Read Judgment: K. Shanthamma V. The State of Telangana 

Pankaj Bajpai

New Delhi, February 22, 2022: Observing that proof of demand of bribe by a public servant and its acceptance by him is sine qua non for establishing the offence u/s 7 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (PC Act), the Supreme Court has set aside the conviction of the Commercial tax Officer for the offences punishable u/s 7 and 13(1)(d) r/w/s 13(2) of the PC Act and acquitted her of the aforementioned charges.

A Division Bench of Justice Ajay Rastogi and Justice Abhay S.Oka found that the present was a case where the demand of illegal gratification by the appellant was not proved by the prosecution and thus, the demand which is sine qua non for establishing the offence u/s 7 was not proved.

Going by the background of the case, Shanthamma (Appellant) was working as a Commercial Tax Officer at Secunderabad and R.Seetharamulu @ Sharma (Complainant) was working at the relevant time as a supervisor in Farmers’ Service Co-operative Society and filing returns of commercial tax of the said Society. In the year 2000, the Appellant issued a notice calling upon the said Society to produce cash book, general ledger, and purchase and sales statements for the year 1996-97. The complainant, on the instructions of the Managing Director of the said Society, attended the office of the appellant along with the concerned record, but alleged demand of a bribe of Rs.3,000/- by appellant for issuing an assessment order. Though he showed unwillingness to pay the amount, for consecutive three days, the appellant reiterated the demand. 

Thereafter, the complainant filed a written complaint to the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) at Hyderabad, who laid a trap and on search of the office of Appellant, tallied the numbers on the currency notes with the serial numbers of currency notes described in pre-trap proceedings. After that, the seizure was carried out. The Special Court found that the demand of bribe and acceptance of bribe was proved by the prosecution, and hence, convicted the appellant for the offences punishable u/s 7 & 13(1)(d) r/w/s 13(2) of the PC Act. On appeal, the High Court affirmed the said finding. Hence, the present appeal. 

After considering the submissions, the Top Court found that the complainant did not state that the appellant reiterated her demand at the time of trap and his version was that on his own, he told her that he had brought the amount. 

What was material was the cross-examination on this aspect, wherein the complainant accepted that his version regarding the demand made by the appellant on various dates was an improvement, added the Court. 

Speaking for the Bench, Justice Oka noted that the evidence of complainant about the demand for bribe by the appellant was not at all reliable, and hence, the demand made by the appellant had not been conclusively proved.

According to the case of the PW1, on 23rd March 2000, he visited the appellant’s office to request her to issue final assessment order. According to his case, at that time, initially, the appellant reiterated her demand of Rs.3,000/-. But she scaled it down to Rs.2,000/-. Admittedly, on 15th March 2000, the said Society was served with a notice informing the said Society that an exemption has been granted from payment of commercial tax to the said Society. Therefore, the said Society was not liable to pay any tax for the year 1996-97. The issue of the final assessment order was only a procedural formality. Therefore, the prosecution’s case about the demand of bribe made on 23rd March 2000 by the appellant appears to be highly doubtful”, added the Bench. 

Hence, the Top Court set aside the judgment of the High Court and allowed the appeal.

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