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Supreme Court: Moving the High Court’s jurisdiction to seek release of seized vehicles without engaging the magistrate deemed inappropriate.

Case title: Khengarbhai Lakhabhai Dambhala v. The State of Gujarat

Case no.: Criminal Appeal No.1547 Of 2024

Order on: 8th April 2024

Quorum: Justice Bela M. Trivedi and Justice Pankaj Mithal

FACTS OF THE CASE

In this case, the appellant claimed ownership of a vehicle, an Eicher 10.80 (Blue) bearing no. GJ 05-BT-0899, which was seized by police as Muddamal Article in connection with FIR no. 11200038231465/2023. The FIR was lodged under various sections of the Gujarat Prohibition Act and IPC at the Pardi Police Station, District Valasad. The police intercepted the vehicle based on secret information and alleged that it was carrying English Liquor (1240.200 Liters) worth rupees 7 lakhs without any pass or permit. The appellant, claiming to be the owner, filed a Special Criminal Application No.6465 of 2023 before the High Court of Gujarat at Ahmedabad seeking release of the seized vehicle. However, the High Court dismissed the application through an order dated 08.06.2023, leading to the present appeal.

CONTENTIONS OF THE APPELLANT

The appellant contended that the vehicle should be released, claiming ownership, without approaching the concerned criminal court under Section 451 of the Cr.P.C. Instead, they filed a Special Criminal Application directly in the High Court under Article 226/227 of the Constitution of India.

CONTENTIONS OF THE RESPONDENTS

The State of Gujarat, represented as the respondent, contended that Section 98(2) of the Gujarat Prohibition Act 1949 forbids the release of the vehicle until the final judgment of the court if the quantity of seized liquor exceeds the prescribed limit.

In this case, the seized quantity of liquor was 1240 liters, far exceeding the prescribed quantity of 20 liters as per the relevant notification.

In case of Sunderbhai Ambalal Desai vs. State of Gujarat, it is of no use to keep the seized vehicles at the police stations for a long period and it is for the magistrate to pass appropriate orders for the proper custody of the said such vehicles during the pendency of the trial. However, as observed earlier, the appellant without approaching the concerned criminal court under Section 451 of the Cr.P.C seeking custody of the vehicle in question, directly approached the High Court by filing Special Criminal Application under Article 226/227 of the Constitution of India, which was not the proper course as adopted by the appellant.

LEGAL PROVISIONS

Section 65 of Gujarat Prohibition Act, Sub-Section:

(a) imports or exports any intoxicant 1 [ ( other than opium ) ] or hemp.

(e) sells or buys any intoxicant 1 [ (other than opium) ] or hemp.

Section 81 of Gujarat Prohibition Act – Whoever, attempts to commit or abets the commission of an offence be punished for such attempt or abetment.

Section 98(2) of Gujarat Prohibition Act – Any receptacle, package or covering in which any of the articles liable to confiscation by the order of the Court.

Section 132 of Gujarat Prohibition ActArticle seized – [When anything has been seized, under the provisions of this Act by a Prohibition Officer exercising powers under section 129 or by an Officer in-charge of a Police Station].

ISSUE

  • Whether the vehicle seized in connection with the offense under the Gujarat Prohibition Act could be released pending trial.
  • Whether the appellant’s approach, directly filing a Special Criminal Application in the High Court, was appropriate.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND JUDGEMENT

The court analyzed Section 451 of the Cr.P.C., which deals with the custody and disposal of property during an inquiry or trial. It emphasized that the criminal court has the jurisdiction to pass orders regarding custody or disposal of the property. The appellant’s direct approach to the High Court was deemed inappropriate, as there existed a specific statutory provision under Cr.P.C. for seeking custody of the seized property.

Regarding the prohibition against the release of the vehicle under Section 98(2) of the Gujarat Prohibition Act, the court noted the ambiguity in its wording. It observed that the provision lacked coherence in its construction and did not clearly establish a relationship between its parts. However, considering the broader context of the Act and Cr.P.C., the court concluded that the vehicle could not be released without proper legal procedure being followed.

The court dismissed the appeal, emphasizing that the appellant should approach the concerned criminal court for custody of the vehicle during the trial. It clarified that the dismissal didn’t bar the appellant from seeking relief through the appropriate legal channels.

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Judgement Reviewed by – Chiraag K A

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Appeals against the Contempt orders of Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) available only before the Supreme Court and not High Court: Allahabad High Court

Case title: Dr Brajendra Singh Chauhan & Ors. Vs Central Administrative Tribunal & Ors

Case no.: Writ Application No. – 602 of 2024

Order on: March 22nd, 2024

Quoram: Justice Vivek Kumar Birla and Justice Donadi Ramesh

Facts of the case

The petitioners who were initially appointed as Short Term Medical Officers had approached the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), Allahabad Bench and sought to issue an order to the respondents for their appointment as regular Assistant Medical Officers. The CAT ruled in favour of the petitioners. However, the petitioners alleging non-compliance of the order by the respondents again approached the CAT by filing a contempt petition under the provisions of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. The Tribunal noting a substantially compliance of the order by the respondents disposed of the application. Aggrieved by the same, the petitioners appealed before the Allahabad High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution.

The Respondent’s Counsel submitted that the writ petition is not maintainable under Article 226 by citing Section 17 of the Administrative Tribunal Act, 1985 (AT Act) in conjunction with Section 19 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 (CC Act).

Legal Provisions

Article 323A – It empowers the Parliament to enact the law providing for adjudication or trial by Administrative Tribunals and specifies the jurisdiction and powers of such Tribunals including their power to punish for contempt.

Section 14 & Section 15 of the AT Act – It specifies the jurisdiction, powers and authority for the Central Administrative Tribunal and State Administrative Tribunal respectively.

Section 17 of the AT Act It empowers the Tribunal to punish for contempt of court and exercise its power similar to the High Court with regard to provisions of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.

Section 12 of the CC Act – It provides Punishment for Contempt of Court.

Section 19 of the CC Act – It provides that the appeals against the orders of Tribunal shall lie as a matter of right to the Bench of at least two Judges of High Court, where the contempt order is passed by the Single Judge and it shall lie to the Supreme Court where the order is passed by the Bench.

Court’s Analysis and Judgement

The Court addressing the question of maintainability of writ petition filed before the High Court against the orders passed under the Contempt of Courts Act delved into Article 323 A, Sections 14 & 17 of the AT Act and Sections 11, 12 & 19 of the CC Act. It drew a distinction between the orders passed by the Tribunal under Section 14(1) of the AT Act and the order passed under Section 17 of the AT Act. The Bench noted that the while there is no statutory remedy of appeal available under the former, the latter provides the same by virtue of Section 19 of the CC Act. Further, it noted that since the contempt proceeding under Section 17 of the AT Act is dealt with by a bench of not less than two members, the orders passed would be appealable only before the Supreme Court. Hence, it ruled that any order or decision of the Tribunal under the Contempt of Courts Act shall be appealable only to the Supreme Court within 60 days from the date of the order.

The Court heavily relied on the precedence laid down in the cases of T. Sudhakar Prasad Vs Government of A.P. and L. Chandra Kumar Vs. Union of India and held that the orders of the Tribunal under the Contempt of Courts Act shall be appealable only before the Supreme Court and no writ petition against the same shall be maintainable before the High Court under Article 226 / 277 of the Constitution of India. Accordingly, it dismissed the present petition citing the lack of maintainability.  This judgement thus, throws light on the jurisdictional scope of appeals arising from contempt proceedings under Section 17 of the Administrative Tribunals Act and clears line on the exclusive appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in matters regarding contempt orders issued by the Tribunal.

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Judgement Reviewed by – Keerthi K

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NCDRC overstepped its authority and jurisdiction by disregarding the Agreement’s binding covenants: Supreme court

Case title: Venkataraman Krishnamurthy vs Lodha Crown Buildmart Pvt. Ltd.

Case no.: CIVIL APPEAL NO. 971 OF 2023

Decided on: 22.02.2024

Quorum: Hon’ble Justice Aniruddha Bose, Hon’ble Justice Sanjay Kumar

 

Hon’ble Justices stated that, “it was not open to the NCDRC to apply its own standards and conclude that, though there was delay in handing over possession of the apartment, such delay was not unreasonable enough to warrant cancellation of the Agreement. It was not for the NCDRC to rewrite the terms and conditions of the contract between the parties and apply its own subjective criteria to determine the course of action to be adopted by either of them.

 

BRIEF FACTS:

The complainants, who planned to buy an apartment in a Mumbai building that the respondent company was going to build, were the appellants. The complainants received a flat as a result of the parties’ execution of an Agreement to Sell. The sale consideration was to be paid in four instalments of “application money” in accordance with the payment schedule, with the remaining sum due when fit outs started. According to the agreement, the complainants were to receive possession of the flat by June 30, 2016, or within a grace period of one year, so they could fit it out.

The complainants went to the NCDRC, claiming that the company had terminated the agreement and failed to deliver possession of the flat for fit outs by the specified date. In addition to reimbursement for the money they had paid, they prayed for damages for the harassment, mental anguish, and torture they had endured, as well as reimbursement for the costs of the lawsuit. The complainants were before the supreme Court because they were unhappy NCDRC order.

COURT ANALYSIS AND JUDGEMENT:

The court ruled that the contract condition required payment of delay compensation, and that if the delay lasted more than twelve months after the end of the grace period, the allottee could terminate the contract and receive a refund of his payment. The contract condition, however, stated that the refund would be made without any interest.

The Court went on to say that the appellants’ desire to avoid the additional tax liability resulting from the implementation of the Goods and Service Tax regime could not be used against them or attributed to them as an underhanded reason for withdrawing from the agreement.

After analysing the evidence and the parties’ agreement, the court concluded that the NCDRC exceeded its authority and jurisdiction by ignoring the binding covenants in the Agreement and introducing its own logic and rationale to determine what the parties’ future course of action, particularly the appellants, should be.  

The court orders the respondent-company to refund the deposited amount of Rs. 2,25,31,148 in twelve equal monthly instalments via post-dated cheques, with simple interest at 12% per annum, from the date of receipt of the amount or parts thereof until actual repayment.

 

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Written by – Surya Venkata Sujith

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Ashwini Upadhyay Ruling Deciphered, Special Courts Can Try Sitting & Former Legislators, Not Just Current Offenses: Delhi High Court

 

Case Title: Manjinder Singh Sirsa vs State of NCT of Delhi and Anr.

Case No: CRL.M.C. 9128/2023 & CRL.M.A. 34100/2023

Decided on: 08.01.2024

CORAM: Hon’ble Ms. Justice Swarna Kanta Sharma

 

 Facts of the Case

In an effort to reform elections, the Supreme Court issued several directives in the case of Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay v. Union of India, W.P. (C) 699/2016, including establishing Special Courts in various states to expedite trials for criminal cases involving MPs/MLAs. One such court was set up in Delhi in February 2018. However, on November 9, 2023, the Court further directed these Special Courts to prioritize cases against current MPs/MLAs.

The petitioner, a former MLA in Delhi, argues that this new directive doesn’t apply to him since he ceased being an MLA in February 2020, before the updated directions were issued. He further claims the criminal complaint against him pertains to events after he left office, therefore exceeding the Special Court’s jurisdiction.

Despite appearing in court through counsel due to being out of the country, the petitioner’s attempt to quash the complaint and summoning order through CrPC Section 482 and subsequent revision were unsuccessful. He then sought to return or transfer the complaint based on jurisdictional grounds, but this request was also dismissed. This dismissal prompted the petitioner to file the present petition.

The petitioner maintains that he shouldn’t face trial in the Special Court meant for current MPs/MLAs because he is no longer one and the alleged offenses occurred after his term ended. The court’s decision on this petition will determine the venue and potential consequences for the petitioner’s upcoming trial.

Legal provision

Section 482 of CrPC –

Saving of inherent powers of High Court. Nothing in this Code shall be deemed to limit or affect the inherent powers of the High Court to make such orders as may be necessary to give effect to any order under this Code, or to prevent abuse of the process of any Court or otherwise to secure the ends of justice.

Issues

  • Whether the Special courts, constituted for the purpose of trying cases relating to MLAs/MPs, will have jurisdiction to try the petitioner?
  • Whether the directions contained in the judgment of Hon’ble Apex Court apply to cases, registered after a person ceases to be an MP/MLA?

Court decision and analysis

Hon’ble Apex Court had sought details from the Government of India, as rightly observed by the learned ACMM, regarding cases which are lodged against the present or former legislators, between the period from 2014 and 2017. Thereafter, the Hon’ble Apex Court had passed certain directions for the effective disposal of criminal cases against sitting and former legislators, in 2018. The Hon’ble Apex Court had directed the High Courts to provide information about the pending cases against MPs/MLAs in a prescribed format, in 2020. Thereafter, after the matter was again taken up by the petitioner, it was clarified that the pendency of the case of Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, would not come in the expeditious disposal of the case relating to the elected representatives i.e. either sitting or former. Hon’ble Apex Court nowhere has observed that the Special Courts shall try only those offenses where the accused was a sitting MP/MLA, at the time of the commission of offence.

On the basis of the aforementioned orders, Court arrived to the conclusion that the Special Courts were constituted for dealing with cases against the legislators i.e. MPs or MLAs, whether sitting or former.

In the light of the directions issued by the Apex Court contained in the case of Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay and applying it to the facts of the present case, the court was of the opinion that the Special Court constituted to deal with cases against MPs/MLAs, have no jurisdiction to try the present complaint case.

Accordingly, the present petition along with pending application stood dismissed.

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Written by- Bhawana Bahety

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Analysis of the constitutional provision of Article 122 with regards to suspension of members of parliament

Introduction :

During the winter session of the parliament, more than 145 members of the parliament were suspended on account of opposition to the central government between December 14 and December 21, 2023.  This firstly causes a functional calamity in the parliament and also affects the roles and responsibilities of the MPs. The suspended members are barred from entering the chambers of parliament, including the lobby and gallery. They are also restricted from participating in sittings of Parliamentary Committees. Any notice or business listed under their name will not be under operational conditions during the suspension[1]. Some claim the suspension is a consequence of the Opposition’s demand for a statement in parliament by the government over the security breach[2].

In total, over 100 MPs from the Lok Sabha were suspended and over 46 from the Rajya Sabha. This marks as the highest number of suspensions in the parliament. Crucial bills have been passed at this time of suspension including the telecommunications bill and the criminal law reform bills[3].

The power to suspend :

It is within the authority of both Houses of Parliament to punish disobedient members in order to maintain their uninterrupted operations. This authority is granted in order to make sure the Houses run well and to punish those who cause chaos.

As a general rule, the Presiding officer, i.e the Speaker of both the houses should maintain peace and order so that the House can function smoothly. To ensure that, he/she has the right to withdraw a member from the house.

In the Lok Sabha, The Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha provides for the provisions relating to suspension, withdrawal and reprimand from lok sabha due to unruly behaviour[4].

  • Rule 373, the speaker can direct a member to withdraw immediately from the house in case of any misconduct. The members who are ordered to withdraw remain absent for a day’s sitting.
  • Rule 374 provides for the speaker to call out the members who disregard the authority of the chair or abuses the rules. Such members will be suspended for a period not exceeding the session.
  • Rule 374A was added in 2001 which states that if any member through their actions or causes any gross violation will be automatically suspended by the speaker for a period of either 5 consecutive sittings or the remainder of the session, whichever is less.

According to the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Council of States (Rajya Sabha)[5], the members of the Rajya Sabha will be suspended through the procedure mentioned in the following procedure :

  • Rule 255 states that the presiding officer can invoke the suspension of the MP. The chairman can suspend if in his opinion is behaving through misconduct or is causing disorder.
  • Rule 256 provides that the chairman can suspend a member from the service of the Council for a period not exceeding the remainder of the session.

Constitutional validity of suspension of MPs :

The true essence of Indian Democracy is the feature of separation of powers. This means, the executive, legislature and judiciary are its own bodies and either of them can interfere. The roles of these bodies cannot be interchanged or taken upon.

However, the constitution of India provides for the Judicial Review, which allows the judiciary to look into any reform and suggest the government. Similarly, the constitution also ensures that the powers of the bodies are not overlapped under Article 122.

It states that:

  1. Courts not to inquire into proceedings of Parliament

(1) The validity of any proceedings in Parliament shall not be called in question on the ground of any alleged irregularity of procedure

(2) No officer or member of Parliament in whom powers are vested by or under this Constitution for regulating procedure or the conduct of business, or for maintaining order, in Parliament shall be subject to the jurisdiction of any court in respect of the exercise by him of those powers  

The Supreme Court in various instances have upheld the validity of the proceedings of the parliament on the ground that it is permissible under Article 122. Article 122 set the foundation principle to not overlap the functions of the judiciary and the legislature.

Article 122 acts as an immunity to the Parliament and a restriction on the judiciary.

Judicial Pronouncements

In the case of Ramdas Athawale v Union of India[6], the hon’ble Supreme Court held that Under Article 122(2),  the decision of the Speaker in whom powers are vested to regulate the procedure and the conduct of business is final and binding on every Member of the House. The facts of the case was that the speaker adjourned the house and resumed the meeting after a while. The court found that the irregularity of proceedings was not established.

The court also found that, “The courts cannot go into the lawfulness of the proceedings of the Houses of Parliament. The Constitution aims at maintaining a fine balance between the legislature, executive and judiciary. The object of the constitutional scheme is to ensure that each of the constitutional organs function within their respective assigned sphere”. The same principle was followed in the case of Satish Chandra v Speaker, Lok Sabha[7] where the court held that it is well used in the language of Article 122 that the courts cannot interfere with the proceedings of the parliament.

In the Allahabad High Court, the question arose in the case of Naveen Gupta V Union of India[8] was whether the votes given by lok sabha members were valid or not. The court stated that, the ability to answer such question is beyond the scope and control of the judiciary and judicial review presented by the constitution.

The court opined that:

“ In our opinion, these are not matters for judicial review in view of the specific provision in Article 122(1) of the Constitution”

Article 212 of the Constitution provides for the same rules of court interference in the matters of state legislature. The Hon’ble supreme court in M. S. M. Sharma v. Dr. Shree Krishna Sinha[9] held that the validity of proceedings inside the state legislature on the grounds of not following proper procedure cannot be challenged in court. The court stated that, the state legislature has its special jurisdiction, and no court can interfere into that. Furthermore, in the case of Kihoto Holloahan, stated that the state legislature has the same immunity from mere irregularities of procedure.

 The Supreme Court in the landmark case of Raja Ram Pal V Hon’ble Speaker Lok Sabha and Ors[10] laid down the twin test to contemplate Article 122 of the Constitution. The test was that unless there is illegality in the proceedings, the court would not interfere. The court stated that irregularities in procedure and unconstitutionality of the proceedings would be accepted as the text only mention the illegality of the proceeding to be barred.

It stated that “ Any attempt to read a limitation into Article 122 so as to restrict the court’s jurisdiction to examination of the Parliament’s procedure in case of unconstitutionality, as opposed to illegality would amount to doing violence to the constitutional text. Applying the principle of “expressio unius est exclusio alterius” (whatever has not been included has by implication been excluded), it is plain and clear that prohibition against examination on the touchstone of “irregularity of procedure” does not make taboo judicial review on findings of illegality or unconstitutionality”

In another landmark case of Indira Nehru Gandhi v Raj Narain, it was held that the constitution ensures that there is adequate separation of powers as it is upto the legislature’s hand to decide their own proceedings. The ambit of the court would go to the extent of ensuring proper procedure has been established and if there are irregularities, such shouldn’t be illegal in nature.

In the recent case of Rojer Mathew (S) v. South Indian Bank Ltd[11], the court agreed with the previous interpretation of Article 122 as providing immunity to the legislature. It stated that India is governed by constitutional supremacy and judicial review is part of the basic structure of the constitution. It quoted :

“Any exclusion of judicial review has to be understood in the context in which it has been mandated under a specific provision of the constitution. Hence the provisions contained in article 122 which protect an alleged irregularity of procedure in the proceedings in Parliament being questioned cannot extend to a substantive illegality or a violation of a constitutional mandate.”

Conclusion :

In a country like India where democracy prevails from time to time, it is challenging to shun down the voices of MPs. However, the arbitrariness and the power vested upon the speaker of the houses creates a dynamic view for the definition of democracy. Although the aspect of suspension cannot be questioned by the judiciary, it is yet to be clarified whether the same is legal or not. As per the rules of the houses, the speaker has unprecedented power to suspend or withdraw any member he wishes to. The main conflict of interest among such thought is that the suspension can be purely based on the speaker’s opinion and thoughts. This on the outlook seems arbitrary and unreasonable. However, it is clear that the Court’s scope on challenging such is beyond the powers mentioned in the Constitution.

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Written by- Sanjana Ravichandran

[1] Sounak Mukhopadhyay, 141 Opposition Mps Suspended So Far : Are They Allowed To Enter Parliament? Check List Of Restriction, LIVEMINT (Dec 20, 2023) https://www.livemint.com/news/india/141-opposition-mps-suspended-so-far-are-they-allowed-to-enter-parliament-check-list-of-restrictions-11703057026922.html

[2] DHNS, Parliament, Democracy in suspension, DECCANHERALD (Dec 20,2023) https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/editorial/parliament-democracy-in-suspension-2818157

[3] PRS Legislative Research, Winter Session Snapshot: Record Number of Lok Sabha MPs Suspended; No Bills Sent to Committees, THEWIRE (Dec 23, 2023) https://thewire.in/government/winter-session-snapshot-record-number-of-lok-sabha-mps-suspended-no-bills-sent-to-committees

[4] Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha, 15th edition, https://eparlib.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/66/1/Rules_Procedure_LokSabha.pdf

[5] Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Council of States (Rajya Sabha), 9th edition https://cms.rajyasabha.nic.in/UploadedFiles/LegislativeSection/LegislativeRules/English_2052022english_3092021rules_pro.pdf

[6] (2010) 4 SCC 1

[7] (2014) SCC 2 178

[8] (1999) ALR 36 328

[9] AIR 1960 SC 1186

[10] (2007) SCC 3 184

[11] 2019 SCC ONLINE SC 1456

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