1. This application is filed by the complainant against the order of the learned Presidency Magistrate, 24th Court, Borivli, dismissing his complaint against the opponents under section 203 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
2. The complainant has filed a complaint against the opponents charging them with offences under sections 384, 385, 387, 220, 467 and 166 read with section 114 of the Indian Penal Code. In this complaint it was alleged that Opponents Nos. 1 and 2 (who will hereafter be referred to as accused Nos. 1 and 2) were brothers doing kariana business at Carter Road, Borivli, in the name and style of Shashikant Suryakant Parekh and that the complainant himself did similar business and had business dealings with the shop of accused Nos. 1 and 2 through their Mehta by name Nemichand. The complainant alleged that Nemichand used to bring the goods bought by him from the shop of accused Nos. 1 and 2 with the bills prepared by those two accused and take his signature on the counterfoils in token of having received the goods. He further alleged that in all 7 bills of different dates were sent to him by accused Nos. 1 and 2 and that they were all paid oft' through Nemichand. The complainant further alleged that on 20th April 1962 accused Nos. 1 and 2 sent a Bhayya to him at about 10 p. m. with a message that he was required urgently at their place and that in response io that message he went to the shop of accused Nos. 1 and 2. When he reached the shop, besides accused Nos. 1 and 2, accused No. 4 who was then the sub-inspector at Borivli police station and another man named Virji were also present in the shop. The complainant asked accused No. 4 as to why he was sent for. Accused No. 4 stated that Nemichand had misappropriated the moneys of accused Nos. 1 and 2, that a sum of Rs. 30,000/- was due from him (the complainant) to accused Nos. 1 and 2 and that he should pay that amount on pain of being put in the lock-up. The complainant told accused No. 4 that he had nothing to pay to accused Nos. 1 and 2 since he had paid for all tho goods received by him from them and that all the bills in respect of those goods were signed by Nemichand in token of his having received the amount thereof. Thereafter accused No. 4 took the complainant to the police station and from there he was taken to his own shop at about 2.30 a. m. for verify ing the bills. According to the complainant, all tie bills except the last one which could not be traced at mat time were seized by accused No. 4 and taken to the police station along with the complainant. The complainant further alleged that at about 5.30 a. m. on 21st April, 1962, accused No. 3 who was the senior grade sub-inspector at Borivli Police station came to the office and had a talk with accused No. 4 in English and that accused No. 3 thereafter threatened him to pay. Rs. 30,000/- to accused Nos. 1 and 2 or else be prepared to be put in jail. According to the complainant, accused Nos. 3 and 4 then left the Police station, saying that accused Nos. 1 and 2 should talk with the complainant. The complainant alleged in his complaint that accused Nos. 1 and 2 thereafter told him to pay at least half the amount i. e. Rs. 15,000 and further told him that if that amount was paid they would sea that he was allowed to go from the Police Station. Finding himself in a difficult situation, the complainant, it was alleged in the complaint, agreed to procure a sum of Rs. 5,000 in cash and execute bundles in respect of the balance of Rs. 10,000. The complainant then slated that accused No. 4 accompanied by accused Nos. 1 and 2 went tp the house of the complainant and there the complainant arranged to collect Rs. 5000 and on the collection being made, that amount was paid over to accused Nos. 1 and 2 at the police station in the presence of accused Nos. 3 and 4 at about 7.30 a. m. Three hundies, two of Rs. 2500/- each and one of Rs. 5000 were thereafter executed and separately dated by the complainant. On these allegations the complainant alleged that all the four accused obtained the money and valuable securities like hundies from him. The complainant further stated in this complaint that he asked accused Nos. 1 and 2 pass a writing in respect of the amount paid and the hundies passed by him and such writing was given by them. The complainant further alleged that in spite of this payment and execution of the hundies accused Nos. 3 and 4 did not allow him to leave the police-station and go home and demanded Rs. 2,000/- by way of bribe. The complainant told them that he had no more money to pay since he had already paid a sum of Rs. 5,000 to accused Nos. 1 and 2. According to the complainant, the two police officers, accused Nos. 3 and 4, thereupon threatened him and went away. At about 5.30 p. m. accused Nos. 1 and 2 came back to the police station along with accused Nos. 3 and 4 and the former told the complainant that they would pay Rs. 1500/ to accused Nos. 3 and 4 out of the sum of Rs. 5000/- received by them if the complainant agreed to execute hundies for that amount in their favour. The complainant stated that, there was no alternative left to him in the situation in which he found himself and therefore, he agreed to that proposal whereupon accused Nos. 1 and 2 paid Rs. 1500/- to accused Nos. 3 and 4 and two hundies, one for Rs. 500/- and the other for Rs. 1000/- were executed by him in the name of Bhimji Jivraj. According to the complainant, he asked for a receipt for this sum of Rs. 1500/- but accused Nos. 1 and 2 refused to pass any such receipt. It was only after all these things were done that he was released from ihe police custody and he went home. He, however, fell ill but soon after his recovery from that illness, on making enquiries he learnt that no complaint was at all filed by accused Nos. 1 and 2 with regard toany misappropriation of their money and that all the accused had joined hands with a view to extorting money and getting valuable securities from him. On these allegations, he filed a complaint against all the four accused charging them with offences as stated hereinabove in the Court of the presidency Magistrate at Borivli on 26th April 1962. Along with this complaint art application was also filed by the complainant praying that a search warrant be issued as against accused Nos. 1 and 2 for seizure of certain documents, papers and account books from their shop. The learned Magistrate did not pass any order either on the complaint or on the application on the day they were presented to him, but on the next day he issued notice to the accused to show cause as to why process should not be issued against them in respect of the charges made against them in the complaint. The hearing of this notice was taken up on the 27th September 1962, when the learned Magistrate thought fit to examine the complainant on oath in exercise of his power under section 202 of the Criminal Procedure Code, but curiously enough after examining him on oath on the subject-matter of his complaint, he allowed the advocate for accused Nos. 1 and 2 as well as the advocate for accused Nos. 3 and 4 to cross examine the complainant and the cross-examination covered as many as four typed pages. The learned Magistrate thereafter did not think' fit to examine any other witnesses. The further hearing of the notice was thereafter adjourned to 19th October 1962. On that day the learned Magistrate heard the arguments advanced by the respective advocates of the parties but since the arguments could not be over on that day, they were further heard on 24th October 1962. After considering the evidence and the documents produced in course of the enquiry, both by the complainant and the accused, the learned Magistrate thought that the complainant had failed to make out a prima facie case against the accused and that there was no truth in the complaint filed by him. The learned Magistrate accordingly dismissed the complaint under section 203 of the Criminal Procedure Code. It is against this order of the learned Magistrate that the complainant has filed the present revision apposition in this Court.
3. In support of this application, it was strenuously urged by Mr. Dalai, the learned advocate forthe complainant, that although the Procedure followed by the Magistrate in Greater Bombay of issuingnotices to persons charged with any offence beforeissuing process under provisions of the Criminal ProProcedure Code was not illegal as held by our HighCourt in In re Virbhan Bhagaji 30 Bom LR 642 :AIR 1928 Bom 290, the learned Magistrate couldcot possibly allow the accused a right to cross-examine the complainant as was done in the present case. According to him, the scope of enquiryby a magistrate to whom a complaint is presentedwith a view to ascertaining the truth or falsity ofsuch complaint is limited to examining the complainant and such of his witnesses as he thinks fit,hearing the explanation of the accused as regradsthe charges made against him, allowing him totender such documents as he pleases in support offails explanation, considering the evidence of thecomplainant and his witnesses and the explanationof the accused and the documents produced byhim, and then deciding whether or not he wouldissue process and further proceed with the hearingof the complaint. At one stage Mr. Dalai contended that the practice prevailing in theMagistrate's Court in greater Bombayof issuing notices to accused persons was condemnedby this Court. He was, however, not able to citea single decision which condemned that practice.On the contrary what we find is that this court in the decision referred to above, did not hold that practice to be illegal so as to vitiate the proceedings before the Magistrate. In the light of this decision, therefore, it must be held that there is nothing wrong in the Presidency Magistrates in Greater Bombay issuing notices to accused persons to show cause why processes should not be issued against them in respect of the complaints presented to them, though this practice is not strictly authorised by the provisions of section 202 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
4. The next question, however, is as to what powers a Magistrate can exercise under section 202 of the Criminal Procedure Code, even after issuing a notice to the accused to show cause why process should not be issued against him. Does the section' authorise the Magistrate to allow the accused to test the veracity of the evidence given by the complainant and such of his witnesses as the Magistrate thinks fit to examine, by permitting him to cross examine them? Does the section entitle the complainant even contrary to the wishes of the Magistrate to insist upon examining his witnesses whilst the Magistrate in making an inquiry under section 202? Can the accused insist upon a right to cross-examine the complainant and his witnesses whom the Magistrate has examined in course of such inquiry as a matter of right?
5. The relevant provisions of section 202 of the Criminal Procedure Code are as follows:
'(1) Any Magistrate, on receipt of a complaint of an offence of which he is authorised to take cognizance, or which has been transferred to him under section 192, may, if he thinks fit, for reasons to be recorded in writing, postpone the issue of process for compelling the attendance of the person complained against, and either inquire info the case himself or, if he is a Magistrate other than a Magistrate of the third class, direct an inquiry or investigation to be made by any Magistrate subordinate to him, or by a police officer, or by such other persons as he thinks fit, for the purpose of ascertaining the truth or falsehood of the complaint .....
(2A) Any Magistrate inquiring into a case under: this section may, if he thinks fit, take evidence ot witnesses on oath.'
6. It was contended by the learned advocate for accused Nos. 1 and 2 that under the provisions oi this section a Magistrate could, for the purpose ot satisfying himself as to the truth or falsity of the complaint presented to him, 'do anything under the sun', that is to say he had a right to allow the accused to test the veracity of the evidence of the complainant and the witnesses examined by the Magistrate in course of the inquiry and also pronounce judgment not only that the complaint was false or true but also that the accused was guilty or innocent. I am afraid, this is far too sweeping a statement made by the learned advocate, which is not at all borne out by any of the terms of section 202. It must be stated that a magistrate is a creation of the statute and his powers in dealing with cases coming up before him for disposal are defined by the several sections of the Criminal Procedure Code. If, under a particular section, a magistrate is holding an inquiry before deciding as to whether he should or should not issue a process to the accused, the scope of such inquiry must be held to be circumscribed by the provisions of the section itself. It may be that the provisions of such section may be capable of being liberally construed in the interest of justice, but that does not mean that, by putting such liberal construction, what is intended merely to be an inquiry before process is issued, should be converted into a full-fledged trial. It must further be noted that in an inquiry undersection 202 the initiative is with the Magistrate alone to examine or not to examine the complainantOR any of his witnesses. He has got the discretion to be satisfied merely on the statements made in the complaint and issue process forthwith. He has also the discretion to refer the complaint to the Police for inquiry, if he so thinks fit, or to make an inquiry himself as to the falsity or otherwise of the complaint presented to him by examining the complainant and such of his witnesses as he thinks fit. Strictly speaking, Section 202 of the Criminal Procedure Code, does not contemplate the presence of the accused at such inquiry at all. Since, however, a practice has grown up in this city and is continued for several decades of issuing notice to the accused to show cause why process should not be issued against him. Section 202 may be construed liberally in the sense that, apart from the examination of the complainant and such, ofhis witnesses as he may think fit to examine, the. Magistrate may allow the accused to tender an explanation as to the charges made against him and to produce such documents, as ho might please, in support of his explanation, and it would befor the magistrate then to decide the question of the issue of process one way or the other. The section does not permit the complainant to insistupon the examination of his witnesses as a matterof right nor does it entitle the accused to cross-examine the complainant or his witnesses whomay have been examined by the Magistrate in course of the inquiry as a matter of right. These 'rights of the complainant and the accused respectively only arise after the commencement of the trial under the provisions of the Criminal Pro-Procedure Code. In other words, it is only when theMagistrate chooses to issue process to the accusedand holds the trial that the complainant can insistupon examining any number of witnesses hechooses as a matter of right and the magistrate will then have no jurisdiction to debar him fromso doing, and the accused on his part will have a right to cross-examine each of the complainant'switnesses and the complainant himself and the Magistrate would have no power to debar him from exercising that right. In my opinion, therefore, a magistrate holding an inquiry under Section 202 of the Criminal Procedure Code cannot possibly allow either the accused or his advocate to cross-examine the complainant or any of his witnesses who may have been examined by him in his discretion for the purpose of ascertaining the truth or otherwise of the complaint. It may be open to the magistrate tp take the assistance of the accused or his advocate in himself putting the questions to the complainant and his witnesses who may be examined by him. But that would certainly be quite a different thing from the cross-examination 'by top accused or his advocate which would cover a much larger field than the one available to the Magistrate whose inquiry would be limited only to ascertaining the truth or falsity of the complaint and does not extend to determination of the guilt of the accused person. Since inthe present case, the learned Magistrate failed toconfine himself to 'the limits of his power as dennedby Section 202 of the Criminal Procedure Codeand allowed the advocate of the accused to cross-examine the complainant, which he was not entiled to do at the stage of inquiry, his order dismissing the complaint must necessarily be set aside.
7. The view that I am taking of the provision of Section 202 of the Criminal Procedure Code finds support in a recent decision of the Calcutta High Court in An it Kumar Saha v. Pranada Chakrabarty : AIR1958Cal146 . Mr. Justice K. C. Das Gupta (as he then was) examined the scheme of the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code with regard to the inquiry held by a magistrate before issuing process to the accused and observed that the utmost that a magistrate could do in course of such inquiry would be to take the assistance from the accused or his advocate in putting some questions to the complainant or his witnesses whom he may choose to examine for the purpose of finding out the truth or falsity of the complaint. The learned Judge, however, does nowhere observe in the judgment that instead of the magistrate taking assistance from the advocate of the accused in this manner, it would be permissible to him to allow the accused's advocate to cross-examine the complainant and his witnesses. Mr. Vaidya, the learned Assistant Government Pleader, contended that for all practical purposes it would not make the slightest difference if the magistrate put questions to the complainant and his witnesses at the suggestion of the advocate of the accused or the advocate of the accused himself directly put those questions to them. Though the contention may prima facie appear to be plausible, it appears to me that there is a good deal of substantial difference in the two modes. Where the Magistrate puts questions on the suggestion of the advocate of the accused, he has the power to reject the suggested questions if they go beyond the charge made in the complaint, but when the advocate is allowed to cross-examine the complainant and his witnesses such cross-examination would include questions affecting their character and credibility and many other matters which would not strictly be relevant at the stage of inquiry into the falsity or otherwise of the complaint. In my opinion, the true intention of the section is that it is the Magistrate who is the master of the situation until he decides the question as to whether he should issue the process or not, and he cannot allow himself to be a tool of the advocate for the accused so as to be guided in his discretion and judgment by what answers the complainant and his witnesses might give during their cross-examination by the accused's advocate.
8. I wonder whether this is not the first case in Greater Bombay in which in a notice for inquiry under Section 202 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the complainant has been allowed to be cross-examined by the advocate of the accused. Within my limited experience as a Judge of this Court, I have not come across such a case at all. At any rate, the practice of allowing the accused or his advocate the privilege of cross-examining the complainant or his witnesses is directly in contravention of the provisions of Section 202 and must, therefore, be forthwith put an end to. Magistrates in their zeal to dispose of cases expeditiously have no justification in disregarding the peremptory provisions of the statute. Their effort in that behalf will be better appreciated if they doit in strict conformity with the relevant provisions of the law.
9. It was then urged by Mr. Vaidya, the learned Assistant Government Pleader, that the Procedure adopted by the learned Magistrate might only amount to an irregularity and since no prejudice was caused to the complainant, the order need not be set aside in view of the provisions of Section 537 of the Criminal Procedure Code. It is difficult to accept this contention. Section 537 is not an omnibus section which can cure any sort of defect in the proceedings of a criminal case. It cannot possibly cure the exercise of powers not vested in the magistrate while disposing of cases. It cannot cure doing something which is repugnant to the aim and object of a particular provision of law. These kinds of defects cannot possibly be cured by the provisions of Section 537. In the present case, it is not as if there was some slight error in the Procedure followed by the learned Magistrate. In what was done by the learned Magistrate, a fundamental principle was involved. In the inquiry that he made he mixed up his own rights under section 202 with the rights of the accused which would be available to him only at the trial. In other words he allowed the accused the right to cross-examine the complainant which right the accused could only have after the commencement of the trial. This is not a small error which can be cured under section 537. Mr. Vaidya said that there was no prejudice caused to the complainant. In my opinion, considerable prejudice is caused to the complainant by the manner in which the learned Magistrate held the inquiry. After his cross-examination was over, the learned Magistrate did not think it fit to examine any of his witnesses, and the curious position was that the complainant did not have any right to examine any of his witnesses. Mr. Vaidya said that at least the complainant should have made an application that he wanted to examine some of his witnesses and that there was no reason to presume that the learned Magistrate would not have considered that application favourably, but while making this statement, Mr. Vaidya forgot that the discretion was entirely with the learned Magistrate whether to allow the application or not, and if he did not allow it, surely, the complainant would be deprived ot the benefit of the evidence of his witnesses., The Magistrate, however, would have no such discretion and refuse the complainant's request to examine his witnesses once the trial begins. Accordingly, there was considerable prejudice caused to the complainant and, therefore, even if section 537 were applicable for the purpose of curing the defect in the Procedure followed by the learned Magistrate, since it has caused serious prejudice to the complainant, that section cannot be availed of.
10. In the result, the application succeeds, the order of dismissal of the complaint passed by the learned Magistrate is set aside and the rule is made absolute. The learned Magistrate to proceed with the complaint afresh.
11. Application allowed.