Read Order: STATE OF KARNATAKA v. SHEKHAR S/O LATE MADAIAH
Bengaluru, July 15, 2021: While quashing an award passed by the Lok Adalat, the Karnataka High Court has ruled that the offences under section 32 and 34 of the Karnataka Excise Act were non-compoundable and therefore, the order of reference and determination of the same by the Lok Adalat was contrary to Sections 19 and 20 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.
“Reading of Section 20(1)(ii) of the Act and the proviso to the said section makes it clear that Court can refer a case to Lok Adalat only if the same is appropriate. Again what is appropriate case depends on the fact whether Lok Adalat can take cognizance of such offences and has jurisdiction to decide the same. Proviso to Section 19(5) of the Act bars the jurisdiction of Lok Adalat over a case relating to a non-compoundable offence,” observed a Bench of Justice K S Mudagal.
The Bench also observed that sentencing the accused to imprisonment till rising of the court along with fine of Rs.500, shows how lightly the Lok Adalat dealt with the matter.
Going by the verdict of the Supreme Court in case of United India Insurance Co. Ltd. versus Ajay Sinha, wherein it was held that the offence which is non-compoundable in nature falls outside the jurisdiction of the permanent Lok Adalat, Justice Mudgal allowed the petition and restored the matter to the Trial Court.
While reiterating that proviso to Section 19(5) of the Legal Services Authority Act bars the jurisdiction of the Lok Adalat over a case relating to a non-compoundable offence, Justice KS Mudagal observed that neither the trial court nor the Lok Adalat has recorded the admission of the plea of guilt of the accused as required under CrPC.
The sequence of events, which led to filing of the petition before the High Court, shows that the respondent in this case was being prosecuted before the trial court on the basis of charge sheet filed by Akkur Police for the offences punishable u/s 32 and 34 of the Karnataka Excise Act, 1965, alleging illegal possession of liquor worth Rs.1,965 for sale.
When the Trial Court referred the case to Lok Adalat, an award was passed holding that the accused had admitted the guilt, which resulted in his conviction for offences u/s 32 & 34 of the Excise Act and sentencing him to pay fine of Rs. 500 along with imprisonment till rising of the Court.
Justice Mudagal found that the minimum prescribed punishment for the offence u/s 32 of the Excise Act is rigorous imprisonment not less than one year and fine not less than Rs.10,000/- which is extendable upto five years and Rs.50,000/-.
Similarly, he found that minimum prescribed punishment for the offence u/s 34 of the Excise Act is imprisonment not less than one year and fine not less than Rs.10,000/- which is extendable upto four years and Rs.50,000/-.
“The Lok Adalat sentenced the accused to imprisonment till rising of the Court and fine of Rs.500/-. That shows how lightly the Lok Adalat dealt with the matter,” the HC said.