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Jatinderveer Arora vs. State of Punjab - (Supreme Court) (25 Nov 2020)

General allegation of 'surcharged atmosphere' is not sufficient to transfer a case from one Court to another



Present petitions are filed under Section 406 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) read with Order XXXIX of the Supreme Court Rules seeking transfer of Trial of criminal cases pending before the Courts at Bhatinda, Moga and Faridkot districts to competent Court in Delhi or to any nearby State, out of Punjab.

The learned Senior Counsel for the Petitioners submits that, as the matters relate to alleged sacrilege of the holy book, Shri Guru Granth Sahibji in different places in Punjab, deep anguish and bitterness is generated amongst a particular religious group, who form majority of the population in the State of Punjab and therefore, the accused who are members of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, are facing bias and prejudice and are unlikely to get a fair trial in the face of strong presumption of culpability. The question to be answered here is whether the situation in Punjab is so communally surcharged that the petitioners will be deprived of fair trial, if they are to be conducted within the State.

The sacrilege incidents occurred in 2015 and it has been more than 2 years since the Petitioners were arrayed as accused in the cases. During this long period, no complaint has been made by the Petitioners of any threat to their security or to their associates. The zimni orders of the Trial Court does not reflect any bias faced, either by the accused or their family.

As per the proposition of law, for transfer of trial from one Court to another, the Court must be fully satisfied about existence of such factors which would make it impossible to conduct a fair trial. General allegation of surcharged atmosphere is not however sufficient. The apprehension of not getting a fair and impartial trial cannot be founded on certain grievances or convenience of the accused but the reasons have to be more compelling than that. No universal Rules can however be laid down for deciding transfer petitions and each one has to be decided in the backdrop of that case alone. One must also be mindful of the fact that, when trial is shifted out from one State to another, it would tantamount to casting aspersions on the Court, having lawful jurisdiction to try the case. Hence, powers under Section 406 of CrPC must be exercised sparingly and only in deserving cases when fair and impartial trial uninfluenced by external factors, is not at all possible. If the Courts are able to function uninfluenced by public sentiment, shifting of trial would not be warranted.

From the available material, present Court cannot reasonably conclude that, the situation in Punjab is not conducive for a fair trial for the Petitioners. The few instances mentioned by the Petitioners’ counsel may suggest heightened feelings amongst different groups but they do not call for transfer of proceedings to another State. Moreover, it cannot just be the convenience of the Petitioner but also of the Complainant, the Witnesses, the Prosecution. The larger issue of trial normally being conducted by the jurisdictional Court must also weigh on the issue.

The transfer of trial from one state to another would inevitably reflect on the credibility of the State’s judiciary. Except for compelling factors and clear situation of deprivation of fair justice, the transfer power should not be invoked. The present bunch of cases is not perceived to be amongst such exceptional categories. The State as assured to this Court, must make all arrangement to ensure safe conduct of proceedings at the trial courts and also provide adequate security to the Petitioners and their associates as might be warranted from the security perspective. Petitions are dismissed.


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