Court Upholds Conviction of Former JNU Official for Forgery, Modifies Order on Sentence

A court here has upheld a magistrate’s order convicting a former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) official of the charge of forgery for the purpose of cheating.

The court, however, set aside the order on substantive imprisonment after taking note of the fact that the FIR in the matter was registered in 2004 and the convict had suffered the agony of trial for around 19 years.

The court was hearing an appeal filed by Rajiv Khanna, a former officer on special duty (OSD) in the university’s programme of science policy who was convicted by a magisterial court in October 2018 for the offences under sections 468 (forgery for the purpose of cheating) and 471 (using as genuine a forged document or electronic record) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The magisterial court had also sentenced Khanna to two years of simple imprisonment under section 468 and slapped a fine of Rs 25,000 on him, along with a one-year simple imprisonment and a fine of Rs 25,000 under section 471. In case of a default in the payment of the fine amount, the convict had to undergo simple imprisonment for a month each under the two provisions.

“I am of the view that the judgment of conviction passed by the trial court is justified and therefore, the same is upheld,” Additional Sessions Judge Rakesh Kumar Singh said in his order passed last week.

“So far as the sentence awarded by the trial court is concerned, I am of the view that the sentence … is not justified and needs to be modified,” the judge added.

He took note of Khanna’s submissions for sympathetically considering his case because of his multiple ailments, perpetual illness, requirement for constant medical attention and a critical illness of his wife.

“A perusal of the record shows that the FIR in the present matter pertains to the year 2004 and the accused has suffered the agony of trial or proceedings for almost 19 years. In view of the submissions regarding his age, ill-health, ill-health of his wife and the agony of long trial or proceedings, I am of the view that the substantive imprisonment awarded by the trial court needs to be set aside,” the judge said.

The judge, however, did not modify the order on the fine amount and imprisonment in case of the convict defaulting on its payment.

Rejecting the argument of Khanna’s lawyer that a confession was extorted from the former JNU official, the judge said the magisterial court was clearly justified in opining that the prosecution was able to establish the guilt of the accused for the offences.

“I am of the view that the evidence adduced by the prosecution clearly establishes that it was the accused who had signed the cheques and the accused has not been able to impeach the prosecution witnesses, including the expert, regarding his signatures…,” the court said.

Noting that Khanna had also returned the amount withdrawn, the court said it was an indication of his fault.

“Otherwise, a person cannot hand over money in lakhs of rupees to another without any cause. The accused claims to have done so under duress but he had not explained why he did not initiate any action against the complainant (Professor Ashok Parthasarthy, chairman of the university’s programme) at any point in time regarding this money or the confessional statement, and it is unbelievable that the accused remained under duress even during all these years,” the court said.

It also rejected the arguments regarding a delay in the registration of the FIR or initiating departmental proceedings against Khanna, saying they were not relevant to the case.

“The case is based on documents and a delay in FIR can hardly affect such type of cases. Departmental proceedings have no binding effect on a criminal trial,” the court said.

According to the complaint, Khanna had forged the signatures of the authorised signatories of the special programme on three cheques and fraudulently remitted the amount to a travel company’s bank account.

After being confronted, Khanna admitted that he had forged the cheques and subsequently, returned the amount, the complaint said.

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