The Bombay High Court has set aside criminal proceedings against angel investor Mahesh Murthy over an alleged incident of sexual harassment in 2004, observing that the delay in filing the FIR 14 years after the offence is not “properly explained”.
“We have perused the order taking cognizance by the concerned magistrate and we find that neither there is an application by the prosecution for extension of limitation or condonation of delay nor there are reasons for condoning such a delay by the magistrate. In other words, neither delay is properly explained nor there are reasons by the magistrate for condoning the same in the interests of justice,” the division bench of Justices Ranjit More and N J Jamadar said in an order last week.
The complainant’s lawyer had argued that Murthy is a “serial sexual offender”, and that the limitation period to file a criminal complaint does not apply to sexual offences. The court, however, said the bar on filing a complaint after the period of limitation lapsed applied to every offence under the Indian Penal Code.
“We are unable to accept the said argument in the absence of any supporting material. Section 468 of CrPC (Bar to take cognisance after lapse of period of limitation) is applicable to every offence under IPC and offences under sections 354 (sexual harassment) and 509 (outraging the modesty of a woman) as alleged against the petitioner are under IPC. The allegations against the petitioner that he is a serial sexual offender would not be relevant to examine the validity and legality of subject criminal proceedings pending before the learned Magistrate,” the court said.
It held that continuation of prosecution of Murthy would be “abuse of the process of law”.
Allegations of sexual harassment had emerged against Murthy in 2017-18 in light of the #MeToo movement, in which several women came forward to disclose incidents of sexual harassment and abuse. Two FIRs were registered by Mumbai Police against Murthy based on the complaints of two women.
In the most recent case, Bandra police had booked Murthy under sections 354 (sexual harassment) and 509 (outraging the modesty of a woman) on March 16, 2018. It was alleged that in February 2004, when the complainant in the case met Murthy at a coffee shop, he touched her inappropriately and kissed her against her will.
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