1. This matter is placed before us as the following question has been referred by Mr. Justice Pratap for decision by Division Bench :
Is an order framing a charge an 'interlocutory order' within the meaning of Section 397(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 Criminal Case No. 381/CW/77 is pending in the Court of the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, 8th Court, Esplanade, Bombay. That case is against the three accused who are the petitioners before us. The allegation against the accused is that they have committed certain offences under the Customs Act. Evidence was led before the Magistrate before framing charge. Thereafter, the Magistrate considered the question as to whether there exist sufficient grounds for framing charge. The Magistrate passed an order dated 27th April 1979 that a prima facie case has been made out against the accused. Consequently, a formal charge for having committed offences under Sections 135(a) and 135(a)(ii) was framed. It is this order and the framing of charge that is being challenged by the petitioners. This revision application came up before Mr. Justice Pratap for hearing. On 13th August 1979 Mr. Justice Pratap, after hearing the learned advocates appearing on behalf of the petitioners and the respondents, found that in view of the importance of the above question it was desirable to refer the matter to the Division Bench.
2. Section 397 empowers the High Court and the Sessions Court to call for and examine any record of a proceeding before a Criminal Court for the purpose of satisfying as to the correctness, legality and propriety of any finding, sentence of order. Sub-section (2) is however material as the contention of the respondents is that the impugned order of framing charge is an interlocutory order and as such, not revisable. That sub-section reads as follows :
'S. 397(2). The powers of revision conferred by sub-section (1) shall not be exercised in relation to any interlocutory order passed in any appeal, inquiry, trial or other proceeding.' The contention of Mr. Gandhi for the respondent No. 1 is that the framing of a charge does not decide the matter finally and as such, it is an interlocutory order. He relied upon the decision of the Calcutta High Court in the case of Dhanraj Jain v. B. K. Biswas, . It was a case of a revision against the framing of a charge and a Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court has held as follows :
'Framing of charges is nothing but written formulation of specific accusation and communicated to the accused so that he may defend himself. The controversy between the parties cannot be said to be finally sent at rest by framing charges.' Similar view is taken by that High Court in the case of Biswa Nath Agarwalla v. The State reported in . The Delhi High Court in the case of Bhupinder Kumar v. State reported in : 1975RLR228 has also held that an order framing a charge is not revisable in view of the provisions of Section 397(2). Mr. Gandhi further relied upon a decision of this Court in the case of Suraj Prakash v. R. K. Gurnani, (1975) 77 Bom LR 458. The relevant observation on page 461 is as follows :
'Now, as already noted, it was after the coming into force of the new Code that the charge was framed in this case by passing an interlocutory order on April 9, 1974 and it is the correctness of that order that is challenged by the present revision petition. On a plain reading of S. 397(2), prima facie, it does appear that this being an interlocutory order, this Court is prevented from exercising revisional powers in the present case.' We may however observe that in Suraj Prakash case (supra) the question has not been argued before the Bench and the abovementioned observations have been made on the assumption that the order framing charge is an interlocutory order. Mr. Gandhi submitted that in view of the legal position enunciated by the abovementioned decision the petitioner would not be able to invoke the revisional jurisdiction of this Court as they intend a challenge the order framing a charge against them.
3. Mr. Tipnis for the petitioners, however, argued that the question as to whether the framing of a charge is an interlocutory order or not has now been conduced by the decisions of the Supreme Court. According to him, these decisions have laid down that such an order is not an interlocutory order and that at the most it would be an intermediate order which can be revised under Section 397. He relied upon the decision in the case of Madhu Limaye v. State of Maharashtra, : 1978CriLJ165 . In that case, a complaint was filed against the accused under Section 199(2) of the Criminal procedure Code with an allegation that the accused has committed an offence of defamation against Mr. A. R. Antulay, the then Law Minister of the Government of Maharashtra. The accused-appellant raised certain contentions in the Sessions Court alleging that the defamatory statements were not in respect of the conduct of the complainant in the discharge of his public functions, and as such, the Session Court is not entitled to take cognizance. Another contention was that the sanction given by the Government was bad and that the Chief Secretary has not applied his mind and had given the sanction in a mechanical manner. The Sessions Judge rejected these contentions and framed a charge against the appellant under Section 500 of the Penal Code. The appellant challenged this order of the Sessions Judge in this Court. A preliminary objection was raised that the said order was an interlocutory order and as such, it could not be revised. This contention was accepted. The accused-appellant, therefore, took the matter before the Supreme Court in appeal.
Thus the question arose in Madhu Limaye's case as to what is meant by an interlocutory order under Section 397(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. We would like to reproduce the following relevant headnote :
'Ordinarily and generally the expression 'interlocutory order' has been understood and taken to mean as converse of the term 'final order'. But an interpretation and the universal application of the principle that what is not a final order must be an interlocutory order is neither warranted nor justified. If it were so it will render almost nugatory the revisional power of the Sessions Court or the High Court conferred on it by Section 397(1). On such a strict interpretation, only those orders would be revisable which are orders passed on the final determination of the action but are not appealable under Chapter XXIX of the Code. This does not seem to be the intention of the Legislature when it retained the revisional power of the High Court in terms identical to the one in the 1898 Code.'
'Although the words occurring in a particular statute are plain and unambiguous, they have to be interpreted in a manner which would fit in the context of the other provisions of the statute and bring about the real intention of the legislature. On the one hand, the legislature kept intact the revisional power of the High Court and, on the other, it put a bar on the exercise of that power in relation to any interlocutory order. In such a situation it appears that the real intention of the legislature was not to equate the expression 'interlocutory order' as invariably being converse of the words 'final order'. 'An order rejecting the plea of the accused on a point which, when accepted, will conclude the particular proceeding, will surely be not an interlocutory order within the meaning of S. 397(2).' The impugned order in the instant case rejecting the application challenging the jurisdiction of the Court to proceed with trial, even though it may not be final in one sense is surely not interlocutory so as to attract the bar of sub-section (2) of Section 397. It must be taken to be an order of the type falling in the middle course.'
Mr. Gandhi for the respondent contended that while deciding the abovementioned case, the Supreme Court has not considered certain other provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure and more particularly Section 398. But the following observation in paragraph 17 of the judgment would show that the provision of Section 398 has been specially considered :
'If a complaint is dismissed under S. 203 or under S. 204(4), or the Court holds the proceeding to be void or discharges the accused, a revision to the High Court at the instance of the complainant or the prosecutor would be competent, otherwise it will make S. 398 of the new Code otiose. Does it stand to reason, then, that an accused will have no remedy to move the High Court in revision or invoke its inherent power for the quashing of the criminal proceeding initiated upon a complaint or otherwise and which is fit to be quashed on the face of it The legislature left the power to order further inquiry intact in Section 398. Is it not then in consolance with the sense of justice to leave intact the remedy of the accused to move the High Court for setting aside the order adversely made against him in similar circumstances and to quash the proceeding ?' It was next submitted by Mr. Gandhi that Madhu Limaye's case has not specifically laid down that the order framing charge is not an interlocutory order. The contention of the accused was that the case be dropped as the prosecution was not tenable. In a way the accused contented that the order framing charge was bad and the case deserved to be dismissed. This contention was rejected by the High Court. Mr. Tipnis submitted that in this background the Supreme Court has, in fact, held that the order framing charge is revisable.
4. In our opinion, the law laid down in Madhu Limaye's case : 1978CriLJ165 is beyond any pale of doubt as in the recent case of V. C. Shukla v. State, Criminal Appeal No. 562 of 1979 decided on 7-12-1979 : : 1980CriLJ690 the Supreme Court has construed and interpreted Madhu Limaye's case. The judgment in V. C. Shukla's case is not yet reported in any law journal but a copy of the judgment was made available to us and the learned Advocates on behalf of both the sides have taken us through the relevant part of the judgment. We think that Mr. Tipnis is right when he contends that in V. C. Shukla's case, the Supreme Court has affirmed its own view that framing of a charge is not an interlocutory order under S. 397(2). Of course, under Section 11 of the Special Courts Act such an order was held to be an interlocutory order. This later part of the decision is based upon the construction of the Special Courts Act and more particularly upon the existence of the non obstante clause in Section 11 of the said Act which reads as follows :
'11(1) Notwithstanding anything in the Code, an appeal shall lie as of right from any judgment, sentence or order, not being interlocutory order, of a Special Court to the Supreme Court both on facts and on law.'
However, the Supreme Court has also considered the question as to the nature of the order framing charge when such an order is passed in a usual trial governed by the Code of Criminal Procedure. We would like to reproduce certain relevant portions from the judgment in V. C. Shukla's case (we are giving the internal running page numbers typed at the top center of the judgment copy that is supplied to us).
'A Division Bench consisting of three Judges (i.e. judgment in Madhu Limaye's case) held that an order framing a charge was not an interlocutory order and, therefore, a revision against such an order was competent before the Sessions Judge or the High Court.' (Page 249)
'Even so, the ratio decidendi in the aforesaid case, was, in our opinion, absolutely correct and we are entirely in agreement with the learned Judges constituting the Bench that the order of the Sessions Judge framing charges, in the circumstances of the case, was not merely an interlocutory order but partook of the nature of final order or, at any rate, an intermediate order so as to be taken out of the bar contained in S. 397(2) of the Code.' (Page 250)
'This Court took care to explain that in a situation with which the Judges were dealing in that particular case, it would not be proper to treat the order framing charges as interlocutory order pure and simple. Even though the order may be intermediate, it could not be said to be final so as to bar the revisional jurisdiction of the High Court under S. 397(3) of the Code. We find ourselves in complete agreement with the exposition of the law by the learned Judges who decided the said case.' (Page 251)
'In other words, the revisional power of the High Court or the Sessions Judge could be attracted if the order was not purely interlocutory but intermediate or quasi final'. (Page 251)
'We may, however, point out that we are in complete agreement with the principle, involved in the case discussed above, that an order framing charges against an accused undoubtedly decides an important aspect of the trial and it is the duty of the Court to apply its judicial mind to the materials and come to a clear conclusion that a prima facie case has been made out on the basis of which it could be justified in framing charges'. (Page 252)
'To sum up, the essential attributes of an interlocutory order is that it merely decides some point or matter essential to the progress of the suit or collateral to the issues sought but not a final decision or judgment on the matter in issue. An intermediate order is one which is made between the commencement of an action and the entry of the judgment. Untwalia J. in the case of Madhu Limaye v. State of Maharashtra clearly meant to convey that an order framing charges is not an interlocutory order but is an intermediate order as defined in the passage, extracted above, in Corpus Juris Secundum, Vol. 60.' (Page 264) It is no doubt true that the ultimate decision of the Supreme Court in V. C. Shukla's case is that an order framing charges is not an interlocutory order as contemplated by Section 11 of the Special Courts. Act. However, as stated earlier, this decision is given by the Supreme Court in view of the peculiar working of Section 11. Mr. Tipnis contended that even while so deciding the Supreme Court has specifically held that the nature of the order framing charge under the Code of Criminal Procedure would be different from the nature of similar order under the Special Courts Act. This is what the Supreme Court has observed on page 270 :
'On a true construction of S. 11(1) of the Act and taking into consideration the natural meaning of the expression 'interlocutory order', there can be no doubt that the order framing charges against the appellant under the Act was merely an interlocutory order which neither terminated the proceedings nor finally decided the rights of the parties. According to the test laid down in Kuppuswami's case (1948) Cri LJ 625 (supra) the order impugned was undoubtedly an interlocutory order. Taking into consideration, therefore, the natural meaning of interlocutory order and applying the non obstante clause, the position is that the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure are expressly excluded by the non obstante clause and therefore S. 397(2) of the Code cannot be called into aid in order to hold that the order impugned is not an interlocutory order. As the decisions of this Court in the cases of Madhu Limaye, : 1978CriLJ165 and Amarnath v. State of Haryana, : 1977CriLJ1891 were given with respect to the provisions of the Code, particularly S. 397(2), they were correctly decided and would have no application to the interpretation of S. 11 of (12) of the Act, which expressly excludes the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure by virtue of the non obstante clause.' In view of the above decision in V. C. Shukla's case, we think that it will not be possible for Mr. Gandhi to agitate that an order framing charges is an interlocutory order.
5. It was next urged by Mr. Gandhi that certain observations of the Supreme Court in V. C. Shukla's case : 1980CriLJ690 would be casual observations and as such, it would not be binding. He relied upon the decision of this Court in the case of Mohandas Issardas v. A. N. Sattanathan. : AIR1955Bom113 wherein it was held as follows :
'The observation of Bhagwati J. in the Supreme Court decision in Maqbool Hussain v. State of Bombay to the effect that the highest penalty which can be inflicted by the Customs Officers under the Sea Customs Act, 1878, is Rs. 1,000/-, is not an obiter dictum but a casual observation made in considering the whole scheme of the Act, and is, therefore, not binding upon the High Court on a question of the interpretation of Section 167, Item 8 of the Act.' The various observations of the Supreme Court in V. C. Shukla's case have already been reproduced by as above. We are not able to accept the contention of Mr. Gandhi that these observations were casual observations. On the contrary, we find that there is a direct decision by the Supreme Court on the question as to whether an order framing charge is an interlocutory order under Section 397(2). It will not, therefore, be possible for Mr. Gandhi to get over the decision in V. C. Shukla's case by contending that case only contains certain casual observations and not a decision of the Supreme Court.
6. It was next urged by Mr. Gandhi that in Madhu Limaye's case : 1978CriLJ165 , the charge was framed by the Sessions Court under Section 228 of the Code of Criminal Procedure while in the present case, the charge has been framed under S. 254 of the old Code which is practically equivalent to Section 246 of the new Code. There is one more section which deals with the framing of charge and it is Section 240. We would like to reproduce all the three sections in the new Code :
'228(1) If, after such consideration and hearing as aforesaid, the Judge is of opinion that there is ground for presuming that the accused has committed an offence which -
(a) is not exclusively triable by the Court of Session, he may, frame a charge against the accused and, by other, transfer the case for trial to the Chief Judicial Magistrate, and thereupon the Chief Judicial Magistrate shall try the offence in accordance with the procedure for the trial of warrant case instituted on a police report;
(b) is exclusively triable by the Court, he shall frame in writing a charge against the accused.
240(1) If, upon such consideration, examination, if any, and hearing, the Magistrate is of opinion that there is ground for presuming that the accused has committed an offence triable under this Chapter, which such Magistrate is competent to try and which, in his opinion could be adequately punished by him, he shall frame in writing a charge against the accused.
246(1) If, when such evidence has been taken, or at any previous stage of the case, the Magistrate is of opinion that there is ground for presuming that the accused has committed an offence triable under this chapter, which such Magistrate is competent to try and which, in his opinion, could be adequately punished by him, he shall frame in writing a charge against the accused.' Thus, the Sessions Judge, after considering the record of the case and the documents submitted therewith, has to form an opinion that there is ground for presuming that the accused has committed an offence. In a warrant case based on a police report, the Magistrate has also to form an opinion on the basis of the police report and other documents that there is ground for presuming that the accused has committed an offence. Section 246 deals with framing a charge in cases instituted otherwise than by a police report. In such a case, the complainant leads evidence before framing charge and as laid down in Section 346, the Magistrate frames the charge after such evidence has been taken and he having formed an opinion that there is ground for presuming that the accused has committed an offence. It is true that in a case, where Section 246 applies, there would be the evidence that was led by the complainant while in a case where the Session Court frames charge under Section 228 ordinarily there would not be any such evidence and the matter has to be dealt with on the basis of the documents and other relevant material. Mr. Gandhi, therefore, contended that framing of a charge under Section 228 would be quite different from the framing of a charge under Section 246 and as such, a decision given by the Supreme Court that framing of a charge under Section 228 of the Code of Criminal Procedure is not an interlocutory order would not be a good decision for the purpose of holding that framing of a charge under Section 246 is also not an interlocutory order. Mr. Tipnis for the petitioners replied that this distinction is not of any substance as according to him the very process which leads to the framing of a charge is one and the same. The nature of the order which leads to the framing of a charge has been considered by the Supreme Court in the case of State of Karnataka v. L. Muniswamy reported in : 1977CriLJ1125 in the following words :
'On the other hand, the decisions cited by learned counsel for the respondents in Vadilal Panchal v. D. D. Ghadigaonkar and Century Spinning& Manufacturing Co. v. State of Maharashtra show that it is wrong to say that at the stage of framing charges the Court cannot apply its judicial mind to the consideration whether or not there is any ground for presuming the commission of the offence by the accused. As observed in the latter case, the order framing a charge affects a person's liberty substantially and therefore it is the duty of the Court to consider judicially whether the material warrants the framing of the charge. It cannot blindly accept the decision of the prosecution that the accused he asked to face a trial.'
It would thus be clear that framing of the charge, whether under Section 228 or Section 240 or Section 246, does contemplate the application of a judicial mind to the facts of a case and then to take a decision as whether a charge should be framed or not. It is this process that is relevant for the purpose of considering whether the framing of a charge is an interlocutory order as contemplated by Section 397(2). The distinction which Mr. Gandhi intends to draw on the basis that in the present case the charge is framed under Section 246, does not, therefore, appear to be of any substance. Mr. Gandhi has also relied upon the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Rajeswar Prasad Misra v. State of West Bengal reported in : 1965CriLJ817 wherein it is laid down that the law declared by the Supreme Court binds Courts in India however, the Supreme Court does not enact. These observations have been made in paragraph 8 of the judgment. The question as to whether a retrial should be ordered or there should be an order to take additional evidence has been considered by two previous decisions of the Supreme Court. While considering this question, the Supreme Court has, by way of illustration, given certain circumstances which may be relevant for the purpose of deciding as to whether retrial should be ordered or additional evidence should be taken. Much stress was placed on these decisions while arguing the case reported in : 1965CriLJ817 for the purpose of contending that the power of ordering retrial or taking additional evidence can be exercised only as laid down in the two previous decisions. It is in this background that the Supreme Court has observed that the previous decisions have not laid down and enumerated the circumstances in which the particular power either of ordering retrial or Of directing additional evidence should be exercised. We think that the Supreme Court in Madhu Limaye's case : 1978CriLJ165 as also in V. C. Shukla's case : 1980CriLJ690 has specifically held that an order framing charge is not an interlocutory order. In our opinion, this decision is an explicit decision and it will not be possible for Mr. Gandhi to contend that there was only an observation. Similarly, we are not able to accept the contention of Mr. Gandhi that by these decisions, the Supreme Court wanted to make any enactment. Mr. Tipnis rightly submitted that what has been done by the Supreme Court is that it has construed the term 'interlocutory order' and Mr. Gandhi did not contend that the construction of the statute or the terms used in a section would be equivalent to making any enactment.
7. The result, therefore, is that we record our answer in the negative by holding that an order framing a charge is not an 'interlocutory order' within the meaning of Section 397(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. The revision be placed before a concerned judge for decision on merits.
8. Order accordingly.