Reversing conviction order of three officials of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) terming it as “perverse”, the Bombay High Court has observed that the not only did the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond doubt, but the special judge too did not look at the evidence in an unbiased manner.
Justice Bharati Dangre acquitted Executive Engineer Sunil Rathod, Assistant Engineer Vilas Khillari and Sub-Engineer Balaji Birajdar along with two private persons – Satish Palav and Narayan Patil – who were convicted by special court in August 2018 from the charges of demanding money for clearing issue building permissions for a project in Dadar. The BMC officials were posted with the building proposals department at Byculla.
Expressing dissatisfaction with the special court’s order, the HC has observed in its 67-page judgment: “I (Justice Dangre) was constrained to refer to the entire evidence afresh since the Special Judge did not delve into the evidence nor did not he appreciate the same, as a Court of first instance who was duty bound to scrutinize the evidence before arriving at a finding of guilt.”
The HC took note of the fact that the defense counsels had argued extensively on behalf of the accused persons before the special court, but unfortunately the whole exercise was “in vain” as the conviction order was passed “without even touching the evidence on record”.
As far as prosecution case was concerned, the HC has observed that there were several inconsistencies in the statements given by the eye witnesses. “The inconsistencies in the version of the prosecution witnesses are not in form of mere marginal variation but the inconsistencies and the omissions which amount to contradictions in material particulars go to the root of the case and materially affect the case of the prosecution,” observed the HC.
Besides, the prosecution has failed to establish that the BMC officials demanded bribe. “The prosecution has miserably failed to establish that the money was offered by PW (Prosecution Witness) on being demanded by the Accused, particularly when on the earlier dates the demand was not at all verified.”
Besides, even the transcripts of the phone call allegedly demanding money did not support the prosecution case.
The HC added: “Proof of acceptance of illegal gratification can follow only when there is proof of demand. The same is conspicuously lacking in the present case.”
In a corruption case, the complainant’s claim needs to be closely scrutinized since giving bribe too is an offence. “The complainant himself is in the nature of accomplice and his version, prima facie, demand a corroboration in material particulars which is conspicuously absent in the case of the prosecution,” said the HC.
On August 18, 2018, the special court had sentenced Khillari and Birajdar to four years’ imprisonment and Rathod was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. Architect Palav and Patil were sentenced to three years imprisonment for abetting the crime.