1. The reference to the Division Bench has arisen under the following circumstances; Madhukar Moghe was the proprietor of a Medical Stores run under the name and style 'Anil Medical Stores', Bhandara, Sheoshankar Pande was a head constable attached to the police station at Bhandara at the relevant time. It appears that he effected search of the Stores under the Bombay Prohibition Act and the same day he approached Moghe and made enquiries about the contents of the box which he was carrying. Moghe informed the head constable that the box contained Ayurvedic medicines which he intended to take to Sakoli. The head constable searched the bos, and on search it was found that it contained a number of bottles containing Gajarasava. The head constable then seized the box, put Moghe under arrest and asked him to proceed to the police station and, when Moghe refused to do so, he was handcuffed. He paraded Moghe through the town. Moghe lodged a complaint on January 2, 1963, in the Court of the Judicial Magistrate, First Class, Bhandara, contending that the head constable acted maliciously in putting him under arrest and that he handcuffed and paraded him through the streets of the town with a view to disgrace him in the public eye. This complaint is purported to be filed under Section 220 of the Indian Penal Code.
2. The head constable raised a preliminary objection contending that the prosecution was barred under Section 146-A of the Bombay Prohibition Act. The trial Magistrate overruled the objection and directed the case to proceed according to law. From that judgment, the head constable went in revision to the Sessions Court. The learned Sessions Judge took the view that the complaint would be barred by limitation under Section 146-A of the Bombay Prohibition Act, and since he had no power to quash the order he referred the matter to the High Court for passing appropriate orders.
3. The matter came up before my learned brother Mr. Justice Paranjpe, who agreed with the view taken by the Sessions Judge, namely, that the prosecution would be barred by limitation under Section 146-A of the Bombay Prohibition Act. Mr. Jakatdar, who appeared for Moghe before my learned brother, raised a new point, contending that the provisions of Section 146-A of the Bombay Prohibition Act offended Article 14 of the Constitution of India. Since this was a constitutional question, which could not be decided by a single Judge, my learned brother felt it necessary to refer it to a Division Bench. That is how the matter has now come up before us.
4. In order to appreciate the rival contentions urged before us, it is necessary to refer to some of the provisions of the Bombay Prohibition Act. Chapter VIII of the said Act relates to excise duties. Section 105 defines the articles on which such duty may be leviable. Section 107 defines the power of the Collector for effecting a search in respect of dutiable goods and seizing them. Chapter IX defines the powers and duties of officers entrusted with the duties under the Prohibition Act. Section 117 lays down;
Save as otherwise expressly provided in this Act, all investigations, arrests, detentions in custody and searches shall be made in accordance with the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898.
The proviso to that section then modifies the well recognised principle that the panchas for the search must be inhabitants of the same locality as the premises. Section 118 makes offences under the Prohibition Act cognizable. Section 120 gives powers to the Director, Collector, or any Prohibition Officer duly empowered in this behalf by the State Government to effect an entry in a warehouse, godown, shop etc. and inspect the goods and seize contraband articles. Section 121 empowers the Prohibition Officer duly empowered by the State Government to open the packages of any articles.
5. It will thus be seen that special powers have been given, to those officers who are entrusted with the responsibilities of carrying out the provisions of the Act. Special powers go hand in hand with special responsibilities. Section 146 of the said Act bars a suit or proceeding against the Government or against a Prohibition Police or other officer for anything in good faith done or purported to be done under this Act. The provisions of Section 146 are similar to the provisions of Section 1 of the Judicial Officers Protection Act, 1850. No action is maintainable against either the Government or the officer concerned for anything done by him in good faith or anything purported to have been done by him under the provisions of the Act.
6. In this connection, we may refer to the provisions of Section 161 of the Bombay Police Act which, in effect, runs thus:
(1) In any case of alleged offence by the Revenue Commissioner, the Commissioner, Magistrate, Police officer or other person, or of a wrong alleged to have been done by such Revenue Commissioner, Commissioner, Magistrate, Police officer or other person, by any act done under colour or in excess of any such duty or authority as aforesaid, or wherein, it shall appear to the Court that the offence or wrong if committed or done was of the character aforesaid, the prosecution or suit shall not be entertained, or shall be dismissed, if instituted, more than six months after the date of the act complained of.
7. Section 161 of the Bombay Police Act lays down a period of limitation for an action against an officer named therein, done by him under colour of such authority, which amounts to abuse of power or which is in excess of the authority. That takes us to the relevant provisions, namely, Section 146-A of the Bombay Prohibition Act. Sub-section (1) provides:
All prosecutions of any Prohibition, Police or other officers, or of any persons empowered to exercise powers or to perform functions under this Act, and all actions which may be lawfully brought against the Government or any of the aforesaid officers or persons, in respect of anything done or alleged to have been done in pursuance of this Act, shall be instituted within four months from the date of the act complained of, and not afterwards.
8. Mr. Jakatdar contended that this provision is discriminatory in character, in that it lays down a period of limitation for actions or prosecutions against officers or persons entrusted to carry on the duties under the Bombay Prohibition Act, firstly because it does not lay down any period of limitation for launching prosecutions against those who have committed offences under the Bombay Prohibition Act, and secondly because the period of limitation, which, was sis months under Section 161 of the Bombay Police Act, has been abridged to four months under Section 146-A of the Bombay Prohibition Act.
9. Mr. Jakatdar's argument is based on the provisions of Article 14 of the Constitution of India which runs thus:
The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India
The well known principle of equality before the law and the equal protection of the laws has been recognised and embodied as a fundamental right under Article 14 of the Constitution of India. We have, therefore, to consider the question as to whether the provisions of either Section 146-A of the Bombay Prohibition Act or Section 161 of the Bombay Police Act would in any way offend the principle of equality before the law by enacting a period of limitation for launching prosecutions or actions against the officers named in those respective sections. We have al ready referred to the scheme of the Bombay Prohibition Act under which certain responsibilities have been thrust upon certain officers and certain corresponding powers have also been conferred for enabling them to carry out those responsibilities. It is thus clear that the position of an officer or a person entrusted with the responsibilities of carrying out the duties under the Bombay Prohibition Act is not the same as the position of an ordinary citizen. A person, who is entrusted with the responsibilities of carrying on the provisions of the Bombay Prohibition Act, would not be ordinarily responsible for what he has done in good faith. His powers are statutory and his action would be liable to be impugned only when that action is either in excess of his powers or in abuse of the powers conferred on him. In case of excessive use or abuse of powers, he may make himself liable either for an action in tort or for a criminal prosecution. If, however, it is established that he has done these acts under colour of the authority or in the discharge of his rights, then it is necessary to prescribe a time-limit for bringing the erring officer to book so as to protect him from vexatious and frivolous actions and prosecutions. It is this policy which underlies the provisions such as those contained in Section 161 of the Bombay Police Act and Section 146-A of the Bombay Prohibition Act.
10. The main question to be considered under Article 14 of the Constitution of India is whether, when the special rule of limitation has been provided for officers or persons carrying out the duties entrusted to them under certain statutes, there is any rational basis for making a distinction between this class of persons and ordinary citizens. The classification between those entrusted with certain responsibilities under the statute and those who have no such responsibilities but who are ordinary citizens is clear and reasonable in view of the fact that special responsibilities have been thrust upon one class whereas there is no such responsibility upon the other class. It has been held by the Supreme Court in Budhan Choudhry v. The State of Bihar : 1955CriLJ374 :
It is well-settled that while Article 14 of the Constitution forbids class legislation, it does not forbid reasonable classification for the purpose of legislation. In order, however, to pass the test of permissible classification two conditions must be fulfilled, namely,
(i) the classification must be founded on an intelligible differentia which distinguishes persons or things that are grouped together from others left out of the group; and,
(ii) that differentia must have a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the statute in question. The classification may be founded on different bases; namely geographical, or according to objects or occupations or the like. What is necessary is that there must be nexus between the basis of classification and the object of the Act under consideration.
The classification between those entrusted with special responsibilities and those not entrusted with such responsibilities, is based on a definite principle. The differentia on which this classification is based is quite clear and easily intelligible. That being the case, the classification on which the rule of limitation has been based cannot be attacked as being violative of the principle laid down under Article 14 of the Constitution of India. The principles enunciated in Budhan Choudhry v. The State of Bihar have been re-affirmed from time to time and have been reiterated in In re The Kerala Education Bill 1957  S.C.R. 995. In Mohd. Hanif Quareshi v. The State of Bihar : 1SCR629 their Lordships laid down the following principle (p. 652):.The courts, it is accepted, must presume that the legislature understands and correctly appreciates the needs of its own people, that its laws are directed to problems made manifest by experience and that its discriminations are based on adequate grounds. It must be borne in mind that the legislature is free to recognise degrees of harm and may confine its restrictions to those cases where the need is deemed to be the clearest and finally that in order to sustain the presumption of constitutionality the Court may take into consideration matters of common knowledge, matters of common report, the history of the times and may assume every state of facts which can be conceived existing at the time of legislation.
11. Providing immunity for the actions of the State servants in certain contingencies is an accepted principle of State policy. In the same way, protecting Government servants from frivolous and vexatious actions must also be considered as, a laudable object of policy. When an ordinary citizen commits a crime, he does it openly and unabashed. On the other hand, when a Government servant is guilty of any wrong, that wrong is the result of his excessive zeal or dereliction of duties. In any case, he does that particular act under colour of authority. It will not be correct to expose these officers to an action or a prosecution till eternity. That will open the floodgates for frivolous and vexatious actions which may be instituted with ulterior objects. The Legislature, therefore, have found it necessary to lay down a period of limitation during which such actions must be started. The provision, therefore, is reasonable and is in the best interest of the administration.
12. The second argument advanced by Mr. Jakatdar can be easily disposed of. According to Mr. Jakatdar, in one legislation, a limitation of six months has been provided whereas, in the other a limitation of a shorter period is provided and this amounts, according to him, to a discrimination, Once we come to the conclusion that it is open to the Legislature to provide a period of limitation during which actions or prosecutions must be started against a group of persons, then it is entirely in the discretion of the Legislature to put down the period of limitation. The period of limitation is more or less in the nature of a rule of thumb. No rational explanation can be offered as to why Section 161 of the Bombay Police Act puts down the period of limitation as six months and not seven, eight or nine months. After all, all periods of limitation are more or less arbitrary. Merely because, in one case the period of limitation is mentioned as six months and in the other it has been laid down as four months, the second legislation cannot be considered to be offending against the principle of equality before the law. Further, the reason why the Legislature, in this particular case, must have laid down a smaller period of limitation than provided in Section 161 of the Bombay Police Act, appears to us to be apparent in the very nature of the duties entrusted to the persons under the Bombay Prohibition Act. In the very nature of things the offences under the Bombay Prohibition Act are bound to be more numerous than the offences under ordinary law. There may be many more cases where the raids would be effected and houses searched. Some of these raids may be carried on on the basis of suspicion engendered by the information given to the police officers. It would not be correct to allow the sword of prosecution or action against such persons hanging for a long time. That seems to be the reason behind putting down the period at four months under Section 146-A of the Bombay Prohibition Act.
13. It is not necessary for the Division Bench to consider the question, which, was considered by my learned brother in the referring judgment and decided by him, namely, that the bar of limitation under Section 146-A of the Bombay Prohibition Act would apply whether the prosecution purports to be launched under Section 220 of the Indian Penal Code or Section 95 of the Bombay Prohibition Act.
14. The result is that the reference is accepted, the order passed by the learned Magistrate is set aside and the complaint stands dismissed as barred by limitation under Section 146-A of the Bombay Prohibition Act.