11 Feb 2010

Influential status a double edged sword: High Court

Dealing with the bail application of a member of Company Law Board accused of accepted bribe, the Delhi High Court was recently called upon to decide the objection of the Government that the accused being an influential person would be able to influence / interfere with the investigation. The High Court, declaring that influential status was a double edged sword acting both in favour and against the accused and thus was to be tested according to the discretion of the Court. The High Court also ruefully noted the levels of corruption prevailing in the country to come hard on the Government for its inaction against influential people. 

The High Court inter alia observed;
11. No doubt, the offence of corruption is a serious offence and has eaten the vitals of our system more so when it is done by persons who are holding positions of power and authority. But still the question which needs to be considered dispassionately and objectively at this stage is that as to whether in a given case the petitioner who is alleged to have committed the offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act deserves to be enlarged on bail or not. No doubt the grant of bail in a non-bailable offence is a matter of discretion which the Court has exercised judicially but at the same time the bail should not be denied to an accused only as a matter of punishment. There are two paramount considerations which the Court has to consider while enlarging the accused on bail. First as to what is the gravity of the offence and whether the accused would submit himself to processes of law or not? Secondly will the grant of bail endanger the fair investigation or the holding of a fair trial or in other words will the accused tamper with evidence. ...
13. The next question which arises is whether he will subject himself to processes of law. The learned Standing Counsel for CBI had raised the question that the petitioner is being quite influential, and therefore, capable of influencing witnesses and consequently bail is denied. As against this the learned senior counsel had referred to the judgment in case titled Ravi Singhal Vs UOI & Anr. 1993 JCC 306 in order to urge that a very fact that the petitioner is holding a very high status in the society or a higher position in itself is a sure shot consideration to show that the petitioner is not going to flee from processes of law. He will subject himself to law as and when called upon.
14. I am of the considered opinion that the petitioner is holding a high position, or is influential, or is resourceful works as a double edged weapon which can cut both ways. The position, the status and the influence of an accused person can no doubt be a ground for denial of bail in a case where the apprehension expressed by the investigating agency is genuine and where there are sufficient prima facie reasons to believe that he would influence the witnesses or tamper the evidence to deny the bail to him, but at the same time such a status, position can also be valid consideration to show that the accused has roots in the society and is therefore not going to run away from the processes of law. He will permit and make himself available during the course of investigation or the trial as the case may be. In the instant case the statements of witness have already been recorded. No doubt, the petitioner was holding a sensitive and a high position, but I feel that this is a case where he will not be able to influence the investigation which is almost already complete. Most of the evidence against him is in the nature of recoveries and the documentary evidence regarding the recovery of huge ill gotten money both from his residence in Delhi as well as from Chennai which he cannot tamper. Apart from this, the concern of the investigating agency regarding the tampering of evidence or influencing the witnesses, can be taken care of imposing suitable conditions on the accused, while granting bail. Further nothing precludes the investigating agency to move an application for cancellation of the bail of an accused in case it has slightest prima facie evidence to show that he is influencing or trying to influence the investigation or the witnesses. Accordingly, I feel in the instant case since the nature of evidence which has been collected by the investigating agency is in the form of huge recovery of unaccounted money in cash both from the Delhi residence and Chennai residence, apart from other circumstantial evidence, I feel that the chances of the petitioner trying to erase the evidence or influence that witness are remote and if he tries to do the same investigating agency shall be free to file the application seeking cancellation of his bail.
15. Another point which arises for consideration is the discriminatory treatment of the petitioner qua the other co-accused Ankur Chawla who is named in the FIR. The Sessions Judge had rejected this plea of the petitioner by observing that it is not for the Court to say as to when and which of the accused is to be arrested. This is true that the investigation is in the exclusive domain of the police or the investigating agency and ordinarily the Court would not interfere in the investigation except to the extent what is permitted under Chapter XII of the CPC. But at the same time, the High Court cannot ignore the fact, in case the investigating agency is acting in a discriminatory or arbitrary manner.
16. Coming back to the facts of the present case the FIR has been registered against not only the petitioner but also against the co-accused Manoj who is in custody and one Ankur Chawla a legal practitioner representing a group of share holders headed by Atul Maheshwari, who were litigating for control of management of Amar Ujala Publication in respect of which a dispute was pending before the present petitioner. The FIR is against all the three persons has been registered on the basis of source information that they were indulging in a conspiracy to commit an offence under various sections of Prevention of Corruption Act yet no action has been taken against the said person by the investigating agency on the ground that the investigating agency has recorded his statement and as and when anything incriminating is brought on record he will be also treated in the same manner in which the petitioner has been. The court fails of understand as to what other evidence ought to have been there before any action could be taken against a co-accused named in the FIR who had prima facie been responsible for arranging the funds and actively participating in giving the bribe. The Santhanam Committee Report which was constituted almost five decades back had observed that there is no dearth of people who want to be corrupted and who want to corrupt. If this cancer of corruption is to be treated and eliminated, both of them have to be dealt with equally with a even and heavy hand. That is why the abettor of prevention of corruption entails punishment of five years under P.C. Act. 17. In the instant case it seems that colour of dress of the co-accused has weighed with the investigating agency and it has for reasons best known to them chosen to record the statements of the co-accused on couple of occasions who is bound to feign ignorance and make his statement exculpating himself. Such an unfair approach does not befit the premier investigation agency like CBI as it certainly shows discrimination qua the petitioner. Our own High Court in Binoy Jacob (supra) case has very categorically observed that our country is governed by rule of law which envisages that all persons must be dealt with the same manner while doing so. The Court has certainly not only an obligation but also a right to call upon the investigating agency to explain its actions qua a particular co-accused and in case any reasonable explanation is not given it may draw its own conclusion.
Have a look at the decision.

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