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Supreme Court grants Anticipatory Bail where FIR is lodged after a long delay of 29 years

Many a time, delay may not be fatal to the criminal proceedings. However, it always depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case. However, at the same time, a long delay like 29 years as in the present case can certainly be a valid consideration for grant of anticipatory bail. (Para 7)

Sumedh Singh Saini v. State of Punjab and Anr.

Criminal Appeal No.827 Of 2020 (Arising From SLP (Criminal) No.4336/2020)

3rd December, 2020.

Counsel for Appellant: Shri Mukul Rohatgi.

Counsel for Respondents: Shri Sidharth Luthra, Shri K.V. Vishwanathan.

The Hon'ble Supreme Court Justices Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy And M.R. Shah in an appeal against the High Court order which dismissed the anticipatory bail application of the appellant herein quashed and set aside the same and allowed the appeal to stand.

In 1991, one Balwant Singh Multani was illegally abducted from his residence by a team of officials operating under the instructions of the appellant; that he was severely and inhumanly tortured while in custody, by and at the behest of the appellant. It is further alleged that a false and fabricated FIR might have been registered at the instance of the appellant to suggest that the victim was brought to the police station from where the victim was alleged to have escaped. That apprehending his arrest, the appellant filed anticipatory bail application before the learned Additional Sessions Judge, Mohali who granted him anticipatory bail. When the appellant applied for anticipatory bail, the allegations in the FIR against the appellant were only for the offences punishable under Sec.364, 201, 344, 330, 219 and 120­B of the IPC. Thereafter, as the appellant was apprehending that the offence under Sec. 302 IPC may be added, he approached the court for anticipatory bail for the same for which the judge granted protection by way of three days’ advance notice in case of addition of the offence. Later, the three accused submitted applications before the learned Chief Judicial Magistrate, Mohali for grant of pardon and declaring them as approver under Sec.306 Cr.P.C which was dismissed. However, the applications of other two co-accused were allowed and their statements were against the accused, based on which Sec.302 of IPC was added against the accused. The application of the accused for anticipatory bail was dismissed by both the Additional Sessions Judge and the High Court of Punjab and Haryana which resulted in the present appeal.

The counsel for appellant submits that the present FIR is filed with a malafide intention to harass the appellant and at the instance of the present party in power in the State and even otherwise the present FIR is not maintainable as being a second FIR on the same set of facts and has been registered after delay of 29 years of the alleged incident. It is submitted that earlier attempt to falsely implicate the appellant failed and a similar FIR for the very incident in question and with somewhat similar allegations came to be quashed by this Court in the case of State of Punjab v. Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar, (2011) 14 SCC 770. It is submitted that during his life time the father of Balwant Singh Multani did not initiate any fresh proceedings and after a period of six years and after the death of the father of Balwant Singh Multani, the present FIR has been filed after 29 years of the incident and that too by the brother of deceased with the political support of the current State Government. It is submitted that after the first FIR, the investigating agency with a malafide intention pressurised two co­accused and made them approver and obtained the statements against the appellant and the offence punishable under Sec.302 IPC has been added. Even the present FIR also suffers from a serious jurisdictional error, since as per Sec.177 and Sec.178 Cr.P.C. the ordinary place of investigation and trial is within whose local jurisdiction the offence has occurred. Also, a Special Leave Petition for quashing the FIR is pending in the court.

It is submitted by the counsel for respondents that the offence punishable under Section 302 IPC has been added after obtaining the permission from the learned Magistrate and a prima facie case is made out against the appellant. For the delay in lodging of FIR, it is submitted that as per catena of decisions of this Court, mere delay and/or political vendetta cannot be a ground to quash the criminal proceedings, more particularly when the allegations are very serious and are against the police officers. It is submitted that the present criminal proceedings/FIR is by the brother of the deceased considering the liberty reserved by this Court in the case of Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar (supra). It was submitted the appellant is a very influential person and may tamper with the evidence and therefore this is not a fit case to grant anticipatory bail to the appellant under Section 438 Cr.P.C.

The issue raised based on the contentions is as follows:

1) Whether the appellant is entitled to the anticipatory bail under Section 438 Cr.P.C.?

The court observes that a long delay like 29 years as in the present case can certainly be a valid consideration for grant of anticipatory bail. This Court reserved the liberty in favour of the father of the deceased to take recourse to fresh proceedings by specifically observing that if 'permissible in law' but it was reported that the father of the deceased died in the year 2014 and till then the father of the deceased did not initiate any fresh proceedings. After a period of 9 years from the date of decision of this Court in the case of Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar (supra), all of a sudden, now the brother of the deceased has initiated the present criminal proceedings. Even in the present FIR initially there was no allegation for the offence under Sec.302 IPC and the allegations were only for the offences under Sec.364, 201, 344, 330, 219 and 120­B of the IPC, for which there was an order of anticipatory bail in favour of the appellant and subsequently the offence under Section 302 IPC has been added on the basis of the statements of the co-accused approvers only, the court is of the opinion that the appellant has made out a case for anticipatory bail.

Hence, the court held that

"The impugned judgment and order passed by the High Court, as well as, the learned Additional Sessions Court dismissing the anticipatory bail applications of the appellant for the offence punishable under Section 302 IPC in connection with FIR registered at Mohali are hereby quashed and set aside." (Para 9)

Hence, the appeal stands allowed.

M. Maheswari