Case Name: N. Vijayakumar vs. State of Tamil Nadu [CRIMINAL APPEAL Nos. 100-101 OF 2021]
The Supreme Court, in the judgment dated 3 February 2021, held that mere recovery of possession of currency notes from the public servant does not constitute an offense of corruption under Section 7 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 2018. This was held by the bench comprising Justice Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy, MR Shah while setting aside a judgment given by the High Court in which an accused was convicted in the case of corruption.
Facts of the Case:
In the present case, the appellant is the person accused of the offense of corruption. The accused was working as the Sanitary Inspector in the Madurai Municipal Corporation. He was accused of demanding an amount of Rs. 100 and a cell phone on duty as illegal gratification by the PW-2, who was working as the Supervisor in a Voluntary Service Organisation called Neat and Clean Service Squad. Because of this, the accused was charge-sheeted under Section 7, 13(2) r/w 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 2018.
It was alleged that the demand was made to PW-2, when he approached him on the 9th and 10th of October, 2003. Appellant was the public servant and accepted the illegal gratification on 10th October 2003. This was accepted as a motive or reward to do an official act in the exercise of his official function.
After such allegations, the accused pleaded not guilty and was tried before the Special Court for the alleged offense. The Special court passed an order on 25.2.2014 in which the accused was acquitted. On the appeal by the state to the High Court, the order of the Special Court was reversed by the High Court and the person was convicted and imposed the sentence of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 5000.
Aggrieved by the order of the High Court, the accused filed an appeal in the Supreme Court.
Pleadings in the Court:
Firstly, the counsel on behalf of the appellant submitted that the trial court gave the well-reasoned judgment after appreciating the oral and documentary evidence on record, whereas the High Court reversed the judgment without recording valid and cogent reasons.
It was further submitted that the trial court disbelieved the evidence of the PWs’ and recorded the valid reasons.
On the other hand, the learned counsel on behalf of the state submitted that it is clear from the evidence provided by Pw-2,3,5 and 11 that the accused demanded and accepted a mobile phone and the amount of Rs. 500 as a reward for the official work done by him.
Observations of the Court:
The supreme court observed that it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused voluntarily took money believing it to be a bribe to prove the allegation against a defendant.
The bench of the Supreme Court observed that :
“It is equally well settled that mere recovery by itself cannot prove the charge of the prosecution against the accused…under Sections 7, 13(1)(d)(i) and (ii) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 it is reiterated that to prove the charge, it has to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt that accused voluntarily accepted money knowing it to be a bribe.”
The court further observed that “Absence of proof of demand for illegal gratification and mere possession or recovery of currency notes is not sufficient to constitute such offense.”
The judgment of the Court:
Given the inconsistencies in the depositions of key witnesses questioned on behalf of the defense, the Supreme Court held that the appellant’s request for and acceptance of the amount of bribe and mobile phone had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The bench said that “‘Having regard to such evidence on record the acquittal recorded by the trial court is a “possible view” as such the judgment of the High Court is fit to be set aside. Before recording a conviction under the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act, courts have to take utmost care in scanning the evidence. ”Once a conviction is recorded under provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act, it casts a social stigma on the person in the society apart from serious consequences on the service rendered…”
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