25 Sep 2010

Charges to be clearly specified in the complaint: Supreme Court

In a recent decision [State of NCT of Delhi v. Rajiv Khurana] the Supreme Court has declared that it is mandatory to ensure that the criminal charges to be levelled against the accused are specified within the complaint itself and if this is not ensured that the accused cannot be compelled to face the criminal trial. The Court made a reference to its earlier decisions to state that the law to this regard was well settled and had to be scrupulously observed.
The law to this effect was explained by the Supreme Court in the following terms;
12. In Municipal Corporation of Delhi v. Ram Kishan Rohtagi & Others (1983) 1 SCC 1, the Food Inspector, Municipal Corporation filed a complaint before the Metropolitan Magistrate against the respondents alleging commission of offence under Sections 5/7, Prevention of Food Adulteration Act as the sample of food article (Morton toffees) manufactured by the Company (respondent 5) had been found by the Public Analyst to be not of the prescribed standard. The Inspector alleged in the complaint that the accused/respondents were Manager (respondent 1) and Directors (respondent 2 to 4) of the Company (respondent 5) “and as such they were incharge of and responsible for the conduct of business of accused 2 (the Company) at the time of sampling”. Pursuant to the complaint the proceedings against the respondents were commenced. But the High Court quashed the proceedings against all the respondents under Section 482, Cr.P.C. on the ground that the complaint did not disclose any offence.
13. In State of Haryana v. Brij Lal Mittal & Others (1998) 5 SCC 343, it was held that the vicarious liability of a person for being prosecuted for an offence committed under the Act by a company arises if at the material time he was incharge of and was also responsible to the company for the conduct of its business. Simply because a person is a director of the company it does not necessarily mean that he fulfils both the above requirements so as to make him liable. Conversely, without being a director a person can be incharge of and responsible to the company for the conduct of its business. From the complaint in question we, however, find that except a bald statement that the respondents were directors of the manufacturers, there is no other allegation to indicate, even prima facie, that they were incharge of the company and also responsible to the company for the conduct of its business.
14. K.P.G. Nair v. Jindal Menthol India Ltd. (2001) 10 SCC 218 was a case of this court under the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 and it was found that the allegations in the complaint did not either in express words or with reference to the allegations contained therein make out a case that at the time of commission of the offence the appellant was in charge of and was responsible to the company for the conduct of its business. It was held that the requirements of Section 141 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 were not met and the complaint against the accused was quashed. The same view has been taken in Katta Sujatha (Smt.) v. Fertilizers & Chemicals Travancore Ltd. & Another (2002) 7 SCC 655. 
15. The respondent placed reliance on the case of S.M.S.  Pharmaceuticals Ltd. (supra), wherein this Court has held as under:
“19. In view of the above discussion, our answers to the questions posed in the reference are as under:
(a) It is necessary to specifically aver in a complaint under Section 141 that at the time the offence was committed, the person accused was in charge of, and responsible for the conduct of business of the company. This averment is an essential requirement of Section 141 and has to be made in a complaint. Without this averment being made in a complaint, the requirements of Section 141 cannot be said to be satisfied.
(b) The answer to the question posed in subpara (b) has to be in the negative. Merely being a director of a company is not sufficient to make the person liable under Section 141 of the Act. A director in a company cannot be deemed to be in charge of and responsible to the company for the conduct of its business. The requirement of Section 141 is that the person sought to be made liable should be in charge of and responsible for the conduct of the business of the company at the relevant time. This has to be averred as a fact as there is no deemed liability of a director in such cases.
(c) The answer to Question (c) has to be in the affirmative. The question notes that the managing director or joint managing director would be admittedly in charge of the company and responsible to the company for the conduct of its business. When that is so, holders of such positions  in a company become liable under Section 141 of the Act. By virtue of the office they hold as managing director or joint managing director, these persons are in charge of and responsible for the conduct of business of the company. Therefore, they get covered under Section 141. So far as the signatory of a cheque which is dishonoured is concerned, he is clearly responsible for the incriminating act and will be covered under subsection (2) of Section 141.”
16. In Sabitha Ramamurthy and Another v. R.B.S. Channabasavaradhya (2006) 10 SCC 581 this court held there was absence of requisite averments in the complaint not containing any statement that the appellants were in charge of the business of the company at the material time. The statement of witness also did not specifically allege that the appellants were in charge of the business of the company. This Court held that requirement of section 141 of the Negotiable Instruments Act was not complied with and the complaint was liable to be quashed.
17. In K.K. Ahuja v. V.K. Vora and Another (2009) 10 SCC 48, this court observed that the averment in a complaint that an accused is a director and that he is in charge of and is responsible to the company for the conduct of the business of the company, duly affirmed in the sworn statement, may be sufficient for the purpose of issuing summons to him. But if the accused is not one of the persons who falls under the category of 'persons who are responsible to the company for the conduct of the business of the company', then merely by stating that 'he was in charge of the business of the company' or by stating that 'he was in charge of the day to day management of the company' or by stating that he was in charge of, and was responsible to the company for the conduct of the business of the company', he cannot be made vicariously liable under Section 141(1) of the Act. 
18. The ratio of all these cases is that the complainant is required to state in the complaint how a Director who is sought to be made an accused, was in charge of the business of the company or responsible for the conduct of company’s business. Every Director need not be and is not in charge of the business of the company. If that is the position with regard to a Director, it is needless to emphasise that in the case of non-Director officers, there is all the more necessary to state what were his duties and responsibilities in the conduct of business of the company and how and in what manner he is responsible or liable.
19. In K.K. Ahuja’s case (supra) the court summarized the position under section 141 of the Act as under:- 
(i) If the accused is the Managing Director or a Joint Managing Director, it is not necessary to make an averment in the complaint that he is in charge of, and is responsible to the company, for the conduct of the business of the company. It is sufficient if an averment is made that the accused was the Managing Director or Joint Managing Director at the relevant time. This is because the prefix “Managing” to the word “Director” makes it clear that they were in charge of and are responsible to the company, for the conduct of the business of the company.
(ii) In the case of a Director or an officer of the company who signed the cheque on behalf of the company, there is no need to make a specific averment that he was in charge of and was responsible to the company, for the conduct of the business of the company or make any specific allegation about consent, connivance or negligence. The very fact that the dishonoured cheque was signed by him on behalf of the company, would give rise to responsibility under sub-section (2) of Section 141.
(iii) In the case of a Director, secretary or manager [as defined in Section 2(24) of the Companies Act] or a person referred to in clauses (e) and (f) of Section 5 of the Companies Act, an averment in the complaint that he was in charge of, and was responsible to the company, for the conduct of the business of the company is necessary to bring the case under Section 141(1) of the Act. No further averment would be necessary in the complaint, though some particulars will be desirable. They can also be made liable under Section 141(2) by making necessary averments relating to consent and connivance or negligence, in the complaint, to bring the matter under that subsection. 
(iv) Other officers of a company cannot be made liable under sub-section (1) of Section 141. Other officers of a company can be made liable only under sub-section (2) of Section 141, by averring in the complaint their position and duties in the company and their role in regard to the issue and dishonour of the cheque, disclosing consent, connivance or negligence.
20. The court further observed that the trauma, harassment and hardship of the criminal proceedings in such cases may be more serious than the ultimate punishment, it is not proper to subject all and sundry to be impleaded as accused in a complaint against a company, even when the requirements of section 138 read with section 141 of the Act are not fulfilled. 
21. The legal position which emerges from a series of judgments is clear and consistent that it is imperative to specifically aver in the complaint that the accused was in charge of and was responsible for the conduct of business of the company. Unless clear averments are specifically incorporated in the complaint, the respondent cannot be compelled to face the rigmarole of a criminal trial.

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