Initiating criminal case with ulterior motive in backdrop of civil dispute is abuse of process: Bombay High Court

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The Aurangabad Bench of Bombay High Court last week quashed and set aside a first information report (FIR) against an accused after discovering there was a prior ongoing civil dispute between the complainant and accused in the FIR [Ramesh Karale v. State of Maharashtra].

A division bench of Justices Mangesh Patil and Abhay Waghwase relied upon a well-laid down principle by the Supreme Court and High Courts that using criminal law in the backdrop of civil proceedings was abuse of process.

“When there is use of criminal law in the backdrop of civil disputes and when it is clear that proceedings are initiated with ulterior motive, it amounts to abuse of process,” the Bench reaffirmed.

It further noted that with regard to the episode alleged in the FIR, there was no role attributable to the accused, Ramesh Karale.

“His name is inserted in the FIR without attributing any overt act to him. Taking into account above facts, when there is no material against him, in our opinion, continuation of criminal proceedings against such applicant would amount to sheer abuse of process of law,” the Court held.

The dispute in the present case arose between the members of the extended Karale family over land.

The complainant alleged that he had been assaulted by certain family members over sale of their ancestral land and threatened of further attacks if the demands were not met.

Basis this complaint, an FIR came to be lodged and the applicant moved High Court seeking quashing of the same.

His lawyer, Sandip Andhale, submitted that no such incident as alleged in the complaint had taken place.

It was further submitted that the complaint was a counter blast to the complaints lodged by the applicant against the complainant.

Additional Public Prosecutor BV Virdhe strongly opposed the petition pointing out that there was sufficient material against the applicant, and it was premature to give a clean chit to the applicant.

The Court took note of the civil dispute proceedings which the applicant placed before it, and that the criminal complaint made by the applicant against the complainant was prior in time.

“It is clear that there is history of civil dispute between the complainant and accused nos. 1 and 2. It is to be borne in mind that present applicant is not in close relation with either complainant or other accused. It would not be desirable to allow prosecution to be continued as against the present applicant-accused no.4,” the Court held and quashed the FIR limited to the present applicant.

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