Ratnavel Pandian, J.
1. The petitioners in all the above Criminal Miscellaneous Petitions have come to this Court with a prayer that the prosecution launched in support of those petitions now pending in the Court of Sub-Divisional Judicial Magistrate, Ulundurpet may be quashed by invoking the inherent jurisdiction of this Court Under Section 482 Cri- minal P. C. (New Code), As the only ground on which they seek the remedy by these petitions is a common one, namely, the question of limitation regarding the institutions of the prosecution cases before the said Court, all these petitions are clubbed together and common order is passed.
2. Criminal Miscellaneous Petitions Nos. 307, 289 and 357 of 1975 are filed in respect of the proceedings taken in C. C. Nos. 505, 506 and 508 of 1974 now pending on the file of the said Court. In all these cases, the Superintendent, Regulated Market of the South Arcot Market Committee, Kallakurichi is the complainant.
3. Criminal Miscellaneous Petitions Nos. 291, 491, 489 and 503 of 1975 are filed, in respect of the proceedings taken in pursuance of Cri. M. P. Nos. 1442, 1446, 1443 and 1445/1974 (in C. C. Nos. 45 to 48 of 1975). The Superintendent, Regulated Market of the South Arcot Market Committee,Chinnasalem is the complainant in respect of these batches of cases.
4. The accusation against these petitioners is that all these petitioners are the licencees Under Section 6(1) of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural Produce Market Act of 1959 (hereinafter referred to as the Act) and they have been dealing in paddy, a notified agricultural produce by purchasing and selling the same within the concerned notified market areas. Under the above said Act, the petitioners are bound to pay fees on ad valorem basis for every one-hundred rupees of the aggregate amount for which the notified agricultural produce is bought or sold. Further case is that these petitioners have not paid the said fees lor the period noted in the complaints. Nor have they rendered accounts into the concerned Market Committees of all their transactions in paddy within the notified areas for the said periods, and that all of them in spite of notices, did not even care to send a reply. Hence the prosecutions were launched against them independently for the violation of Section 18(1) of the Act and Rule 51(A)(5) of the Rules framed thereunder read with Section 25(a) and (b) of the said Act, namely for the non-payment of the fees without giving proper accounts for the quantity purchased or sold.
5. As per the prosecution, the petitioners in Crl. M. P. Nos. 307, 289 and 357 of 1975 are in default of the payment of the fees to the tune of Rs. 15,509.30; Rupees 8,371.50 and Rs. 10,809.60 respectively to the Kallakurichi Market Committee and in Criminal M. P. Nos. 291, 491, 481 and 503 of 1975 are in default of payment of fees to the tune of Rs. 20,767.10; Rs. 2,604.30; Rs. 4,040.20 and Rs. 4,954.10 respectively to the Chinnasalem Market Committee in respect of their dealings in paddy.
6. In all these cases, each petitioner accused has filed a separate petition raising a preliminary objection that the complaint filed against him is barred by limitation in view of Section 468 Crl. P. C. (new Code 1973) which enjoins the petitioner a valuable right which cannot easily be ignored and as the offence is punishable only with fine, the complainant ought to have come to the Court within six months from the date of the commission of the offence. Again it is contended that since the proceedings in all these cases were instituted only after the introduction of the New Code, though the offences are said to have been committed before the new Code came into force, Section 468(2) is clearly applicable to these cases which prohibits the filing of the proceedings beyond the prescribed period.
7. The trial Court almost passed a similar order overruling the preliminary objection. In each and every case, the complainant has filed an application for condonation of the delay contending that the Agricultural Market Committee is a statutory body established by the Government under the Act and it has to launch prosecution after getting sanction from the Committee and has to gather information from other sources regarding the transaction and that Under Section 473, Cr. P. C., the Court may take cognizance of the offence by extending the period of limitation. The learned Magistrate after considering the contentions of the respective parties has based his conclusion on the ground that the complainant is a statutory body and it has to follow formalities before filing the complaint by collecting information with regard to the transaction done by the accused and that the Market Committee has to approve the prosecution, and that the new Criminal Procedure Code came into force only on 1-4-1974. According to the Magistrate, on account of the above said circumstances, the complainant was not able to file the complaint at the proper time.
8. The Superintendent, Regulated Market of the South Arcot Market Committee, Kallakurichi, filed the complaints into Court on 12-8-1974 though the six months period was over before the end of January, 1974 and the Superintendent, Regulated Market of the South Arcot Market Committee, Chinna Salem filed the complaints into Court on 7-9-1974, though the period was over in three cases by the end of January, 1974 and in one case, in Crl. M. P. No, 491 of 1975 by the end of July, 1973.
9. It is no doubt true that in all these cases, there is a delay of more than six months in laying the complaints against the respective petitioners. Mr. G. Gopalaswami learned Counsel appearing for the petitioners in Crl. M. P. Nos. 289 and 291 of 1975 and Mr. Arunachalam for the petitioners in respect of other petitions and Mr. R. Balasubramaniam appearing in Crl. M. P. No. 503 of 1975 have put forth a common argument raising the following contentions:
(1) The complainants have not given any acceptable reason for excusing the delay in filing these complaints against each of the petitioners as it is imperative on the part of the prosecution to come forward with proper and acceptable explanation, explaining each days delay; (2) as Rule 141 of the said Act, empowers the statutory authorities to recover the said amounts in an alternative proceedings (i.e.) by instituting civil proceedings, quashing of these statutorily delayed criminal proceedings instituted against these petitioners will not in any way be detrimental to the interest of justice; (3) as the notices to the respective petitioners were issued by the Superintendent, Regulated Market of the South Arcot Market Committee at Kallakurichi and Chinna Salem much earlier to the filing pf these complaints before the Court by giving out all the necessary details for making out the case, the reasonings given by the learned Magistrate that the delay was caused since the complainants had to collect information with regard to the transactions of the petitioner in each case and the Market Committee has to approve the prosecution are untenable and (4thly) they would strenuously urge that the Lower Court ought to have noted that the petitioners have secured a valuable vested right of a bar of criminal proceedings against them by virtue of Section 468. Cr. P. C, and that right should not be permitted to be whittled down by a discriminatory indulgence showing to the complainant whose inaction all these periods negatives any bona fide.
10. The respondents before this Court namely, the complainants before the Lower Court have filed counter affidavits in all these petitions setting out their cases wherein they would contend that in all the cases filed by the Superintendent Regulated Market, Kallakurichi, the Committee passed a resolution only on 9-1-1974 sanctioning the prosecution against the petitioners and some other traders and in the cases filed by the Superintendent, Regulated Market, Chinna Salem, the Committee passed the resolution only on 15-7-1974 sanctioning the prosecution.
11. Mr. Lakshminarayana Reddy, learned Counsel for the respondents in all these petitions would submit that Section 473 Cri, P. C. empowers the Court to take cognizance of an offence even after the expiry of the period of limitation in the interest of justice and that therefore, the overruling of these preliminary objections by the Lower Court is justified and as such it has to be sustained. Learned Counsel appearing for both sides have cited a number of decisions in support of their respective contentions regarding the question of limitation. I think, I need not swell this Order by citing all the decisions referred to by them. But I may, however, mention some of the decisions relied on by them.
12. In support of the contentions, the following decisions were relied on. In Union of India (UOI) v. Shree Ram Kanwar a Division Bench of the Punjab High Court at Delhi held:
The law of limitation operates equally for or against a private individual as also Government. No special indulgence can be shown to the Government which in similar circumstance is not to be shown to an individual suitor.
Mehar Singh, J. sitting for the Bench observed:
I am definitely of the opinion that delays in Government Offices are no justification for invoking the power of the court Under Section 5 of the Limitation Act. This circumstance cannot be taken into consideration in favour of the appellants. It is no sufficient cause for consideration for enlarging the period of limitation for filing the present appeal.
13. In : (1958)IMLJ245 (Raman v. State), ft was held that the period of limitation is a valuable right accrued to the accused and that right should not be deprived of with out a proper reason.
14. The case in Ram Narain v. Mool Chand deals with the question of the necessary conditions for interference of the High Cora by invoking its inherent jurisdiction Under Section 561-A and enumerates the conditions under which the Court has to interfere on the ground of justice.
15. The case in Sitaram Ramcharan etc. v. M. N. Nagarsnana : (1960)ILLJ29SC deals with Section 15(2) of Payment of Wages Act of 1936 which provision is similar to Section 5 of the Limitation Act. In that case their Lordships observed that the contention that if sufficient cause has been shown for not making the application within a period of six months prescribed by Section 15(2) of the said Act, then the application can be made at any time is not correct. On facts it was held that the failure of the applicants to establish sufficient cause for the delay was fatal to their claim.
16. In another decision reported in State of West Bengal v. Howrah Municipality : 2SCR874a , their Lordships after elaborately discussing the scope of Section 5 of the Limitation Act, held that the words 'sufficient cause' should receive a liberal construction so as to advance substantial justice when no negligence or inaction or want of bona tide is imputable to a party.
17. : 1973CriLJ347 (State of Bihar v. Deokaran) deals with the offence under the Mines Act Section 79 of the said Act contemplates that no Court shall take cognizance of any offence under this Act unless the complaint thereof has been made within six months from the date on which the offence is alleged to have been committed or within six months from the date On which the alleged commission of the offence came to the knowledge of the Inspector whichever is later.
18. In the Hilal Press v. Sri S. S. S. C. S. Devasthanam (1963 2 M.L.J. 323) M. Aaanthanarayanan, the then Officiating Chief Justice, observed that if the Court finds that there has been gross delay which could not be explained, it cannot exercise its discretion to condone the delay in spite of the negligence.
19. Most of the decisions cited above deal with the scope and applicability of Section 5 of the Limitation Act and explain the words 'Sufficient Cause'. The case reported in : 1973CriLJ347 (State of Bihar v. Deokaran) is one under a Special Law in which the statutory period of limitation is prescribed for launching the prosecution without giving any reservation for extending the period of limitation.
20. Now let us examine comparatively 5, 5 of the Limitation Act of 1963 and Section 473 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (new Code), Section 5 of the Limitation Act says that any appeal or any application, other than an application under any of the provisions of Order XXI, C. P. C., 1908, may be admitted after the prescribed period if the appellant or applicant satisfies the Court that be had sufficient cause for not preferring the appeal or making the application within such period. But Section 473, Crl. P. C, says that notwithstanding anything contained in the foregoing provisions under Chapter XXXVI (covering Sections 467 to 472, Crl. P. C. (new Code) under the heading 'Limitation for taking cognizance of certain offences') the Court may take cognizance of an offence after the expiry of the period of limitation, if it is satisfied on the facts and the circumstances of the case that the delay has been properly explained or that it is necessary so to do in the interests of justice.
21. It admits of no doubt that Section 473 empowers the Court in extending the period of limitation in certain cases, but it is a matter of discretion of the Court whether in a given case, having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case, it can enlarge the period of limitation or not. As the discretion granted Under Section 473, Crl. P. C. is wider, the very width requires a corresponding caution on the part of the Court while exercising that power. Of course, it cannot be laid down by any hard and fast rule as to what constitutes sufficient cause to properly explain the delay occasioned or what is necessary so to do in the interests of justice. It must be determined by a reference to the facts and circumstances of each particular case. In other words, the limitations of Courts' jurisdiction must obviously be dictated by the exigency of the situation and fair play and good sense have to be the only safe-guard. This power must be exercised only in suitable cases where the Court is satisfied that the delay has been properly explained or it is in the interests of justice. The Court being the legal custodian and guardian of the rights of the citizens has a primary obligation to protect them from vindictive or vexatious time barred prosecutions and the valuable vested right should not be easily brushed aside or whittled down in all the cases by indiscriminately exercising the discretionary powers which extraordinary powers are vested on the Courts to use them only in exceptional cases, that too On being satisfied of the conditions enumerated there under. But when once the Court is satisfied on the above guidelines, then there cannot be any restriction or fetter in the exercise of the powers except saying that the discretion should not be exercised in a capricious or arbitrary manner. Thus it is seen that Section 5 of the Limitation Act gives a wide discretion to the Court to extend the prescribed period in certain cases on being satisfied that there is sufficient cause. But a fortiori, Section 473 Crl. P. C. stands on a better footing and gives wider powers to Courts to excuse the delay on either of the grounds provided for. From the above discussion, it can safely be concluded that though Section 483, Crl. P. C. would operate as a bar of taking cognizance of the offences after the lapse of the period of limitation, Section 473 would give a wider discretion to the Court to extend the period of limitation in cases where the court is satisfied on the facts and circumstances of the case of either of the conditions namely, (1) that the delay has been properly explained or (2) that if it is necessary so to do in the interests of justice. All that the Section requires in express terms as a condition for the exercise of the discretionary powers of taking cognizance after the expiry of the period of limitation is the satisfaction of the Court on any one of the requirements stated above.
22. Section 473, Crl. P. C,, as Section 5 of the Limitation Act makes no distinction between a Government and a private individual and therefore the requirement of diligence in the case of Government cannot be different from that in the case of a private individual. Even so, a corporate, or a statutory body, is not entitled to a greater indulgence under this section than a private individual. If a corporate or statutory body chooses to embark on a prosecution, its officials and advisers must act with at least as much diligence as is expected from a private individual. That is to say the law of limitation operates equally for or against a private individual as also the Government or statutory body.
23. If the facts and circumstances disclose that the party was guilty of negligence or inaction or lack of bona fides during the period following the expiry of the period of limitation, the Courts cannot be justified to exercise the said discretion in favour of the petitioner and condone the delay by excusing the laches unless the interests of justice so demand as provided for Under Section 473, Cr, P. C. because as per that Section, the delay must be properly explained or in the absence of any proper explanation, the interest of justice should warrant the exercise of the powers of discretion. From the foregoing discussion, it is clear that the words 'in the interests of justice' should receive a liberal construction so as to advance a substantial justice.
24. The phrase 'interests of justice' has broad meaning implying conditions which assist, or are in aid of or in furtherance of justice, and it imports exercise of discretion which considers both interests of parties and those of society, (vide Pernestein v. Strammiello, 120 NYS Zd, 490, 494, 202 Misc. 823) (quoted in words and phrases of permanent edition, Vol. 22, p. 242).
25. Section 473, Cr. P. C. is a new section which gives the power to the Court to extend the period of limitation for prosecution in proper cases. The Joint Committee made the following observations:
The Committee has. considered it necessary to make a specific provision for extension of time whenever the Court is satisfied on the materials that the delay has been properly explained or that the accused had absconded. This provision would be particularly useful because limitation for criminal prosecution is being, prescribed for the first time in this country.
Thus it is clear that the object of the introduction of this new Section is for enabling the Court to extend the period of limitatioa in certain cases under exceptional circumstances.
26. The Supreme Court in its recent decision reported in : 1976CriLJ179 (Mangu Ram v. Delhi Munici- pality) while examining the applicability of Section 5 of the Limitation Act to the applications for special leave Under Section 417(3) Cri. P. C. has observed:
It is true that the language of Sub-section (4) of Section 417 is mandatory and compulsive, in that it provides in no uncertain terms that no application for grant of special leave to appeal from an order of acquittal shall be entertained by the High Court after the expiry of sixty days from the date of that order of acquittal. But that would be the language of every provision prescribing a period of limitation. It is because a bar against entertainment of an application beyond the period of limitation is created by a special or local law that it becomes necessary to invoke the aid of Section 5 in order that the application may be entertained despite such bar. Mere provision of a period of limitation in howsoever peremptory or imperative language is not sufficient to displace the applicability of Section 5. The conclusion is, therefore irresistible that in a case where an application for special leave to appeal from an order of acquittal is filed after the coming into force of the Limitation Act, 1963, Section 5 would be available to the applicant and if he can show that he had sufficient cause for not preferring the application within the time limit of sixty days prescribed in Sub-section (4) of Section 417, the application would not be barred and despite the expiration of the time limit of sixty days, the High Court would have the power to entertain it.' By the above ruling, it is clear that mere provision of a period of limitation in howsoever peremptory or imperative language is not sufficient to bar the Courts from exercising its powers to extend the period of lirnitation provided the Court is satisfied that the exercise of the power is necessary.
27. As Section 473, Cr. P. C. gives wider power to the Court in condoning the delays, and as the above rulings cited by the petitioners are dealing only with Section 5 of the Limitation Act, I think they are not applicable to the facts of the present case.
28. Now I shall advert to the facts and circumstances of the case in the light of the above observation and examine whether the interests of justice demand the condonation of the delay occasioned in these cases so as to sustain the order of the learned Magistrate.
29. At the threshold, I may say that I too agree with the learned Counsel for the petitioners that no special indulgence could be shown to the respondents on the ground that they ate statutory bodies and the observation of the learned Magistrate on the above line that the respondents are statutory bodies, and hence the delay is occasioned is not correct. Even so, as it was contended, the other reasoning that the complainants (respondents) have to collect information with regard to the transactions carried on by the petitioners also cannot stand for any scrutiny since it is an admitted case of the respondents that they have issued the notices to the petitioners setting out in detail all the particulars that are necessary for launching the prosecutions.
30. It is not disputed that all the petitioners were dealing in paddy within the notified market area after obtaining licences Under Section 6(1) of the said Act and that they are bound to pay the fees on ad valorem basis. Further it is not the case of the petitioners that they have paid the fees due to the market committee for the relevant periods and that they have rendered accounts to the respective Market Committee of all their transactions within the notified market areas for the said periods.
31. It is seen from the orders sanctioning prosecution of these petitioners that there are as many as 17 defaulters in the Kallakurichi Market Committee including these petitioners and as many as 15 defaulters including some of the petitioners in Chinna Salem Market Committee. The total fees due to the respective market committees come to Rs. 80.000/- odd. The complainants filed counter affidavits contending that the Kallakurichi Market Committee on 9-1-1974 has passed a resolution sanctioning prosecution of the petitioners and other traders and that the Chinnasalem Market Committee on 15-7-1974 passed a resolution sanctioning prosecution of the defaulting traders including some of the petitioners. The fees due from these petitioners are all public revenues still outstanding.
32. Under Rule 51(A) Sub-rule (5) of the Rules made under the Act, it is contemplated that in order to enable the Market Committee to assess the quantum of fees due to it under the Act, every person who deals in the notified agricultural produce shall submit to the market committee a weekly return in the form specified by the Market Committee showing his purchases and sales of each transaction of the notified agricultural produce relating to the previous week. It is alleged that the petitioners in all these oases have not submitted the weekly returns and that therefore they failed to comply with the Rules. Section 37 of the Act deals with the composition of the offence which enables a person who has committed or is reasonably suspected of having committed an offence under the Act or the Rules or by-laws made thereunder to request for composition of such offence with the Market Committee. It is not the case of the petitioner that they took any steps for composition of the said offences even after the issue of the notices by the complainants. But the main defence of these petitioners in all these cases is that they have not committed any offence as alleged by contravening the provisions of this Act or the Rules and as such they are not liable to pay any fees to the concerned Market Committees. These questions can be decided only during the trial of the case arid not at this stage. It is also not necessary for me to go into that question at this stage. For the above reasons no imputation of lack of bona fide can be attributed against these complainants (for instituting these criminal proceedings.
33. The next line of argument of Mr. Gopalaswami is that the said fees can be recovered in alternative proceedings under civil suits even if the criminal proceedings are quashed and that therefore nothing is lost to the Market Committee.
34. Mr. Lakshminaryana Reddy countering this argument would urge that when there are two courses open, it is for the statutory authorities to avail any one of them in order to recover the said amounts and the complainants cannot be compelled to go to the Civil Court for the recovery of the said fees. At this stage the Market Committees may be reluctant to go to the civil proceedings apprehending the defence that the suit claim is barred by limitation. Whatever may be the reasons for the complainants to launch these criminal proceedings, to my part, I am unable to agree with the argument of the learned Counsel for the petitioners, taking that ground as one for invoking the inherent jurisdiction of this Court.
35. Mr. Lakshminarayana Reddy, learned Counsel for the respondents relying on the decision reported in : 1960CriLJ1239 (R. P. Kapur v. State of Punjab) would contend that it is not a fit case to invoke the inherent jurisdiction of this Court to quash the proceedings in respect of these petitions. In the above said case, the Supreme Court has observed that the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court can be exercised to quash proceedings in proper cases either to prevent the abuse of the process of any court or otherwise to secure the ends of justice. Pending criminal proceedings instituted against the accused person must be tried tinder the provisions of the Code and the High Court would be reluctant to interfere with the said proceedings at an interlocutory stage. The cumulative effect of all the facts and circumstances of the caste coupled with the gravity of the offence, I hold that the invocation of Section 473, Cr. P. C. to extend the period of limitation by condoning the delay is necessary in the interests of justice. Therefore the order of the learned Magistrate in condoning the delay in these cases cannot be said to be unjustified.
36. Mr. Arunachalam appearing for some of the petitioners advanced a very hesitant argument that the date seals affixed by the trial Court on some of the petitions give a room for suspicion that these petitions for condoning the delay would not have been filed in court at the time when they are said to have been filed along with the respective complaints. The affixture of the date seals on some of the petitions with wrong dates may be due to some mistake or inadvertence on the part of the clerk in the trial court. That is to say, the date seals might have been affixed without properly changing the date in the seal. After going through the records, I am not satisfied with the argument of the learned Counsel and I reject the same, as nothing could be speculated at this stage without any positive evidence.
37. In the result, I hold that these petitions are not fit ones calling for my interference by invoking the inherent jurisdiction Under Section 482, Cr. P, C. to quash the proceedings in its entirety in respect of the cases now pending before the trial court out of which these petitions arise. Accordingly these petitions are dismissed. The lower Court is directed to dispose of the case expeditiously without being influenced by any of any observations, made on facts in justification of this order.