“In India, the general public are now getting accustomed to the fact that in several government offices, even to do a legal act, public servants expect and accept gratification to motivate them. Those who are frequent visitors to any public office get accustomed to this practice by learning from others or by themselves,” the Madras High Court has said.
Justice G. Jayachandran went on to write: “Even without an express demand, people know well that unless they grease the palm, the work will not be done. More frequent the visits, [the] more accustomed they get to norms fixed by those corrupt officials to do their legal work. The public then start offering bribe without even making any explicit demand.”
He also stated that in most cases, both the bribe giver and the bribe taker end up being comfortable with the implicit arrangement and bury their ugly dealings. Only in cases where strangers to the practice face difficulty in bribing the officials, they either succumb to pressure or lodge complaints before the vigilance and anti corruption authorities.
The observations were made while confirming the conviction and two years rigorous imprisonment imposed by a trial court on P. Nagarajan and Johnson Devakumar for having received a bribe of ₹50,000 from a supplier of Coat Combats when they were serving as Deputy Inspector General and Assistant Sub-Inspector in Central Reserve Police Force.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had prosecuted them as well as the Kanpur based supplier Vijay Khanna of Madhur Enterprises on the basis of discreet information. Though the special court for CBI cases in Chennai had convicted him too on July 31, 2018, the supplier died thereafter and hence his appeal got abated.
According to the prosecution, the supplier had credited ₹30,000 into the personal bank account of Nagarajan in three different tranches and ₹20,000 into the account of Devakumar in two tranches in 2013 for clearing his company’s bills with respect to the supply of 2,464 Coat Combats to the CRPF Group Centre at Avadi near Chennai.
The two surviving appellants before the High Court contended that it was a sine qua non for the prosecution to prove demand as well acceptance of bribe in order to attract Section 7 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Mere deposit of money in the account, without their knowledge, could not be construed as illegal gratification.
Unwilling to be swayed by such an argument, Justice Jayachandran said the requirement to prove demand and acceptance of bribe would arise only in cases where a person was not inclined to pay illegal gratification and had reported the matter to the vigilance officials for appropriate action.
Such a requirement could be dispensed with if the bribe had been paid without protest because there would be rarely any direct evidence to prove demand. “Only circumstantial evidence will prove the obtainment of illegal gratification preceded by a demand or expectation of illegal gratification,” the judge said.
He sounded a word of caution that in the digital era, when even bribe was being paid through online banking transactions, it would become easy for the corrupt to escape from the clutches of law if courts insist on direct evidence for demand and acceptance even in cases where the bribe giver and bribe taker were on the same page.
In such cases, it was sufficient to prove that the receipt of money was not a legal remuneration but an illegal gratification. In the present case, “except denying knowledge about the deposits, there is no explanation forthcoming from the appellants as to why they allowed the receipt and enjoyed it,” the judge concluded.