Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: While dealing with a case of abetment and conspiracy for commission of criminal misconduct by public servant, the Division Bench of K.M. Joseph and S. Ravindra Bhat*, JJ., held that  Section 13 of Prevention of Corruption Act cannot be invoked against a non-public servant. Clarifying the standard of suspicion to make out a prima facie case for conspiracy, the Bench stated,

“The material to implicate someone as a conspirator acting in concert with a public servant, alleged to have committed misconduct, under the PCA, or amassed assets disproportionate to a public servant’s known sources of income, has to be on firm ground.”

The instant appeal was filed by CBI against the judgment of Madras High Court by which exercising jurisdiction under Section 397 and Section 401 of CrPC, the High Court had quashed the charge sheet against the respondent-Uttamchand Bohra framed under Sections 120B and Section 109 of Penal Code, 1860 and Section 13(2) r/w Section 13(1)(e) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.

Conspiracy and Abetment

The respondent was accused of abetting and/or conspiring with the principal accused (A-1), a senior official of the Central Government in the income tax department,, so as to permit him to accumulate assets disproportionate to his known sources of income. A-1 was alleged to have acquired the flat, through the company named M/s Raviteja Trading Co. Pvt. Ltd. Two other accused, who facilitated the acquisition, turned approver. The role attributed to the respondent was that he helped in the execution of the sale deed of the property, which was seized from his house. The respondent was also involved in another case wherein the CBI had seized Rs. 50 lakhs from his vehicle when he was transporting the bribe amount received by A-1 to a safe place.

Analysis and Findings

Noticing that Section 13 of PC Act deals with Criminal misconduct by a public servant, the Bench opined that since the respondent was not a public officer or public servant, he could not be charged with committing an offence under Section 13(1)(e) read with Section 13(2) of the PCA. Further, there was no allegation against the respondent that he received any monetary or other benefit, or that he held the property in his name for the benefit of A-1. The Bench observed,

“There is no evidence against the respondent linking him to the transaction relating to the execution of the sale deed, or alleging that he had an agreement with A-1 and others to commit an illegal act.”

Further, there was no allegation of a legal act being done in an illegal manner, therefore the alleged offence under Section 120-B IPC was also not made out from the charge-sheet. With regard to the allegation of offence u/s 109 of IPC, the Bench noticed that the prosecution had not suggested that the respondent abetted A-1 to acquire disproportionate assets in any manner.

Holding that CBI could not deny that the respondent’s name was included in the instant case, although the sale deed was seized during a search conducted in earlier case, and that the FIR in the instant case named only A-1 and A-2 as the accused, the Bench stated that when the sale deed had already been seized from respondent’s house before initiating of instant case the allegations against the respondent in earlier case could not be against him in the instant case, since the two cases were separate and the earlier case was irrelevant to the instant case. Noticeably,

“He did not directly or indirectly finance the transaction by which property was sold to M/s Raviteja Trading Co. Pvt. Ltd, which, according to the prosecution, was in fact by A-1. The respondent also is not alleged to have facilitated the flow of money to fund acquisition of the flat.”

In the light of the above, the Bench opined that the fact that sale deed was in the respondent’s possession could not satisfy the ingredient of any of the offences alleged against him. Furthermore, crucially, the money trail for the property bought under the sale deed did not show his involvement. Accordingly, the Bench held that there was no material to prima facie support an inference that the respondent was either a conspirator or had abetted the commission of the offences alleged against the accused A-1. Hence, the appeal was dismissed.

[CBI v. Uttamchand Bohra, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1208, decided on 09-12-2021]

Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together 

Appearance by:

For CBI: Vikramjit Banerjee, Additional Solicitor General

For the Respondent: R. Basant, Senior Counsel

*Judgment by: Justice S. Ravindra Bhat

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: While addressing a matrimonial matter wherein a wife caused cruelty to husband, Division Bench of Vipin Sanghi and Jasmeet Singh, JJ., expressed that,

For a man to see his parents to be taken into custody and being incarcerated even for a single day would have caused immense and untold pain and agony to him.

Instant appeal under Section 19 of the Family Courts Act was directed against the Judgment and Decree. The said petition was preferred by the respondent/husband against the appellant/wife to seek a decree of divorce under Section 13(1)(ia) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 on the ground that he was subjected to cruelty.

Due to certain disputes between the husband and wife, the appellant filed the complaint against the respondent and his parents which resulted in the registration of the FIR under Sections 498A, 406, 323, 34 IPC.

Serious allegations of criminal conduct made against the respondent and his parents were not proved by the appellant. Premised on the said conduct of the appellant, Family Court returned a finding that the respondent was subjected to mental cruelty. Consequently, the decree of divorce was passed in favour of the respondent and against the appellant.

Counsel for the appellant submitted that when the respondent and his parents applied for bail, the same was not opposed by the appellant. The appellant had also filed a petition to seek restitution of conjugal rights under Section 9 of the HMA.

Analysis, Law and Decision

High Court opined that merely because the appellant may not have opposed the bail application moved by the respondent and his parents was not sufficient to effect the irresponsible conduct of the appellant.

Mere fact that wife made serious allegations of criminal conduct against the husband and his parents – which she could not establish before the Court, was sufficient to constitute acts of cruelty against the husband.

 In view of the above, how can the husband be expected to allow the wife into his life in these circumstances?

Court found no merit in the present appeal and dismissed the same. [Neelam v. Jai Singh, Mat. App. (FC) No. 106 of 2021, decided on 9-11-2021]

Advocates before the Court:

For the Appellant:

Inderpal Khokhar, Advocate

Kerala High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Kerala High Court: A Division Bench of A. Hariprasad and N. Anil Kumar JJ., disposed of writ petition by holding that Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau is a specialized police force and exercised the same powers as that of a police officer.

In the present case, the petitioner had been alleged to have abused his official position by demanding illegal gratification from the respondent while being on duty as a public servant. The bribe was for receiving land tax for three acres of land and upon various negotiations, the complainant paid the agreed amount. Allegations against the petitioners were that they abused their official positions and committed criminal misconduct by demanding and accepting bribe. Allegations were also raised regarding the commission of criminal conspiracy and causing the disappearance of evidence. The issues framed under the writ petitions questions whether the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (“VACB”) is a police force constituted under the State Government’s legislative power conferred by the Constitution of India and whether they have any lawful authority to register First Information Reports (FIR), investigate crimes, submit charge sheets and prosecute the alleged offenders?

 The advocates representing the petitioner, D. Kishore and Mini Gopinath submitted that the registration of FIR and submission of final report in both cases by the Deputy Superintendents of Police, VACB was without any lawful authority since they are not “police officer” within the meaning of Section 17 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. They also put forth that there is no law laying down the formation of VACB. Thus, registration of FIR, arrest, investigation, filing of chargesheet and prosecution of offenders cannot be permitted to be done by the officers of VACB.

The respondent State being represented by its chief secretary submitted that all the police personnel working in the VACB continues to be police officers and can exercise all the powers vested in them under various statutes and rules. They put forth that VACB is headed by a Director, who is one of the senior-most police officers in the rank of Director General of Police. Director, VACB exercises the power of superintendence over the investigations conducted by all the officers having powers to investigate. All the police officers, as well as policemen working in VACB, are drawn from the Police Department.

The Court upon perusal of all the facts and evidences stated that the Vigilance Officers were well within their rights to file FIR and submit final reports. It held that Police Act, 1960 was enacted in accordance with the authority under List II in the 7th Schedule to the Constitution of India. The Court laid down that “The police officers who worked in the erstwhile Vigilance Department derived power and authority from the Police Act, 1960. Likewise, the same statute empowers to investigate those who at present work in VACB. Therefore, we find no merit in the challenge against Ext.P4.” [K. Karunanidhi v. State of Kerala, 2020 SCC OnLine Ker 539, decided on 10-02-2020]

Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Jammu and Kashmir High Court: A Single Judge Bench comprising of M. K. Hanjura, J., dealt with a petition where the question before Court was whether government order given by Government of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 226(2) of the Jammu and Kashmir Civil Services Regulations where petitioner was given compulsory retirement could have been given under the circumstances of the instant case or not.

Facts of the case are that an FIR was registered against the petitioner by the Vigilance Organization, Kashmir, alleging the petitioner to have committed criminal misconduct punishable under Section 5(2) of the J&K Prevention of Corruption Act read with Sections 161 and 109 of the Ranbir Penal Code (RPC) after which petitioner was suspended. It is this suspension order which is impugned in the instant case. Respondent stated that it is in public interest that the administration work is clean and effective. Thus, it is important that inefficient and corrupt officers are weeded out from the services. On the above ground respondent removed petitioner from his services. Petitioner contended that the committee which was created did not consider the ‘Annual Performance Report’ of the petitioner.

The High Court was of the view that compulsory retirement merely because an FIR is lodged against the petitioner by the Vigilance Organization cannot be sustained. Therefore, impugned order was quashed. [Ahsan-ul-Haq Khan v. State of J&K, 2018 SCC OnLine J&K 584, dated 05-09-2018]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of Dipak Misra, Amitava Roy and AM Khanwilkar, JJ held that a public servant facing charge of criminal misconduct, cannot be comprehended to furnish any explanation in absence of the proof of the allegation of being in possession by himself or through someone else, of pecuniary resources or property disproportionate to his known sources of income.

The bench held that the primary burden to bring home the charge of criminal misconduct is indubitably on the prosecution to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the public servant either himself or through anyone else had at any time during the period of his office been in possession of pecuniary resources or property disproportionate to his known sources of income and it is only on the discharge of such burden by the prosecution, if he fails to satisfactorily account for the same, he would be in law held guilty of such offence.

In the case where the appellant had challenged the Madhya Pradesh High Court’s order convicted him under Section 13(1)(e) read with Section 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 by drawing adverse inference without any conclusive proof, the Court, setting aside his conviction, said that the appellant must be given a benefit of doubt. The Court said that the prosecution, to succeed in a criminal trial, has to pitch its case beyond all reasonable doubt and lodge it in the realm of “must be true” category and not rest contended by leaving it in the domain of “may be true”. [Vasant Rao Guhe v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 893, decided on 09.08.2017]