Supreme Court Acquits Forest Officer in Corruption Case

In a significant judgment, the Supreme Court has acquitted Mir Mustafa Ali Hasmi, a Forest Section Officer, who was accused of demanding and accepting a bribe of Rs. 5,000 from a saw-mill owner. The case, Criminal Appeal No. 9091 of 2022, was heard by a bench comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and Sandeep Mehta.

The appellant, Mir Mustafa Ali Hasmi, was represented by senior advocate Dama Sheshadri Naidu, while the State of A.P. was represented by the learned standing counsel.

 Background of the Case

The case dates back to January 2003, when Hasmi, along with a Forest Guard, conducted an inspection at a saw-mill owned by Mukka Ramesh (PW-1). During the inspection, they found teakwood stored in the mill without a license and imposed a fine of Rs. 50,000 on M. Ashok, an employee of the saw-mill. A week later, Hasmi and the Forest Guard allegedly demanded a monthly bribe of Rs. 5,000 from Ramesh, threatening to book cases against him and ruin his business if he refused to pay.

Ramesh lodged a complaint with the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) on January 22, 2003. The next day, he met Hasmi at a hotel in Hyderabad, where the trap was laid. The ACB claimed that Hasmi demanded and accepted the bribe amount from Ramesh, which was recovered from Hasmi’s possession.

 Important Legal Issues

The main legal issues in the case were:

1. Whether the prosecution proved the demand of bribe by Hasmi beyond reasonable doubt

2. Whether the acceptance of bribe by Hasmi was established by reliable evidence

3. Whether the circumstantial evidence was sufficient to convict Hasmi

The Supreme Court analyzed these issues in detail, referring to the Constitution Bench judgment in Neeraj Dutta v. State (Government of NCT of Delhi), which laid down the principles for proving demand and acceptance of bribe using circumstantial evidence.

 Supreme Court’s Decision

The Supreme Court, after a thorough examination of the evidence, held that the prosecution failed to prove the demand and acceptance of bribe by Hasmi beyond reasonable doubt. The Court observed that the complainant’s version was full of embellishments and contradictions, and the manner in which the trap was conducted raised serious doubts about its genuineness.

The Court noted that the Trap Laying Officer (DySP) did not make any effort to verify the allegation of demand of bribe before initiating the trap proceedings. The Court also found it significant that M. Ashok, who paid the compounding fee of Rs. 50,000, was associated as a panch witness in the trap proceedings, raising suspicion that the entire case was orchestrated against Hasmi at his behest.

The Court also relied on the complainant’s admission that he picked up Hasmi’s bag from the coffee shop and handed it over to him, which provided him an opportunity to plant the tainted currency notes in the bag.

 Conclusion

Quashing the judgments of the trial court and the High Court, the Supreme Court acquitted Hasmi of the charges under Sections 7 and 13(1)(d) read with Section 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The Court observed that the prosecution failed to bring home the charges against Hasmi by reliable direct or circumstantial evidence.

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