By its Judgment reported here, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice D. Y. Chandrachud has come down heavily on the Single Judge of the Telangana High Court, while setting aside the Single Judge's Judgment impugned before the Court.
By its Judgment passed in February last year, Justice G. Sri Devi of the Telangana High Court had quashed the FIR registered against Audimulapu Suresh, the Minister for Education of Andhra Pradesh and his wife.
The CBI had registered a case under Section 13(2) read with Section 13(1)(e) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1985 and Section 109 of IPC against the Minister and his wife Thommandru Hannah Vijayalakshmi, an Income Tax Commissioner.
As per the CBI, the wife of the Minister had assets disproportionate to her income to the tune of Rs 1,10,81,692, during the check period between April 2010 to February 2016. The Minister was alleged to have abetted the offence.
The FIR was registered by the Anti Corruption Branch of the CBI in Chennai in September, 2017. The husband-wife duo challenged the FIR before the Telangana High Court in 2018.
The CBI contended that FIR could have been challenged only before the Madras High Court since the Court of the Principal Special Judge for CBI Cases, Chennai had jurisdiction over the case and the FIR had also been registered by the CBI ACB at Chennai. The CBI contended that the accused duo were aware of this position.
The Single Judge answered the contention regarding lack of territorial jurisdiction by holding that its earlier order that most part of the cause of action had arisen within the jurisdiction of the Court had not been challenged by the CBI and hence, "there is no need to answer this question once again".
It was argued before the Single Judge that the 2nd accused Minister "belongs to a rival political party to the ruling party, the impugned F.I.R. was registered mechanically without there being any prima facie case".
While quashing the FIR, the Single Judge had held, "This Court, therefore, concludes that the F.I.R. is registered without application of mind by the respondents, in a mechanical and whimsical manner".
Before the Supreme Court, Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati appeared for the CBI whereas Senior Advocates Siddharth Luthra and Siddharth Dave appeared for the Respondents.
While expressing displeasure over the manner in which documents produced by the accused were relied upon to scrutinize the allegations of the CBI on merit, the Bench noted, "From the above, it becomes evident that the Single Judge of the Telangana High Court has acted completely beyond the settled parameters which govern the power to quash an FIR. The Single Judge has donned the role of a Chartered Accountant. The Single Judge has completely ignored that the Court was not at the stage of trial or considering an appeal against a verdict in a trial". (emphasis supplied)
While holding that the adjudication of the alleged infirmities pointed out by the accused at the stage of quashing the FIR will trench upon the evidentiary proof the arguments at the trial, the Bench observed, "That is the mistake that the Telangana High Court committed, which this Court would be remiss to repeat".
The Bench, also comprising of Justice Vikram Nath and Justice B V Nagarathna, held that placing reliance on the documents produced by the accused to quash the FIR instead of ascertaining if the FIR prima facie makes out the commission of a cognizable offence is contrary to fundamental principles of law. "The High Court has gone far beyond the ambit of its jurisdiction by virtually conducting a trial in an effort to absolve the respondents", the Bench held.
The Bench set aside the Judgment of the Telangana High Court and permitted the CBI to continue with the investigation based upon the FIR.
Justice Sri Devi is the first woman Judge of the Telangana High Court, who was transferred to the High Court from the Allahabad High Court, reportedly pursuant to her own request.