Read Order: Shailabh Mendiratta v. State Of Haryana And Another

Monika Rahar

Chandigarh, March 30, 2022: While granting relief to the accused who was charged with offences of extortion and criminal intimidation solely on the strength of usage of the term “straighter shooter” in a WhatsApp text sent to the complainant for the purpose of settling a business dispute, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has held that use of the slang is fairly common amongst the younger generation which is adept at messaging and it can be misunderstood if taken literally.

Further, the Bench of Justice Anupinder Singh Grewal added, “Often these messages may appear to be cryptic but the point is driven home. The art of letter writing with formation of sentences, punctuated with proper grammar is almost on the verge of extinction. One can say that from the standpoint of a semi-literate person, the message may seem threatening but viewed in the afore-noted factual backdrop, it is more plausible that it is part of the process of negotiation between the families of the shareholders of the company.”

In this case, the members of the petitioner’s family and the family of the second respondent were running a company indulged in manufacturing automotive parts in Faridabad. A dispute arose between the two families after the son of the second respondent was inducted as a Director in the year 2017 without informing the Board of Directors or taking its consent. 

The family members of the petitioner and complainant (the second respondent) were trying to settle the dispute and in furtherance thereto the petitioner sent a message on Whatsapp to the second respondent stating, “62/B-II Mohan corporate indl estate + 50 crs for me and my dad… Boss to Boss Straight shooter.

The second respondent filed a complaint to the Commissioner and on orders of the Commissioner of Police, Faridabad an FIR under Sections 386 & 506 IPC was registered. The petitioner was arrested on the same day and was later granted regular bail by the trial Court. Hence the present quashing plea was made. 

The case of the petitioner’s counsel was that the message was only in furtherance of the talks of settlement and that the property and the money mentioned in the message was commensurate with the share of the petitioner’s father in the company.  Further, the counsel submitted that the literal meaning of the term “straight shooter” is an “honest and straight-forward person”. The term “Boss to Boss” means to sit face to face to solve a dispute, added the Counsel. 

Besides the message, the counsel argued that there was no other allegation that the petitioner threatened the second respondent to face consequences in any manner whatsoever. Lastly, it was contended that the FIR must be quashed as the essential ingredients of offences under Sections 386 and 506 IPC were not made out. 

After referring to the Oxford English dictionary and an article in the Harvard Business Review, the Court opined that a “straight shooter” is thus a straightforward and forthright person who would call a spade a spade. The court added that the definition does not refer to any violent activity or mean literally to shoot with a firearm. 

Also, highlighting the prevalence of slang language amongst the younger generation adept at messaging, the Court opined that the use of such slang can be misunderstood if taken literally. The Court also opined that often these messages may appear to be cryptic but the point is driven home. 

The Court then went on to say that from the standpoint of a semi-literate person, the message may seem threatening but viewed in the afore-noted factual backdrop, it is more plausible that it is part of the process of negotiation between the families of the shareholders of the company.

The Court noted that there is a dispute with regard to the share-holding or in connection with the affairs of the company and the message was sent in pursuance to attempt to resolve it, and even if a phrase or an idiom which has been sent through a message is capable of two interpretations, the Court asserted that the interpretation which is favourable to the accused would be acceptable. 

“If a narrow and pedantic view is taken then it may curtail freedom of speech and expression. In a democracy, people are free to express their views”, stated the Court.

Besides the aforenoted message in the instant case, the Court added that there was no supporting material that would constitute a prima facie case under Section 387 IPC. Further, without embarking on a further inquiry on the charge of Section 482 Cr.P.C., the Court opined that in the instant case, the Whatsapp message was the foundation of the FIR and the prosecution case and there was neither any material claiming that besides the message, the petitioner threatened or tried to extort money by any other unlawful means be it physically, verbally or through any other mode of communication from the second respondent. 

A bare look at the WhatsApp message in the attending facts and circumstances would not indicate that the complainant was put in fear of injury, or there was any inducement to deliver property or valuable security, the Court held. 

Similarly, the Court held that the offences under Sections 387 and 506 IPC would not be made out as neither there was any intention on the part of the petitioner to put the second respondent in fear of grievous hurt or death to deliver property nor did he have any intention to threaten the second respondent with injury to his person, reputation or property.Also, on the arrest of the petitioner on the same day of the lodging of the FIR, the Court, while deprecating this practice, made reference to the Supreme Court in the case of Lalita Kumari Vs. Government of Uttar Pradesh and others, (2014) 2 SCC 1, wherein it was held it is not mandatory to arrest the accused, immediately on registration of the FIR. Accordingly, the petition was allowed and the FIR was quashed.

0 CommentsClose Comments

Leave a comment