Setting aside the criminal proceedings against angel investor Mahesh Murthy over an alleged incident of sexual harassment in 2004, the Bombay High Court observed that the delay of 14 years in filing the FIR over the alleged harassment is not “properly explained”.
Hearing the case, the division bench of the Bombay HC comprising of Justices Ranjit More and N J Jamadar remarked in their order last week that there has neither been an extension of limitation or condonation of delay nor reasons explaining condoning of delay by the magistrate. In a nutshell, the judges pointed out that the delay was not properly explained, nor the reasons for condoning the same in the interests of justice enunciated by the magistrate.
The prosecution advocate argued that Murthy is a “serial sexual offender”, and stated that the limitation period to file a criminal complaint does not apply to sexual offences. However, the court corrected the counsel, claiming that the bar on filing a complaint after the period of limitation lapsed applied to every offence under the Indian Penal Code.
The court said, “The argument provided by the complainant’s counsel cannot be accepted in the absence of any supporting evidence. The 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 court also remarked that the accusations levelled against the petitioner that he is a serial sexual offender would not be relevant to evaluate the validity and legality of subject criminal proceedings pending before the learned magistrate.
The court added that continuation of prosecution of Murthy would be “abuse of the process of law”.
In 2017-2018, when the country was swept by raging #MeToo movement, allegations of sexual impropriety were levelled against Murthy by several women who disclosed 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, Murthy was booked by the police under sections 354 (sexual harassment) and 509 (outraging the modesty of a woman) on March 16, 2018. According to the complainant, in February 2004, when she met Murthy at a coffee shop, he had touched her inappropriately and kissed her against her will.
Mahesh Murthy was arrested by Mumbai police in February this in connection with a molestation case filed against him, but he released on the same day as he had already obtained anticipatory bail.