Be vigilant in invoking SC/ST Act, SC tells police authorities

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The officer has to be satisfied that the provisions he seeks to invoke prima facie apply to the case at hand, the bench said.

The Supreme Court has asked the police authorities not to invoke stringent provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act in a mechanical manner without going by factual aspects of a complaint as the stringent law leads to serious consequences for the accused.

"This court would indicate that the officers, who institute an FIR, based on any complaint, are duty-bound to be vigilant before invoking any provision of a very stringent statute, like the SC/ST Act, which imposes serious penal consequences on the concerned accused. The officer has to be satisfied that the provisions he seeks to invoke prima facie apply to the case at hand," a bench of Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Ahsanuddin Amanullah said.

The apex court quashed an FIR lodged by Bengaluru police against Gulam Mustafa, Managing Director of GM Infinite Dwelling (India) Private Limited, on a complaint filed by one Venkatesh after the company, engaged in developing residential premises, entered into a joint development agreement with regard to a certain parcel of land in the city.

Besides the FIR for offences of cheating, forgery and others under the SC/ST Act, the complainant also initiated civil suits and failed to get any relief.

The court pointed out that no dispute was raised by any person before any authority and only after the GMID entered into the JDA with the original land-owners in the year 2009, obtained all clearances from the authorities in their favour, started the construction work and built apartments numbering more than 400, sold them to the buyers/allottees in the year 2017, did the present dispute arise. 

"This itself indicates a lack of bonafide. We have mused as to why the complainant and her family members if the land was theirs, would sit by and watch on as fence-sitters for a long period of time," the bench said.

"The malafide appears writ large from the sequence of events," the bench added, after noting that the complainant registered the complaint after failing to receive any relief in civil suits.

The bench further said that the Supreme Court has been consistent in interfering in such matters where purely civil disputes, more often than not, relating to land and/or money are given the colour of criminality, only for the purposes of exerting extra-judicial pressure on the party concerned.

"We reiterate, (this) is nothing but abuse of the process of the court. In the present case, there is a huge, and quite frankly, unexplained delay of over 60 years in initiating a dispute with regard to the ownership of the land in question, and the criminal case has been lodged only after failure to obtain relief in the civil suits, coupled with denial of relief in the interim therein to the respondent no.2/her family members. It is evident that resort was now being had to criminal proceedings which, in the considered opinion of this court, is with ulterior motives, for oblique reasons and is a clear case of vengeance," the bench said.

Even if the allegations are taken to be true on their face value, it is not discernible that any offence can be said to have been made out under the SC/ST Act against the appellant, the bench said, terming the complaint and FIR as "frivolous, vexatious and oppressive".

The court allowed the appeal by the petitioner and set aside the Karnataka High Court's order, declining to quash the FIR under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Asking the police authorities to remain vigilant in invoking SC/ST Act, the bench said, "We clarify that our remarks, in no manner, are to dilute the applicability of special/stringent statutes, but only to remind the police not to mechanically apply the law, dehors reference to the factual position."

Case Title: Sri Gulam Mustafa vs. State of Karnataka

Statute: Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act