The Delhi High Court has recently quashed an FIR against former Air India pilot Arvind Kathpalia for the alleged offences of violation of aircraft rules, including evading a breath analyser test, and forgery, stating the allegations against him are wholly insufficient to file a case against him.
The high court stated the petitioner (now retired), can’t be subjected to “double jeopardy” for the same offence, once after having been given a clean chit on merits in disciplinary proceedings.
Justice Saurabh Banerjee stated, “The continuance of the FIR under the aforesaid circumstances shall, in the opinion of this court, result in the petitioner undergoing the ordeal twice over again for the same offence.”
The order of the high court came on a petition by Kathpalia seeking the quash FIR for alleged offences of destruction of evidence, criminal conspiracy, forgery, and using forged documents as genuine under the IPC and under the provisions of the Aircraft Act.
Kathpalia was removed as the director of operations of Air India in November 2018 after failing to clear the pre-flight alcohol test, with the government citing the “serious nature of the transgression and (his) failure to course correct”.
Senior advocate Maninder Singh, representing Kathpalia, submitted that the Disciplinary Authority of Air India filed a charge sheet in February 2019 against the petitioner, alleging acts of forgery and misconduct and he also filed a reply to it.
In February 2020 order, he stated that the chairman of Air India, found the allegations of forgery as unsubstantiated against the petitioner and therefore closed the disciplinary case against him.
Singh stated that the FIR can’t continue against Kathpalia and urged the court to quash the same.
Furthermore, the prosecutor opposed the petition stating disregarding the due procedure of law with intent to benefit, a forged entry that was made by the petitioner who had ample of opportunity to undergo a breath analyser test on return from Bengaluru, but flouting the express regulations, he didn’t follow the procedure.
The high court, in its order, stated that once Air India itself has closed the disciplinary proceedings against the petitioner after going through the relevant records before it and upon finding no merits, not much remains for the FIR for proceeding against him involving similar offences.
Notably, it is stated that there is no bar on the disciplinary proceedings and the criminal prosecution continuing together at the same time and neither the outcome of the disciplinary proceedings will have any bearing upon the pendency nor upon the outcome of the criminal prosecution as they can co-exist.
The high court stated, “However, where the case is one wherein exoneration is on merits as the allegation thereof has been conclusively found unsustainable, based whereon innocence has been proven, then in such a situation, in the opinion of this court, there is no reason and/or fruitful purpose for the criminal prosecution on the same set of facts to continue.”
It stated the allegations against the petitioner are wholly insufficient for making out a case against him, much less for keeping the FIR alive and added that subsistence of these criminal proceedings against him is likely to result in subjecting him to unwarranted injustice. The court stated, “Although it is trite that the power of quashing an FIR under Section 482 CrPC is to be used sparingly in situations like the present where there is hardly any ground leading to the conviction of the petitioner as the same is based on facts which are no more alive, the court is well within its right to proceed with quashing of the FIR.”
It stated “As such, in view of the peculiar facts and circumstances involved herein, the present FIR is liable to be quashed.”
According to the police, Kathpalia operated a flight from New Delhi to Bengaluru without undergoing the mandatory pre-flight breath analyser test on January 19, 2017. Even at Bengaluru, he refused to undergo a similar test. Later, on his arrival in New Delhi, he allegedly went to the Pre-Flight Medical Examination Room and made a false entry in the Pre-Flight Breath Analyser Examination Register for the flight that
he had operated.