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Unless the irregularity has resulted in causing prejudice, the conviction will not be vitiated: SC

VINOD KUMAR GARG V STATE (GOVERNMENT OF NATIONAL CAPITAL TERRITORY OF DELHI), CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 1781 OF 2009 – 27/11/2019

The appeal was sought before the Supreme Courtof India, the bench consisting of Honourable Justice Indu Malhotra and Honourable Justice Sanjiv Khanna who upheld the conviction  of the appellant under Sections 7 and 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (the Act, for short) and the sentences as imposed by the Special Judge, Delhi.

The appellant had been sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for one and a half years, and a fine of Rs. 1,000/- for each offence and in default of payment to undergo simple imprisonment for three months on both counts separately. The sentences have been directed to run concurrently.

Whether the findings recorded by the trial court and upheld by the High Court can be set aside?

The appellant contended that there were contradictions regarding details and thus this vitiated the findings as such. It was observed by the court however that given the time gap of five to six years, minor contradictions on some details are bound to occur and are natural. The witnesses are not required to recollect and narrate the entire version with photographic memory notwithstanding the hiatus and passage of time. Picayune variations do not in any way negate and contradict the main and core incriminatory evidence of the demand of bribe, reason why the bribe was demanded and the actual taking of the bribe that was paid, which are the ingredients of the offence under Sections 7 and 13 of the Act, that as noticed above and hereinafter, have been proved and established beyond reasonable doubt. Documents prepared contemporaneously noticed above affirm the primary and ocular evidence. We, therefore, find no good ground and reason to upset and set aside the findings recorded by the trial court that has been upheld by the High Court.

Relevant in this context would be to refer to the judgment of this Court in State of U.P. v. Dr. G.K. Ghosh wherein it was held that in a case involving an offence of demanding and accepting illegal gratification, depending on the circumstances of the case, it may be safe to accept the prosecution version on the basis of the oral evidence of the complainant and the official witnesses even if the trap witnesses turn hostile or are found not to be independent.

It was observed,

“When besides such evidence, there is circumstantial evidence which is consistent with the guilt of the accused and inconsistent with his innocence, there should be no difficulty in upholding the conviction.”

Reason for the demand and payment of the bribe:

In the case at hand, the condition precedent to drawing such a legal presumption that the accused has demanded and was paid the bribe money has been proved and established by the incriminating material on record. Thus, the presumption under Section 20 of the Act becomes applicable for the offence committed by the appellant under Section 7 of the Act. The appellant was found in possession of the bribe money and no reasonable explanation is forthcoming that may rebut the presumption. Further, the recovery of the money from the pocket of the appellant has also been proved without doubt. It was therefore held that money was demanded and accepted not as a legal remuneration but as a motive or reward to provide electricity connection.

Whether the sanction order was valid?

The appellant had relied upon the judgments of this Court in Mohd. Iqbal Ahmed v. State of A.P. and State of Karnataka v. Ameerjan to challenge the sanction order. In Mohd. Iqbal Ahmed, it was observed that a valid sanction is the one that is granted by the Sanctioning Authority after being satisfied that a case for sanction is made out constituting the offence. Therefore, what the law requires is the application of mind by the Sanctioning Authority on the material placed before it to satisfy itself of prima facie case that would constitute the offence.

On the said aspect, the later decision of this Court in State of Maharashtra v. Mahesh G. Jain has referred to several decisions to expound on the following principles of law governing the validity of sanction and it was decided by the Honourable Court that the contention of the appellant, therefore, fails and is rejected.

Whether the investigation conducted was a valid one?

The last contention of the appellant is predicated on Section 17 of the Act and the fact that the investigation in the present case was not conducted by the police officer by the rank and status of the Deputy Superintendent of Police or equal, but by Inspector Rohtash Singh and Inspector Shobhan Singh. The contention had to be rejected for the reason that while this lapse would be an irregularity and unless the irregularity has resulted in causing prejudice, the conviction will not be vitiated and bad in law. The appellant has not alleged or even argued that any prejudice was caused and suffered because the investigation was conducted by the police officer of the rank of Inspector.

The judgment was delivered by this Honourable Court as under,

“For the foregoing reasons, we dismiss the present appeal and uphold the conviction of the appellant under Sections 7 and 13 of the Act and the sentences as imposed. The appellant would surrender within a period of four weeks from today to undergo the remaining sentence. On failure to surrender, coercive steps would be taken by the trial court. All pending applications are also disposed of.”

Tanvi Srivatsan

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