Read Judgment: Ramawatar vs. State of Madhya Pradesh

Pankaj Bajpai

New Delhi, October 26, 2021: Relying on a recent decision in the case of Ramgopal & Anr vs. The State of Madhya Pradesh, the Supreme Court has reiterated that the powers of this Court under Article 142 of the Indian Constitution can be invoked under SC/ST Act, 1989, to quash a criminal proceeding on the basis of a voluntary compromise between the complainant/victim and the accused. 

While quashing the criminal proceedings with the sole objective of doing complete justice between the parties, the Larger Bench of Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli observed that when considering a prayer for quashing on the basis of a compromise/settlement, if the Court is satisfied that the underlying objective of the SC/ST Act would not be contravened or diminished even if the felony in question goes unpunished, the mere fact that the offence is covered under a ‘special statute’ would not refrain this Court or the High Court, from exercising their respective powers under Article 142 of the Constitution or Section 482 of CrPC.

Going by the background of the case, a civil dispute over the ownership and possessory rights of a piece of land between Ramawatar (appellant) and his neighbour Prembai (complainant) took an ugly turn when the Appellant allegedly not only threw a brick on the complainant but also made filthy and slur remarks on her caste, which prompted the complainant to lodge FIR u/s 3(1)(x) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989 (SC/ST Act) r/w/s 34 of IPC. 

The appellant and his co-accused were subsequently tried, which led to the appellant’s conviction u/s 3(1)(x) of the SC/ST Act and consequential sentence of six months rigorous imprisonment and fine of Rs. 1000. 

The appellant challenged his conviction and sentence before the High Court of Madhya Pradesh, Jabalpur Bench, and the High Court held that there was sufficient material to establish that the complainant being a member of the Scheduled Caste community was humiliated by the appellant. 

Thus, concurring with the findings of the Trial Court, the High Court maintained the order of conviction and sentence passed against the appellant. Aggrieved, the appellant had approached this Court. 

The Larger Bench referred to a recent decision of this Court in the case of Ramgopal & Anr.(Supra), wherein it was clarified that the jurisdiction of a Court u/s 320 Cr.P.C cannot be construed as a proscription against the invocation of inherent powers vested in this Court under Article 142 of the Constitution nor on the powers of the High Court u/s 482 Cr.P.C. 

The Court in Ramgopal case further postulated that criminal proceedings involving non-heinous offences or offences which are predominantly of a private nature, could be set aside at any stage of the proceedings, including at the appellate level, added the Bench. 

The Apex Court observed that the very purpose behind Section 3(1)(x) of the SC/ST is to deter caste based insults and intimidations when they are used with the intention of demeaning a victim on account of he/she belonging to the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe community. 

In the present case, the record manifests that there was an undeniable preexisting civil dispute between the parties. The case of the Appellant, from the very beginning, has been that the alleged abuses were uttered solely on account of frustration and anger over the pending dispute. Thus, the genesis of the deprecated incident was the aforestated civil/property dispute”, noted the Court. 

The Top Court further observed that the offence in question, for which the Appellant had been convicted, did not appear to exhibit his mental depravity and the aim of the SC/ST Act is to protect members of the downtrodden classes from atrocious acts of the upper strata of the society. 

It appears to us that although the Appellant may not belong to the same caste as the Complainant, he too belongs to the relatively weaker/backward section of the society and is certainly not in any better economic or social position when compared to the victim. Despite the rampant prevalence of segregation in Indian villages whereby members of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe community are forced to restrict their quarters only to certain areas, it is seen that in the present case, the Appellant and the Complainant lived in adjoining houses”, added the Court. 

Therefore, noting that the Complainant has, on her own free will, without any compulsion, entered into a compromise and wishes to drop the present criminal proceedings against the accused, the Apex Court concluded that in order to avoid the revival of healed wounds, it will be prudent to effectuate the present settlement.  

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