Petitioner Suhas Morey, director of Revati Associates and Infrastructure was put behind bars on January 6, 2021, when he appeared in front of the commission in a case filed by respondent Dhanraj Khaparde, a senior citizen from Katol.
The latter had purchased three plots from Morey for Rs65 lakh and paid Rs55 lakh advance. After failing to get the properties, he filed a case with the commission for refund of his amount. The commission ordered Morey to refund Rs55 lakh to Khaparde along with interest on October 21, 2016. When he failed to comply with the ruling, non-bailable warrants were issued against him, but he was released on bail later.
On January 6 last year, he appeared before the commission and pleaded not guilty. However, the judges cancelled his bail for not complying with their order for over five years and remanded him to the magisterial custody by cancelling his bail. Since then, he has been behind bars till last week of December, and four bail pleas have been rejected.
“Commission proceedings reveal that till date there is no progress, but dates are given. Though the petitioner was in magisterial custody, still there is no progress which is quite amazing. Section 27 of Consumer Protection Act, 2016, provides maximum sentence which may extend up to three years. Without holding trial, the petitioner is kept behind bars for near-about one year. It is a fit case to exercise writ jurisdiction since there is violation of personal liberty,” Justice Vinay Joshi said.
According to him, the commission has pre-judged the matter and before concluding the trial, incarcerated the petitioner. “Certainly, he can be kept behind bars, if he violates bail conditions. However, the order of January 6, 2021, itself speaks that he himself appeared and was placed in jail. This approach of keeping him behind bars and adjourning the matter for a long period is quite disturbing.”
While quashing the commission’s order rejecting Morey’s bail pleas, HC directed it to grant him bail. “One can understand taking a petitioner in custody if he jumps bail or has been brought under execution of warrant. Generally, in that eventuality, the defaulter is being taken into custody to secure his/her presence for trial. However, January 6 order, nowhere spells that there was likelihood of petitioner absconding. Only considering his past antecedents and particularly, non-compliance of the order, his bail was cancelled.”
Justice Joshi pointed out that the trial was yet to be conducted in which, whether it was wilful default or despite sufficient means, the petitioner avoided to pay, was to be adjudicated. “The situation was such that if he pleads guilty then he would have been punished. Alternatively, when he denied, still, he was taken into custody without proceedings. Before finding that he had deliberately avoided paying or wilfully at default, he was incarcerated and languishing in jail for a year. The commission’s approach was wholly against the principles of natural justice. ”
WHAT HC SAID
* Commission proceedings reveal no progress in trial, but dates given
* Consumer Act provides maximum sentence up to 3 years
* Without holding trial, petitioner behind bars for near-about one year
* Commission pre-judged matter & before concluding trial, incarcerated petitioner
* This approach of keeping him in jail and adjourning matter is quite disturbing