The Supreme Court acquitted an accused in corruption case on the ground that the prosecution failed to prove the demand of bribe by reliable direct or circumstantial evidence.

The Court was deciding an appeal preferred by the accused against the judgment of the Telangana High Court by which his conviction was affirmed.

The two-Judge Bench comprising Justice B.R. Gavai and Justice Sandeep Mehta observed, “… we have no hesitation in holding that the prosecution miserably failed to prove the factum of demand of bribe against the appellant(AO1) by reliable direct or circumstantial evidence. The allegation regarding acceptance of bribe by the appellant(AO1) is primarily based on the evidence of the complainant(PW-1) and PW-2 and the DySP(PW-10). From the extracted portion of the deposition of the complainant(PW-1) supra, it is comprehensible that he admitted that the appellant(AO1), forgot his rexine bag in the coffee shop and that the complainant(PW-1) picked up the same and handed it over to the appellant(AO1).”

The Bench referred to the judgment of Constitution Bench in the case of Neeraj Dutta v. State (Government of NCT of Delhi) (2023) 4 SCC 731 in which it was held that in order to bring home the guilt of the accused, the prosecution has to prove the demand of illegal gratification and the subsequent acceptance, by either direct or circumstantial evidence.

Senior Advocate Dama Sheshadri Naidu appeared for the appellant/accused while AOR Devina Sehgal appeared for the respondent/State.

Brief Facts -

The appellant/accused was convicted for the offence punishable under Section 7 of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (PC Act) and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment of one year along with a fine of Rs. 1,000/-. In appeal, the High Court had overturned the conviction of co-accused and affirmed the conviction of the appellant. The prosecution case was that the appellant being a Forest Section Officer (FSO) and co-accused being the Forest Guard, were both part of the Flying Squad of the Forest Department. In 2003, they went to a saw-mill purportedly operated by the complainant which was taken on lease in the name of his wife. During their visit, they detected teakwood lying in the saw-mill and it was alleged that they threatened the complainant that he would be booked in a case for the illegal and unlicensed possession of teakwood in the saw-mill.

It was further alleged that on the plea of the complainant, the appellant booked a case against a worker in the saw-mill and not against him and thereafter, a compounding fee of Rs. 50,000/- was charged by issuing a receipt in the name of that worker. After the visit of the accused persons, they started demanding mamool (monthly gratification) of Rs. 5,000/- from the complainant under a threat of booking a case against him which would ruin his business. Threatening calls were allegedly made to him on a regular basis and finally, the complainant lodged a complaint against them. As the High Court upheld the conviction of the appellant, he approached the Apex Court.

The Supreme Court in view of the facts and circumstances of the case said, “… there is a grave suspicion on the story as put forth by the prosecution that the accused, the appellant(AO1) demanded the bribe money from the complainant(PW-1) while in the coffee shop of Hotel Quality-Inn. … Thus, unquestionably, the complainant(PW-1) had the opportunity to plant the tainted currency notes into the bag being carried by the appellant(AO1).”

The Court noted that as the entire case seems to have been planned at the behest of the worker, it is clear that the complainant was simply used as a tool to get the appellant trapped on made up allegations.

“If at all, the prosecution felt that the captioned admission extracted above as appearing in the cross-examination of the complainant(PW-1) was a material deviation from the case set up by the prosecution, then, the public prosecutor was under an obligation to re-examine the witness to remove the anomaly. … Having failed to do so, the prosecution cannot be permitted to cry foul that the decoy complainant(PW-1) modulated his testimony in the cross-examination so as to favour the accused”, it enunciated.

Moreover, the Court said that the prosecution made no effort whatsoever to get the wash taken from the hands of the appellant and the rexine bag examined through the FSL and hence, there is no satisfactory evidence on record to establish that the appellant had actually handled the tainted currency notes as claimed by the complainant.

“After a threadbare analysis and evaluation of the evidence available on record, we feel that the prosecution case is full of embellishments contradicting and doubting and thus, it would not be safe to convict the appellant(AO1) for having demanded and accepted the bribe money from the complainant(PW-1). At the cost of repetition, we may state that the manner in which M. Ashok S/o Abbaiah was associated as a panch witness in the trap proceedings, creates a grave doubt that the entire case was orchestrated against the appellant(AO1) at the instance of the said M. Ashok”, it concluded.

Accordingly, the Apex Court allowed the appeal, quashed the impugned judgment, and acquitted the appellant.

Cause Title- Mir Mustafa Ali Hasmi v. The State of A.P. (Neutral Citation: 2024 INSC 503)


Appellant: Senior Advocate Dama Sheshadri Naidu, AOR Sunil Kumar Sharma, Advocates Hitesh Singh, Rijul, and Tanvi Munjal.

Respondent: AOR Devina Sehgal

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