Supreme Court: In an interesting case relating to corruption, the Division Bench of Ajay Rastogi and Abhay S. Oka*, JJ., acquitted a Commercial Tax Officer in spite of proved recovery of tainted currency notes from her. The Bench observed that though the recovery was proved in the absence of demand being conclusively proved conviction cannot be made under Sections 7 and 13(1)(d) read with Section 13(2) of the PC Act.
The prosecution case, in brief, was that the appellant, Commercial Tax Officer demanded a bribe of Rs.3,000 for issuing an assessment order of the Farmers’ Service Co-operative Society for the year 1996-97, where the complainant was acting as a supervisor. Though the complainant showed unwillingness to pay the amount, the demand was reiterated by the appellant for consecutive three days which was later scaled down to Rs. 2000. Consequently, a complaint was filed in the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and accordingly, a trap was laid.
The allegation of the prosecution was that when the complainant tendered the tainted currency notes of Rs.2,000 to the appellant, instead of taking the amount directly, she took out a diary from her table drawer and asked to keep the currency notes in the diary thereafter she locked the diary in the table drawer and kept the key in her handbag. After that, she called ACTO along with the record, signed on the last page of the ledger and cash book by putting the date as 26-02-2000.
Notably, when the trap party entered the office of the appellant, they found a wad of currency notes in the diary, numbers on which tallied with the serial numbers of currency notes described in pre-trap proceedings. The Special Court found that the demand of bribe and acceptance of bribe was proved by the prosecution and convicted the appellant under Sections 7 and 13 (1)(d) read with Section 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The High Court of Telangana had affirmed the said finding.
The appellant had challenged the concurrent findings of the Special Court and High Court contending that the recovery had not been proved and the complainant had deliberately kept the currency notes in the diary lying on her table when she went to the washroom before leaving her office.
Observing that the proof of demand of bribe by a public servant and its acceptance by him is sine quo non for establishing the offence under Section 7 of the PC Act, the Bench opined that as a corollary, failure of the prosecution to prove the demand for illegal gratification would be fatal and mere recovery of the amount from the person accused of the offence under Section 7 or 13 of the Act would not entail his conviction thereunder.
The Bench noted following discrepancies in the evidences submitted by the prosecution:
- The society been served with a notice on 15-03-2002 that an exemption had been granted from payment of commercial tax and it was not liable to pay any tax for the year 1996-97 which made the issue of the final assessment order a mere procedural formality and demand of bribe on 23-03-2002 highly doubtful.
- The LW8, R.Hari Kishan, was to accompany the complainant at the time of offering the bribe. However, in spite of being instructed only complainant entered the chamber and LW8 waited outside. The prosecution offered no explanation why LW8 did not accompany the complainant inside the chamber of the appellant at the time of the trap.
- The complainant’s version was that on his own, he told the appellant that he had brought the amount; further he had himself admitted that his version regarding the demand on various dates was an improvement. There being no other evidence of the alleged demand, the appellant’s version was not reliable.
- On 22-03-2000, the appellant had served a memo on PW 4, ACTO pointing out the defaults committed by him in the discharge of his duties, which indicated high probability of him holding grudge against her.
Hence, the Bench concluded that the demand of illegal gratification by the appellant was not conclusively proved by the prosecution. Thus, the demand which is sine quo non for establishing the offence under Section 7 was not established.
Consequently, the appeal was allowed and the conviction of the appellant for the offences punishable under Sections 7 and 13(1)(d) read with Section 13(2) of the PC Act was set aside and the appellant was acquitted of the charges framed against her.
[K. Shanthamma v. State of Telangana, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 213, decided on 21-02-2022]
*Judgment by: Justice Abhay S. Oka
For the Appellant: V. Mohana, Senior Advocate
For the Respondent: Bina Madhavan, Advocate
Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together