In a significant judgement, the Supreme Court on 25 October, 2021 while hearing Criminal Appeal No. 1393 of 2011 with the case titled Ram Avatar v. State of Madhya Pradesh observed that criminal proceedings initiated under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act) Act or any other such Special Statutes can be quashed by the Supreme Court by invoking the power under Article 142 of the Indian Constitution or Section 482 of Criminal Procedure Code. The 3 Judge Bench which was headed by Chief Justice of India Shri NV Ramana while delivering the judgement observed that merely the fact being that the offence is covered under a special statute does not in itself disentitle the Supreme Court as well as the High Courts to exercise their powers under Article 142 of the Constitution and Section 482 of Criminal Procedure Code. Along with CJI NV Ramana, the other two judges on the bench were Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli.
In the case concerned, there had been an ongoing civil dispute regarding ownership of a piece of land between the appellant and his neighbor. The complainant alleged that the appellant threw a brick on the complainant along with making some filthy casteist slurs which was the reason he lodged an FIR under Section 3 (1) (x) of SC/ST Act, 1989 along with Section 34 of IPC, 1860. Subsequent to this, the appellant and another co-accused were tried and convicted with 6 months’ rigorous imprisonment along with fine of Rs. 1000. On challenging such conviction before High Court of Madhya Pradesh which was dismissed and hence the Appellant approached the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court bench, while deciding the case, referred to the case of Ram Gopal and Another V. State of Madhya Pradesh wherein it was held that Article 142 can be invoked to quash proceedings which arise out of non-compoundable offences. In the present case, the apex court held, Section 320 of CRPC cannot restrict the Jurisdiction of Supreme Court and prevent it from exercising its inherent power under Article 142 or the High Court under Section 482 of CRPC in order to do complete justice.
Thus, the apex court held that the Supreme Court and the High Courts, after perusing the facts and circumstance of the cases and nature of offences and giving due regard to any settlement entered between the parties, can quash the proceedings by exercising its inherent powers. However, such inherent power under Article 142 of the Constitution and Section 482 of CRPC can only be used in post-conviction matters where appeal lies pending before one or the other judicial forum. Such pendency of appeal is sine qua non for the apex court to exercise its power to do complete justice.
The court also observed that while considering the prayer for quashing the proceedings after compromise/ settlement, if the court is satisfied that such quashing would not contravene or diminish the underlying objective of the concerned special statute, the mere fact that it is a special statute cannot restrict and refrain the apex court of any High court from exercising their inherent powers to do complete justice. The court, thus, by invoking power under Article 142, quashed the instant Criminal Proceeding with the sole objective of doing complete justice.