SC refuses to quash criminal cases against Skoda Auto Volkswagen India
The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to quash the criminal cases of cheating and breach of trust against Skoda Auto Volkswagen India Private Limited and its officials for allegedly installing “cheat devices” in its Audi and other cars sold in India to camouflage the emission of pollution beyond the permissible limits .
“The power of quashing should be exercised very sparingly and with circumspection and that too in the rarest of rare cases. While examining a complaint, the quashing of which is sought, the court cannot embark upon an enquiry as to the reliability or genuineness or otherwise of the allegations made in the FIR or in the complaint … criminal proceedings ought not to be scuttled at the initial stage,” the court said.
“Quashing of a complaint should rather be an exception and a rarity than an ordinary rule. … In view of what is stated above, the special leave petition is dismissed. There will be no order as to costs,” the apex court said .
The bench of Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, Justices A.S. Bopanna and V.Ramasubramanian passed the judgment while dismissing the automobile giant’s appeal for quashing the criminal cases of cheating, breach of trust and other IPC sections registered against the company and its executives by one Aniljit Singh, a Noida-based customer.
The Allahabad High Court had earlier declined to quash the FIR aggrieved by which the company had appealed in the apex court.
Singh had filed the complaint in July this year alleging the company had cheated him in 2017 by claiming that there were no cheat devices which according to him was false as the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had imposed a fine of Rs 500 cr on the company and had directed the Central Pollution Control Board(CPCB) to prosecute the company. He cited the NGT order to say that the company’s cars were emitting 5-8 times more than the permissible limits of emission.
The Allahabad High Court had earlier declined to quash the FIR aggrieved by which the company had appealed in the Apex court.
In the Supreme Court, the company argued that it cannot be prosecuted for any criminal offence since the NGT was already seized of the matter in connection with two civil petitions filed by some environmental activists against the alleged excess emission from the company’s Audi cars.
Rejecting the argument Justice Ramasubramanian who authored the judgment noted that the proceedings before the NGT were not intended to address issues relating to alleged cheating of individuals., etc
“…we are unable to agree with the contention of the learned Senior Counsel for the petitioner (Volkswagen) that the substratum of the police complaint is something that is already the subject matter of adjudication before this court in the appeals arising out of the order of the NGT.
“As a matter of fact, the High Court has been fair to the petitioner, by granting protection against arrest till the filing of the report under section 173(2) of the Code (charge sheet). We do not think that the petitioner can ask for anything more,” the Apex court said while dismissing the appeal.
Referring to the company’s claim that the customer Aniljit Singh had purchased only three Audi cars in 2019 and not seven as claimed in the police complaint, Justice Ramasubramanian said: The question whether the 3rd Respondentcomplainant (customer) purchased 3 vehicles as revealed by the VAHAN Portal of the Government or 7 vehicles as claimed by him in his complaint, is a question of fact which has to be established only in the course of investigation/trial. In a petition for quashing the FIR, the Court cannot go into disputed questions of fact.
“The mere delay on the part of the 3rd Respondent-complainant in lodging the complaint cannot by itself be a ground to quash the FIR. The law is too well settled on this aspect to warrant any reference to precedents. Therefore, the second ground on which the petitioner seeks to quash the FIR cannot be countenanced,” the bench said.
The NGT had earlier on March 7, 2019 directed the CPCB to consider the initiation of prosecution for the alleged excess emission and had asked the manufacturers to deposit Rs.500 crores as compensation for the damage caused to the environment.
On October 1, the Allahabad High Court had rejected the plea for quashing of the FIR but stayed the arrest of the company officials till the filing of the charge sheet and had asked them to cooperate with the investigating agency.
Some of the findings and directions by the NGT Tribunal were: (i) That the manufacturers had in fact used cheat devices to suppress the laboratory tests; (ii) That NOx emission was higher by Portable Emission Measurement System (PEMS); (iii) That Volkswagen vehicles gave much less NOx emission under the Warm Test Cycles after recall; (iv) That the emissions measured on PEMS were higher than BSIV limit; (v) That the manufacturers are liable to pay damages to the tune of Rs.500 crores; and (vi) That the CPCB shall consider initiation of prosecution in the light of applicable statutory regime.
However, the directions of the NGT were stayed by the Apex court on May 6, 2019, while dealing with the civil appeals filed by the company. The matter on the civil side is yet to be dealt with by the Apex court.