The Supreme Court has ruled that officials caught taking bribe shall be subjected to criminal trial regardless of in-house inquiry absolving them of corruption charge.
Setting at rest controversy over legitimacy of a criminal trial under the Prevention of Corruption Act against an official who has been absolved of grave charge by a panel of his or her superior colleagues (departmental enquiry), the court said the standard of proof in administrative proceedings is lower than that in the criminal prosecution.
Ironically, similar findings had been construed in a different manner by a Delhi court on Delhi Jal Board junior engineer Ajay Kumar Tyagi’s appeal seeking scrapping of corruption case against him as the departmental inquiry had already found him innocent.
The high court had said if the charge could not be proved in the departmental proceedings where the standard of proof was much lower it is very unlikely that it could be proved in a criminal trial where the standard of proof is quite stringent comparatively.
If Tyagi, who was alleged to have accepted a bribe of Rs1,000 from a Delhi police officer, is put to trial it would only cause him ‘harassment’. What Delhi high court said in Tyagi’s case had been held by some other courts also but there were divergent rulings as well.
It was on a reference by a two-judge bench that the issue required finality by a larger bench that justices RM Lodha, Chandramauli Kumar Prasad and Sudhanshu Jyoti Mukhopadhaya examined the entire case law and said that the department proceedings do not supersede legal process.
“Truthfulness of the evidence in criminal case can be judged only after evidence is adduced therein and criminal case cannot be rejected on the basis of the evidence in the departmental proceeding or the report of the inquiry officer based on such evidence,” the top court said in the judgment which may be a setback for the tainted officials but a boost to the investigating agencies that are engaged dealing with increasing number of corruption cases.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) of the over 10 lakh state government officials in India, only 4,000-odd officials are currently involved in corrupt practices.
The state vigilance or anti-graft number of departments arrested only 4,062 last year. It is also reported that in the CBI, around 60% of the officials booked for corruption were convicted in 2011. The state vigilance bureaus, on the other hand, recorded a pathetically low conviction rate of 32.9% last year.
Of the 3,537 state government officials whose trials were completed in graft cases, only 1,163 could be convicted, it is said.
Delhi recorded a conviction rate of 64% with 105 corrupt officials being convicted while 60 were acquitted.
Maximum corruption cases were reported from Rajasthan (516), Karnataka (479) and Orissa (438), country’s official crime register bureau says.