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Analytical Perspective of M/S Neeharika Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd v/s Maharashtra

The quashing of an FIR/complaint has been a difficult matter for decades, and the Hon'ble Supreme Court has clarified the broader criteria for the quashing of an FIR from time to time. At first glance, the Supreme Court's decision in M/s Neeharika Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd. vs. State of Maharashtra, 2021 SCC online SC 315, appears to limit the use of interim orders while exercising the inherent powers of the High Courts to quash FIRs.

A careful reading of the judgment, however, dispels all such doubts. The Supreme Court's three-judge bench ruled that before issuing an interim order barring further investigation pending the outcome of a quashing petition, the High Court must apply the same criteria it would use to quash the proceedings in its inherent jurisdiction as well as provide reasons for the interim orders.

Brief Description of the Case:
Under Sections 406, 420, 465, 468, 471, and 120B of the Indian Penal Code, the appellant was booked as an accused by the police but he was granted interim protection from arrest. The learned Sessions Court's interim protection was extended several times and lasted nearly a year.

During the pendency of the case, respondents nos. 2-4 filed two writ petitions in the High Court of Judicature in Bombay, requesting the quashing of the FIR under Article 226 of the Constitution of India r/w Section 482 CrPC. While adjourning the matter, the Hon'ble High Court issued the impugned interim order, mandating that "no coercive measures" be taken against the petitioners (respondents 2 to 4 herein) in relation to the said FIR.

Question for Determination:
When and where would the High Court be justified in passing an interim order either wanting to stay further investigation in the FIR/complaint or going to issue an interim order in the nature of no coercive steps and not arresting the accused either pending further investigation by the police/investigating organisation or while the quashing petition under Section 482 CrPC is pending and pending before the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution?

Analysis of the Supreme Court:
On the one hand, the court recognized that a balance must be struck between the rights of legitimate complainants and FIRs that disclose the commission of a criminal offence, and the statutory obligation/duty of trying to investigate organizations to start investigating cognizable offences, on the one hand, and the rights of innocent persons against whom criminal proceedings are initiated, which may be an abuse of the law and process in a given case, on the other.

While dismissing quashing petitions, the Supreme Court criticised the practise of High Courts issuing orders not to arrest the accused while the investigation or until the charge sheet is submitted. The court determined that there may be a need for a custodial investigation for which the accused must remain in police custody, and that issuing such blanket orders without providing reasons would be unacceptably harsh.

The author explains the Supreme Court's judgment:
  1. Under the relevant provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the officers have a statutory right and responsibility to investigate a cognizable offence
  2. The courts will not prevent any investigation into cognizable offences;
  3. The Court will only refuse to allow an investigation to continue if no cognizable offence of any kind is disclosed in the first information report.
  4. The power of quashing should be utilized only in the "rarest of rare instances" (the rarest of rare is not what is applied in capital punishment).
  5. When determining whether or not an FIR/complaint should be quashed, the court cannot look into the reliability, legitimacy, or otherwise of the claims included in the FIR/complaint.
  6. Criminal proceedings must not be abandoned right away;
  7. A complaint or FIR being dismissed must be exceptions to the general rule;
  8. Normally, courts are not entitled to usurp the jurisdiction of the police because the two-state institutions operate in separate spheres of activity and should not interfere with one another;
  9. The role of the judiciary and police are complementary rather than overlapping.
  10. The Court and judicial procedure must not intervene during the investigation stage of criminal proceedings, except in exceptional circumstances when non-interference would result in a miscarriage of justice;
  11. The Court's inherent powers do not empower it to act on its own whims;
  12. The first information report is not an encyclopedia that must contain all facts and details concerning the reported offence. As a result, while the police investigation is ongoing, the court should avoid delving into the merits of the complaints in the FIR. The police must be given the chance to complete their investigation. It would be premature to assume that the complaint/FIR does not merit further investigation or that it amounts to a misuse of the judicial system based on speculative information. If the investigating officer finds the complainant's application to be without merit, the investigating officer may file an appropriate report/summary with the learned Judge, who will review it according to the prescribed procedure.
  13. Despite the fact that Section 482 CrPC gives the court broad authority, the court is required to exercise caution while exercising powers under 482 CrPC;
  14. At the same time, the court has the authority to quash the FIR/complaint if it sees merits in the case, taking into account the quashing parameters and the self-restraint required by law;
  15. When the accused files a motion to quash the FIR, the court must simply determine whether the allegations in the FIR show the commission of a cognizable offence or not when exercising its power under Section 482 CrPC;
  16. The court is not obligated to consider the veracity of the claims in determining whether the offences constitute a cognizable offence.

Opinion of the Author:
One of the Author's concerns is that, in the aftermath of this decision, the High Courts will exercise abundant caution in granting interim relief, even in genuine and meritorious cases. As a result, the petitioners may be subjected to undue scrutiny at the High Courts level, which is not a goal of this decision. This approach, if adopted by the High Court, has the potential to harm the legitimate rights of the petitioner while getting the interim relief in a meritorious case.

It is critical for all High Courts counsel and judges to grasp the precise ratio decidendi of this decision in order to distinguish it from genuine and deserving cases that are meritorious.


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