The Himachal Pradesh High Court reiterated that the police officers cannot interfere in civil disputes.

The Court refused to recall its order transferring DGP (Director General of Police), Himachal Pradesh, namely Sanjay Kundu and SP (Superintendent of Police), Kangra, Dharamshala, namely Shalini Agnihotri

A Division Bench of Chief Justice M.S. Ramachandra Rao and Justice Jyotsna Rewal Dua said, “How a Senior Police Officer like Shri Sanjay Kundu, who ought to be aware of the legal position that his interference in a civil dispute between shareholders of a is highly improper, thought he should intervene and mediate between K.D.Shreedhar and Nishant Sharma (with whom he had no prior acquaintance) and settle their disputes, we are unable to comprehend. This conduct cannot be said to be within his line of duty prima facie.”

Senior Advocate Neeraj Gupta was appointed as an Amicus Curiae while Advocate General Anup Rattan, Senior Advocates Sanjay Jain and Shrawan Dogra appeared for the respondents.

Brief Facts -

Earlier in December month of 2023, an order was passed by the High Court directing the State to take steps at the earliest to move Sanjay Kundu, the then incumbent holding the post of DGP and Shalini Agnihotri, the then incumbent holding the post of SP to other posts where they would not have any opportunity to influence the investigation in an FIR registered by the police at the instance of a businessman. The said businessman filed the FIR against unknown persons under Sections 341, 504, 506, and 23 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) via email/complaint.

The High Court had then directed the listing of the case again on January 4, 2024. Such an order was challenged by the said DGP contending that he was not heard by the Bench to rebut the allegations made against him in the email. The SLP (Special Leave Petition) was disposed of by the Supreme Court agreeing with his contention and granting him liberty to move the High Court. It also directed the High Court to decide the recall application within 2 weeks. Till it was disposed off, it stayed the direction for the transfer of DGP. Thereafter, the High Court suo motu impleaded the parties in their personal capacities as the respondents.

The High Court in the above context of the matter observed, “The material collected by the Investigating Officer cannot be scrutinized in these proceedings and opinion on the veracity thereof cannot be expressed by us. … If after conclusion of the investigation, a charge sheet is filed in a criminal court against certain accused persons (whosoever they may be–on which aspect, we refrain from speculating at this time), during trial only the said Court can go into the said material, and draw any conclusion as per law. Such accused will get full opportunity at the trial to rebut/question the validity and authenticity of the prosecution case. If we were to express any opinion on the said material it would amount to giving an advance ruling on it, and might cause irreparable injustice.”

The Court, therefore, said that no case has been made by the DGP for recall of the order passed by it. While considering the plea of threat to life made by the businessman, and the claim that the SP treated it as a serious one, it noted that she did not explain as to why she had granted a week instead of a shorter time.

“Thus, having acknowledged the seriousness of threat to life faced by Nishant Sharma and his family from unknown persons, we find it strange that she showed no urgency in the matter and treated it in a casual manner”, added the Court.

It also observed that the SP was aware that the High Court was monitoring the investigation periodically and seeking status reports and hence, she was expected to show some diligence and sensitivity to the concern of the court and ensure, as a supervising authority, proper investigation by her subordinates.

“Shri Shrawan Dogra, Sr.Counsel for Ms. Agnihotri emphasized that after 28.10.2023, there were important festivals like Karwa Chauth on 1.11.2023 and Diwali on 12.11.2023 and his client was busy celebrating them !! … How a responsible police officer can take such a plea when there is serious threat to life of a citizen, we are unable to understand”, questioned the Court.

The Court further noted that Section 341 of IPC (Indian Penal Code) deals with offence of wrongfully restraining a person, which is a cognizable offence and said that surely an IPS Officer having more than 10 years of service knows this legal position.

“If the email dt.28.10.2023 disclosed the commission of the cognizable offence under section 341 IPC, she had no choice but to direct registration of an FIR, submit report to the Magistrate and then proceed to get it investigated. Under sub-section (3) of Section 154 Cr.P.C she has to either investigate the case herself or direct an investigation to be made by any police officer subordinate to her. Strangely she chose not to have an FIR registered under sub-section(1) of Section 154, and proceeded to allegedly carry out a preliminary enquiry. … There is thus prima facie a dereliction of duty on her part in this regard. She had no authority in law to have a preliminary enquiry done in respect of information about commission of a cognizable offence contained in the complaint dt.28.10.2023 made by Nishant Sharma to her”, also said the Court.

The Court, therefore, came to the conclusion that the conduct of SP cannot be viewed with lenience in the facts and circumstances of the case as she did not show the needed sensitivity, urgency, and prompt action throughout. “… we see no reason to recall our order dt.26.12.2023 qua Ms. Ms.Shalini Agnihotri either”, it said.

The Court agreed with the contentions of the Advocate General and the Amicus Curiae that the instant case does not fall in the category of cases which would require investigation by the Central Bureau of investigation (CBI).

Accordingly, the High Court rejected the pleas, directed the authorities to ensure effective protection to the complainant and his family, and ordered the State Government to consider forming a Special Investigation Team (SIT) within one week.

Cause Title- Court on its own motion v. State of Himachal Pradesh & Ors.

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