Read Order: DHANPREET SINGH AND ANR V. STATE OF PUNJAB

Monika Rahar

Chandigarh, June 10,2022: While dealing with a case wherein usage of obsolete machinery in a factory led to the death of two laborers, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has recently held that the provisions of the Factories Act, 1948 are not in substitution of any other Act but are supplemental to the same and it does not override the Indian Penal Code.

The Bench of Justice Vinod S. Bhardwaj held that Section 119 of the Factories Act, 1948 has been given an overriding effect with anything inconsistent contained in the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act 1970 or any other law for the time being in force but the counsel for the petitioners failed to point out as to how the provisions of Section 304-A IPC would be inconsistent with the provisions contained under the Factories Act, 1948. 

The present quashing petition challenged the order of the Trial Court whereby charges were framed against the petitioners in an FIR registered under Sections 304-A, 337 and 338 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Also challenged was the judgment of the Court of Additional Sessions Judge, Kapurthala, dismissing the revision petition filed by the petitioners against the said order framing charge. 

In this case, the petitioners were engaged in manufacturing the floor of the railway coaches on contract basis with RCF Kapurthala. For the purpose of this work, the petitioners and their father had a factory where (allegedly) 70-75 unskilled labourers and heavy machinery was installed. The machinery allegedly became obsolete.  

On the day of occurrence, the nut-bolt studs broke, due to which the heavy press weighing 4 quintal fell down injuring 3 workers, two of whom died later as a result of injuries sustained by them. Accordingly, a case was registered against the owner of the petitioners and their father and after the charge-sheet was filed, the Trial Court framed charges under Section 304-A against them. 

Aggrieved, they filed a revision petition which was also dismissed. Hence, the present quashing plea is filed. 

It was the case of the petitioners’ counsel that the incident in question would be governed by the Factories Act 1948, which is a special statute and would not fall under the Indian Penal Code. Regarding this submission, the Court opined that the said Act does not prohibit operation of any other statute. 

“The allegations levelled at the stage of registration of the FIR are not in the nature that the petitioners did not prescribe to the safety precautions mandated by the Chief Inspector of Factories, but are to the effect that machinery so installed had outlived its life”, the Court observed while also holding that the counsel for the petitioners failed to point out any provision of law that merely because an offence also happens to be in violation of a special statute, the offence punishable under the Indian Penal Code would not get attracted, despite, the necessary ingredients being satisfied.

Elaborating further, Justice Bhardwaj held Section 119 of the Factories Act has been given an overriding effect with anything inconsistent contained in the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act 1970 or any other law for the time being in force but the counsel for the petitioners failed to point out as to how the provisions of Section 304-A IPC would be inconsistent with the provisions contained under the Factories Act, 1948. 

“The provisions of the Factories Act, 1948 are not in substitution of any other Act but are supplemental to the same. It does not override the Indian Penal Code or laws other than those specified above”, the Court expounded categorically. 

Moving on to the next argument of the Counsel for the petitioners which was to the effect that the prosecution of the petitioners could at best only be carried out under the Factories Act, 1948. Regarding this submission, the Court opined that the same was without any force for the reason that Section 26 of the General Clauses Act deals with provisions when an offence is punishable in two or more enactments and as per the said provision the prosecution of the petitioners for offences punishable under Indian Penal Code cannot be held bad and liable to be set aside merely because such an offence is also punishable under the Factories Act, 1948. 

“The same would only be a fact to be noticed at the time of punishment. Moreover, it is not a case where the Magistrate had taken cognizance of the alleged contravention for being punishable under Section 92 of the Factories Act, 1948 and had not issued summons to the petitioners to face prosecution for violation of the Factories Act, 1948”, opined the Court. 

To conclude this argument, the Court was of the opinion that in the absence of the petitioners being prosecuted or being tried under the Factories Act 1948, it cannot be contended by the petitioners that as the offence in question is also punishable under a separate statute, hence they must necessarily be prosecuted under the same statute only and cannot be prosecuted under any other statute despite the ingredients of the offence being made out.

Further, on the question of whether ingredients of Section 304-A IPC were fulfilled, the Court added that in order to constitute an offence under Section 304-A IPC, the rashness or negligence alleged must be such as to be described as criminal. A mere carelessness is not sufficient for conviction. 

While ‘rashness’ amounts to doing an act with an awareness of the consequences that follow coupled with a hope that they do not; ‘negligence’, is a breach of duty imposed by law. In order to establish criminal liability, the facts must be such that the negligence of the accused went beyond a mere matter of comprehension and showed disregard for life and safety of others”, asserted Justice Bhardwaj in addition to observing,

“In order to attract Section 304-A in IPC the following essential ingredients have to be satisfied:- i). That the accused caused the death of any person; ii). That such death was caused by the accused doing any rash act or; iii). That such death was caused by the accused doing any negligent act and; iv). Such a death did not amount to culpable homicide.”

Also, the Court held that for the purpose of holding a person responsible for the offence, the consequences and act must have an immediate proximity and thus, it would be imperative on the prosecution to establish that the consequence in question was a direct result of an act of rashness or negligence committed by the person charged of the said offence.

Coming to the next aspect of the case, the Court opined that there was no material pointed out by the prosecution showing the involvement of the petitioners in running the affairs of the industry nor any such material was referred to during the course of arguments. 

The Court also noted that even the order passed by the Additional Sessions Judge, Kapurthala did not refer to any prima facie evidence against the petitioners while dismissing the revision petition and merely observes that the prosecution in its report under Section 173 CrPC established the same.

On the conduct of the Lower Appellate Court, it was observed that the Revisional Court failed to appreciate the submissions advanced by the petitioners and it did not address the admissibility of the evidence available along with the final report and rather proceeded on a presumption that all such aspects shall be examined at the stage of trial. 

Therefore, against this backdrop, the Court opined that forcing a person to undergo criminal prosecution without noticing as to whether any criminal case is made out against a person on the strength of the material and evidence collected by the prosecution itself is a perpetuation of injustice and,

“A Court of law cannot refuse to examine the existence of prima facie evidence and as to whether such evidence would support the continuation of proceedings against the petitioner or not on a pretext that such issue is to be examined at the stage of trial. A plea of defence cannot be looked into by the Revisional Court especially when such a plea is sought to be established by any other evidence or document which is yet to be proved in accordance with law”

Accordingly, the petition was allowed. 

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