In a setback for Skoda Volkswagen India, the Supreme Court on Thursday refused to quash an FIR registered in Uttar Pradesh over alleged emission cheat devices installed in the company’s cars. A Bench comprising Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramania, while dismissing Skoda’s appeal, cited its earlier judgements that held that quashing of a complaint should be an exception and a rarity rather than an ordinary rule. The Allahabad High Court had in October dismissed Volkswagen India’s plea for quashing of an FIR dated July 10 registered against it in Noida for installing “cheat devices” in its vehicles. However, it had directed that the company official shall not be arrested in the case till the submission of a police report, subject to the condition that he shall cooperate with the investigation and shall appear as and when called upon to assist in the investigation.
The apex court reiterated that if a perusal of the FIR leads to disclosure of an offence even broadly, the courts are barred from usurping the jurisdiction of the police, since the two organs of the state operate in two specific spheres of activities. According to the SC, the delay in lodging the complaint cannot by itself be a ground to quash the FIR. “The law is too well settled on this aspect to warrant any reference to precedents,” the judgment stated, adding that “the NGT order cannot be taken as an impediment for an individual who purchased cars from the manufacturers to lodge a complaint, if he has actually suffered on account of any representation made by the manufacturers.”
The NGT had on March 7 last year imposed damages and enhanced amount of compensation amounting to `500 crore against the company on a finding that a cheat device had been installed in its vehicles during laboratory tests which showed lower emissions. The NGT also held that the manufacturers had used cheat devices to suppress laboratory tests and emissions were higher than the BSIV limit.
Senior Advocate AM Singhvi, appearing for Volkswagen India, submitted before the SC that the directions of the NGT to fine the manufacturer for the cheat devices had been stayed by the Supreme Court in 2019 and the new FIR was based on similar allegations that were sub judice in the apex court, he said. The automobile maker, which is responsible for the business operations of five the Skoda, Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche and Lamborghini brands, argued that the complainant had bought only three vehicles and not seven as claimed, the “malicious” complaint was lodged after more than two-and-a-half years of the purchase of the vehicles, and the FIR was based entirely on the NGT findings. Besides, the company argued that the police cannot investigate an issue which is sub judice.
The HC, while rejecting Skoda’s appeal, had said whether a cheat device was installed in the vehicles purchased by the complainant and whether they satisfy BS-IV norms or not is a matter of investigation, which cannot be interfered with by the court on an erroneous interpretation of the SC’s interim order.