- Apprentice Lawyer
- Legal Jobs
The Delhi High Court recently acquitted a person who was convicted in 2002 for allegedly demanding a bribe of Rs. 250.
The judgment was passed by a Single Judge Bench of Justice RK Gauba in an appeal preferred by one Jagan Nath, who was working with the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) as munshi of a cattle pound in Malviya Nagar.
The complainant in the case, Jeet Ram, had alleged that in July 1991, the appellant had demanded Rs 250 as illegal gratification for the release of his cow, which was taken and kept at the appellant’s cattle pound. Thereafter, an FIR was registered by the CBI and a trap was laid which involved two independent witnesses.
As per the prosecution’s case, during the trap, the appellant reiterated the demand for the bribe and accepted the bribe money in the form of two currency notes of Rs 100 each and one currency note of Rs 50 denomination. The amount was recovered from the inner pocket of his trousers.
The Court was further informed that the currency notes in question had been treated with phenolphthalein powder in the pre-trap preparatory proceedings.
Upon analysis by the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL), the hands and inner trouser pocket of the appellant gave a positive test for the presence of phenolphthalein powder, which corroborated the acceptance of bribe money.
The trial court thereafter held the appellant guilty as charged based on the evidence gathered during the course of the investigation.
The appellant was convicted for offences under Sections 7 and 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and was sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for one year with a fine of Rs 250. He was subsequently released on bail, and the sentence was suspended.
After analysing the case, the High Court observed that the complainant “majorly contradicted” his own complaint while deposing before the trial court. Since the complainant denied meeting the appellant the first time when the demand for a bribe was made, the Court stated that the “very foundation of the case leading to the trap” was turned on its head.
The Court further noted that the shadow witness sent by the CBI “would not talk” of the nature of money which was asked by the appellant. In fact, he did not speak of any conversation about the demand of bribe or money other than the legal charges being asked for, the Court said.
The Court stated that the duties of the appellant were to look after the cattle brought to the pound by other municipal staff and to release them upon municipal charges being deposited.
In this light, the Court recorded that the evidence on record, as noted in the judgment, showed that the amount of Rs 250 was not the only money which was recovered from the appellant.
During the appellant’s personal search, an amount of Rs. 2,978 – which represented the municipal charges collected by him as part of his official duties – was also recovered.
The Court observed that there was “a whole a lot of confusion” as to whether the three currency notes amounting to Rs. 250 were recovered along with Rs. 2978 or separately. It further observed that the shadow witness was also not clear about the recovery of the money during the personal search.
“It appears unnatural that the first search would reveal possession of only the bribe money and after such recovery had been effected, the personal search (for the purpose of arrest) would bring out larger amount of money. The sequence of events, as set out in the prosecution case, evoke uneasy feeling as to its credibility, particularly when two crucial witnesses mentioned above are not very sure about the two separate recoveries. This discrepancy is of import as the larger money concededly represented official collections.”
The Court further stated that the trial judge seemed to have proceeded on the assumption that the detention of the cow itself was illegal. Thus, the appellant could not be held responsible for the act, as the municipal official who had brought the cow to the cattle pound for detention would be accountable. However, no effort was made to investigate the case from this perspective, the Court recorded.
Given the facts and circumstances, the Delhi High Court concluded that the possibility that the money demanded by the appellant, as spoken about by the shadow witness, was the municipal charges, could not be ruled out.
Therefore, giving the appellant the benefit of the doubt, the Court set aside the judgment and acquitted the appellant.
The appellant was represented by Advocates Sumer Sethi and Dolly Sharma.
CBI was represented by SPP Nikhil Goel with Advocates Aniruddha Deshmukh and Dushyant Sarna.