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Palagani Veeraraghavulu and ors. Vs. the State and anr. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCriminal
CourtAndhra Pradesh High Court
Decided On
Judge
Reported in1958CriLJ603
AppellantPalagani Veeraraghavulu and ors.
RespondentThe State and anr.
Excerpt:
.....forbids class legislation, it does not forbid reasonable classification for the purposes of legislation. namely, geographical, or according to objects or occupations or the like. it is also well-established by the decisions of this court that article 14 condemns discrimination not only by a substantive law but also by a law of procedure. and section 251-a empowers the magi, trate to consider all those documents and, after making such examination of the accused as the magistrate thinks necessary and after giving the prosecution and the accused an opportunity of being heard, if he is satisfied that a 'prima facie' case has been made out, he shall frame a charge. thus, the test of an intelligible differentia is satisfied. he would like to get rid of the case as quickly as possible. from the..........section 4(1)(b) of the madras prohibition act be quashed. in cr. m. p. no. 911 of 1956 in which a police charge-sheet has been filed for an offence under s- -324, i.p.c, the petitioner asks for a direction' to the lower court not to follow the procedure under section 251-a but to follow the procedure pre scribed by sections 252 - 258, cr.pc suffice it to say- for purposes of determining the question raised in these petitions, that all these are warrant-cases instituted on police reports and section 251 enacts that:in the trial of warrant-cases by magistrates, the magistrate shall a) in any case instituted on a police report, follow the procedure specified in section 251-a; andb) in any other case, follow the procedure specified in the other provisions of this chapter.2. it is contended.....
Judgment:

Basi Reddy, J.

1. In all these petitions, a common question as to the constitutional validity of Section 251-A of the Criminal Procedure Code has been raised. In, Cr. M. Ps. Nos. 898 and 900 of 1956, the petitioners seek the quashing of the charges framed by the Magistrate for offences under Section 409 I.P.C. In Cr. M. P. No. 891 of 1956, trie petitioners pray that the charges framed against them under Section 4(1)(b) of the Madras Prohibition Act be quashed. In Cr. M. P. No. 911 of 1956 in which a police charge-sheet has been filed for an offence under S- -324, I.P.C, the petitioner asks for a direction' to the lower Court not to follow the procedure under Section 251-A but to follow the procedure pre scribed by Sections 252 - 258, Cr.PC Suffice it to say- for purposes of determining the question raised in these petitions, that all these are warrant-cases instituted on police reports and Section 251 enacts that:

In the trial of warrant-cases by Magistrates, the Magistrate shall

a) in any case instituted on a police report, follow the procedure specified in Section 251-A; and

b) in any other case, follow the procedure specified in the other provisions of this chapter.

2. It is contended on behalf of the petitioners that the provisions of Section 251-A are volatile of the fundamental right enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution of India in that they discriminate between accused persons proceeded against on police reports and those proceeded against on complaints; and it is said that the new procedure as compared with the old, is disadvantageous and prejudicial to the accused and, therefore, discriminatory.

3. Sections 251 and 251-A were inserted in the Code of Criminal Procedure by the Amendment Act XXVI of 1955. Prior to that, there was a uniform procedure in respect of the trial of all warrant-cases by Magistrates, whether such caseg were instituted on police reports or on complaints. Section 251-A, however, introduced a change up to the point of the framing of the charge with regard to the trial of warrant-cases instituted on police reports.

4. It will be convenient to notice the points of difference between the two kinds of procedure. under Section 251-A (1):

When, in any case instituted on a police report, the accused appears or is brought before a Magistrate at the commencement of the trial, such Magistrate shall satisfy himself that the documents referred to in Section 173 have been furnished to the accused, and if he finds that the accused has not been furnished with such documents or any of them, he shall cause them to be so furnished.

Sub-section (2) runs thus:

If, upon consideration of all the documents referred to in Section 173 and making such examination, if any, of the accused as the Magistrate thinks necessary and after giving the prosecution and the accused an opportunity of being heard, the Magistrate considers the charge against the accused to be groundless, he shall discharge him.

Sub-section (3) runs as follows:

If upon such documents being considered, such examination, if any, being made and the prosecution and the accused being given an opportunity of being heard, 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, under the new procedure, no witnesses are examined before a charge is framed.

5. Under the old procedure as prescribed by Section 252 and the Sections following, there was provision for the examination of the complainant and his witnesses even before the framing of a charge. under Section 252(1):

In any case instituted otherwise than on a police report, when the accused appears or is brought before a Magistrate, such Magistrate shall proceed to hear the complainant (if any) and take all such evidence as may be produced in support of the prosecution.

Provided that the Magistrate shall not be bound to hear any person as complainant in any case in which the complaint has been made by a Court.

Sub-section (2) reads thus:

The Magistrate shall ascertain, from the complainant or otherwise the names of any persons likely to be acquainted with the facts of the case and to be able to give evidence for the prosecution, and shall summon to give evidenca before himself such of them as he thinks necessary,

Section 253 reads as follows:

1) If, upon taking all the evidence referred to in Section 252, and making such examination (if any) of the accused as the Magistrate thinks necessary, he finds that no case against the accused has been made out which, if unrebutted would warrant his conviction, the Magistrate shall discharge him.

2. Nothing in this section shall be deemed to prevent a Magistrate from discharging the accused at any previous stage of the case, if, for reasons to be recorded by such Magistrate. The considers the charge to be groundless.

Section 254 runs as follows:

If, when such evidence and examination have been taken and made, 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.

6. It may be noted that, after the framing of the charge, there is virtually no difference between the two kinds of procedure.

7. The argument advanced by the learned Advocates for the petitioners is that the new, procedure works to the detriment of an accused proceeded against on a police charge-sheet, as his right to get a discharge is nullified by the non-examination of witnesses and by the Magistrate acting solely on the documents furnished by the police. There was a right to cross-examine witnesses before the charge which is now taken away, as no witnesses are examined at that stage.

8. It is further contended that under the old procedure; a Magistrate could discharge an accused on two grounds, namely, under Section 253(1), Cr.PC if he found that no case against the accused had been made out which, if unrebutted, would warrant his conviction, and under Sub-section (2) of Section 253 where at any previous stage of the case the Magistrate considered the charge to be groundless, whereas under the new procedure under Section 251-A (2), an accused shall be discharged only if the Magistrate considers the charge to be groundless.

9. Another prejudicial feature of the new procedure is said to be that, under it, the Magistrate is empowered to treat statements falling within the mischief of Section 162, Cr.PC, as evidence and act upon them for the purpose of framing a charge against the accused.

10. Lastly, it is argued that police reports are placed on a higher pedestal and are accorded greater sanctity than complaints filed by public officials acting under the powers conferred on them by various Central and State enactments.

11. That there are certain differences in the two kinds of procedure cannot be gainsaid; but it is a moot point whether the new procedure works to the disadvantage of an accused person. As already stated, it is noteworthy that, alter the framing of the charge, there is practically no difference between the new and the old procedures. From that stage, all the rights and privileges which an accused enjoyed are left intact. His right to cross-examine and to further cross-examine witnesses is left unaffected; his light to adduce defence evidence is left untouched.

12. It is only up to the point of the framing of the charge that there is a departure from the old procedure. But does the impugned section infringe the fundamental right to equality guaranteed by Article 14 of the Constitution? The principles underlying Article 14 have been well settled by a series or pronouncements of the Supreme Court and the latest case is Budhan Chowdary v. The State of Bihar, : 1955CriLJ374 . In the course of his judgment, Das J. (as he then was) enunciated the principles in the following words:

It is now well-established that while Article 14 forbids class legislation, it does not forbid reasonable classification for the purposes of legislation. In order, however, to pass the test of Ipermissible classification, two conditions must be fulfilled, namely (1) that 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 '(2) that the 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 a nexus between the basis of classification and the object of the Act under consideration. It is also well-established by the decisions of this Court that Article 14 condemns discrimination not only by a substantive law but also by a law of procedure.

13. So, the first question for consideration. is whether the classification is based on an intelligible differentia. The classification is between warrant-cases instituted on police reports on the one hand and warrant-cases instituted on complaints on the other. In the former category of jcases, a responsible police officer conducts the investigation under Chapter XIV of the Criminal Procedure Code, collects evidence, eliminates cases which are patently false and frivolous and, after satisfying himself that there is sufficient material to warrant the accused being put on his trial, files a charge-sheet.

All the material collected by him and on which the prosecution seeks to rely, namely, the charge-sheet, the first information report, all other documents or relevant extracts thereof, including the statements and confessions, if any, recorded under Section 164 and the statements recorded under Sub-section (3) of Section 161 of all the persons whom the prosecution proposes to examine as its witnesses, are made available to the accused free of cost; and Section 251-A empowers the Magi, trate to consider all those documents and, after making such examination of the accused as the Magistrate thinks necessary and after giving the prosecution and the accused an opportunity of being heard, if he is satisfied that a 'prima facie' case has been made out, he shall frame a charge.

14. The police are the guardians of the peace. Prevention and detection of crime and the maintenance of law and order are their primary duties. They are specially trained for that purpose. They have the necessary machinery for it. They are expected to investigate into offences impartially with the sole aim of bringing offenders to justice. They would not be Interested in putting up false or frivolous cases. Not so, a private complainant; obiique motives and private vendetta may induce him to set the criminal law in motion.

15. Similarly complaints filed by public officials under various special laws are not on a par with police reports since such complaints are not based on thorough investigation as is contemplated by Chapter XIV of the Cr. P. C nor are the powers and duties of such public officials identical with those of police officers.

16. In the one category of cases there is a preliminary investigation by a responsible police i officer, and the material furnished by him would provide a 'prima facie' sound basis for the framing of a charge. In the other class of cases there is no such previous investigation. The Magistrate | does not have before him the statements of witnesses or the documents on which the prosecution may rely. Therefore, the Legislature has thought it desirable that, in cases instituted on, complaints, the evidence of prosecution witnesses should be recorded before the charge should be framed. In cases instituted on police reports, however, for the limited purpose of framing the charge, the Legislature has thought fit to authorise the Magistrate to act on the documents furnished by the investigating police, and the examination, of witnesses at that stage is done away with.

The interests of the accused are safeguarded by the insistence on the supply of these documents free of cost. In practice, no hardship would I be caused to an accused person. In the trial of a warrant-case, the proceedings up to the framing of a charge are in the nature of a preliminary bout and the real fight starts only with the framing of a charge. Even under the old procedure, witnesses were seldom cross-examined 'before charge, and even if they were, cross-examination at that stage was cursory. The alleged prejudice would, therefore, appear to be more imaginary than real.

17. Even if it be assumed that there are differences between the old procedure and the new, which act to the disadvantage of an accused in that, under the new procedure, his chances of getting a discharge are greatly minimized, yet the classification satisfies the test of reasonableness inasmuch as it is based on a relevant consideration, namely, whether or not there has been a previous investigation by a responsible public servant, whose duty it is to detect crime and bring offenders to book. Thus, the test of an intelligible differentia is satisfied.

18. The next question for consideration 19 whether this classification has a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the impugned section. For-reaching changes were introduced by the Amendment Act, XXVI of 1955 with the avowed object of eliminating delays in the disposal of criminal cases without interfering with the right of the accused to a fair and impartial trial. This has been done in the larger interests of justice, and the interests of justice require as much that the guilty should be punished as that the innocent should be absolved.

19. Delay in the disposal of criminal cases tends to defeat justice. From the point of view of the prosecution, lapse of time is likely to din. (he memory of witnesses and, under the stress of cross-examination, they are liable to make serous mistakes while giving evidence. It is a matter of common knowledge that in the vast majority of criminal cases, persons who figure as witnesses are ignorant and uneducated village-folk. Further, delay would give unscrupulous persons scope for tampering with witnesses. From the point of, view of the accused, delay would give opportunities for private persons interested in the prosecution to coach up and tutor witnesses with a view to blacken the case against the accused.

An innocent person would not be interested in prolonging a case which would entail unnecessary trouble and expense. He would like to get rid of the case as quickly as possible. From the standpoint of an innocent accused, an acquittal is a much more satisfactory way of vindicating his innocence than a discharge, Only a guilty man would like to prolong a case in the hope of| putting off the evil day, and to gain time for gaining over witnesses, if possible.

20. The Constitution is intended to be a .shield for the innocent and the wronged; it is I not a protecting screen for the criminal and the j wrong-doer.

21. The underlying purpose of the impugned Section is to ensure speedy disposal of warrant-eases instituted on police reports without in any way prejudicing the accused. It is to achieve this object that the Legislature has simplified the procedure and done away with the necessity for the examination of witnesses before the framing Of the charge. There is thus a nexus between the basis of classification and the object sought to be achieved by the statutory provision in question. It follows that the impugned provision does not offend Article 14 of the Constitution and is constitutionally valid.

22. It may be mentioned in closing, that in a recent case, Macherla Hanumantha Rao v. The State of Andhra Pradesh Cri App No. 57 of 1957 : (S) A.I.R. 1957 SC 927 (B), the Supreme Court had to consider the constitutionality of Section 207-A, Cr.PC Arguments almost identical with those which were addressed to us were advanced before their Lordships, but they were all repelled. The reasoning of their Lordships in that case would apply with equal force to the points raised in these petitions before us. It is, therefore, not necessary to consider the other contentions raised by the learned Advocates for the petitioners. In the result, all these petitions are dismissed.


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