The Supreme Court on Monday junked a petition by the Managing Director of Canara Overseas Ltd challenging criminal proceedings initiated against him and others for alleged illegal export of iron ore from Karnataka's Belekere port in 2009-10, and causing a loss of Rs 3.27 crore to the state exchequer.
A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Vikram Nath and B.V. Nagarathna said: "Section 23(1) of the MMDR (Mines and Minerals, Development and Regulation) Act stipulates that where the offence has been committed by a company, every person who at the time of the commission of the offence was in -charge of and responsible for the conduct of business shall be deemed to be guilty of the offence."
The Managing Director had moved the top court challenging the November 12, 2020 order of the Karnataka High Court, which dismissed his plea for quashing of the proceedings.
The appellant had argued that he could not be charged with the offence under the MMDR Act and the charge sheet also did not assign him any role.
The bench, in a 81-page judgment, said: "The submissions which have been urged on behalf of the appellant cannot be acceded to. The determination of whether the conditions stipulated in Section 23 of the MMDR Act have been fulfilled is a matter of trial. Moreover, it is evident that the charge sheet, as a matter of fact, ascribes a role to A-1 and A-2 for the payment of transportation. Therefore, there is a prima facie case against A-1, which is sufficient to arraign him as an accused at this stage."
The bench noted that the special court does not have, in the absence of a specific provision to that effect, the power to take cognisance of an offence under the MMDR Act without the case being committed to it by the magistrate under Section 209 CrPC. "The order of the special judge dated 30 December 2015 taking cognizance is therefore irregular," it said, pointing out that appellant challenged the cognisance order after two years, without explaining the delay.
The top court said: "The special court has the power to take cognisance of offences under MMDR Act and conduct a joint trial with other offences, if permissible under Section 220 CrPC. There is no express provision in the MMDR Act which indicates that Section 220 CrPC does not apply to proceedings under the MMDR Act."
It said the cognisance order indicates that the special judge has perused all the relevant material. "The change in the form of the order would not alter its effect. Therefore, no 'failure of justice' under Section 465 CrPC is proved. This irregularity would thus not vitiate the proceedings," it added.
In October 2014, an FIR was registered against the Managing Director of Canara Overseas Private Ltd (the firm), K. Ramappa, owner of Mineral Miners and Traders, and unknown government officials and private persons. In 2015, a charge sheet was filed against the accused.