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P. Satyanarayana Murthy vs. Dist. Inspector of Police (Supreme Court)
September, 24th 2015

The prosecution claimed that a complaint was lodged against the accused (then the Assistant Director, Commissionerate of Technical Education), that he demanded illegal gratification Rs. 1000 for renewing of the recognition of the complainant’s typing institute. A trap was laid pursuant to which phenolphthalein powder was applied on currency notes which were handed over by the complainant to the accused. The accused was intercepted and apprehended with the money in his hands. The currency notes tallied with those which had been decided to be used in the trap operation. The fingers of the hands of the accused, when dipped in the sodium carbonate solution, also turned pink. The pocket of the shirt of the accused also turned pink when rinsed in sodium carbonate solution. The trail court and the High Court convicted the accused. Before the Supreme Court the accused claimed that even assuming without admitting that the recovery of the tainted notes from the appellant had been established, sans the proof of demand which is a sine qua non for an offence both under Sections 7 and 13 of the Act, the appellant’s conviction is unsustainable. HELD by the Supreme Court allowing the appeal:

(i) The statutory prescription of Sections 7 and 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 is that the prosecution has to prove the charge there under beyond reasonable doubt like any other criminal offence and that the accused should be considered to be innocent till it is established otherwise by proper proof of demand and acceptance of illegal gratification, which are vital ingredients necessary to be proved to record a conviction. The mere recovery by itself, would not prove the charge against the accused and in absence of any evidence to prove payment of bribe or to show that the accused had voluntarily accepted the money knowing it to be bribe, conviction cannot be sustained.

(ii) Mere possession and recovery of currency notes from an accused without proof of demand would not establish an offence under Sections 7 as well as 13(1)(d)(i)&(ii) of the Act. In the absence of any proof of demand for illegal gratification, the use of corrupt or illegal means or abuse of position as a public servant to obtain any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage cannot be held to be proved. The proof of demand is an indispensable essentiality and of permeating mandate for an offence under Sections 7 and 13 of the Act. Qua Section 20 of the Act, which permits a presumption as envisaged therein, it has been held that while it is extendable only to an offence under Section 7 and not to those under Section 13(1)(d) (i)&(ii) of the Act, it is contingent as well on the proof of acceptance of illegal gratification for doing or forbearing to do any official act. Such proof of acceptance of illegal gratification, it was emphasized, could follow only if there was proof of demand. Axiomatically, in absence of proof of demand, such legal presumption under Section 20 of the Act would also not arise.

(iii) The proof of demand of illegal gratification, thus, is the gravamen of the offence under Sections 7 and 13(1) (d)(i)&(ii) of the Act and in absence thereof, unmistakably the charge therefor, would fail. Mere acceptance of any amount allegedly by way of illegal gratification or recovery thereof, dehors the proof of demand, ipso facto, would thus not be sufficient to bring home the charge under these two sections of the Act.

(iv) As a corollary, failure of the prosecution to prove the demand for illegal gratification would be fatal and mere recovery of the amount from the person accused of the offence under Sections 7 or 13 of the Act would not entail his conviction thereunder.

(v) On facts, qua the aspect of demand, when the complainant did hand over to the appellant the renewal application, the latter enquired from the complainant as to whether he had brought the amount which he directed him to bring on the previous day, whereupon the complainant took out Rs. 500/- from the pocket of his shirt and handed over the same to the appellant. Though, a very spirited endeavour has been made by the learned counsel for the State to co-relate this statement of PW1- S to the attendant facts and circumstances including the recovery of this amount from the possession of the appellant by the trap team, identification of the currency notes used in the trap operation and also the chemical reaction of the sodium carbonate solution qua the appellant, we are left unpersuaded to return a finding that the prosecution in the instant case has been able to prove the factum of demand beyond reasonable doubt. Even if the evidence of PW1- S. Udaya Bhaskar is accepted on the face value, it falls short of the quality and decisiveness of the proof of demand of illegal gratification as enjoined by law to hold that the offence under Section 7 or 13(1)(d)(i)&(ii) of the Act has been proved (A. Subair vs. State of Kerala (2009)6 SCC 587 and State of Kerala and another vs. C.P. Rao (2011) 6 SCC 450 followed)

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