A transaction where a property is transferred to a person for a consideration paid by another person is defined as a Benami transaction. As per Section 2(9)(A)(a) of the Prohibition of Benami Property Transactions Act, 1988 (hereinafter referred to as “Act”), which states,
“2. (9) BENAMI TRANSACTION” MEANS—
(A) a transaction or an arrangement— (a) where a property is transferred to, or is held by, a person, and the consideration for such property has been provided, or paid by, another person;” The Act to prohibit Benami transactions was brought to prevent people from engaging in tax evasion, money laundering etc. The act and its provisions have made any Benami transaction a punishable offence and have resulted in the termination of any legal right to claim beneficial ownership in any Benamiproperty. Any authority can acquire a Benami property by following the process specified in the provisions of the code. The Act of 1988 was amended under the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act, 2016, where several other provisions were made to ensure proper implementation. There were 72 Sections in the amended Act, which was later renamed the Prohibition of Benami Property Transactions Act, 1988. The definition of a Benami transaction was broadened under the ambit of the amendment, along with stricter punishments, harsh fines, seizure of property and the establishment of an implementation mechanism.
The primary use of the Look Out Circular (“LOC”) is to monitor, trace and prevent the entry and exit of individuals, who are required by the law, and are under suspicion or have been declared as wanted by the law enforcement authorities. These circulars are used for effective monitoring of the targeted individuals. In the case of Vikram Sharma & Ors. v. Union of India, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court stated that, “16. …The power to suspend, even temporarily, a passport of a citizen, the power to issue an LOC, the power to ‘off-load’ a passenger and prevent him or her from travelling are all extraordinary powers, vested in the criminal law enforcement agencies by the statutory law. These are powers that are required under the law, to be exercised with caution and only by the authorities who are empowered by law to do so and then again only for valid reasons.” In Suresh Nanda v. Union of India, the Delhi High Court while referring to Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, held: “35. …There has to be application of mind by the authority to the relevant factors that would enable it to come to the conclusion that the impounding of the passport is in the interests of the general public. And then again, in the context of the criminal case which is still under investigation, this cannot be an opinion formed at one point in time. The public interest element will vary depending on the stage of the investigation. It cannot be said that as long as the investigation is not complete, it is not in public interest to release a passport. That would be giving too wide a power to the authority.” LOCs have not been defined in the code, the issuance of these circulars shall be based on the cases and respective authorities, if they deem fit that the accused may leave the country to evade arrest or trial without appearing in the court despite the issuance of non-bailable warrants.
ISSUANCE OF THE LOC
The Hon’ble High Court of Delhi, in the case of Sumer Singh Salkan, about the issuance of a LOC observed, “The Investigating Officer (IO) shall make a written request for LOC to the officer as notified by the circular of Ministry of Home Affairs, giving details & reasons for seeking LOC. The competent officer alone shall give directions for opening LOC by passing an order in this respect. The person against whom LOC is issued must join investigation by appearing I.O. or should surrender the court concerned or should satisfy the court that LOC was wrongly issued against him. He may also approach the officer who ordered issuance of LOC & explain that LOC was wrongly issued against him. LOC can be withdrawn by the authority that issued and can also be rescinded by the trial court where case is pending or having jurisdiction over concerned police station on an application by the person concerned.”
The authority to issue LOCs is exercised in line with the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Office Memorandum (O.M.), first issued on 5 September 1979 and then revised on 27 December 2000, with a validity of one year from the date of issuance, or till the time limiting to one year until the purpose is served, after which the LOC stands terminated. In the case of S. Martin, the Hon’ble Madras High Court held that LOCs can only be issued by the concerned authorities for offences which are cognizable as per the Indian Penal Code and other penal laws.
Also, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in the Sumer Singh Salkancase held; “Recourse to LOC can be taken by investigating agency in cognizable offences under IPC or other penal laws, where the accused was deliberately evading arrest or not appearing in the trial court despite NBWs and other coercive measures and there was likelihood of the accused leaving the country to evade trial/arrest.” It is pertinent to note that LOCs can only be issued for persons booked under cognizable offences, supported by the above judgments of Hon’ble High Courts.
NATURE OF OFFENCES UNDER THE ACT
The offences under the Benami Act are considered to be non-cognizable in nature. As mentioned in Section 61 of the Act; “61. Offences to be non-cognizable – Notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (2 of 1974), an offence under this Act shall be noncognizable.”
LOC – A BOON OR A WEAPON?
There are several instances where the Courts have expressed serious concerns regarding the abuse of the whole process of issuance of LOCs especially since there is a lack of legal codification of LOCs. In the case of Chandran Ratnaswami v. K.C. Palaniswamy & Ors., a LOC was found to be pending in the name of the petitioner, despite being no criminal investigations or proceedings against the petitioner. The concerned authority directed a re-investigation of the case just to keep the LOC alive. The Hon’ble Supreme Court held, “There is no such thing like unfettered discretion in the realm of powers defined by statutes and indeed, unlimited discretion in that sphere can become a ruthless destroyer of personal freedom.” Similarly, in the case of Priya Parmeswaran Pillai, the Delhi High Court quashed the LOC issued against Ms Pillai and held that the issuance of LOC, in this case, violates the Fundamental Rights of the petitioner, which the respondents or the authoritytermed the same as an ‘exceptional case’.
The exercise of LOCs remains contentious as the prerequisites set out by the Ministry of Home Affairs are highly discretionary. There are several instances where the courts have interpreted the opening of LOCs as false, vague or ‘in haste’ and have provided numerous guidelines and instructions to prevent the abuse of LOCs. A LOC restricts the person to travel, which is a fundamental right of a citizen and shall be exercised under the ambit of the law to prevent the brutal death of democracy. This would further increase the significance of the judiciary in its roleto prevent any unconstitutional damage to the democratic setup. Cognizable offences are the only reason for the formation of a LOC, as held in S. Martin (supra) and Sumer Singh Salkan(supra), thus, noncognizable offences shall not fall under the umbrella of LOC. The lack of legal codification of LOC occasionally may turn into a sword to satisfy personal enmity between parties; thus, raising a big question mark on the legal sanctity of the LOC and the same being used as a means to curb dissent. Varun K. Chopra, Advocate practicing before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, New Delhi was assisted by Atharv Vyas, Aditya Bajaj and Akul Misra – students pursuing law. The views expressed are solely for academic purposes and based on prevailing laws, precedents and information available in public domain
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Disproportionate assets case: Delhi High Court stays Lokpal proceedings initiated against Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Shibu Soren
On Monday, the Delhi High Court has stayed the proceedings initiated by Lokpal of India under the provisions of the Lokpal & Lokayuktas Act, 2013 against Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) Chief and Rajya Sabha MP Shibu Soren in connection with a disproportionate case of assets.
The bench comprising of Justice Yashwant Varma observed and has passed an order on Soren’s plea challenging the validity of the said proceedings, claiming that the same was ex facie bad in law and without jurisdiction.
In the present case, the proceedings were initiated by Lokpal of India pursuant to a complaint dated August 5, 2020 filed by BJP’s Nishikant Dubey. Therefore, it has been directed by the CBI to make a preliminary enquiry into the Complaint under section 20(1)(a) of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013. It was claimed by Soren that the said order was not served on him.
While claiming the complaint was false, frivolous and vexatious, Soren in his plea submitted that according to section 53 of the Act and there is a statutory bar against the Lokpal of India assuming jurisdiction to investigate or inquire into any Complaint made after the expiry of seven years from the offence alleged.
The plea reads that the initiation of the proceedings under the Complaint, or at the very least, continuation thereof, once it has been demonstrated by the preliminary inquiry that it pertains to alleged acquisitions prior to the 7-year period and is clearly barred by statute, without jurisdiction and the same is liable to be quashed.
Further, the petition filled submits that the maximum period of 180 days for completion of preliminary enquiry from the date of Complaint expired on February 1, 2021. In this backdrop, it has been stated that by this time, only on July 1, 2021, the comments were sought from Soren which is beyond the prescribed statutory period.
The plea adds that the final preliminary enquiry report was submitted by the CBI on 29.06.2022, about a year and a half after expiry of the 180- day period. Such purported report is void and null and non-est in the eyes of law and cannot be received or considered by the Respondent No.1.
Thus, the court took note of the order passed by Lokpal of India dated August 4, 2022 directing that proceedings under section 20(3) of the Lokpal Act be initiated to determine whether a prima facie case existed to be proceeded against Soren. It is Soren’s case that the order was passed without considering the preliminary objection on jurisdiction being raised by him.
In the said order, the court noted that all the Lokpal of India recorded was that the comments received from the petitioner were forwarded to CBI so as to examine and submit an enquiry report.
It was ordered by the court that the challenge to assumption of jurisdiction by respondent no. 1 (the Lokpal of India) has neither been answered and nor dealt with. Matters require consideration. Subsequently, there will be a stay of proceedings pending before the Lokayukta.
Accordingly, the court will now hear the matter on 14 December.
DELHI HC SETS ASIDE MURDER CONVICTION & LIFE SENTENCE OF MAN WHO WAS UNPRESENTED BY LAWYER; REMANDS CASTE BACK TO TRIAL COURT
The Delhi High Court in the case Narender @ Lala v. State Of NCT Of Delhi observed and has set aside the orders of conviction for murder and sentence of life imprisonment awarded to a man in 2018 who was unrepresented by a lawyer before the Trial Court. Thus, the Delhi High Court has remanded the case back to the Trial Court for cross examination of certain prosecution witnesses.
The division bench comprising of Justice Mukta Gupta and Justice Anish Dayal observed and was of the view that there had been a grave miscarriage of justice to the man as when number of witnesses were examined, he was not represented by a counsel and that the legal aid counsel, who was present before Trial Court and was appointed on the same day and asked to cross- examine the witnesses on the same day.
On March, 2018, Narender was convicted for offence of murder punishable under section 302 of Indian Penal Code, 1860. On 4th May, 2018, he was sentenced by the Trial Court for life imprisonment and also to pay a fine of Rs. 10,000.
In the present case, the case of the prosecution was that the man had committed murder of his wife by strangulating her to death.
In a appeal, it was argued by the man that during the substantial course of trial, he was not represented by a lawyer and hence the trial in the absence of a lawyer had seriously prejudiced him. He thus sought recalling of all the prosecution witnesses and thereby ensuring a fair trial.
The Court observed that the manner in which the trial is conducted, there was a serious denial of fair trial to the appellant and the appellant is required to be given an opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses i.e., the witnesses examined in the absence of the lawyer, or the lawyer having been appointed on the same day from the legal aid and is asked to cross-examine the witnesses.
Further, the court remanded the back to Trial Court for cross-examination of ten prosecution witnesses. Also, the court directed the Trial Court Judge to follow due process of law and also to record the statement of the man under Section 313 CrPC and permit leading the defence evidence if so required.
The Court ordered that the case be listed before the learned Trial Court on 26th September, when Superintendent Tihar Jail will product the appellant before the learned Trial Court and the learned Trial Court is requested to expedite the trial and conclude the same preferably within four months.
SUPREME COURT REFUSES TO ENTERTAIN PLEA CHALLENGING EXCLUSION OF SC/ST RESERVATION IN JHARKHAND DISTRICT JUDGES APPOINTMENT
The Supreme Court in the case Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Educational And Cultural Trust v. Hon’ble High Court Jharkhand And Ors. observed and has refused to entertain a plea challenging the non-inclusion of reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes communities in the process of appointment of District Judges in pursuant to an advertisement issued in March, 2022 by the High Court of Jharkhand. The present petition claimed that the exclusion of reservation violates Jharkhand State Reservation Policy and constitutional guarantee under Article 16(4). Apart from this, it is also in derogation of a resolution being passed by the High Court vouching to implement reservation in the Jharkhand Superior Judicial Service.
The bench comprising of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and the Justice Hima Kohli observed and has granted liberty to the petitioner to file a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution before the Jharkhand High Court.
The court while considering that the process of appointment as per the concerned notification is underway, Justice Chandrachud asked the petitioner to approach the High Court with respect to future appointments.
It stated that “For the future you can file a petition before the High Court… We will give you liberty to approach the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution.”
The bench of Justice Chandrachud observed that the Decisions of the Administrative side of the High Court can be challenged before the judicial side of the High Court. You can move the High Court.
In the present case, a writ petition challenging a similar notification was filed in 2017 before the High Court, which was eventually dismissed. It was observed by the High Court that there is no duty vested in the authorities to reserve seats for all posts, more particularly in higher judiciary. Moreover, it had already initiated the appointment process, the High Court opined that it cannot alter the rules midway. Thus, the appeal filed before the Apex Court was also dismissed.
However, in 2018 the Full Court of the Jharkhand High Court had agreed in principle to grant reservation in the recruitment for Jharkhand Superior Judicial Service. The advocates belonging to the SC/ST/OBC communities in 2021 had made representations to the Chief Justice of the High Court requesting for the implementation of the Reservation policy in appointment of District Judges (direct entry from Bar)/ superior judicial service. The impugned notification was issued without incorporating reservation for SC/ST/OBC communities in March 2022.
Mr. Arvind Gupta, Advocate on Record has filled the present petition.
Right to contest election is not a fundamental right; it is only a right conferred by statute: Supreme Court
The Supreme Court in the case Vishwanath Pratap Singh vs Election Commission of India observed that the right to contest an election is not a fundamental right but only a right conferred by a statute.
The bench comprising of Justice Hemant Gupta and the Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia observed while dismissing a Special Leave Petition filed by Vishwanath Pratap Singh that an individual cannot claim that he has a right to contest election and the said stipulation violates his fundamental right, so as is required under the Act, to file his nomination without any proposer.
Also, the court imposed a cost of Rupees one lakh on Singh.
In the present case, Singh had first approached the Delhi High Court challenging a notification issued by Election Commission of India for election to Rajya Sabha after he was not allowed to file his nomination without a proper proposer being proposing his name. His contentions were rejected by the High Court that his fundamental right of free speech and expression and right to personal liberty has been infringed.
While dismissing the SLP, the Apex Court observed that the writ petition before the High Court was entirely misconceived.
The bench observed while referring to earlier judgments viz Javed v. State of Haryana, (2003) 8 SCC 369 and Rajbala v. State of Haryana (2016) 2 SCC 445 wherein it was stated that the right to contest an election is neither a fundamental right nor a common law right. It is a right conferred by a statute.
However, the Supreme Court in Javed (supra) had made the following observations: Right to contest an election is neither a fundamental right nor a common law right and it is a right conferred by a statute. At the most, in view of Part IX having been added in the Constitution of India that a right to contest election for an office in Panchayat may be said to be a constitutional right and a right originating in the Constitution and given shape by a statute. But even if, it cannot be equated with a fundamental right. It is stated that there is nothing wrong in the same statute which confers the right to contest an election also to provide for the necessary qualifications without which a person cannot offer his candidature for an elective office and also to provide for disqualifications which would disable a person from contesting for, or from holding, an elective statutory office.
It was held in Rajbala (supra) that the right to contest for a seat in either of the two bodies is subject to certain constitutional restrictions and could be restricted further only by a law which the parliament made.
Further, the court added that Singh did not have any right to contest election to the Rajya Sabha in terms of the law made by the Parliament.
The Court stated while dismissing the SLP that the Representation of People Act, 1950 read with the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 has contemplated the name of a candidate to be proposed while filling the nomination form. However, it cannot be claimed by an individual that he has a right to contest election and the said stipulation violates his fundamental right, so as to file his nomination without any proposer as is required under the Act.
Post-conviction compounding of offences is permissible: Himachal Pradesh High Court
The Himachal Pradesh High Court in the case Shri Kantu Ram v Shri Beer Singh recently observed that a court, while exercising powers under Section 147 of the Negotiable Instruments Act and can proceed to compound the offences even after recording of conviction by the courts below.
The bench comprising of Justice Sandeep Sharma observed in a case where the revision Petitioner, who was convicted under Section 138 of the NI Act by the Magistrate Court and was aggrieved by subsequent dismissal of appeal by the Sessions Court and had agreed to pay the amount due and settle the matter.
Thus, the petitioner had sought compounding of offences.
In the present case, the respondent admitted the factum with regard to receipt of the amount due from the accused and expressed that the prayer made on behalf of accused for compounding of offence can be accepted.
However, the High Court allowed the prayer and the offence committed by the Petitioner under Section 138 NI Act was ordered to be compounded.
The Court observed that the Reliance was placed on Damodar S. Prabhu V. Sayed Babalal H. (2010) 5 SCC 663, wherein the Apex Court has categorically held that court, while exercising power under Section 147 of the NI Act and can proceed to compound the offence even after recording of the conviction by the courts below.
‘Pensionary benefits to employee, who is removed from service for misconduct, is not at par with those who retire on superannuation’
The Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh High Court in the case Bashir Ahmad Wani v Jammu and Kashmir Grameen Bank and Another recently observed and stated that an employee who is removed from service for misconduct is not at par with those who is being retired on superannuation.
The bench comprising of Justice Sanjeev Kumar observed while dismissing the pension claim made by a former employee of the J&K Grameen Bank, who was removed from service in 2011.
In the present case, the petitioner had sought benefit of the J&K Grameen Bank (Employees) Pension Regulations, 2018 whereby provision was made for terminal benefits.
However, the court disallowed the claims on two grounds:
Firstly, that at the time of removal of the petitioner from service when there were no norms, rules or regulations providing for the benefit of pension to the employees of the respondent-Bank.
In the year 2011, the employees of the respondent-Bank were governed by the J&K Grameen Bank ( the Officers and Employees) Service Regulations, 2010… it is abundantly clear that it does not prescribe imposition of a penalty of removal along with the pensionary benefits.
Secondly, it was opined by the court that though the 2018 Regulations had been made applicable to those employees who were in service between 1st day of September, 1987 and 31st day of March, 2010 and the employees retired from the services of the Bank before 31st day of March, 2018, however, this leeway cannot come to aid of the Petitioner.
The Curt observed that the reason for finding that the Petitioner was not an employee who had “retired” on superannuation from the bank. Rather, he was “removed” for misconduct.
The Court stated that the regulations apply to those employees who retired from the service of the Bank before 31.03.2018 and not the employees who were terminated for misconduct. Viewed thus, the order of removal of the petitioner dated 02.09.2011 holding the petitioner entitled to terminable benefits and cannot, by any stretch of reasoning, be construed to be an order of removal with the benefit of the pension. Neither, the petitioner, at the time of his removal from service, nor with the promulgation of Pension Regulations of 2018, is entitled to the benefit of pension.
Accordingly, the court dismissed the petition.
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