Unexplained Inordinate Delay Must be Considered Crucial for Quashing Criminal Complaint: SC

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Last Updated: December 21, 2022, 05:07 IST

The SC said investigating authorities had provided no explanation for the extraordinary delay of over four years in initiating criminal proceedings and filing the complaint. (Representational image: ANI/File)

The SC said investigating authorities had provided no explanation for the extraordinary delay of over four years in initiating criminal proceedings and filing the complaint. (Representational image: ANI/File)

The SC division bench made the observations while quashing a criminal complaint filed against a businessman and his company

The Supreme Court last week remarked that while inordinate delay in itself may not be grounds for the quashing of a criminal complaint, unexplained inordinate delay must be taken into consideration as a crucial factor for the same. A division bench made these observations while quashing a criminal complaint against a businessman and his company. The court said the investigating authorities had provided no explanation for an extraordinary delay of over four years in initiating criminal proceedings and filing the complaint.

The petitioner, Hasmukhlal Vora, had moved a plea under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code to quash the criminal complaint. In 2013, Vora had purchased 75 kg of pyridoxal-5-phosphate (as 3 x 25 kg packs) from one, M/s Antoine & Becouerel Organic Chemical Co. The drug inspector of Kodambakkam range had inspected his premises and alleged contravention of S.18(c) of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, read with Rule 65(5)(1)(b) of the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules 1945. It was claimed that Vora broke up the bulk quantity of pyridoxal-5-phosphate and sold it to different distributors.

In 2016, the drug inspector issued a show-cause memo to Vora after nearly three years. After a further lapse of one year and four months, a complaint was filed against him and his company.

“There has been a gap of more than four years between the initial investigation and the filing of the complaint, and even after lapse of substantial amount of time, no evidence has been provided to sustain the claims in the complaint…,” noted a bench comprising Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Krishna Murari.

The court further said the authorities had provided no explanation for the extraordinary delay of over four years between the initial site inspection, the show-cause notice and the complaint. In fact, the absence of such an explanation only prompts the court to infer a sinister motive behind initiating the criminal proceedings, the top court said.

The SC said while the court did not expect a full-blown investigation at the stage of a criminal complaint, however, in such cases where the accused had been subjected to the anxiety of a potential initiation of criminal proceedings for such a length of time, it was only reasonable for the court to expect bare minimum evidence from the investigating authorities.

“At the cost of repetition, we again state that the purpose of filing a complaint and initiating criminal proceedings must exist solely to meet the ends of justice, and the law must not be used as a tool to harass the accused. The law is meant to exist as a shield to protect the innocent, rather than it being used as a sword to threaten them…” said the bench while quashing the complaint filed against Vora.

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