Manipur High Court: In a case wherein the elected Ward Members of Panchayat were accused for fraudulently misappropriating huge Government money under MGNREGS for wrongful gain, a Single Judge Bench of A. Guneshwar Sharma noted that the linking of the job card holders was made to other persons’ accounts, therefore, the Court held that there was cheating and misappropriation on the part of the petitioners. The Court further held that the elected ward members were “public servants” under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, therefore, the charge under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 against the petitioners was maintainable.
Petitioner 1 and Petitioner 2 (‘Accused persons’), elected members of Wards of Wangbal Gram Panchayat were accused persons under Section 120-B r/w Sections 420 and 403 of Penal Code (“IPC”), 1860 r/w Sections 13(2) and 13(1)(a) of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The accused persons earlier approached Special Judge (PC), Manipur praying for grant of anticipatory bail under Section 438 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 and the same was rejected on the ground that the petitioners had fraudulently misappropriated huge Government money under MGNREGS for their wrongful gain. Consequently, they approached this Court by way of the present applications.
It was submitted by the accused persons that they had no right power and privilege to do anything regarding encashment of money for the wages of the job card holders and the same was dealt by the Panchayat Officials. Further, it was contended that the elected Ward Members do not fall within the meaning of “public servant” under Section 2(c) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and as such registration of FIR against them was not maintainable. Therefore, they prayed should be released on anticipatory bail.
Analysis, Law, and Decision
The issue for consideration before this Court was “whether the elected members of Panchayat were public servants?”.
The Court relied on M. Karunanidhi v. Union of India, (1979) 3 SCC 431, wherein the Supreme Court held that “a Chief Minister was a public servant within the meaning of Section 21(12) of the IPC as he was getting salary from state exchequer for performing public function”. The Court also relied on P.V. Narasimha Rao v. State (CBI/SPE), (1998) 4 SCC 626, wherein the Supreme Court held that “the Members of Parliament and State Legislatures were public servants within the meaning of Section 2(c)(viii) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988”.
The Court further noted that it was clear from the preamble of the Manipur Panchayati Raj Act, 1994 that the Panchayat Body was mandated to perform the function of local Self-Government in the rural areas of Manipur and for matter connected therewith and incidental thereto. Further, Section 2(k) of the Manipur Rural Local Bodies Ombudsman Act, 2013 defined members of District Council/Panchayat including its Pradhan or Adhyaksa as “public servants”. The Court opined that “there was no doubt that administration of local Self-Government was a public duty within the meaning of Section 2(b) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988”, therefore, the Court held that “the elected members would be “public servants” within the meaning of Section 2(c)(viii) of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988”. The Court further rejected the contentions of the Counsel for the petitioners regarding the non-maintainability of the offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.
The Court further noted that the linking of the job card holders was made to other persons’ accounts and hence, the Court held that there was cheating and misappropriation on the part of the accused persons. The Court also noted that they had never appeared before the Investigating Officer and participated in the investigation and without properly examining the petitioners and conducting interrogation, the whole picture of the conspiracy and the fraudulent activities could not be discovered. The Court also noted that many of the job card holders were not provided with full payment and a large part of the wages were retained by the petitioners in collusion clearing indicating materials for the offence of criminal conspiracy, cheating and misappropriation of money. Therefore, the Court rejected the bail applications filed by the accused persons.
[Laishram (O) Athokpam Thoinu v. The Officer-in-Charge, Vigilance & Anti-Corruption Police Station, 2023 SCC OnLine Mani 91, decided on 3-3-2023]
Advocates who appeared in this case:
For the Petitioners: Advocate S. Jibon;
Advocate Ms. S. Pritibala;
Advocate N. Mahendra;
For the Respondents: Advocate RK Umakanta.
*Judgment authored by: Justice A. Guneshwar Sharma