Vasant Rao Guhe v/s State of Madhya Pradesh (9th August 2017)

CaseVasant Rao Guhe v/s State of Madhya Pradesh, 2017
Case NumberCRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 1279 OF 2017
CourtBefore the Supreme Court of India
Author of the judgementJustice AMITAVA ROY
Advocate for the appellantMr. Harsh Parashar
Advocate for the respondentMs. Sakshi Kakkar
Relevant act and sections Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988- (Section 13(1)(e), Section 13(2))
Decided OnAUGUST 09, 2017.
Author of the briefAditya Gor

Brief facts and procedural history:

A complaint was lodged by Khuman Singh, a resident of Betul Ganj alleging that the appellant, who at the relevant time was holding the office of Sub-Engineer, Irrigation Department, Mahi Project Patelabad, Jhabua, had acquired assets disproportionate to his known sources of income. FIR No.136 Dated 27.10.1992 was registered by Inspector, S.P. Establishment, Divisional Lokayukt, Office Bhopal and on the completion of the investigation, charge-sheet was laid to the effect that during the check period between 1970 to 1992, after adjusting the income and expenditure of the appellant, he was found to have acquired, by applying corrupt and illegal means while acting as a public servant, assets valued Rs.7,94,033/- which was disproportionate to his known sources of income and had thereby committed an offence under Section 13(1)(e) read with Section 13(2) of the Act. (Para 3)

The prosecution witnesses included amongst others Inspector A.J. Khan (PW6), the investigating officer and Inspector, Roop Singh Solanki (PW2) who did follow up the investigation taking the baton from PW6. (Para 6)

The trial court came to the categorical finding that the prosecution version that the appellant had an income of Rs.1,95,637/- during the check period was patently incorrect. The figures ultimately arrived at by the Trial Court are thus patently different from those mentioned in the charge framed against the appellant and on which he was put on trial. In other words, the appellant was convicted by the Trial Court on a charge different from the one framed against him and that too on the basis of calculations made by it by applying inferences and guess works. (Para 9 & 12)

The high court affirmed his conviction and sentence as awarded by the learned Trial Court. It, however, dismissed the appeal of the State seeking forfeiture of this amount which the Trial Court too had declined. (Para 13)

Arguments of the appellant:

  • It was contended that the prosecution had utterly failed to adhere to and prove the charge leveled against him and thus the impugned judgments are liable to be set aside, lest there would be a travesty of justice. (Para 15)
  • According to the learned counsel, not only the Courts below have grossly erred, in absence of any admissible basis, to calculate the pay of the appellant for the periods omitted as well as his agricultural income, the unfounded assumption of 60/50% expenditure towards household needs and field investments have rendered the findings on his income from the known sources as disclosed by the prosecution patently unsustainable in law and on facts. (Para 15)
  • As on the basis of the materials on record, the prosecution had failed to prove/establish that the appellant during the check period was in possession of pecuniary resources or property disproportionate to his known sources of income, he in law was not called upon to offer any explanation therefor and on that premise as well, the adverse inference drawn against him on that count is indefensible. (Para 15)
  • The relevant witnesses of the prosecution have conceded that the income of the appellant from the pay for the periods excluded as well as agricultural gains, if included, would render the charge of disproportionate assets non-est. (Para 15)

Arguments of the respondent/state:

  • It was urged that the prosecution has proved the charge beyond all reasonable doubt as has been endorsed by the concurrent findings of the Courts below, and thus no interference with the conviction and sentence is warranted. (Para 16)

Ratio as given by the author of the judgment:

  • Having regard to the ultimate figures as calculated by the Courts below, the charge has undergone a metamorphosis. This assumes immense significance in view of the fact that no fresh charge had been framed on the allegations for which the appellant was eventually convicted and sentenced. Any adverse inference prejudicial to the appellant was thus not available in law, he not having been confronted with the altered imputations. The appellant thus for all practical purposes was subjected to a trial involving fleeting frames of accusations of which he was denied prior notice. This is clearly opposed to the fundamental precepts of a criminal prosecution. (Para 17)
  • A person cannot be subjected to a criminal prosecution either for a charge which is amorphous and transitory and further on evidence that is conjectural or hypothetical. The appellant in the determinations before the Courts below has been subjected to a trial in which both the charges and evidence on aspects with vital bearing thereon lacked certitude, precision, and unambiguity. (Para 18)
  • As ordained by section 13(1)(e) of the PC Act, a public servant charged of criminal misconduct thereunder has to be proved by the prosecution to be in possession of pecuniary resources or property disproportionate to his known sources of income, at any time during the period of his office. Such possession of pecuniary resources or property disproportionate to his known sources of income may be of his or anyone on his behalf as the case may be. Further, he would be held to be guilty of such offence of criminal misconduct, if he cannot satisfactorily account such disproportionate pecuniary resources or property. (Para 20)
  • From the design and purport of clause (e) of sub-clause (1) to Section 13, it is apparent that the primary burden to bring home the charge of criminal misconduct thereunder would be indubitably on the prosecution to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the public servant either himself or through anyone else had at any time during the period of his office been in possession of pecuniary resources or property disproportionate to his known sources of income and it is only on the discharge of such burden by the prosecution, if he fails to satisfactorily account for the same, he would be in law held guilty of such offence. (Para 21)
  • The prosecution to succeed in a criminal trial has to pitch its case beyond all reasonable doubt and lodge it in the realm of “must be true” category and not rest contended by leaving it in the domain of “may be true”. (Para 22)

Decision Held:

The prosecution has failed to prove beyond all reasonable doubt the charge of criminal misconduct under Section 13(1)(e) of the Act and punishable under Section 13(2) thereof against the appellant. The appellant was thus entitled to the benefit of the doubt. The conviction and the sentence is set aside and the appeal was allowed.  (Para 22)

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