SC Finally Allows Jagannath Rath Yatra At Puri On Conditions.

It is heartening to see that the Supreme Court in a latest, landmark and laudable judgment titled Odisha Vikas Parishad vs Union Of India & Ors in Writ Petition(s) (Civil) No(s). 5721/2020 dated June 22, 2020 has while modifying the absolute stay on conducting the Jagannath Rath Yatra at Puri has allowed it observing the strict restrictions and regulations of the Centre and the State Government. These strict restrictions and regulations are considered imperative also considering the increasing spread of the Corona pandemic! So there is no reason to oppose them!

To start with, this noteworthy judgment that was delivered by Chief Justice of India (CJI) – Sharad Arvind Bobde, Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice AS Bopanna first and foremost sets the ball rolling by observing right at the outset that, “These are applications made by several parties for intervention and modification of Order dated 18th June, 2020 passed by this Court. By that Order, we had restrained the respondents from holding the Rath Yatra this year in view of the danger presented by gathering of 10 to 12 lakhs devotees for a period of 10-12 days. Clearly any spread of the Coronavirus due to the Rath Yatra would be disastrous due to the large number of persons and the impossibility of tracking all the infected people after they have gone back to their respective homes. Needless to say that it is not possible to screen the medical conditions of all those who converge on the cities for the Rath Yatra.”

It is a no-brainer that considering the huge presence of devotees at this Rath Yatra that we witness every year, there was a dire need to impose strict restrictions to check the epidemic from further spreading very rapidly as it spreads by contact. This what the Apex Court Bench in this notable case has stated right at the outset also. There can be no denying or disputing it!

To be sure, the Apex Court Bench then very rightly went on to say as a word of caution that, “While we do not have the official copy of the gazette itself, we are informed that in the 18th-19th century a yatra of this kind was responsible for the spread of cholera and plague “like wild fire”. We say this in order to remind the authorities concerned that the situation can become dangerous if the rules of caution are ignored.”

To put things in perspective, it is then envisaged by the Apex Court Bench that, “Before we passed our earlier Order we had suggested to the parties that the procession of chariots, i.e., the Rath Yatra itself, could be allowed to proceed, however, without the general congregation which participates in this Yatra. We were informed that it would be well nigh impossible to ensure that there is no congregation. This Court was, therefore, left with no option but to grant an injunction restraining the Rath Yatra itself.”

While elaborating further, it is then pointed out by the Apex Court Bench that, “However, we find, in one of the present applications, an affidavit filed on behalf of the State of Orissa stating that it might be possible to conduct the Rath Yatra at Puri “in a limited way without public attendance”. This has been proposed by Gajapati Maharaj of Puri, who is the Chairman of the Puri Jagannath Temple Administration. Indeed, if it is possible to ensure that there is no public attendance, we see no reason why the Rath Yatra cannot be conducted safely along its usual route from temple to temple.”

Most significantly, it is then held by the Apex Court Bench that, “Having given serious consideration to the matter and having heard the parties, we are of the view that the Rath Yatra at Puri may be held subject to following conditions:

(1)         All entry points into the City of Puri, i.e., airports, railway stations, bus stands, etc., shall be closed during the period of Rath Yatra festival.

(2)         The State Government shall impose a curfew in the City of Puri on all the days and during all the time when Rath Yatra chariots are taken in procession. The State Government may also impose curfew in the city of Puri on such other days and during such time as deemed necessary. During the period of curfew no one would be allowed to come out of their houses or their places of residence, such as hotels, lodging houses, etc. To start with, the curfew shall begin tonight at 8 P.M.

(3)         Each Rath i.e., Chariot, shall be pulled by not more than 500 persons. Each of those 500 persons shall be tested for the Coronavirus. They shall be permitted to pull the chariot only if they have been found negative. The number 500 shall include officials and police personnel.

(4)         There shall be an interval of one hour between two chariots.

(5)         Each of those who is engaged in pulling the chariot shall maintain social distancing before, during and after the Rath Yatra.

(6)         We are informed that certain rituals are associated with the Rath Yatra. We direct that only such persons shall be associated with the rituals who have been found to have tested negative and shall maintain social distancing.

(7)         The primary responsibility for conducting the Rath Yatra in accordance with the conditions and other norms shall be that of the Committee in-charge of Puri Jagannath Temple Administration. Each member of the Committee shall be responsible for due compliance with the conditions imposed by this Court and the general directions which govern ensuring of public health issued by the Union Government. In addition, the officers designated by the State Government for conduct of the Rath Yatra shall be responsible likewise.

(8)         The rituals and the Rath Yatra shall be freely covered by the visual media. The State Government shall allow TV cameras to be installed at such places as may be found necessary by the TV crew.

(9)         The bare minimum number of people shall be allowed by the Committee to participate in the rituals and in the Rath Yatra. We take a note of the fact that the State of Orissa has a good record of having controlled the pandemic with a very little loss of life. We see no reason why the same attitude of care and caution should not be applied to the Rath Yatra.

(10)  The State Government may take such help as may be found necessary from the Union Government. Shri Tushar Mehta, learned Solicitor General, has assured the Court that the Union Government shall offer all assistance and help to the State Government in this endeavour.

(11)  The State Government shall maintain a record containing details of all those who have been allowed to participate in the Rath Yatra or the rituals connected therewith along with details of their medical conditions after testing.

Finally, it is then held in the last para that, “All the applications for intervention and modification of Order dated 18th June, 2020 passed by this Court are disposed of.”

All said and done, it is a commendable judgment delivered by a three Judge Bench of the Apex Court which includes the CJI also! It may be recalled that the Apex Court on June 18 had ordered that no Rath Yatra should be held keeping in mind the pandemic situation. But no it stands modified and the Rath Yatra has been permitted with the restrictions and conditions as has been already above elaborated upon in detail!

Sanjeev Sirohi

Mere Pendency Of Civil Case Between Complainant And Accuused Not A Ground To Qash Criminal Case: SC

Let me begin at the very beginning by first and foremost explicitly pointing out that in a latest, landmark and laudable judgment titled Md. Allauddin Khan vs The State of Bihar & Ors in Criminal Appeal No. 675 of 2019 (Arising out of S.L.P.(Cri.) No. 1151 of 2018) delivered just recently on April 15, 2019 has clearly and convincingly observed that, “Mere pendency of civil case between complainant and accused is not a reason to quash criminal case.” There can be no reason to quash a criminal case just because a civil case is pending between complainant and accused. So the Apex Court has very rightly ruled so accordingly!

While setting the pitch for this extremely landmark and laudable judgment delivered by the Apex Court authored by Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre for himself and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, it is pointed out in para 2 that, “This appeal is directed against the final judgment and order dated 11.09.2017 passed by the High Court of Judicature at Patna in Criminal Miscellaneous Application No. 27078 of 2013 whereby the High Court allowed the Criminal Miscellaneous Application filed by respondent Nos. 2 & 3 herein and quashed the complaint filed by the appellant herein.”

Needless to say, it is then pointed out in para 3 that, “A few facts need mention here in below for the disposal of this appeal, which involves a short point.” Para 4 then envisages that, “By impugned order, the High Court quashed the order dated 13.02.2013 passed by the Judicial Magistrate 1st Class, Saran at Chapra in Complaint Case No. 21/2012 whereby the Judicial Magistrate took cognizance of the complaint filed by the appellant herein against respondent Nos. 2 and 3 for commission of the offences punishable under Sections 323, 379 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (for short “IPC”) by holding that a prima facie case was made out against respondent Nos. 2 and 3 on the basis of allegations made in the complaint.”

To put it succinctly, it is then observed in para 5 that, “So, the short question which arises for consideration in this appeal filed by the complainant is whether the Judicial Magistrate was right in holding that a prima facie case is made out against respondent Nos. 2 and 3 for commission of the offences punishable under Sections 323, 379 read with Section 34 IPC so as to call upon them to face the trial on merits or whether the High Court was right in holding that no prima facie case has been made out against respondent Nos. 2 and 3.”

After observing in para 6 that, “Heard Mr. Binay Kumar Das, learned counsel for the appellant, Mr. Prabhat Ranjan Raj, learned counsel for respondent Nos. 2 & 3 and Mr. Devashish Bharuka, learned counsel for respondent No. 1-State.”, the Bench then goes on to add in para 7 that, “Having heard the learned counsel for the parties and on perusal of the record of the case, we are constrained to allow the appeal, set aside the impugned order and restore the order of the Judicial Magistrate dated 13.02.2013.”

Furthermore, the Bench then observes in para 8 that, “The High Court examined the case in para 6, which reads as under:

“6. On perusal of complaint petition, I find that the complainant has asserted that firstly, he had contracted for purchasing the shop premises from the land owner, but the petitioners offered more money and got the document registered in their favour. There is no chit of paper on record to support the agreement of sale or payment of any amount to the land owner. The petitioners claim to be bona fide purchaser of the shop premises, which was in tenancy of the complainant. The petitioners have filed an Eviction Suit No. 10 of 2012, in which the complainant has filed his written statement admitting tenancy in the said shop premises. The complainant has further asserted that he has been remitting rent of the said shop regularly and when he learnt about the transfer of shop premises in favour of the petitioners, the complainant has filed a Title Suit No. 2 of 2012. The dispute between the parties appears to be a civil dispute. The relationship of landlord and tenant stands admitted by the complainant in the eviction suit. I further find that there are contradictions in the statement of witnesses on the point of occurrence. The criminal prosecution of these petitioners in the above background appears to be an abuse of process of Court”.”

Truth be told, the Bench then minces no words in pointing out in para 9 that, “On perusal of the impugned order, we find that it suffers from two errors.” Elaborating further, para 10 then states that, “First error is that the High Court did not examine the case with a view to find out as to whether the allegations made in the complaint prima facie make out the offences falling under Sections 323, 379 read with Section 34 IPC or not.”

While highlighting the discrepancies in the High Court’s verdict, the Bench then observes in para 11 that, “Instead the High Court in Para 6 gave importance to the fact that since there was a dispute pending between the parties in the Civil Court in relation to a shop as being landlord and tenant, it is essentially a civil dispute between the parties.”

Furthermore, while rapping the High Court on its knuckles, the Bench then minces no words to say it upfront in para 12 that, “It is on this ground, the High Court proceeded to quash the complaint. This approach of the High Court, in our view, is faulty.” Also, it is then laid bare in para 13 that, “Though the High Court referred to the law laid down by this Court in the case of State of Haryana & Ors. vs. Ch. Bhajan Lal & Ors. (AIR 1992 SC 604) but failed to apply the principle laid down therein to the facts of this case.”

Not stopping here, it is then pointed out in para 14 that, “The High Court failed to see that mere pendency of a civil suit is not an answer to the question as to whether a case under Sections 323, 379 read with Section 34 IPC is made out against respondent Nos. 2 and 3 or not.”

To say the least, the Bench also sought to make it clear point blank in para 15 that, “The High Court should have seen that when a specific grievance of the appellant in his complaint was that respondent Nos. 2 and 3 have committed the offences punishable under Sections 323, 379 read with Section 34 IPC, then the question to be examined is as to whether there are allegations of commission of these two offences in the complaint or not. In other words, in order to see whether any prima facie case against the accused for taking its cognizance is made out or not, the Court is only required to see the allegations made in the complaint. In the absence of any finding recorded by the High Court on this material question, the impugned order is legally unsustainable.”

While pointing out the second error in the verdict of High Court, it is then held in para 16 that, “The second error is that the High Court in para 6 held that there are contradictions in the statements of the witnesses on the point of occurrence.”

While making the picture on this lacuna in the High Court verdict more clear, it is then held explicitly in para 17 that, “In our view, the High Court had no jurisdiction to appreciate the evidence of the proceedings under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (for short “Cr.P.C.”) because whether there are contradictions or/and inconsistencies in the statements of the witnesses is essentially an issue relating to appreciation of evidence and the same can be gone into by the Judicial Magistrate during trial when the entire evidence is adduced by the parties. That stage is yet to come in this case.”

What’s more, it is then observed in para 18 that, “It is due to these two errors, we are of the considered opinion that the reasoning and the conclusion arrived at by the High Court for quashing the complaint filed by the appellant against respondent Nos. 2 and 3 is not legally sustainable and hence it deserves to be set aside.”

It also cannot be lost on us that it is then observed in para 19 that, “In view of the foregoing discussion, the appeal succeeds and is accordingly allowed. The impugned order is set aside and the order of the Judicial Magistrate dated 13.02.2013 is restored because it records a finding that a prima facie case for taking cognizance of the complaint is made out.”

Before parting, it is then finally held in the last para 20 that, “The Judicial Magistrate is accordingly directed to proceed to conclude the trial on merits on the basis of evidence adduced by the parties in the trial strictly in accordance with law uninfluenced by any observations made by the High Court in the impugned order and in this order made by this Court.”

In conclusion, it can be said with consummate ease that this extremely landmark and laudable judgment while clearly and convincingly not concurring with the High Court verdict lays down that explicitly that mere pendency of civil case between complainant and accused is not a ground to quash criminal case. It thus also directs the Judicial Magistrate to conclude the trial on the basis of evidence adduced by the parties strictly in accordance with law without being influenced in anyway by the observations of the High Court! Very rightly so!

Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,

s/o Col BPS Sirohi,

A 82, Defence Enclave,

Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,

Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.