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Public servants can be found guilty of graft on circumstantial proof: Supreme Court

  • Published
    16th Dec, 2022
Context

While answering a reference on the question conviction for corruption, the Supreme Court held that demand and acceptance of bribe or illegal gratification by a public servant can be inferred by a court on circumstantial proof in the absence of direct evidence.

About

The Circumstantial Proof:

  • Circumstantial evidence is evidence that serves to establish the circumstances related to particular points or even other evidence.
    • For example, circumstantial evidence might support claims made regarding other evidence or the accuracy of other evidence.

Supreme Court’s view on the matter:

  • The Court of law could use its discretion to make a "presumption of fact" of the offer made and bribe demanded or accepted by an accused official based on the material on record.
  • The Court should mandatorily raise a "presumption in law" under Section 20 of the Act that, unless the contrary is proved, a public servant has accepted or obtained or agreed to accept or attempted to obtain that gratification or that valuable thing, as the case may be, as a motive or reward.
  • Presumption in law under Section 20 of the Act is distinct from the presumption in fact and the former is a mandatory presumption while the latter is discretionary in nature.

Laws dealing with Corruption in India:

The Prevention of Corruption (PC) Act, 1988:

  • Issues addressed under the act includes;
    • Section 7- Offence relating to public servant being bribed.
    • Section 7A- Taking undue advantage to influence public servant by corrupt or illegal means or by exercise of personal influence.
    • Section 8- Offence relating to bribing of a public servant.
    • Section 9- Offence relating to bribing a public servant by a commercial organisation.
    • Section10- Person in charge of commercial organisation to be guilty of offence.
    • Section 11- Public servant obtaining undue advantage, without consideration from person concerned in proceeding or business transacted by such public servant.
    • Section 12- Punishment for abetment of offences.
    • Section 13- Criminal misconduct by a public servant.
    • Section 14- Punishment for habitual offender.
    • Section 15- Punishment for attempt.
    • Section 16- Matters to be taken into consideration for fixing fine.

Provisions related to evidences:

  • Section 7 (public servant taking gratification other than legal remuneration in respect of an official act) and 13 (1)(d)(i) and (ii) (criminal misconduct by a public servant) in the absence of direct oral or documentary evidence due to unavailability of the complainant owing to his death or for any other reasons.
  • In the absence of the evidence of the complainant (through direct, primary, oral, documentary evidence), it is permissible to draw a deduction of culpability or guilt of a public servant under Sections 7, 13 (1)(d)(i) and (ii) read with 13(2) based on other evidence used by the prosecution.
  • The prosecution can prove its case of corruption with the help of any other witness, oral or documentary evidence or circumstantial evidence in cases in which the complainants have turned hostile. The trial would not abate or result in an acquittal.
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