Is it permissible to draw inference of guilt of illegal gratification in case of death of complainant? Larger bench to decide

Supreme Court: Stating that it has some reservation in respect of the observation and findings recorded by the 3-judge bench of former CJ HL Dattu, V Gopala Gowda and Amitava Roy, JJ in P. Satyanarayana Murthy v. District Inspector of Police, State of Andhra Pradesh (2015) 10 SCC 152, the bench of R. Banumathi and R. Subhash Reddy, JJ has referred the following to a larger bench:

“The question whether in the absence of evidence of complainant/direct or primary evidence of demand of illegal gratification, is it not permissible to draw inferential deduction of culpability/guilt of a public servant under Section 7 and Section 13(1)(d) read with Section 13(2) of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 based on other evidence adduced by the prosecution.”

Satyanarayana Ruling:

In the said judgment, the court proceeded under the footing that failure of the prosecution to prove the demand for illegal gratification due to the death of complainant would be fatal to the prosecution case and recovery of the amount from the accused would not entail his conviction. The Court, in the said case, held:

“to hold on the basis of the evidence on record that the culpability of the appellant under Sections 7 and 13(1)( d )(i ) and ( ii) has been proved, would be an inferential deduction which is impermissible in law.”

Appellant’s contention based on the Satyanarayana ruling:

Mere proof of receipt of money by the accused in the absence of proof of demand of illegal gratification is not sufficient to prove the guilt of the accused.

“when the complainant passed away, primary evidence of demand is not forthcoming and when the prosecution could not establish the demand by such primary evidence, the conviction of the appellant cannot be sustained.”

State’s contention against the Satyanarayana Ruling:

In Satyanarayana, the court did not notice the line of judgments and the consistent view taken by this Court in various decisions that demand can be proved either by direct evidence or by drawing inference from other evidence like evidence of panch witness and the circumstances.

Court’s observation:

After referring to a number of judgments where accused was convicted even when the evidence of complainant was not available either due to death of complainant or where the complainant had turned hostile, the Court showed reservations on the judgment. It said:

“The direct or primary evidence of demand may not be available at least in three instances:- (i) where the complainant is dead and could not be examined; (ii) complainant turned hostile; and (iii) complainant could not be examined either due to non-availability or other reasons. Direct proof of demand may not be available in all the above instances but from the evidence of panch witness, acceptance of money was proved by Phenolphthalein Test and by raising presumption under Section 20 of the Act, it is permissible to draw inference to prove the demand.”

The matter was, hence, referred to a larger bench.

[Neeraj Datta v. State, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 296, decided on 28.02.2019]

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