An Orissa High Court Bench of Justice SK Sahoo has acquitted a doctor who was accused of accepting Rs. 300 as a bribe in 1998.

In that context, the Court observed that "There is no sufficient, cogent and reliable evidence available on record to establish the guilt of the appellant. In the absence of any clinching evidence relating to the demand and acceptance of the bribe money by the appellant, no guilt can be fastened upon him in a callous manner. In the circumstances, since the guilt of the appellant has not been established beyond all reasonable doubt, I am constrained to give benefit of doubt to the appellant."

In this case, the State Vigilance had taken action against Dr. Pradeepta Kumar Praharaj, an assistant surgeon at a government hospital in Nabarangpur district. The investigation stemmed from the discovery of ₹300 on his office desk, suspected to be an illegal bribe from a patient on September 14, 1998.

Counsel Satya Smruti Mohanty appeared for the doctor, while Counsel MS Rizvi appeared for the State.

After a trial, the Special Judge (Vigilance) in Berhampur found the doctor guilty of both soliciting and receiving the bribe. On March 22, 2007, the doctor received a six-month rigorous imprisonment sentence along with a ₹1,000 fine under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.

During the same year, Dr. Praharaj lodged a criminal appeal against his conviction in the High Court. He was granted bail and has remained out of prison since.

The High Court placed reliance on the case of Neeraj Dutta vs State, where the Supreme Court held that the offer by the bribe giver and demand by the public servant have to be proved by the prosecution as a fact in issue.

In that context, it was further said that, "Mere acceptance or receipt of an illegal gratification without anything more would not make it an offence under section 7 or section 13(1)(d),(i) and (ii) respectively of the Act. The presumption of fact with regard to the demand and acceptance or obtainment of an illegal gratification may be made by a Court of law by way of an inference only when the foundational facts have been proved by relevant oral and documentary evidence and not in the absence thereof."

On perusing the evidence on record, the Court took the view that the prosecution's case suffered from serious infirmities. The Court also observed that the reasoning assigned by the Trial Court was faulty and the genuine material evidence available on record in favour of the appellant was overlooked. In that context, it was said that, "it appears that the impugned judgment is one-sided in favour of the prosecution."

Resultantly, the appeal was allowed, and the appellant was acquitted of all charges.

Cause Title: Pradeepta Kumar Praharaj vs State of Odisha (Vig.)

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