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Why Madras HC rejected pleas to quash charges against Maran Bros in the Telephone Exchange Case

Why Madras HC rejected pleas to quash charges against Maran Bros in the Telephone Exchange Case

Meera Emmanuel

The Madras High Court today dismissed pleas to quash charges framed last January against former Union Telecom Minister Dayanidhi Maran and his brother, media baron Kalanithi Maran in the BSNL telephone exchange scam case.

Justice N Anand Venkatesh dismissed petitions filed by four of the accused, including the Maran brothers, on finding that there was little scope for interfering with the trial court process at the juncture of framing charges. He observed,

The High Court exercising its jurisdiction u/s 482 Cr.P.C cannot indulge in micromanaging the decisions taken by trial Courts at every stage…this Court can interfere with the charges framed only in very rare cases, where even accepting all the allegations levelled by the prosecution, no offence is disclosed.

To borrow the words of the Hon’ble Supreme Court ‘The test at this stage should be whether after accepting the charge, as framed, any case is made out.'”

Recounting the law laid down in Bhadra Shah and another v. State of West Bengal, it was noted that in order for the High Court to invoke Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and set aside the charges framed by a trial court, “the accused must show that the case against them do not prima facie make out any offence, or that they are so absurd or inherently improbable.”

However, the Court found that no such circumstance arose in the case before it. Rather, Justice Venkatesh opined that the petitions before it appeared to be a disguised attempt for the discharge of the accused, even though similar pleas were earlier declined by two other judges of the High Court. As noted in his order,

Even though the petitioners tried to give an impression that what is challenged is only the charges framed by the trial Court in exercise of its powers u/s 240 of Cr.P.C, the arguments advanced by the learned Senior counsels appearing for the petitioners will make it very clear that the petitioners are making one more attempt seeking for a discharge from the case, in the guise of challenging the entire proceedings…

This Court in exercise of its jurisdiction u/s 482 of Cr.P.C cannot now come to a different conclusion based on the very same materials and very same submissions made earlier before two other learned single Judges… If this Court were to come to a different conclusion, it will virtually amount to reviewing the two earlier orders passed by two other learned Judges of this Court.

The Court, therefore, proceeded to reject the petitions holding that,

The petitioners have consumed sufficient judicial time of this Court and this is the third time, this Court is called upon to interfere with the proceedings of the trial Court, at the stage of framing charges. This Court cannot interfere with the proceedings of the trial Court at each and every step and that is not the purport and scope of exercising its jurisdiction u/s 482 of Cr.P.C.”

In doing so, Justice Venkatesh also reiterated that a High Court cannot ordinarily interfere with the proceedings of trial courts by invoking its inherent powers under Section 482, CrPC unless exceptional circumstances call for the same.

“… the High Court should not unduly interfere with the proceedings of the trial Court. The trial Court is not required to conduct a meticulous examination of the evidence and the High Court should not test the evidence to satisfy itself that the case will end up in a conviction and this is not the requirement at the stage of the framing of the charges or the quashing of the charges…

Quashing of a charge is an exception to the rule of continuous prosecution. Where the offence is even broadly satisfied, the Court should be more inclined to permit continuation of the prosecution rather than its quashing at an initial stage.

Senior counsels ARL Sundaresan, AM Singhvi, G Masilamani, Neeraj Kishan Kaul and P Wilson argued for the petitioners in the case. Special Public Prosecutor K Srinivasan appeared for the state. 

The case pertains to allegations that the accused – including BSNL executives, Dayanidhi Maran, his brother Kalanithi Maran, and technicians – conspired to install a private telephone exchange at Dayanidhi Maran’s Chennai residence when he was the Union Telecom Minister.

This, in turn, is alleged to have been used for business transactions involving the Sun Television Network (owned by Kalanithi Maran), leading to a loss of Rs 1.78 crore for the public exchequer.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed its FIR against the accused in March 2013. In March 2018, a Trial Court found that there was no prima facie material to proceed against the accused, and discharged them from all charges. This discharge was, however, set aside by Justice G Jayachandran of the Madras High Court in July the same year. The High Court had then directed the Trial Court to complete trial in the case within 12 months. This order was also affirmed by the Supreme Court.

A second challenge made by the Maran brothers, challenging the charges subsequently framed by the Trial Court was also dismissed by the Madras High Court. However, the High Court at this juncture had also found that the framing of charges had not been carried out properly. While remanding the case, the High Court also directed the Trial Court to frame the charges afresh. This order was affirmed by the Supreme Court in January this year.

Accordingly, on January 31 this year, a special CBI Court had framed fresh charges against the accused. Further proceedings were expected to commence on February 19. However, these charges were then challenged before the Madras High Court in the present petitions, which have now been dismissed by Justice Venkatesh.

In the judgment passed today, Justice Venkatesh has directed that the trial in the case be completed within four months.

Read the Judgment: