New Delhi: Twenty eight years after he was booked on charges of demanding a bribe of Rs 250, a former Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) official has been acquitted by the Delhi High Court.
Justice R.K. Gauba acquitted Jagan Nath while setting aside a trial court judgement of February 28, 2002 in which he had been convicted for allegedly demanding the bribe for releasing a cow.
The trial court had convicted him under the provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act and sentenced him to one-year rigorous imprisonment and fined him Rs 250.
Nath, who was working with the MCD as a munshi of a cattle pound in Malviya Nagar, had filed an appeal before the Delhi High Court, challenging the trial court order.
Subsequently, the Delhi High Court in 2002 released him on bail, and suspended the sentence.
The High Court finally acquitted him of the charge.
The complaint against him was filed by Jeet Ram, a local resident who maintains cattle including a cow which had been impounded by the municipal officials.
The cow had been taken and kept at the cattle pound where Nath was the person in charge.
Ram alleged that Nath, on July 26, 1991, had demanded Rs 250 as illegal gratification for release of his cow.
An First Information Report (FIR) was registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The agency had claimed that Nath was “caught red-handed” while accepting the money.
However, the Delhi High Court observed that the money can be part of the charges that has to be collected for releasing an impounded cow instead of illegal gratification.
“There is no doubt that it was part of official duties of the appellant (Nath) to collect the municipal charges respecting the cattle which had been impounded prior to release to their rightful owner,” the court said.
“The trial judge seems to have proceeded on the assumption that the detention of the cow itself was illegal. If so, the appellant cannot be held responsible for such act as it would be municipal official that had brought the cow to the cattle pound for detention who would be accountable.”
The High Court also observed that CBI has not made any effort to investigate the case from the perspective that the money was part of municipal charges.
“Be that as it may, it was part of the duty of the appellant (Nath) to demand the deposit of municipal charges at the time of release of the cattle. The possibility that the money which was demanded by the appellant, as spoken about by one of the witnesses, being the municipal charges cannot be ruled out,” the court said.
Justice Gauba said the trial court judgment, in these circumstances, is erroneous because it is based on the unfounded inference that the money received was other than what could be legally asked for.
The High Court granted Nath benefit of doubt and acquitted him of corruption charges.
The court also noted that the amount of Rs 250 was not the only money which was recovered from Nath.
During Nath’s personal search, an amount of Rs 2,978, which represented the municipal charges collected by him as part of his official duties were also recovered.
“It appears unnatural that the first search would reveal possession of only the bribe money and after such recovery had been effected, the personal search (for the purpose of arrest) would bring out larger amount of money,” the court said.
“The sequence of events, as set out in the prosecution case, evoke uneasy feeling as to its credibility, particularly when two crucial witnesses mentioned above are not very sure about the two separate recoveries. This discrepancy is of importance as the larger money concededly represented official collections.”