This article was written by Suryanshi Bothra. The article delves into the background of the case, its judgement, and its lasting impacts. This article will also shed some light on the essentials that were outlined in the case regarding the quashing of an FIR by the High Court. 

It has been published by Rachit Garg.


The case of the State of Haryana & Ors. v. Bhajan Lal & Ors. (1990) is a landmark judgement delivered by the Supreme Court of India in 1990. The case has managed to create a place for itself in the legal history of India. This case deals with the court’s power to interfere in matters of investigation related to corruption based on allegations. It particularly deals with cases of abuse of the legal process for personal gains. This verdict provided seven crucial guidelines regarding the application of Article 226 of the Constitution. This deals specifically with cases concerned with quashing First Information Reports and criminal proceedings. In this article, we will delve into a detailed analysis of this case, i.e., the State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal (1990). This judgement managed to provide a structured framework, which is also known as the Bhajan Lal test. This test has been very widely cited in subsequent cases. This test consists of a two-step inquiry. It involves subjective and objective criteria. The case acts as a guide to the observations and criteria that are essential when considering applications for quashing criminal proceedings. We will unravel the facts, legal issues, and arguments presented by both sides. 

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Details of State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal

Case name

State of Haryana & Others v. Ch. Bhajan Lal & Ors. 

Case No.

Civil Appeal No. 5412 of 1990

Judgement date

21 November 1990

Parties to the case


State of Haryana & Ors. 


Ch. Bhajan Lal & Ors.  

Represented by


Advocates, namely, N.S. Hedge, Additional Solicitor General, Arun Jaitley, Additional Solicitor General, R.B. Datar, Hemant Sharma, and B.K. Prasad.


Advocates, namely, K. Parasaran, P. Chidambaram, R.K. Garg, Ayasha Karim, and Indu Malhotra.

Equivalent citations

AIR 1992 SC 604, I (2006) CCR 209 (SC), 1992 CriLJ 527, 1990/INSC/363, JT 1990 (4) SC 650, 1990 (2) SCALE 1066, 1992 Supp (1) SCC 335, [1990] Supp 3 SCR. 

Type of case

Civil Appeal


The Supreme Court of India 

Acts involved 

Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947

Provisions and statutes involved

Article 226  and 227 of the Indian Constitution, Sections 154, 155, 156, 157, 159, and 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and  Section 5 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988


Justices, namely, S.R. Pandian and K. Jayachandra Reddy.

Author of the Judgement

Justice S.R. Pandian. 

Background of State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal

Dharam Pal complained against Ch. Bhajan Lal before Ch. Devi Lal, who was the Chief Minister. Ch. Bhajan Lal was the then Union Minister for Environment and Forests when the proceedings were initiated. He had previously served as a minister and was the Chief Minister of Haryana between 1982 to 1987. There existed a massive political rivalry between Ch. Devi Lal and Ch. Bhajan Lal. On account of this rivalry, both parties filed several criminal cases and countercases against each other. This led to a lot of bad blood between them. Jasma Devi, who was the wife of Ch. Bhajan Lal, had contested elections from Adampur. She won the election against Mr. Dharam Pal. 

On 12th November 1987, Dharam Pal accused Bhajan Lal of accumulating huge properties worth crores of rupees. These allegations included details about the construction of a lavish house, petrol pumps, shops, and the purchase of land. According to these allegations, he also held cars, jewellery, and shares in the cinemas of Sirsa and Adampur. These properties were in the name of his family members, relatives, and people close to him. The cost of the properties seemed disproportionate to his known sources of income. He cited 20 different allegations. The allegation was that he was misusing his power, position, and influence. He was undervaluing the market price of the properties and that all the transactions were ‘benami’ in nature. 

The complaint was endorsed by Ch. Devi Lal and the Director General of Police (DGP). The DGP instructed the Superintendent of Police in Hisar to investigate the allegations against Ch. Bhajan Lal. A case was registered under Sections 161 and 165 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and also under Section 5(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The third appellant, who was the SHO, registered the case and deployed an inspector along with constables to the specified location. The SHO led the investigation and forwarded a copy of the FIR to the magistrate and other designated offices.

Proceedings in the Punjab and Haryana High Court

Court’s observations

Three separate statements were filed by Inspector Kartar Singh on behalf of the State of Haryana, another by Ch. Devi Lal, and a third by S.P. Lekhi and Inspector Tara Chand. The High Court examined the contentions and the statements. It then presented the following observations:

  1. The allegations seemed imaginary.
  2. Dharam Pal’s only intention was to begin a criminal proceeding. He did not verify his allegations and was solely dependent on the police investigation to find proof. 
  3. The allegations, therefore, come from a desperate place. 
  4. The allegations were indiscriminate and were further made irresponsibly. 
  5. The allegations were made to politically favour Devi Lal and to avenge his loss against the petitioner’s wife. 
  6. The individual statements were filed by S.P. Lekhi Ram and Tara Chand about 8 months later. The court held that malice could only be attributed to them and not Devi Lal. 

There were allegations regarding the non-application of mind by Lekhi Ram and Tara Chand. The court observed that the affidavits were made because the S.P. felt pressure and, therefore, did not indicate any real application of mind. 

Judgement of the Punjab and Haryana High Court

The Punjab and Haryana High Court referred to various judgments of the Supreme Court and the State of West Bengal & Ors. v. Swapan Kumar Guha & Ors. (1982) and decided that the allegations presented by Dharam Pal did not constitute a cognizable offence. The court granted the petitioner’s request, and Dharam Pal was charged with the costs of the Writ Petition. Chhabil Dass, who was not a party in the writ petition, filed an affidavit claiming that he had enough material to provide proof for the various allegations against Bhajan Lal. As he was not a party to the application presented before the High Court, his application was rejected. 

Issues raised

  1. Whether or not the registration of the case under Section 154(1) of the CrPC by itself warrants an investigation under Chapter XII of the Code? 
  2. Was the offence prima facie visible in the FIR under Section 4 read with Section 3 of the Prevention of Corruption Act of 1978 while also considering the requirement of Section 2(c) defining the expression “Money Circulation Scheme”? 
  3. Whether or not, under Section 157 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the police officers have unrestricted power in the realm of investigation. Whether the courts exercise judicial review over the power vested in the police in the investigation stage or whether the police are wholly exempted?  
  4. Whether or not the High Court was justified in quashing the FIR and the proceedings? Also, were the proceedings of the investigation legally sustainable? If not, then to what extent?
  5. Whether or not there is any valid order from the S.P. that authorises the Station Houses Officer to investigate the offence falling under Section 5(1)(e)
  6. In what category of cases can FIRs or criminal proceedings be quashed in the exercise of the power of the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India? And under what circumstances can the High Court exercise its inherent powers under Section 482 of the CrPC? 

Arguments of the parties in State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal


Mr. Rajinder Sachhar and the Advocate General of the State of Haryana appeared for the appellant. They were assisted by Mr. Mahabir Singh. While Mr. R.K. Garg represented Dharam Pal, Mr. R.K. Garg contended that the allegations contained in the complaint constituted a cognizable offence. He argued that the allegations warranted the registration of a case. They cited that registration was contemplated under Section 154(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code. Moreover, he emphasised that there must be a thorough investigation according to Sections 156, 157, 159, etc, from Chapter XII of the Code. He claimed that the High Court had no justification to quash the FIR and the proceedings. He also obliterated the court for intervening in the police investigation. 

Mr. Rajinder Sachhar and Mr. R.K. Garg argued that the High Court, while exercising its jurisdiction under Article 226, overstepped. Interfering with the investigating powers of the police officials nullified the entire proceeding, starting from the registration, especially when the allegations made in the complaint impliedly constitute offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Therefore, this interference is unjustifiable and violates the principles laid down by the court. 

The learned counsels submitted that the observations of the High Court bench should not be endorsed. According to them, accepting such observations could have disastrous consequences for the democratic system. It could adversely affect the country’s welfare. Allowing such a judgement could lead to future administrations turning a blind eye to the wrongdoings of older governments. It would lead to corruption and malfeasance going unreported. They believe that there is no basis for concluding that there was any political gain in reporting Ch. Bhajan Lal.    


K. Parasaran and P. Chidambaram appeared on behalf of the first respondent. The respondents, Bhajan Lal and others, contended that the allegations were deeply rooted in political animosity. The allegations were not genuine, and this suggests an old, long-standing rivalry. He claimed that this complaint was not an effort to disclose information for the public interest. According to the respondents, the allegations had mala fide intent based on personal vendetta. They argued that the complaint aimed to ruin Bhajan Lal’s reputation and put a dent in his political career. The respondents also claimed that the officers were not in the right capacity to begin the investigation. 

Mr. Parasaran agrees with the High Court and argues in the Supreme Court that the judgement of the High Court is well reasoned. He pleads with the Supreme Court not to overturn the High Court’s judgement. According to them, the political rivalry fueled the attempt of character assassination against Bhajan Lal. According to the appellants, Dharam Pal is being used as a tool to file false allegations. He then contended that even if the allegations were true, they would not constitute an offence that would warrant registration of the case. The High Court saw all the allegations and concluded that letting the investigation go on would be unjust. 

Mr. Chidambaram objected to the new allegations, stating that their sole intention was to prejudice the court. He urged the court not to consider the allegations, as they are baseless. Mr. Parasaran criticised the police officer for overstepping. He accused them of making a rash decision when registering the FIR and beginning an investigation. He pointed out that the High Court held that the police officer was overzealous and loyal to Devi Lal. 

Laws and precedents discussed in State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal

Krishna Ballabh Sahay & Ors. v. Commission of Enquiry & Ors. (1968)

The court in this case referred to the State of Punjab v. Gurdial Singh & Ors. (1979) and many other related cases. All of these judgements were cited to justify that under Section 154(1) of the CrPC, it is mandatory for the police officer to register a case if the allegations are cognizable offences. Further, Section 155(4) states that when two offences are involved, in which one of them is cognisable, then the entire case will be considered cognizable. Sections 156, 157 and 159 of the CrPC highlight that if the police have reason to suspect a cognizable offence, they can proceed with the investigation, or if there is not enough ground, they can dispense it. The above mentioned judgements emphasise that courts cannot intervene and stifle the police investigation. The police have exclusive investigating powers in cases of cognizable offences as long as they comply with all essential provisions and guidelines. However, the magistrate can intervene to direct an investigation or a preliminary inquiry. 

State of Bihar & Anr. v. J.A.C. Saldanha & Ors. (1979)

The court cited this case, S.N. Sharma v. Bipen Kumar Tiwari & Ors. (1970), and many other related cases to substantiate the interpretation of the phrase “reason to suspect” used in Section 154(1). It clarifies that the phrase “reason to suspect” refers to any rational reasoning that could lead a reasonable person to believe that a cognizable offence had been committed. This inference does not always prove anything, but in some cases, it is enough to begin an investigation. Other than a reason to suspect, Section 157(1) states that police must be satisfied that there is sufficient ground for investigation.

Furthermore, this case discusses the interplay between Sections 156, 157, and 159 of the CrPC. Section 156(1) empowers the officer-in-charge of the police station to investigate cognizable offences. The judgement highlights the interpretation of Section 157(1), which outlines the process of reporting to a magistrate when an officer suspects the commission of a cognizable offence. The role of the Magistrate and the High Court in overseeing investigations specified in Section 159 is also discussed. D.A. Desai and Justice Bhargava underline the exclusive role of police in the investigation process. The case also highlights the powers under Article 226 of the Constitution to intervene if it is convinced that the investigation is mala fide. The citation serves as authority when considering the cautions that high courts should take while quashing FIRs. The court disapproved of the High Court’s interference before the completion of an investigation.

Pakala Narayana Swami v. Emperor (1939) 

This is the next significant case that the Court referred to. In this case, the Court held that only police officers can investigate an offence, and the powers they can exercise must be in strict compliance with Chapter XII of the CrPC. Section 157(1) uses the expression “reason to suspect,” which contrasts with Section 41(1)(a) and (g) of the CrPC, where the term “reasonable suspicion” is used. The judgement provides clarity on the term “reason to suspect” and how it should be interpreted in its plain and ordinary meaning by citing the explanation given by Lord Atkin, who emphasised that when the meaning of the words is plain and simple, we should try to find the supposed intention of the words. The potential advantages and disadvantages of meaning should not be considered when the meaning is simple. The magistrate cannot interfere; however, Chapter XIV of the code requires the police to keep the magistrate informed of the investigation at all times. The court also talked about the limitations on the power of the police.

Emperor v. Khwaja Nazir Ahmed (1944)

The court cited this case, R.P. Kapur v. The State of Punjab (1960), as a reference to establish that the High Court’s views regarding the flaw in the written statement were incorrect. The High Court said that a failure to submit the written statement was a failure on the government’s part. They concluded that, due to this flaw, it should be assumed that the respondent has disproved all allegations. The Supreme Court says that these are inconceivable. The apex court, however, does recognise the vagueness of the allegations. It emphasises that no details regarding the properties or under whose names the properties were registered are provided. The Privy Council in Emperor v. Khwaja Nazir Ahmad also dealt with the responsibilities of the police under Sections 154 and 156 of the Code. The case emphasises the statutory right of the police to investigate cognizable offences. The functions of the judiciary and the police intermingle. Individual liberty and maintaining law and order can only be achieved if both entities do their respective functions without intervention. The council emphasises that the role of courts becomes prominent only in the later stages of the proceedings. It acknowledges that there is an exception where the court’s function begins a little early. Section 491 of the CrPC gives directions in cases where the writ of habeas corpus becomes applicable.  

Other important cases referred by the court

State of West Bengal & Ors. v. Swapan Kumar Guha & Ors. (1982) was also cited in the case. In the judgement, Justice Chandrachud agreed with the judgement of Justice A.N. Sen and Vardarajan. They stated that the condition for initiating an investigation under Section 157 of the CrPC was that the FIR must disclose a cognizable offence that has been committed. He mentioned that there should be no such thing as unfettered discretion. In Nandini Satpathy v. P.L. Dani & Anr. (1978), Justice Krishna Iyer expressed his view that a police officer should be precise, sensitive, and constitutionally conscious while performing his duties. An officer who does not follow the said guideline is said to have violated or disregarded the guaranteed right of “testimonial tacitness”. 

In Prabhu Dayal Deorah etc. etc. v. The District Magistrate, Kamrup & Ors. (1973), Justice Matthew emphasised the preservation of personal liberty. He highlighted the historical importance of adhering to procedural safeguards in protecting personal liberty. In P. Sirajuddin v. Government of Madras & Ors. (1982), Justice Mitter emphasises the importance of conducting a preliminary inquiry before charging a public servant, especially if he is holding a position of power. It is justified by the potential harm that these charges can cause to the individual as well as the department. Justice Mudholkar in State of Uttar Pradesh v. Bhagwant Kishore Joshi (1963) expresses that, in cases where there is a prohibition in CrPC, a police officer is permitted to conduct preliminary inquiries before the registration of the offence. 

Judgement of the court in State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal

Criminal litigation

The Supreme Court, in a judgement dated 21st November 1990, set aside the High Court judgement. It was decided that quashing the FIR by the High Court was not valid because it was not legally and factually sustainable. This part of the High Court judgement was set aside. However, the commencement as well as the entire investigation too were quashed. The court also mentioned that the third appellant lacked valid authority under Section 5A(1) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The provision states that only an officer at the rank of an inspector or above can take up the investigation of an offence under Clause (e) of Section 5(1). The judgement highlighted that the Superintendent of Police (SP) was over-enthusiastic and hasty when he instructed the Station House Officer to investigate. However, even though he lacked authority, the investigation was necessary. The court emphasised how it was crucial for the officer authorising such investigations to provide reasons for granting permission. It also held that not holding outgoing governments accountable for their misdeeds lays down an alarming position. Therefore, such a view cannot be judicially approved. They acknowledged that before an investigation is initiated, it is essential for the court to ensure that the allegations are not rooted in mala fide intent. The objective of Section 5A is to protect politicians and public servants from being harassed and victimised by frivolous investigations. Investigative authorities must adhere strictly to the provisions. However, if one provision is not followed, it does make the whole investigation illegal.

The court stated that it is essential to have information on a cognizable offence for registering an FIR. If the information satisfies the requirements under Section 154(1) of the CrPC then the officer-in-charge has no option but to register a case by filing an FIR. While a police officer cannot investigate a non-cognizable offence, they can do so by obtaining an order from a magistrate having proper authority, subject to the conditions mentioned in Section 155(3). In cases where there is more than one offence, the entire case is deemed cognizable. The investigation is deemed an exclusive field for the police, and the courts cannot interfere with the investigations. Chapter XIV of the CrPC has a scheme that involves keeping the magistrate informed of the investigation at all stages, but they cannot intervene. If the police officer exceeds his legal authority, the courts can intervene, consider the nature and extent of the breach, and then pass an appropriate order. The judgement emphasises the need for the protection of human dignity and highlights that no entity should have unquestionable rights or unlimited powers. 

The High Court had considered the non-filing of a written statement by the state government a serious flaw. It said that the non-filing disproved all the allegations against Ch. Bhajan Lal. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, disagreed with the High Court. It argued that the investigation was in a premature state. Therefore, the government did not possess the necessary details regarding the allegations against Bhajan Lal. On the matter of the over-enthusiasm of the S.P., the court said that the filing of the complaint on the same day of receiving it was a little over-enthusiastic. Especially when the complaint lay in the DGP’s office for 9 days. This enthusiasm was unprecedented and, therefore, raised a lot of questions. One of the questions was the reason for assigning the investigation to the Station House Officer. The court disapproved of the S.P.’s actions because he deviated from normal procedure. He should have been extra careful, knowing the seriousness of the charges against a former Chief Minister. The Court, however, did state that, even though his conduct was wrong, it cannot be a ground for quashing the FIR.   

To answer the question of what happens in cases of false allegations, the court highlighted that individuals who make false allegations resulting in damage to reputation can be held liable under Section 182, Section 211, and Section 500 of the IPC. Further, they could also be sued for damages. In this case, the allegations constituted a cognizable offence. Therefore, it did not fall under the category of cases that could warrant the High Court to exercise its power of quashing the criminal proceedings. The court rejected the contentions of mala fide intent when considering the question of whether the quashing of the FIR was legally sustainable. The court based this judgement that in this premature state of the investigation, it cannot evaluate the results and, therefore, cannot ascertain mala fide intent. The court also set aside the character assassination and personal gain contentions. The court determined that the primary purpose of the registration of the case was to gather enough evidence and then build a case. 

Regarding the submission of Chhabil Das, the court dismissed the submission, claiming that the submission suggested ulterior motives. It also declared that there was no substance to these arguments. Regarding the validity of the statutory power of the inspector, they referred to the case of H.N. Rishud and Inder Singh v. The State of Delhi (1954). The court mentioned that it is mandatory under Section 5A of the Prevention of Corruption Act that the investigation be conducted only by an officer at the rank of an inspector or above. The court, however, clarifies that this violation does not affect the competence and jurisdiction of the court or the trial. The State Government had authorised the inspector to investigate the offences falling under Section 5 of the Act. The prosecution failed to provide sufficient reasoning, which led to the passing of an order to investigate by the Superintendent of Police (SP). The orders seem to have been granted casually without considering the legal principles. The S.P., however, had not ordered the SHO to investigate. This was considered a violation by the High Court. The case was registered under Sections 161 and 165 of the IPC too. However, the government had authorised the investigation only under Section 5(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act. According to this, the SHO had no authority to investigate offences under Sections 161 and 165. The court held that if the government feels the need for a new investigation, it must comply with Section 5A(1). 

On the presentation of new allegations by the appellants, the court agreed with Chidambaram that, at this stage, they cannot go into the validity of the allegations. Their allegations could only be examined by the proper court after a thorough investigation. 

The court set aside the High Court judgement and claimed that quashing the FIR was not factually or legally sustainable. The High Court order directing Dharam Pal to provide costs to Bhajan Lal too was set aside. The appeal was disposed of with no order as to the costs. 

Guidelines given in Bhajan Lal case 

The Supreme Court in the Bhajan Lal case laid down seven guidelines which must be followed by the High Court when exercising the powers specified in Section 482 of the CrPC. This provision allows the High Court to quash criminal proceedings, which are an abuse of the process of court. What constitutes an abuse of process by the court? Filing false FIRs and making false allegations is an abuse of process by the court. The powers under this section were unchecked. Bhajan Lal, therefore, draws these boundaries within the rules.  

  1. If the allegations in the FIR do not prima facie constitute an offence, they can be quashed. If it is found after consideration that the allegations are not sufficient to establish or presume that there is an offence, then the court can quash the FIR.    
  2. One ground for quashing an FIR is non-disclosure of any cognizable offence in the allegations mentioned in the FIR. Section 156(2) of the CrPC provides an exception to this rule that the police can be investigated in the matter even if there is no indication of a cognizable offence if a special authorisation is given by the magistrate. 
  3. FIRs can be quashed when undisputed allegations in the FIR fail to establish essential elements of a criminal element. There must be supportive evidence because a criminal proceeding without the accused would abuse the process of the court. It violates the fundamental rights of the accused. 
  4. When the allegations only constitute a non-cognizable offence, the police cannot begin an investigation without the permission of a magistrate. This rule is specified under Section 155(2) of the CrPC. Crimes that do not cause harm to society fall under this purview. This is aimed at restricting the unlimited powers of the police. It safeguards innocent individuals from unwarranted police investigations in cases where the alleged offence is non-cognizable. 
  5. Cases where the allegations in the complaint are too absurd and improbable can warrant the quashing of the FIR. It is usually done in cases where the accusations are irrational and way too far-fetched. The allegations must give clear reasons to initiate an investigation against the accused. 
  6. There is an explicit prohibition or restriction that prevents the initiation or continuation of criminal proceedings. It highlights cases where there are frameworks that offer alternative remedies that are effective in addressing the allegations made. Sections 195, 196, 197, 198, and 199 of the CrPC provide pre-conditions necessary to start an investigation.   
  7. When the case is tainted with bad faith and has the underlying motive of causing harm the FIR can be quashed. If the court determines that the intention of filing the case is mala fide. The court may intervene for the protection of the rights of the accused. It makes sure that the court and the criminal justice system are not being used to further personal vendettas. 


This article discussed a landmark case, the State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal (1992) in detail. It has significantly contributed to India’s legal history and has influenced many future cases. Its contribution as a precedent in proceedings for quashing an FIR or criminal proceedings has been significant. Especially in cases of abuse of the legal process with mala fide intent. The Bhajan Lal test balances the need for public interest with serving justice. Moreover, the case underscores the importance of following the chain of command according to statutory provisions when it comes to an investigation. The Supreme Court emphasises that the court should not interfere in investigations very often. When recognising the power of the High Court, the court tries to prevent the abuse of the legal process. The principles laid down in this case act as a guide for courts when evaluating applications for quashing criminal proceedings. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the inherent power of the High Court?

The inherent power of the high court in this case refers to Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. One of the primary objectives of this provision is to give the High Court power to quash FIRs and criminal proceedings when the court feels it to be invalid or unnecessary. This power can only be exercised when the court feels that the legal process is being abused. It also deals with settling disputes by quashing, but the aim is to ensure that the settlement is genuine. It also protects victims and witnesses.  

What is the difference between writ jurisdiction under Article 226 and inherent power under Section 482 of the CrPC?

Article 226 of the Indian Constitution empowers the High Court to issue writs. The powers of this provision extend to civil, criminal as well as administrative matters. It is not limited to any specific area of law. The primary purpose is to protect fundamental rights and provide remedy for the violations of those rights. Section 482 of the CrPC grants the High Court powers to prevent the abuse of court processes by quashing criminal proceedings and FIRs. It can only be invoked in criminal cases. The powers granted by Section 482 can be exercised by a High Court on any subordinate court under its jurisdiction.  


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