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The Supreme Court recently held that the inherent power under Section 482 CrPC cannot be used by the High Court to reopen or alter an order, after disposing a petition decided on merits.
The main issue before the Bench of Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose was whether a judge of the High Court could exercise powers under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) to alter a sentence which had been passed by the High Court itself.
The respondent, Man Singh had used the transfer certificate of one Kalu Singh and forged details such as his name and date of birth. Using this forged certificate, he managed to procure appointment as a Buffalo Attendant in the Veterinary Department. The trial court was satisfied that Man Singh had committed offences punishable under Sections 468, 471, and 419 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) and sentenced the accused to rigorous imprisonment for one year and a fine of Rs. 2000.
On the question of sentence, the respondent pleaded for benefit under the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 (the Act) before the trial court. Grant of probation was denied to him as he had come to court with unclean hands; the court found that he had gained employment on the basis of forged documents, thereby depriving a deserving unemployed candidate.
The respondent filed an appeal before the Sessions Court, which dismissed the same. He then filed a criminal revision before the Madhya Pradesh High Court. The High Court affirmed the order of the trial court but reduced the period of his imprisonment and enhanced the fine to Rs. 10,000.
The respondent deposited the fine and then filed a petition before the High Court under Section 482 of CrPC. The High Court granted the benefit of the Act to him and held that his service career would remain unaffected as he had already served his sentence. This order was challenged before the Supreme Court.
What the Supreme Court held
The Supreme Court held that the inherent power under Section 482 CrPC cannot be used by the High Court to reopen or alter an order disposing of a petition decided on merits. The Court becomes functus officio after disposing of a case. In this regard the Court held that,
“After disposing of a case on merits, the Court becomes functus officio and Section 362 CrPC expressly bars review and specifically provides that no Court after it has signed its judgment shall alter or review the same except to correct a clerical or arithmetical error. Recall of judgment would amount to alteration or review of judgment which is not permissible under Section 362 CrPC. It cannot be validated by the High Court invoking its inherent powers”
Pertinently, the Court also held that the manner in which the probation had been granted by the High Court was not legal. The Court pointed out that the High Court should have ideally called for a report of the Probation Officer under of Section 4 of the Act, before granting probation to the accused. In addition, the Court states,
“After sentence had been imposed and served and fine paid, there was no question of granting probation.”
Another error that the Supreme Court identified was the violation of Section 4 of the Act. The Court also referred to the decision laid down in MCD v. State of Delhi & Anr in this regard.
Lastly, the Court disagreed with the view of the High Court that since the respondent had already undergone his sentence, the decision would not affect his service career. The Supreme Court stated that the High Court has no jurisdiction to pass an order allowing the employee to be retained in service, even when the Court grants probation.
In furtherance, the Court pointed out that even if the accused were to be given the benefit of the Act, he would still not retain his job, as the same was obtained on the basis of forged documents.
Therefore, for the above-mentioned reasons, the Supreme Court allowed the petitioner’s appeal and set aside the order of the High Court.
[Read Judgment here]: