By upholding the discharge of a powerful seer accused for raping a singer at his mutt on specious grounds, the Karnataka High Court has invited criticism that it let a trivial irregularity result in a travesty of justice, writesRAHUL MACHAIAH.
ANappalling rape case in Karnataka which allegedly involved a powerful seer has ended on a disconcerting note. On December 29, 2021, the Karnataka High Court upheld the discharge of Shree Raghaveshwara Bharati who had been accused of rape and sexual harassment by a woman, who used to sing at the seer’s mutt. What makes the High Court’s order problematic is the hyper technical interpretation of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 [CrPC] which trampled on the prosecutrix’s rights.
In 2014, the prosecutrix’s daughter filed a First Information Report at the Banashankari Police Station alleging that the seer had sexually harassed her mother. The case was transferred to the Criminal Investigation Department [CID], which is Karnataka’s premier investigative agency. Eventually, the prosecutrix revealed that she used to sing at the Mutt and the seer had raped her on many occasions by instilling fear of a divine wrath if she resisted. She also alleged the seer had raped her when they were touring various parts of the country to participate in religious events. After recording statements of the witnesses and obtaining medical reports, the CID filed a lengthy charge sheet (police report) invoking Sections 376(2)(f), 376 (2)(n), and 508 of the Indian Penal Code.
When the case was committed to the Sessions Court for trial, the seer sought an order of discharge. In 2016, the Sessions Court allowed the application, discharged the accused, and declared that he was acquitted. The State and the prosecutrix challenged the discharge by filing revision petitions before the High Court. The prosecutrix and the State contended that the discharge was illegal as the Sessions Court ignored the scope of the power to discharge and conducted a mini trial, though the law stipulates that the court ought to merely ascertain if the materials disclose a prima facie case against the accused. It was pointed out that the court appreciated evidence, tested the veracity of the statements, and expressed an opinion about the merits of the case even before the trial had begun.
The accused’s advocates contended that the prosecutrix had no right to challenge the accused’s discharge as the CrPC does not recognize such a right and only the State was empowered to file a revision petition against the discharge. They also vehemently argued that the CID had not been designated as a ‘police station’ under Section 2(s) of the CrPC. As a result, the CID’s Investigating Officer could not file a valid police report as Section 173 of the CrPC stipulates that a police report must be forwarded to the magistrate by an ‘officer-in charge’ of a police station.
When the CID’s Investigating Officer is deemed to be an officer-in-charge of the jurisdictional police station, it is rather pedantic to disregard the notification and insist that the entire CID should have been designated as a police station.
Strangely, the High Court was convinced by the argument that the CID was not empowered to file a police report and held that the entire proceedings stood vitiated. It is pertinent to note that though the CID has not been designated as a ‘police station’, the government has issued a notification declaring that when a Sub-Inspector of the CID investigates a case, he shall be deemed to be an officer-in-charge of the jurisdictional police station. This notification was issued in 1970 and since then the CID has investigated many sensational cases. The High Court has even upheld convictions in cases investigated by the CID.
Though the State informed the High Court about the notification, the High Court ruled that the notification would not help the State as the CID had not expressly been declared as a police station. The High Court’s views appear to be erroneous as section 173 of the CrPC merely states that after the completion of investigation, the police report must be forwarded to the magistrate by the officer-in-charge of the police station. When the CID’s Investigating Officer is deemed to be an officer-in-charge of the jurisdictional police station, it is rather pedantic to disregard the notification and insist that the entire CID should have been designated as a police station.
Even if the police report were irregular, it is unclear how the entire proceedings would get vitiated. An irregular investigation has not been recognized by Section 461 of the CrPC as an irregularity that vitiates proceedings. Furthermore, Section 465 of the CrPC clearly stipulates that errors, omissions and irregularities do not vitiate proceedings unless they cause a failure of justice. It is obvious the investigation by the CID officers could not have caused a failure of justice or generated prejudice against the accused.
It is also important not to forget that Section 482 of the CrPC recognizes the High Court’s inherent powers and declares that nothing in the CrPC shall affect the High Court’s powers to pass orders necessary to secure the ends of justice. Even if the High Court felt that the CID’s police report was irregular, it could have condoned the irregularity and allowed the trial to begin.
Unfortunately, the High Court did not engage with the Supreme Court’s decisions in cases such as H.N Rishbud and R.A.H Siguran where it was held that irregular investigations do not vitiate proceedings. It also failed to engage with the Karnataka High Court’s decisions in cases such as Narasimhaiahand Ideya Vendan where the Court had recognized the CID’s power to investigate cases referred to it. Instead, the High Court extensively relied on a judgment of a single judge of the same court where it was held that the CID was not empowered to file police reports. However, even this judgment does not sufficiently engage with the judgments mentioned above and incidentally, even this case involved allegations against the seer indirectly.
The High Court ought to have considered the adverse impact its judgment will have on the prosecutrix and the ramifications for the criminal justice system. Disposal of cases involving this seer was delayed as more than ten judges of the High Court recused themselves. These events, coupled with the pedantic application of law, can result in citizens losing faith in the judicial process. Victims of sexual assault may hesitate to complain if they begin to feel that despite putting up a long and arduous fight, the accused may not even be tried.
The High Court ought to have considered the adverse impact its judgment will have on the prosecutrix and the ramifications for the criminal justice system. … Victims of sexual assault may hesitate to complain if they begin to feel that despite putting up a long and arduous fight, the accused may not even be tried.
This is not to suggest that the seer is guilty. However, the serious allegations of rape and criminal intimidation certainly warranted a trial. It is a travesty of justice when an accused goes scot-free without facing a trial, merely because of a trivial irregularity.
(Rahul Machaiah is a lawyer based in Karnataka. The views expressed are personal.)