1. The interesting, though knotty, questions raised for consideration in this petition are (1) whether the Registrar of Chits (Investigation and Prosecution), Madras, is a 'person aggrieved by the offence' as envisaged Under Section 469(1)(b) of the Code of Criminal Procedure and (2) whether a Court is entitled to take cognizance of offence Under Sections 3 and 7 read with Section 56(1) of the Tamil Nadu Chit Funds Act, 1961 (hereinafter referred to as the Act) in exercise of its powers Under Section 473 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (hereinafter referred to as the Code), after having first taken on file a complaint by the Registrar, without considering the question of limitation. These questions have come to be raised in the following circumstances.
2. The petitioner who is working in the Corporation of Madras as an Ayah, was conducting a Chit Fund for Rs. 1,000/-. One of the subscribers reported to the Registrar of Chits (Investigation and Prosecution), Madras (referred to in short as Registrar) on March, 27, 1976, that the petitioner had not paid the chit amount due to her. During the investigation of the report the Registrar found the petitioner had conducted the chit without registration of the by-laws and without obtaining a certificate of commencement of business in contravention of Sections 3 and 7 of the Act. Consequently, the Registrar filed a complaint on June 9, 1976 before the Third Metropolitan Magistrate, Madras for the petitioner being punished Under Section 56(1) of the Act.
3. The Magistrate took the complaint on file and issued process to the petitioner. After entering appearance, the petitioner raised objection to the complaint being proceeded with on the ground it was barred by limitation. The contention of the petitioner was that for contraventions of Sections 3 and 7 of the Act, the punishment provided Under Section 56(1) is imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or fine which may extend to Rs. 500/- or both, that as such, the Registrar was bound to file the complaint within one year from the date of the commission of the offences (in accordance with the limitation period specified in Section 468(2)(b) of the Code), and, as the complaint had been filed beyond a period of one year, it was out of time. This contention was on the basis that the alleged offences were committed on July 10, 1974 and the limitation period of one year came to a close on July 10, 1975. The Registrar countered the objection by saying that he came to know of the commission of the offences only on March 27, 1976 when the subscriber complained to him of non-payment of the Chit amount and therefore, the period of limitation began running only from the date of knowledge as prescribed Under Section 469(1)(b) of the Code. The Magistrate refused to accept this plea of the Registrar for, in his opinion, the Registrar could not be considered a 'person aggrieved' by the offence or a 'police officer' who alone had been given the benefit of extended limitation Under Section 469(1)(b) and (c) of the Code. Notwithstanding such a view, the Magistrate refused to sustain the plea of limitation raised by the petitioner because he was of opinion that he had ample powers Under Section 473 of the Code to condone the delay, where the delay had been properly explained for, or the interests of justice demanded condonation of the delay. It is this order of the Magistrate which is sought to be quashed by means of the criminal miscellaneous petition.
4. Mr. p. E. Venkataraman, learned counsel for the petitioner, raised a twofold argument to sustain the petitioner's contention that the complaint is barred by limitation. The first argument was essentially to sustain the view taken by the Magistrate that the Registrar is not a 'person aggrieved by the offences' and, as such, not entitled to invoke Section 469(1)(b) to his aid. The second argument was that the discretion granted to a Court Under Section 473 to extend the period of limitation ought to be exercised even before the Court takes cognizance of an offence, and not at any later point of time. The learned Public Prosecutor's stand, on the other hand, was that the term 'person aggrieved by the offence' would apply to the Registrar also and, secondly, the offences committed by the petitioner were continuing offences and, therefore, they fell outside the inhibitory mandate in Section 468.
5. Let us first take up the question whether the Registrar can be termed a 'person aggrieved' by the offences alleged to have been committed by the petitioner. Neither the word 'person' nor the words 'person aggrieved' have been defined under the Code. There are, however, some sections in the Code which give an indication that the Legislature has used the words to refer to only those persons who are not only substantially, but also directly, affected by the commission of the offence. In Section 198 of the Code, Courts are enjoined not to take cognizance of offences punishable under Chap. XX of the Indian Penal Code (offences relating to marriage) except upon a complaint made by the husband or wife as the case may be or the guadian of the victim of the offences. Another section of an analogous nature is Section 199 of the Code which prescribes that an offence under Chap. XXI of the Indian penal Code (defamation) can be taken cognizance of by a Court only if the complaint is preferred by the person defamed. The provisos to both those sections, which permit guardians or close relations of the victims to make the complaints, are only by way of extended facility to the affected persons, and do not reflect any deviation from the Legislature's intention that only persons directly aggrieved by the offence should institute actions for the offences. It is therefore logical to hold that the words 'person aggrieved by the offence' occurring in Section 469(1)(b) and (c) should also be given a limited or restricted coverage, viz., one who is personally and directly affected by an offence, and not to any member of the public or even an officer who is charged with the duty of enforcing the prohibitory regulations under a statute.
6. It is a well known rule of law that words or phrases occurring in different sections of an enactment should be given the same meaning unless there is clear indication in the statute itself to show that the Legislature had used the words and phrases in different sections with differing meanings or where a uniform construction of the words and phrases will lead to absurd conclusions and results. Applying this formula, the Registrar cannot be termed a 'person aggrieved by the commission of the offences' by the petitioner.
7. The learned Public Prosecutor argued that the Tamil Nadu Chit Funds Act is a benevolent measure of legislation, that it is intended to prevent unscrupulous persons and persons of no solvence from starting chits and also to regulate the conduct of chits by even solvent and bona fide chit organisers and therefore, the Registrar, appointed to enforce the provisions of the Act, must be held a person aggrieved by the contraventions of the Act by any chit organiser. In support of his argument, the Public Prosecutor placed reliance on certain decisions where the word 'person' has been interpreted to include the Government also. In State of Uttar Pradesh v. Kanhaiya Lai : AIR1956All383 , it was held, with reference to the provisions of the Contract Act, that Government also would fall within the terminorlogy of 'person'. In State of Rajasthan v. Ridhabchand , it was held that the Government is included in the term 'person' in Section 44 of the Rajasthan Public Safety Ordinance. Both these authorities are of no relevance to the controversy on hand, for we are not on the interpretation of the word 'person', but on the meaning of the words 'aggrieved person.' In other words, the question is whether the Government represented by one of its officers can be said to be as much aggrieved by the commission of an offence as a private individual or a set of individuals who suffer personal injury or monetary loss etc. Another case relied on by the Public Prosecutor is Ramesh Sinha v. Public Prosecutor : AIR1960All763 , where it was held that the publication of an article defamatory of s Minister harmed, not only the Minister as such, but also the State. That view-was taken to overrule an objection raised by the accused that the complaint was bad because it had not been signed by the two Ministers against whom the defamatory article had been written and one of the Ministers had since ceased to be a Minister. The view taken in that case, if I may say so with respect, is strictly in conformity with Section 198-B of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898. That section was specially enacted for safeguarding the interests of high dignitaries of the State because, affronts to them were equated with affronts to the State itself. Such, however, is not the case here. There is nothing in the Chit Funds Act to indicate that an offence under the Act is to be treated on a special footing and held as an offence against the State itself. The last of the decisions cited in this behalf is Public Prosecutor v. Abdul Wahab : AIR1969Mad280 . Kailasam, J. (as he then was) held in that case that the Chief Engineer, Kumbakonam Electric Supply Corporation can 'be held to be a person aggrieved within the meaning of Section 50 of the Indian Electricity Act, 1910. The point taken in that case was that the person aggrieved by the theft of electricity was the Kumbakdnam Electric Supply Corporation, that as such, the complaint should have been filed by the Company itself by passing a special resolution authorising someone to do so, and in the absence of such an authorisation, the Chief Engineer wfio was acting as power of attorney agent of the Managing Agents of the Company had no locus standi to file the complaint. While repelling this contention the learned Judge held that the Chief Engineer had the competence to represent the aggrieved person, viz., the Kumba-konam Electric Supply Corporation and therefore, he can fit in with the description of 'aggrieved person'. In the present case, it is no one's case that the Registrar stands in the shoes of or acts as the representative of the aggrieved subscriber who has not received the chit amount due to her. The prosecution is for conducting the chit in violation of the provisions of the Act and not for non-payment of money due to a subscriber.
7-A. Mr. Venkataraman, who wants to sustain the view of the Magistrate that the Registrar is not an aggrieved person, has made reference to some cases where it was pointed out that the words 'aggrieved person' have a set connotation and restricted application. R. v. London Sessions Appeal Committee (1951) 1 All ER 232, was a case where a Borough Council was held not an aggrieved person in respect of matters relating to the issue of street trader's licence. The meaning of the words 'aggrieved person' given by James, L. J., in Ex. p. Sidebotham, Re. Sidebotfaam (1980) 14 Ch D 458, in the following terms was approved in that case:
But the words 'person aggrieved' do not really mean a man who is disappointed of a benefit which he might have received if some other order had been made. A 'person aggrieved' must be a man who has suffered a legal grievance, a man against whom a decision has been pronounced which has wrongfully deprived him of something, or wrongfully relused him something, or wrongfully affected his title to something.
In Official Receiver v. Chellappa Chattier : AIR1951Mad935 , a Full Bench of this Court held that an official receiver cannot be deemed a person aggrieved Under Section 75(1) of the Provincial Insolvency Act. The point urged before the Full Bench was that an official receiver representing the general body of creditors was entitled to prefer an appeal against the order of an insolvency Court refusing to sanction prosecution of the insolvent for certain misdeeds. The plea was rejected and the Full Bench pointed out that while the receiver and the creditors were directly interested in matters relating to the administration of- the estate of the debtor and the realisation and distribution of his assets, yet the receiver and the creditors had no direct interest in sending the debtor to jail for offences Under Section 69 of the Act. A question arose in Thiruvengadam v. Muthu Chettiar : AIR1970Mad34 , whether a trustee or worshipper of a temple can be termed a person aggrieved in the matter of grant of licence to someone Under Section 5 of the Rice Milling Industry (Regulation) Act, 1958. A Division Bench of this Court held that he cannot be deemed a person aggrieved and pointed out that 'a person can be said to be aggrieved, and if apart from the general interest such a person, as a member of the public, may have, he has a particular or special interest in the subject-matter supposed to be wrongly decided.' These authorities certainly lend support to my view that the Registrar cannot be taken to be a person aggrieved by the offences so as to claim the benefit of extended limitation provided Under Section 469(1)(b) and (c) of the Code. The Registrar has come forward with the complaint in performance of his official duty and not On account of any grievance felt or sustained by him personally in the contraventions committed by the petitioner. Complaints preferred in discharge of one's official duty are vastly different in character and nature from complaints preferred by persons aggrieved by commission of the offences. They distinctly fall in two different categories and the former is not to be confused with the latter.
8. Before dealing with the second contention of Mr. Venkataraman, I may dispose of the argument of the Public Prosecutor that offences Under Sections 3 and 7 of the Act are continuing offences. I find no support for this contention in the sections themselves. Section 3 lays. down that save as otherwise provided in the Act, no person shall start or conduct any chit unless he has registered with the Registrar the proposed by-laws. Section 7 lays down that no person shall commence any auction or drawing of any chit unless he has obtained a certificate of commencement in respect of each such chit from the Registrar. Therefore, the moment a person conducts a chit without registering the by-laws or commences any auction or drawing of any chit without obtaining a certificate therefor, the offence becomes a completed one. It cannot, therefore, be said that they are continuing offences. A some what similar question, under the Factories Act, came to be considered in State v. Bhiwandiwalla : (1956)IILLJ153Bom , The accused in that case was prosecuted for two offences viz., (i) failure to apply for registration of factory and grant of licence and (ii) failure to give written notice of occupation in accordance with the Act and the Rules. The Bench held that the failure to apply in Form No. 2 for registration of the factory and grant of licence as required by Section 6 read with Rule 4 of the Bombay Factories Rules became a completed offence, the moment the requirement was not complied with and therefore, the State was not entitled to contend that it was a continuing offence. The same ratio will apply to the facts of the instant case also. The prosecution cannot, therefore, take the stand that the petitioner's case would fall Under Section 472 of the Code and hence no objection can be raised by the petitioner on the ground of limitation.
9. Taking up the second contention of Mr, Venkataraman that the Magistrate should have condoned the delay before taking cognizance of the case and he was not entitled to go into the question after the complaint 'had been taken on file, the point for determination is whether there is any statutory bar to a Magistrate taking on file a complaint filed out of time and applying his mind to the question of limitation at a subsequent point of time. As support for his argument, Mr. Venkataraman cited Krishna v. State of M.P., . It was held in that case that in view of the mandatory bar contained in Section 468 to a Court taking cognizance of offences after the lapse of the period of limitation, the overriding powers granted Under Section 473 of the Code can be brought into play only before cognizance of an offence is taken and not subsequently. It was further held that if the Court acts otherwise it would be clearly acting without jurisdiction. With respect to the learned Judge who decided that case, I am unable to share his view. There is nothing in Section 473 of the Code, which is an overriding provision, to show that the Court's powers to extend the period of limitation are limited in any manner with reference to time factor. Section 473 begins with the words, 'Notwithstanding anything contained in the foregoing provisions of the Chapter...'. Correspondingly, Section 468 also makes the provisions of limitation in the section subject to the other sections in the Code. I do not, therefore, find any basis either in Section 468 or in Section 473 to sustain the contention that the powers of a Court to condone the delay in the filing of a complaint, where such condonation is called for in the interests of justice or on account of proper explanation for the delay, are exercisable only before a complaint is taken on file and not thereafter. As a matter of fact, in the case cited by the petitioner's counsel itself, the learned Judge has observed that on grounds of natural justice the accused persons also must be heard before passing an order of condonation of delay Under Section 473. If the accused is to be heard, notice has to be issued to him, and I fail to see how notice can be issued to him unless the Court takes the complaint on file, A safe and harmonious interpretation of Sections 468 and 473 of the Code, in my opinion, will be that, when a complaint is preferred by anyone, whether it be by an aggrieved person or otherwise, the Court can take the complaint on file and incidentally take cognizance of the offence or offences complained therein, subject to defeasance q the complaint and 'the cognizance on the, ground of limitation. After a notice is issued to the accused and he appears in Court, the Court .can hear him also on the question of limitation and then pass an order in accordance with the facts of the case and the needs of the situation. In his Handbook of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, P. Ramakrishnan (Retired Judge) has taken the view that since officials of the Forest Department, Customs Department etc. are not police officers, they will not be entitled to rely on Section 469(1)(b) and (c) for obtaining extension of the period of limitation, that as such, the new provision for limitation in the Code of 1973 may have adverse effect on the prosecution of offences under special Acts like the Sales Tax Act, the Income-tax Act, etc. and therefore, suitable amendments may have to be ultimately evolved by Parliament to set right the situation. I am not able to subscribe myself to this view, for officials other than police officers can seek condonation of delay in respect of complaints affected by the rule of limitation contained in Section 468 by resorting to Section 473 of the Code. If the officials offer satisfactory examination for the delay, or -if, in the interests of justice, the complaint warrants being taken on file and the case being proceeded with, the Court can certainly exercise its powers in favour of the complainant Under Section 473. This view will also provide an answer for the apprehension expressed by the Public Prosecutor that if Section 469(1)(b) and (c) is not liberally construed, it would result in stifling the prosecution machinery and will lead to a large number of offenders escaping punishment on the technical ground of limitation.
10. In the instant case, the Third Metropolitan Magistrate has taken the view that even though he had no jurisdiction in the first instance to take the time-barred complaint on file, yet his taking the complaint was protected by Sub-clause (a) of Sub-section (1) of Section 190 of the Code and therefore, he was entitled to exercise his discretion Under Section 473 to condone the delay. The view of the Magistrate that he had no jurisdiction to take the complaint on file in the first instance is not a correct one, for, as I have stated above, the provisions of the Code do not prohibit a Court from taking on file a complaint without the question of limitation being first considered.
11. For the reasons aforesaid, the petitioner's contention that the Magistrate had no competence to condone the delay cannot be sustained. Consequently, the order of the Magistrate is upheld and the petition for quashing of proceedings will stand dismissed.