High Court of Punjab and Haryana, Chandigarh
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TARSEM SINGH v. THE STATE OF PUNJAB - CRA-567-SB-2004  RD-P&H 1 (6 January 2005)
Tarsem Singh Versus The State of Punjab
Present: Mr. R.S.Ghai, Senior Advocate, with Mr. Bipan Ghai, Advocate,
for the appellant.
Mr. M.S.Joshi, D.A.G.Punjab.
Tarsem Singh was revenue patwari of halqa Naura. He was tried for accepting a bribe of Rs.800/- from Surinder Singh(PW-2). Learned Special Judge, Nawan Shahr found the appellant guilty under Section 7 of the Prevention of Corruption Act and sentenced him to rigorous imprisonment for two years and to pay a fine of Rs.5000/-, in default of payment of fine to further undergo rigorous imprisonment for three months.
The order of conviction and sentence pronounced vide judgment dated March 4, 2004 has been challenged in this appeal.
Prosecution case was that father of Surinder Singh(PW-2) had died on November 30, 1993. The deceased had owned 12 acres of land in Naura and had executed a will dated July 12, 1982 in favour of Surinder Singh and his two brothers. Surinder Singh approached the Tehsildar on Criminal Appeal No.567 SB of 2004 2
August 11, 1994 with an application for entering mutation of the ownership on the basis of the will. Surinder Singh attached a copy of the will as well as death certificate alongwith the application which was marked to the Halqa Patwari for necessary action. When Surinder Singh approached the appellant for entering mutation the appellant demanded Rs.800/- by way of illegal gratification. Surinder Singh then approached Vigilance Inspector Rajwant Singh(PW-6) who recorded his statement and registered a case vide F.I.R. No. 63 on August 19, 1994. The Investigating Officer organized a raiding party and assigned different roles to them. Surinder Singh(PW-2) was to approach the appellant with the bribe money, Ranjit Singh(PW-4) was to act as the shadow witness.
The raid was carried out as planned. Surinder Singh and Ranjit Singh went to the patwarkhana at 2.00 P.M. on August 19, 1994. Surinder Singh handed over Rs.800/- to the appellant who acknowledged the money and put it in his shirt pocket. Ranjit Singh gave a pre-arranged signal.
Inspector Rajwant Singh reached the spot. The currency notes were recovered and taken into possession in the presence of Surinder Singh, Ranjit Singh and Sant Ram(PW-5), Assistant Nazir D.C.Office. The Criminal Appeal No.567 SB of 2004 3
appellant was arrested and after completion of the investigation sent up for trial.
At the trial charges were framed against the appellant under Section 7 and 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act to which he pleaded not guilty and claimed to be tried. Prosecution examined Suresh Kumar bill clerk D.C. office, Jalandhar as PW-1 proved sanction order issued by the Deputy Commissioner. Surinder Singh was examined as PW-2. Harbans Singh was examined as PW-3 who gave evidence on affidavit, Ranjit Singh appeared as PW-4, Sant Ram as PW-5 and Inspector Rajwant Kumar as PW-6. In his statement under Section 313 Cr.P.C. the appellant gave the following counter story:- " I am innocent. I have been falsely involved in the above case.
Surinder Singh PW had brought to me his application. Ex.PH for getting the mutation sanctioned on the basis of a will alleged to have been executed by his father. I told him to bring all his brothers and sisters for making statements in support of the alleged will or to furnish their duly attested affidavits admitting the execution of the will so that I may enter the Criminal Appeal No.567 SB of 2004 4
mutation and to forward the same to the concerned Revenue Officer for its sanctioning but Surinder Singh insisted upon me to enter the mutation without the performance of the aforesaid pre-requisites to which I refused. He then got annoyed with me and made a false report to the Vigilance police. On the day of the raid he came all alone to my office and insisted upon the entry of the mutation without the production of his brothers and sisters to which I again refused. He then tried to thrust some money into the pocket of my shirt which I resisted and in that process those currency notes had fallen on the ground. These were picked up by the police form the floor of my office and have been wrongly shown to have been recovered from my pocket. Evidence regarding hand wash and pocket was have been fabricated by the police. I was, thus falsely involved in this case."
The learned Special Judge accepted the prosecution version and convicted the appellant.
Learned counsel for the appellant has argued that the basic Criminal Appeal No.567 SB of 2004 5
ingredients of the offence of accepting bribe were missing in this case.
Demand of bribe, acceptance thereof and recovery of the tainted money were the three ingredients which must be proved by the prosecution.
Unless all the three ingredients were present and had been proved, the charge could not stand.
In the present case the appellant had not denied meeting with Surinder Singh and had in fact admitted that Surinder Singh had brought his application for sanction of mutation on the basis of the will executed by his later father. Thereafter the appellant had told him to produce his brothers and sisters for making statements in support of the will or produce their duly attested affidavits to the prove execution of the will. However, Surinder Singh had insisted that the appellant enter mutation without fulfilling the aforesaid pre-requisites which the appellant refused to do.
Surinder Singh then reported the matter to the police and returned to his office and thrust money in his pocket. At that stage the Investigating Officer reached the spot and recovered the bribe money.
Surinder Singh on cross-examination made a strange type of statement in which he stated that he had told the DSP Vigilance that a Criminal Appeal No.567 SB of 2004 6
person standing outside the appellant's office had demanded Rs.800/- for getting his work done. On reaching the office of the appellant on the day of the raid Surinder Singh had first looked for that person who had demanded money but he could not find him. He then found the appellant in his office and after exchange of greetings told him that he had brought money as demanded by his man. The appellant told him that he had not made any demand and that Surinder Singh should complete all formalities for getting the documents sanctioned. Surinder Singh told the appellant that since he had been asked by someone to bring Rs.800/-, therefore, the appellant should accept the money directly. Thereafter Surinder Singh put the money in the appellant's pocket.
To similar effect was the statement of Ranjit Singh (PW-4) who also stated that Surinder Singh had offered money to the appellant but the appellant refused to accept the same. Therefore, Surinder Singh felt offended and forcibly put the money into his pocket. Ranjit Singh (PW-4) was declared hostile and was cross-examined.
The criticism as regards the statement of Sant Ram(PW-5) was that he had completely forgotten where the occurrence had taken place.
Criminal Appeal No.567 SB of 2004 7
According to the prosecution version the occurrence had taken place at the patwarkhana in Naura but according to Sant Ram (PW-5) the occurrence had taken place in the Patwarkhana at Banga otherwise Sant Ram had narrated the entire occurrence as per the original prosecution version.
Before adverting to the manner in which the prosecution witnesses were handled by the prosecution and the defence, a brief chronology of events is required to be noted. The appellant was charged on October 4, 1995 and case was fixed for recording prosecution evidence on January 22, 1996 but on that day learned Special Judge was to be on leave and the case was adjourned to March 29, 1996. On the adjourned date of hearing the witnesses were present but the defence counsel Shri V.K.Sareen was absent and the case was adjourned to August 19, 1996. After a few adjournments the case was listed for prosecution evidence on January 21, 1997 when statement of Suresh Kumar(PW-1) was recorded but the other witnesses were not examined as the defence counsel had to go out of station. On March 19, 1997 examination in chief of Surinder Singh was recorded but cross-examination was deferred. The cross-examination of Surinder Singh was finally recorded on January 17, 2004. During the Criminal Appeal No.567 SB of 2004 8
intervening period of 7 years the case was repeatedly adjourned for one reason or the other and 15 adjournments were granted. In April 1999 the learned defence counsel had filed an application for discharge of the accused on the basis of the judgment of this court in Harnek Singh Vs. State of Punjab. It was submitted before the court that investigation in the present case had been conducted by a Inspector who was not authorised to do so and the accused deserved to be discharged. State had filed Special Leave Petition against that judgment. Hon'ble Supreme Court stayed the proceeding in the said case and therefore, the appellant's trial was also stayed and appellant kept getting adjournments for awaiting the orders of the Hon'ble Supreme Court which was finally pronounced on February 15, 2002 and the case proceeded further.
The above has been narrated to show how delay frustrates the basic purpose of the trial and allows witnesses to be subtly won over if not during their examination-in-chief then certainly during cross-examination when they give favourable replies to the questions put by the defence. This appears to be what transpired in this case. Whether it was Surinder Singh who was cleverly cross-examined after 7 years after his examination-in- Criminal Appeal No.567 SB of 2004 9
chief or the cross-examination was a contrived one is difficult to say.
Surender Singh stated in cross-examination that when he had first met the appellant certain objections had been raised which led to a heated discussion and Surinder Singh had become annoyed. When he came to the office he met a person who had offered to get the work done from the patwari if he paid Rs.1000/-. The matter was settled at Rs.800/-. After the matter was reported to the Vigilance Department and case was registered, Surinder Singh had gone back to the office of the appellant and first looked for the person who was to act as co-between but he could not find him. It was then that he entered the appellant's office, exchanged greetings and told him that some person outside the appellant had asked to bring him Rs.800/- which the appellant accepted. The money was then thrust into the appellant's pocket. Surinder Singh was never cross-examined by the learned Public Prosecutor after he had given the above damaging statement in cross-examination. Ranjit Singh(PW-4) had altogether resiled from the prosecution. Sant Ram (PW-5) stated that the raid had been conducted at patwarkhana in Banga and the investigation work work was done at Police Station Banga. DSP Rajwant Kumar (PW-6) gave a detailed account of the Criminal Appeal No.567 SB of 2004 10
investigation but nothing was elicited from his cross-examination.
The question to be considered in this case is whether the statement of Surinder Singh(PW-2) in cross-examination can be accepted. It seems that the trial of the case was allowed to drift for seven years. During this period it was getting adjourned on one pretext or the other. It was also adjourned because this court had passed a judgment holding that an Inspector Vigilance cannot conduct investigation unless specially empowered to do so. Matter remained stayed for three years on this ground until the Supreme Court overruled the judgment. During this period the witnesses may have been approached to come up with different versions in cross-examination. But what is surprisingly is that Surinder Singh's statement in cross-examination has gone completely unchallenged. The prosecutor should have declared him hostile and cross-examined him.
Prosecutor had allowed the case to slip out of his own control but if the statement is disbelieved then it amounts to the court doing the job of the prosecutor which is completely contrary to the scheme of the criminal law.
A criminal trial is a very solemn proceeding and its integrity should not be allowed to be compromised in any way. Whether the accused Criminal Appeal No.567 SB of 2004 11
will lose his liberty for a specific length of time or not, whether the accused shall suffer harm to his reputation on being convicted or not, whether the accused shall pay fine to the State or compensation to the victim or not are some of the questions which are decided by trial courts. Just as the right to life and liberty is an important fundamental right, the procedure through which the right to life and liberty can be taken away is equally important and fundamental. Furthermore, it has been recognized that right to speedy trial is also a fundamental right and is a component of the right of personal liberty.
In the present case examination-in-chief of Surinder Singh (PW-1) was recorded in March 1997. Surinder Singh's cross-examination was conducted in January 2004. For seven long years the trial remained in abeyance for one reason or other. When Surinder Singh was cross-examined he made certain statements which were very damaging to the prosecution and indeed contradicted what he had stated in his examination-in-chief. No one bothered to question him as to which of the two statements was the correct one. In view of the above, the statement of Surinder Singh(PW-2) that he had paid Rs.800/- as bribe on August 19, 1994 to the appellant by Criminal Appeal No.567 SB of 2004 12
putting the money in his shirt's pocket cannot be believed. Once the main witness is disbelieved nothing remained in this case.
This appeal is allowed and the appellant is hereby acquitted of the charge.
October 5, 2005
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