Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Saturday, Sep 11, 2004
Columns - Ex Parte
Bribe in the pyjama pocket
MOHAMED Suharto, ex-President of Indonesia, tops the table of `corrupt politicians' for having allegedly stolen $15 - $35 billion in a country with a GDP per capita of around $700, states Global Corruption Report 2004 from Transparency International.
It is heartening that something similar is being planned by Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (www.rlek.org) , a Dehradun-based NGO: It wants to rate the most corrupt bureaucrat of Uttaranchal. But watch out, the corrupt can be resilient, as a recent case that reached the portals of the Supreme Court before Justices K.G. Balakrishnan and B.N. Srikrishna would show.
The story in State of A.P. vs K. Punardana Rao begins in the early 90s when Rao was working as a Commercial Tax Officer in Naidupet. One Badri Audhiseshaiah was the proprietor of two firms, viz. Sri Lakshmi Oil Mill & Company and Sri Bharatha Lakshmi Traders at Gudur. Rao sent notices to Badri "asking him to submit `C' Forms and affidavits and other account books relating to his firm."
On August 8, 1992, "at about 7 a.m." Badri went to Rao's house and sought a month's time for submission of accounts and other documents. After some threats of penalty and beseeching, back and forth, Rao agreed to extend the time provided and Badri paid him "Rs 25,000 as bribe," but after some special discount, this got reduced to Rs 20,000, payable the next day.
The same day, Badri approached "the Anti-Corruption Bureau office at Nellore and gave a statement before the Deputy Superintendent of Police, who registered a case and decided to lay a trap."
The next day, around 8 a.m., Badri went to Rao's house and gave him Rs 20,000. "Trap party immediately intervened and Rs 20,000 was recovered" from Rao. "On being subjected to chemical test" using phenolphthalein, the fingers of Rao "were found positive," so was his pyjama.
At the High Court, Rao's defence was that on August 8, 1992, he was not at Nellore but had gone to Chirala. He also contended that chemical test had shown his fingers as `positive' because he had shaken hands with Badri. Also, "his pyjama pockets were also contaminated with chemical substance as a mediator of the trap party had searched his pockets for the tainted money."
Rao's version of the story was that Badri had visited his house for some work and sought time for submitting account books; that he asked Badri to come to office. Thereafter, his servant found "a bundle of notes lying on the sofa set." Rao immediately instructed the servant to go and find out whether Badri had gone and "to give him back the money he had left." Badri had already left the place and, therefore, the servant gave the money to Rao "who kept the same underneath the pillow in his bedroom."
The High Court did not find Badri's statement to be reliable because his turnover was only Rs 1,55,750, "tax payable was only Rs 6,000 or Rs 7,000" and so he "could not have agreed to pay Rs 20,000 as bribe." Rao was, therefore, acquitted.
The apex court, however, had a different view. It said the High Court "committed a serious error" by rejecting the evidence of Badri and the accompanying witnesses of the trap party. There was an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act, and the defence evidence adduced by Rao was "not able to cast any suspicion on the prosecution case."
The judgment noted: "If there is perverse appreciation of evidence and serious miscarriage of justice, the acquittal of the accused is to be reversed."
This is one such case where the High Court failed to appreciate the evidence in the correct perspective, said the Supreme Court. "Minor flaws in the prosecution evidence were given undue importance and the impeccable evidence which unmistakably proved the guilt of the respondent was ignored." Moral: The best of traps don't always mean the case is an open-and-shut one, as one would wish it to be. But that's because what's trapped could be a belligerent bandicoot rather than an errant rat.
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