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Irregularity at the hands of an inexperienced administrator cannot be given the garb of a criminal offence: High Court of Sikkim

Fraudulent acts by the selection authorities that lead to deprivation of employment for the genuine candidates are considered as a criminal offence and will be punishable. However, conviction depends on proper appreciation of the evidence on record presented by the Prosecution depicting fraudulent means. This auspicious judgment was passed by the High Court of Sikkim in the matter of CENTRAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION V. DR. PRATAP MAKHIJA & ORS. [CRIMINAL APPEAL No. 15 of 2018] by Honourable Justice Meenakshi Madan Rai.

The criminal appeal was filed against the judgement of Special Judge, Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, East District at Gangtok. The respondents were charged under Sections 120B, 420, 468, 471 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 13(2) read with 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act since the respondent adopted procedural irregularities in the selection process by accepting applications which were not only devoid of necessary documentation but had forged documents also, consequently making the appointment unlawful.  

It was contended that since the other respondents had submitted false Scheduled Caste Certificate, furnished a false local address, and submitted a forged Birth Certificate along with an inadequate Typing Certificate, acquittal by Trial Court based occasioned a total failure of justice and is liable to be set aside.

The Court observed that in cases of cheating, forgery, and criminal conspiracy proving mens rea on the basis of circumstantial evidence is necessary and further added, “A simple case of recruitment was blown out of proportion on a misunderstanding of facts since the respondent himself did not participate in scrutiny of the document instead it was done by Selection Committee constituted by the Central Authority.” Thus, there was no unfairness in the functioning of the Selection Committee as per the evidence on record.

Additionally, the court also stated that “For maintenance of roster when the predecessors too had not taken steps for such maintenance, consequently the blame for discrepancies in the roster cannot be laid at the doorstep of respondent alone. In fact, his predecessors ought to have been taken to task for shoddy administration.

The court relied on the case of Hanumant vs. State of Madhya Pradesh to state that in cases where the evidence is of a circumstantial nature, the circumstances should be of a conclusive nature and tendency and they should be such as to exclude every hypothesis but the one proposed to be proved. Thus, the court held that “No finding can be arrived at by any Court based on conjectures and surmises. The incapability of Committee in itself would not qualify as a criminal offence since all that was required was to reconstitute the Scrutiny Committee on grounds of incompetence

The court observed that “In my considered opinion in the absence of proof of criminal intent this cannot tantamount to a criminal offence but would be an irregularity which could well have been rectified by cancelling the entire selection process by the Central Authority who despite being aware of the process being undertaken did not deem it essential to take rectifying steps or consider it criminal or irregular at that relevant point in time.”

The court dismissed the appeal since the Prosecution was unable to prove evidence based on circumstances beyond any reasonable doubt.

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