Shakuntala Devi v. State of U.P.
2003 Cri LJ 687
In India, civil and criminal laws operate in parallel, and the remedies available under each system are distinct. One common misconception is that if a civil remedy exists for a particular dispute, then a criminal case cannot be filed in connection with the same incident. However, this is not necessarily the case. The availability of a civil remedy does not automatically preclude filing a criminal case, and vice versa. This Case analysis will explore this issue in more detail, examining the relationship between civil and criminal remedies in India and the circumstances under which a criminal case may still be filed even if a civil remedy is available.
The current case involves an application under Section 482 of the Cr.P.C. to vacate orders dated 29-7-2002 by VII Additional Sessions Judge, Allahabad, and 8-11-2000 by Chief Judicial Magistrate, Allahabad. Furthermore, an application is preferred to direct the Court below to take cognizance on the applicant's application pursuant to Section 156(3) Cr. P.C. to direct the authority concerned to lodge a report.
The applicant filed a petition under Section 156(3) of the Cr.P.C. before the Special Chief Judicial Magistrate of Allahabad, seeking direction to the police station in George Town to register a case against opposing parties Nos. 2 to 4 under Sections 419, 420, 467, and 468 of the IPC. The applicant claimed that her maternal uncle, Jangilal, had left her a house in a will executed on April 20, 1986, and her name was entered into the Nagar Nigam records accordingly. Subsequently, the applicant sold a portion of the house to opposite party No. 4 by executing a sale deed on December 29, 1993. However, the applicant alleged that opposing parties Nos. 2, 3, and 4 had forged a will in Jangilal's name, leaving the entire property to No. 2 (mother of No. 3). This forged will contained Jangilal's thumbprint, even though he was literate and capable of signing, and also had errors such as the wrong name of his father and place of residence.
The special CJM ruled that the allegedly forged will deed had not been declared invalid or forged by any competent Court of law, and thus the applicants' allegations did not reveal a cognizable offence. As a result, he denied the application.
The applicants were aggrieved with the decision and approached the Revisional Court, namely the Court of the VII Additional Sessions Judge in Allahabad. In response, Opposite Parties 2, 3, and 4 submitted counter-affidavits alleging that the applicant had executed a registered sale deed and sold the property to Opposite Party No. 4 but did not hand over possession to the buyer. Consequently, the transferee filed a civil suit for eviction against the applicant, which was still ongoing. They also argued that Jangilal had executed a valid will in favor of Opposing Party No. 2. Meanwhile, the applicant had filed a civil suit claiming that she is the only rightful owner of the disputed property, and therefore the dispute between the parties was purely a civil matter.
The Revisional Court held that when a civil remedy is the available criminal case is barred and thus dismissed the revision application. Finally, the applicants approached the Honourable High Court at Allahabad to seek remedy
Issue: Can the Court deny the applicant's request solely on the basis that the case involves a civil matter, and therefore criminal charges cannot be filed?
In the case of Ram Narain v. Mool Chand it was said that in order to seek interference by the court under the section, three conditions must be fulfilled, namely-
1) The injustice that comes to light must be of grave nature
2) It should be clear and palpable and not doubtful
3) There exists no other provision of law by which the party aggrieved could have sought relief.
The only way the application for quashing can be successful is if it can be demonstrated that the lower courts' decision caused some form of injustice to the applicant. The applicant's counsel argued that the Revisional Court dismissed the application based solely on the fact that the case was related to a civil matter and, as a result, a criminal case could not be filed. However, the Allahabad High Court has strongly rejected this view of the lower courts, citing several decisions of the Supreme Court to demonstrate that the existence of a civil suit does not prevent the filing of criminal proceedings based on the same set of circumstances.
Moreover, the two remedies - criminal and civil - are not opposing but rather complementary and differ significantly in their nature and impact. The purpose of criminal law is to penalize the perpetrator of an offense against an individual, property, or the government, without affecting the availability of civil remedies to sue the accused.
In the case M.S. Sheriff v. State of Madras The court observed that the potential for conflicting verdicts in the Civil and Criminal courts was not a relevant factor to be considered. Rather, the court emphasized that civil suits often take many years to be resolved, and it is not desirable for criminal cases to be put on hold until everyone has forgotten about the crime. Therefore, criminal cases should take priority. This ruling is consistent with the court's opinion, as well as the other cases relied upon by the High Court. Consequently, it is concluded that the same set of facts can give rise to both civil and criminal proceedings, and both can proceed concurrently.
In conclusion, the Allahabad High Court has provided clarity on the settled point in law that the presence of a civil suit does not preclude criminal proceedings arising from the same facts. While the court agreed with the lower courts in rejecting the application where no prima facie offenses were observable, it is somewhat concerning that the suspicious will was completely disregarded. While the thumbprint on the will of a literate man is not an offense, the errors in the will raise suspicions that may warrant an investigation by the police, even though the errors lead to a civil suit for cancellation of the will deed. However, the allegations, affidavits, and counter-affidavits filed in this case indicated that the matter could be resolved through civil proceedings such as for non-delivery of possession or cancellation of the deed. Therefore, based on the given facts, there was not enough evidence to make out the charge of forgery. The High Court of Allahabad, by summarily rejecting the application, has avoided a long and contentious criminal proceeding that would not have addressed the grievances of the parties. Overall, the court has done a commendable job of balancing the interests of justice and the practicalities of the legal system.