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Mens Rea essential for offence of use of Counterfeit Notes under Section 489B, Bombay High Court

Mens Rea essential for offence of use of Counterfeit Notes under Section 489B, Bombay High Court

Murali Krishnan

The Bombay High Court has ruled that mens rea is an essential ingredient of the offence under Section 489B of Indian Penal Code which pertains to use of counterfeit currency notes.

The judgment was rendered by a Bench of Justices Bharati H Dangre and Ranjit More in a petition filed by one Sanskriti Jayantilal Salia (petitioner) seeking quashing of chargesheet against her for offences under Section 489B.

Advocates Jatin P Shah, Snehankita Munj and Zarna K Shah appeared for the petitioner while Assistant Public Prosecutor Aruna S Pai appeared for the State government.

The events which led to the case happened during the post demonetisation months when the petitioner Sanskriti Salia was depositing old currency notes worth Rs. 40,500 with Saraswat Cooperative Bank. It was found by the cashier that Rs. 4,000 of the total amount deposited by the petitioner was counterfeit.

A complaint was filed against Salia and a case was registered against her under Section 489B of IPC. She approached the High Court for quashing the same.

It was the contention of the petitioner that for invoking the provisions of Section 489B of IPC, it is necessary for the prosecution to establish that the petitioner had either “knowledge” or that she had “reason to believe” that the currency notes were forged or counterfeit.

Mens rea is an essential ingredient for an offence under Section 489B and in the instant case a reading of the chargesheet made it clear that the petitioner had no knowledge of the fact that the notes were counterfeit, she contended.

“She herself is a victim of the counterfeit menace and has been made a scapegoat of the entire incident”, she submitted.

The Court after hearing the parties proceeded to place reliance on the opinion received from the Currency Press Note, Nashik Road, Nashik. The opinion classified the suspected notes as High-Quality Counterfeit Notes.

The Court noted that a perusal of the report would reveal that there was no means by which a young woman like the petitioner could have distinguished the said notes as being counterfeit. It was only on careful scrutiny by an expert like General Manager of the Currency Press Note that the alleged notes were concluded to be high-quality counterfeit notes.

The Court also observed that apart from this material, the chargesheet did not in any manner disclose that the petitioner had any knowledge about the notes seized from her to be counterfeit. This submission of the Counsel for the Petitioner was not disputed by the State.

The Court then went on to analyse Section 489B. Section 489B penalises use of counterfeit currency notes. It states the following:

“Whoever sells to, or buys or receives from, any other person, or otherwise traffics in or uses as genuine, any forged or counterfeit currencynote or banknote, knowing or having reason to believe the same to be forged or counterfeit, shall be punished with [imprisonment for life], or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

A perusal of the said Section would reveal that mens rea is an essential ingredient of the same and use of the term “knowing or having reason to believe the same to be forged or counterfeit” is the sine qua non for inviting penalty under the said provision, the Court held.

It, therefore, ruled that when mens rea is conspicuously absent, the mere use of any forged or counterfeit currency notes or bank notes cannot attract the provisions of Section 489B.

“The essential ingredient of the said offence being that the person, who receives the notes has reason to believe that the said notes are forged or counterfeit. The burden to prove beyond all reasonable doubt, that the accused had knowledge or reason to believe that the currency notes which were put to use / possessed by him were counterfeit or fake currency note is on the prosecution.”

Thus, the court, in the exercise of its inherent power under Section 482 CrPC, quashed the case against the petitioner.

Read the judgment below.