A government official cannot be convicted merely on the basis of recovery of bribe money and it is essential to prove that he had demanded money, the Supreme Court has ruled.
A bench of Chief Justice H L Dattu and Justices V Gopala Gowda and Amitava Roy said the proof of demand is an “indispensable essentiality” for establishing an offence of bribe and acquitted an assistant director of technical education department of Andhra Pradesh despite allegedly being caught red-handed for taking Rs 500 bribe in 1996.
“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 therefore, would fail. Mere acceptance of any amount allegedly by way of illegal gratification or recovery thereof … would thus not be sufficient to bring home the charge under these two sections of the Act,” it said.
The court said mere recovery of money would not prove the charge and it has to be proved that the accused had demanded the bribe and had voluntarily accepted the money.
“Mere possession and recovery of currency notes from an accused without proof of demand would not establish the offence. It has been propounded that 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 court said while referring to its verdict.
“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,” said Justice Roy, who wrote the judgement for the bench.
While acquitting the accused in the 19-year old case, the bench said the anti-corruption bureau, which had laid a trap and caught the official with phenolphthalein powder-coated currency notes, failed to prove that demand for the money was made by him.
“Though, a very spirited endeavour has been made by state counsel to co-relate statement of witness to the attendant facts and circumstances including the recovery of this amount from the possession of the appellant by trap team, identification of 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,” the court said.