C. Honniah, J.
1. These four petitioners who were accused in C. C. No. 206/71 on the file of the First Class Magistrate, Kolar have been convicted for the offence punishable under Section 379 of the I. P. C. and sentenced to pay a fine of Rs. 25/- each and in default of payment of fine, to suffer simple imprisonment for 15 days.
2. This revision petition has been filed challenging the correctness of the said order.
3. The facts of this case lie on a narrow compass. The police filed a charge sheet against the four accused persons alleging that they had committed the offence punishable under Section 379 of the I. P. C. The accused appeared before the court and filed an application under Section 497 of the Cr. P. C. to enlarge them on bail on 2-2-1971. Accordingly, they were enlarged on bail and the case was posted to ,8-2-71. On that day the learned Magistrate recorded the plea of the accused. It is seen that the accused pleaded not guilty. It is not clear whether the accusation was put to the accused, for which the accused pleaded not guilty. However, it is clear that the procedure followed by the learned Magistrate is in disregard of Section 251-A of the Cr. P. C. Having violated the mandatory provisions of Section 251-A of the Cr. P. C. the learned Magistrate posted the case to different dates for hearing. On 17-4-71 the counsel for the accused filed a memo stating that the accused persons had committed the offence with the bona fide belief that the trees belonged to them and that therefore the plea, of the accused may be recorded. There is nothing in the order sheet to show that the accusation had been read over and explained to the accused on that date, but however the plea of the accused was recorded. There is also no indication to show that the accused pleaded guilty to the accusation. But. the learned Magistrate accepted the alleged plea and proceeded to convict the accused persons. The procedure followed by the learned Magistrate is wholly wrong and illegal. This is a warrant case filed on a police report. The Magistrate has got to examine the materials furnished which would provide him a sound basis either for framing a charge or to discharge the accused in a case filed on a police report for the purpose of framing a charge of otherwise, the Legislature has thought it fit to authorise the Magistrate to act upon the documents furnished to him by the investigating agency and the examination of the witnesses is done away with at that stage. The underlying purpose of Section 251-A of the Cr. P. C. is to ensure speedy disposal of warrant cases filed on police reports without in any way prejudicing the accused. It is to achieve this object, the legislature has simplified the procedure and has done away with the necessity of the examination of the. witnesses before framing a charge. This Section contemplates examination of the accused before framing a charge. The examination of the accused under this Section must necessarily be with regard to material against him in the documents referred to in Section 173 of the Cr. P. C. and the answers given by the accused during such examination explaining those documents. At the most, on the basis of such material, the Magistrate can discharge the accused or frame a charge against him. But the answers given by the accused do not constitute evidence either for or against him. The only question that the Magistrate has to decide is whether the material before him in the light of the arguments can lead to the view that the charge against the accused is groundless in the sense that the material so considered furnished no reasonable basis or foundation whatever be the accusation. If the charge against the accused is groundless, namely, the charge brought against the accused and the facts of the case do not make out any offence at all against the accused, the Magistrate can discharge the accused by giving reasons. Under Sub-section (3) of Section 251-A of the Cr. P. C., without examining any of the witnesses and without recording any evidence, the Magistrate may frame a charge against the accused, merely on a consideration of the documents referred to in Section 173 of the Cr, P. C., after giving the prosecution and the accused an opportunity of being heard. What the Magistrate should find out is whether the materials referred to in that Section would make out a prima facie case against the accused, in which event he has to frame a charge.
4. That being the procedure that has got to be followed by the Magistrate, he was wholly wrong in recording the plea of the accused which is contrary to law and again recording a subsequent alleged plea which is not at all contemplated under law and convict the accused on the basis of such a plea. The learned Magistrate has erred throughout in the conduct of the case. The conviction of the accused therefore, is liable to be quashed.
5. For the reasons stated above, the convictions and sentences passed against the accused are set aside and the case is remitted back to the court below with a direction that the Magistrate should follow the procedure as provided under Section 251-A of the Cri. P. C. and then dispose of the case in accordance with law.
6. Consequently, the order of the learned Magistrate regarding the disposal of the property in the case is set aside.