In the case of Roma Mitra,W/o Dr. (Prof.) N.R Mitra (Appellant/Petitioner) v State of Bihar and Dr. (Mrs) Supata Bhattacharya (Respondent/Complainant); the Petitioner under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure Code(CPC) prayed for quashing of an order passed by the Judicial Magistrate, who had taken cognizance of offence under Sections 63,67 & 68 of the Copyright Act and Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The issue here arose, when Dr. (Mrs) Supata Bhattacharya, as a PhD research student and under guidance of Roma Mitra, had prepared a thesis titled "POLITICAL MOBILISATION AND CASTE CONFLICT IN BIHAR SINCE 1967 TO 1980 – A SURVEY" . It was a complaint of Supata Bhattacharya that Roma Mitra had published a book in the year 1992 under the title "CASTE POLARISATION AND POLITICS" describing herself as the author and the other accused persons as publisher and printer, the said book was alleged by Supata as having been virtually copied from her thesis.

Roma Mitra based her case on the following arguments:

  • that the allegation, regarding similarity and copying from the thesis of Supata, was not sufficient for attracting either of the penal provisions of the Copyright Act, for it was not the case that she had exactly copied from the thesis of Supata.
  • that she in her capacity as guide of Supata had guided her to go through certain unpublished manuscripts for preparing the concept of the thesis, and Supata while doing the research and preparing the thesis had to some extent adopted the expressions of Roma Mitra.
  • that she being a renowned professor had worked on different topics, and was the author of several important publications. That the book in question had been published in the year 1992, but Supata had filed the complaint only in 2000 i.e. almost after a lapse of eight years from the date of publication and as such, the order of cognizance was barred under Section 468 of the CPC. Relying on the case of Zandu Pharmaceutical Works Limited v Md. Sharaful Haque; Ramesh Chandra Sinha v The State of Bihar; and Pandey Singh v The State Of Rajasthan; it was submitted that on the ground of limitation itself, the order of cognizance had to be set aside.

Supata counter argued that the question of limitation had to be considered from the date of knowledge and, not from the date of commission of the offence. Further, it was strongly argued that she had approached the court while invoking its inherent jurisdiction under Section 482, CPC, against the order of cognizance. It was submitted, that, it had been held repeatedly that, at the initial stage, the Court might not interfere with the criminal proceedings. At the time of cognizance, the only, requirement was to see, as to whether, a prima facie case was made or not. In sum and substance, it was submitted that this Court might not interfere with the order of cognizance in view of the facts and circumstances of the case in hand.

The High Court of Patna observed that since Roma Mitra was the guide of the Supata, there was a possibility of recording the expression of the former by the latter in her thesis and on such similarity it could not be said, that Roma Mitra while being an author of a book published in the year 1992 had exactly copied from the thesis of Supata. With regard to the question of limitation, the Court opined that although some explanation was tried to be given with regard to filing of the complaint eight years from the date of publication however, in the order of cognizance the Learned Magistrate had not at all dealt with the delay nor had he passed any order for condoning the delay.

The Court held that, the Learned Magistrate had taken cognizance of the offence under Section 63, 67 & 68, of the Copyright Act and 120B of the IPC but here, the restriction under Section 468 (2)(C) would be applicable and accordingly, after expiry of three years, the Learned Magistrate would not be justified to take cognizance of the offence. Thus the Court stated that Roma Mitra had rightly relied on the Zandu Pharmaceutical Works Ltd case, and held that in the present case, order of cognizance was barred by limitation, as prescribed under Section 468(2)(C) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.PC). Accordingly, the cognizance order was set aside and the petition was allowed.

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