New Delhi:The Supreme Court on Thursday observed that complainants, as well as the prosecution, make sincere efforts to ensure that the corrupt public servants are brought to book and convicted so that the administration and governance becomes unpolluted and free from corruption.
It said a public servant can be convicted on an illegal gratification charge in a corruption case on the basis of circumstantial evidence, even when there is no direct oral or documentary proof.
A five-judge constitution bench, headed by Justice S.A. Nazeer said: “In the event the complainant turns ‘hostile’, or has died, or is unavailable to let in his evidence during trial, demand of illegal gratification can be proved by letting in the evidence of any other witness who can again let in evidence, either orally or by documentary evidence or the prosecution can prove the case by circumstantial evidence. The trial does not abate nor does it result in an order of acquittal of the accused public servant.”
The top court declared that it is permissible to draw an inferential deduction of culpability or guilt of the accused, public servant under Sections 7, 13(1)(d) and Section 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The bench also comprising Justices B.R. Gavai, A.S. Bopanna, V. Ramasubramanian and B.V. Nagarathna, said: “We hope and trust that the complainants as well as the prosecution make sincere efforts to ensure that the corrupt public servants are brought to book and convicted so that the administration and governance becomes unpolluted and free from corruption.”
The bench reiterated the observation of the apex court, in Swatantar Singh vs. State of Haryana (1997) case, that “corruption is corroding, like cancerous lymph nodes, the vital veins of the body politic, social fabric of efficiency in the public service and demoralising the honest officers”.
The efficiency in public service would improve only when the public servant devotes his sincere attention and does the duty diligently, truthfully, honestly and devotes himself assiduously to the performance of the duties of his post, it added.
The bench also cited the observation by the apex court in State of M.P. vs. Shambhu Dayal (2006) case that corruption by public servants has become a gigantic problem and large-scale corruption retards the nation-building activities and everyone has to suffer on that count.
In a 71-page judgment, the top court said in order to bring home the guilt of the accused, the prosecution has to first prove the demand of illegal gratification and the subsequent acceptance as a matter of fact. This fact in issue can be proved either by direct evidence which can be in the nature of oral evidence or documentary evidence, it added.
“Further, the fact in issue, namely, the proof of demand and acceptance of illegal gratification can also be proved by circumstantial evidence in the absence of direct oral and documentary evidence.”
The five-judge bench judgment came on a 2019 reference by a three-judge bench, which expressed reservations with a previous line of judgment of the apex court that stated failure to prove the demand of illegal gratification due to death of complainant would be fatal to the prosecution case and recovery of the bribe amount from the accused would not entail his conviction.
The bench said in the absence of evidence of the complainant (direct/primary, oral/documentary evidence), it is permissible to draw an inferential deduction of culpability/guilt of a public servant under Section 7 and Section 13(1)(d) read with Section 13(2) of the Act based on other evidence adduced by the prosecution.
“Proof of demand and acceptance of illegal gratification by a public servant as a fact in issue by the prosecution is a sine qua non in order to establish the guilt of the accused public servant under Sections 7 and 13 (1)(d) (i) and(ii) of the Act,” said the bench.