U.S.A., during the period from 2015 to 2019 that the action initiated by the Automotive Research Association of India in November 2015 and the proceedings that went on before the National Green Tribunal from the year 2015 to the year 2019, have to be seen. All of them were part of the global outrage that actually concerned the damage caused to the environment by the emissions from the cars allegedly fitted with manipulative devices. The proceedings before the NGT were not intended to address issues relating to individuals, such as (i) whether any emissions manipulation software, called in common parlance as ‘defeat devices’ were installed in the vehicles purchased by certain individuals; and (ii) whether any representation was made to the purchasers of the cars in which such devices had been installed, about the emission efficiency level of the cars. (Para 39)

Moreover, the Court stated that the High Court has been fair to the petitioner, by granting protection against arrest till the filing of the Report under Section 173(2) of the CrPC; the Court relied on the following judgments for the scope of quashing a complaint- King Emperor vs. Khwaja Nazir Ahmed, AIR 1945 PC 18, State of Haryana vs. Bhajan Lal, (1992) Supp. (1) SCC 335 and S.M. Datta vs. State of Gujarat, (2001) 7 SCC 659.

The Court dismissed the SLP.

Jhanavi M



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