Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code defines the offence of cheating and prescribes the maximum punishment for this offence to be 7 years of imprisonment and fine. Sri Bhagwan SSVV Maharaj vs State of Andhra Pradesh case deals with whether deceiving a person into believing that one possesses divine powers that can cure disabilities and accepting money in return for a promise to cure someone using divine powers constitutes the offence of cheating under Section 420 of the IPC.
DATE OF JUDGEMENT: 15th July 1999
BENCH: Justice MB Shah, Justice KT Thomas
- The appellant, Sri Bhagwan Samardha Sreepada Vallabha Venkata Vishanandha Maharaj, son of a teacher from Gummaluru Village (Andhra Pradesh), claimed to have occult powers and attracted many devotees. He portrayed he had divine healing forces and could heal chronic diseases through his touches.
- The complainant, Venkatakrishna Reddy, asked him for help in healing his 15-year-old daughter, who was born a dumb child. The appellant told the claimant that his divine powers would heal of her disability the little girl. He asked for Rs. 1 lac as consideration, to be paid in instalments. The first instalment demanded was Rs. 10,000/-, which was reduced to Rs. 5,000/- later.
- The complainant paid Rs. 5000/-, as well as an additional Rs. 1,000/- for incidental expenses. He awaited the improvement of his dumb child with bated breath until 1994, the time limit set by the appellant for the girl to begin speaking.
- As the child remained the same, the plaintiff had doubts. The appellant extended the time limit for the girl to develop speech ability until August 1994. A further amount of Rs. 516/- was taken for performing of a yagna. However, none of this resulted in any change in his daughter’s ability to speak.
- Meanwhile, news of other people being defrauded by the appellant reached the complainant as newspapers began publishing other activities and misdeeds committed by the appellant. According to one such publication, the appellant had raised more than a crore of rupees by cheating various devotees. It was at this point that the complainant realised the appellant had committed fraud. Thus, the complainant lodged an FIR with the Town Police Station, Nellore, for cheating, based on the above allegations.
- The police investigated and on December 15th, 1994, presented a final report to the Magistrate concerned, referring to the case as a “mistake of fact”, primarily because this is religious belief “prevalent in India among devotees of God”.
- The Magistrate did not give assent to the said report. On 2nd February 1995, he ordered a reinvestigation of the case. On September 15, 1997, the police filed a report stating that the appellant had committed the offence under Section 420 of the IPC.
- On receipt of the investigation, the Magistrate took cognizance of the offence and issued an arrest warrant for the appellant.
- The appellant moved the High Court, seeking a stay of proceedings on two grounds. The first was that the Magistrate lacked authority to order reinvestigation after receiving the first police report without giving the appellant an opportunity to respond. Second, the complainant’s charges do not constitute a cheating offence. However, the High Court dismissed the petition. The appellant challenged the order of the High Court before the Supreme Court.
- Whether an offence of cheating as defined in Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) committed?
Justice K.T. Thomas: If anyone prays to God for the healing of the ill, there cannot be any element of fraud. However, if he represents to another that he possesses divine powers and either directly or indirectly leads the other individual to believe that he possesses such divine powers; he is engaging in inducement, as described in Section 415 of the IPC.
Anyone who responds to such inducement under it and gives the inducer money or any other item and does not receive the desired result is a victim of the fraudulent representation. In such a case, the court may conclude that the offence of cheating under Section 420 of the IPC has been committed.
The Supreme Court held the Magistrate had rightly taken cognizance of the offence and that the appellant had committed the offence of cheating under Section 420 of the IPC.
The apex court held that Section 173(8) of the Code of Criminal Procedure recognises the authority of the police to conduct further investigations after the filing of a final report and after the court has taken cognizance of an offence based on the police report initially submitted, it is open to the police to conduct further investigation.
The appeal was dismissed by the court.
India is a nation characterized by strong religious beliefs and often people get tricked because they place their trust in agents or representatives of these religions. A myriad of people have suffered losses and have been cheated similarly, as the case is in question.
The Supreme Court delivered a sound judgement in Sri Bhagwan Samardha Sreepada Maharaj vs State of Andhra Pradesh by upholding the Magistrate’s decision whereby the court ruled that an offence of cheating was committed and the appellant was liable for punishment prescribed under Section 420 of the IPC.
This judgement paved the way for protecting people from being deceived by fraudsters and relief for victims of fraud and cheating.
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