An Indian citizen who has committed a crime abroad can be prosecuted in the country but the trial cannot commence beyond the cognisance stage without prior sanction of the government, the Supreme Court has held.
A bench comprising justices Altamas Kabir, Cyriac Joseph and S S Nijjar rejected the plea of NRI Thota Venkateswarlu that the trial court in Andhra Pradesh cannot take cognisance of a complaint of harassment, dowry demands and criminal intimidation lodged by his wife, as the couple were living in Botswana.
The NRI's wife Parvathareddy Suneetha returned from Botswana and lodged the complaint with the police which filed a charge sheet in the court of the additional munsif magistrate, Addanki, Prakasham district against her husband and other relatives.
The apex court said, "The language of Section 188 CrPC is quite clear that when an offence is committed outside India by a citizen of India, he may be dealt with in respect of such offences as if they had been committed in India. The proviso, however, indicates that such offences could be inquired into or tried only after having obtained the previous sanction of the central government."
Justice Kabir said Section 188 is a fetter on the powers of the investigating authority to inquire into offence to the extent that it can be done only with the previous sanction of the central government.
"The fetters, however, are imposed only when the stage of trial is reached, which clearly indicates that no sanction in terms of Section 188 is required till commencement of the trial. It is only after the decision to try the offender in India was felt necessary that the previous sanction of the central government would be required before the trial could commence."
Accordingly, the apex court said up to the stage of taking cognisance, no previous sanction would be required from the central government in terms of the proviso to Section 188 CrPC.
"However, the trial cannot proceed beyond the cognisance stage without the previous sanction of the central government. Accordingly, offences committed in Botswana by an Indian citizen would also be amenable to the provisions of the Indian Penal Code, subject to the limitation imposed under the proviso to Section 188 CrPC," the bench said.
The lower court had taken cognisance of the charge sheet and issued summons to the husband who moved the Andhra Pradesh High Court.
The high court quashed the complaint against the other family members but sustained the same against Venkateshwaralu. He later appealed in the apex court on the ground that the alleged offence occurred in a foreign country and no prior sanction was obtained by the magistrate from the central government as required under the statute.
The couple were married in India on November 27, 2005 as per Hindu traditions.