The Bombay High Court on 27th January, 2021, acquitted a peon of Thane District Court on 2008 corruption charges.
The appellant in the case was working as a peon in Thane District Court, was found and held guilty of demanding and accepting Rs.300 as illegal gratification for supplying certified copies of a certain judgement to the complainant. Thus, offences under Sec.7 and 13(1)(d) read with Sec.13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, he was charged with Rs.1000 as fine along with 1 year simple imprisonment and Rs.1000 fine and 6 months imprisonment respectively.
The complainant, Mr. Tapan had been tried and acquitted in a criminal case on 31st January, 2008. After pronouncing the judgement on that day, the complainant had applied for the copies of the judgement on the same day. He paid copying charges and was to receive the copies by 4th February 2008.
The complainant stated that the accused who was working as a peon in one of the court rooms, and demanded Rs.2000 for supplying copies and asked the complainant to bring the money on the next day. When he met the accused on the next day, he repeated the demand and the complainant paid Rs.300 to him. Tapan stated that the accused told him that unless he pays the full amount, he may have to wait a month.
Evidence showed that the complainant paid Rs.1000 to the accused as he needed the copies urgently to file proceedings in the High Court; whereupon the accused gave him his phone number and asked him to call and meet on the next day. Thereafter, the complainant went to the Anti-corruption bureau and filed a complaint.
The anti-corruption bureau conducted a raid in which the complainant paid the appellant Rs.800 and the peon was caught. The conversation between the parties was recorded and the tainted money was found. On this basis, the trial court convicted the appellant, against which the current appeal was sought.
Proceedings in the Court:
Hon’ble Justice Sandeep K. Shinde, considered the submissions from the learned counsels from both sides and perused the evidence. The question raised was:
Whether the prosecution has proved that the appellant had demanded Rs.800/- as illegal gratification other than legal remuneration as a motive or a reward to favor the complainant for urgently supplying the copies of the said judgment?
It was then found that even though the judgement was pronounced in open court on 31st of January, it was not typed by the stenographer until 3rd February.
In these circumstances and the fact that, when it was certain that certified copy would be given, if ready, on 4th February, then why would the complainant pay Rs.1,000/- to the accused on 1st February. Besides, the complainant was also familiar with court procedure. Thus, it was unclear why a person who was familiar with the court procedure and knew that the certified copy would be given on 4th February would approach the appellant any time before. No thoughtful person would approach and pay the court peon earlier, when the judgement was to be typed on 3rd February. Thus, looking into the circumstances, prosecution’s case, against the accused was unclear and debatable.
According to another witness, an officer of the bureau stated that when the complainant told the accused that he had gotten the money; the accused brought the copies of the judgement and order. This couldn’t be accepted as on 2nd February when the raid took place, no such copies were available. Even if there was a copy, such should have been seized and produced before the court. Even the voice recordings of the raid had been transferred to another medium without a report on the same.
The counsel for the appellant also stated that, certified copies and applications for receiving them are handled by a different department of the court and the accused was not working in the department. Thus, it was not possible for him to bring such copies anyway. Further, since the complainant was familiar with the court procedure, there was no reason to approach the appellant. Since supplying certified copies was not in the scope of the duties of the accused, it could not be said that he took illegal gratification while discharging official duties.
Decision of the Court:
The court allowed the appeal, quashing the judgement given by the trial court in 2016. Due to the unclear facts and circumstances, the case was unclear on both, “demand” and “acceptance” of illegal gratification.
“Mere recovery of tainted money is not sufficient. Mere receipt of amount by accused is not sufficient to fasten guilt in absence of any evidence with regard to “demand” and “acceptance” of the amount as illegal gratification.”
Story by Sai Kulkarni– Intern