Permitting use of illegally intercepted conversations in court would violate citizens’ fundamental rights: Delhi HC

While according the highest priority to the fundamental rights of the citizens, the Delhi High Court has in an extremely commendable, cogent, courageous, composed and convincing judgment titled Jatinder Pal Singh vs Central Bureau of Investigation in CRL. M.C. 3118/2012 that was pronounced finally on January 17, 2022 has observed that if illegally intercepted messages or audio conversations pursuant to an order having no sanction of law are permitted, it would lead to manifest arbitrariness and would promote scant regard to the procedure and fundamental rights of the citizens. We thus see that the single Judge Bench of Justice Chandra Dhari Singh of the Delhi High Court thus set aside the two orders that were passed by the Special Judge which had framed charges against one Jatinder Pal Singh in 2012 in a case registered by CBI on the basis of evidence gathered through such illegal means. It ought to be mentioned that the case alleged that there was a criminal conspiracy with the object to show favor qua recognition of the courses and grant of permission pertaining to Gian Sagar Medical College and Hospital, Patiala as mandated by the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 and the relevant MCI Regulation and Rules for admission into 4th year of the MBBS course for the academic session 2011-2012. It also deserves mentioning that the controversy had arisen out of an alleged bribery for allowing the admissions by bypassing the deficiencies in the process and the petitioner was accused of having acted as a middleman in the alleged bribery.

To start with, it is first and foremost stated in para 1 of this judgment that, “The Petitioner has approached this Court by way of the instant petition under Sections 397 and 401 read with Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (hereinafter referred to as “Code”) for setting aside the order of the Court below dated 1 st June 2012, whereby common charges had been framed against the accused including Jatinder Pal Singh (hereinafter referred to as “Petitioner”) and the consequential order dated 4 th June 2012 framing individual charges against the Petitioner in the case titled as “CBI v. Ketan Desai and Others” pending before Special Judge CBI-5, Patiala House Courts, New Delhi.”

FACTUAL MATRIX

To put things in perspective, the Bench then envisages in para 2 that, “Before adverting to the submissions made by the learned counsels for parties, it is essential to highlight the factual background of the instant matter which is stated hereunder:

i) The impugned proceedings have arisen from the First Information Report registered by the CBI vide Case bearing No. RC 02(A)/2010/CBI/ACU-IX/New Delhi on 22nd April 2010, under Sections 7/8/11/13(2) read with Section 13(l)(d) of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (hereinafter referred to as “PC Act”) and Section 120-B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (hereinafter referred to as “IPC”), on the allegations that Dr. Ketan Desai, President of the erstwhile Medical Council of India (hereinafter referred to as “MCI”), entered into a criminal conspiracy with the Petitioner, Dr. Sukhvinder Singh and others with the object to show favor qua recognition of the courses and grant of permission pertaining to Gian Sagar Medical College and Hospital, Patiala (hereinafter referred to as the “GSMCH”) as mandated by the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 and the relevant MCI Regulation and Rules for admission into 4th year of the MBBS course for the academic session 2011-2012.

ii) The prosecution’s version is that on the basis of reliable and specific information, CBI Special Unit, New Delhi had placed the mobile phones under telephonic surveillance during the period when MCI received the application for renewal of permission from GSMCH, Patiala for admission into 4th Batch of the MBBS course. The investigation further revealed that criminal conspiracy to obtain favors in the form of recommendation for permission for admission into fourth year batch for MBBS course began after deficiencies were pointed out during first inspection of GSMCH, Patiala. Accordingly, the aforementioned FIR was registered against the accused persons on the allegations as aforesaid.

iii) Subsequently, on 22nd April 2010 recovery was made wherein Dr. Kamaljeet Singh was intercepted while allegedly delivering a sum of Rs. 2 crores, as illegal gratification for the aforementioned purpose, at the residence of the Petitioner by the income tax authorities and liquor bottles were seized by the police authorities.

iv) Upon the completion of the investigation, the Final Report under Section 173 of the Code was filed on 16th September 2011 under Sections 7/8/12/13(2) and 13(1)(d) of the PC Act along with Section 120-B of the IPC in the Court of Special Judge for CBI Cases, Patiala House Courts, New Delhi.

v) Trial Court took cognizance of the same on 10th October 2011. The copies of the documents relied upon were supplied to the accused persons including the Petitioner. After hearing the arguments on charge, the Trial Court on 1st June 2012 passed a common order on charge under Sections 7/8/12/13(2) and 13(1)(d) of the PC Act along with Section 120B of the IPC as well as an individual order on charge on 4th June 2012 against the petitioner under Section 12 of the PC Act.

vi) Aggrieved by the aforementioned orders, the Petitioner has approached this Court, under Sections 397/401 read with Section 482 of the Code, praying for setting aside the impugned orders.”

Quite significantly, the Bench mentions in para 74 that, “The entire controversy has arisen out of an alleged bribery made for allowing the admissions into the 4th Batch of MBBS of the GSMCH, Patiala by bypassing the alleged deficiencies in the process. The Petitioner is accused of having acted as a middleman in the alleged bribery. However, no direct or indirect evidence implicating the petitioner is available on record that can be legally relied on to proceed with the matter. The evidence collected and produced by the investigation agency before the Court below is fraught with illegalities and no sufficient cause is made to proceed with the case qua the petitioner for the reasons as detailed hereunder:

i) The main basis of the matter for which the bribe was allegedly given i.e., the auditorium was not actually required to be constructed as a condition precedent for conducting admissions of the 4th batch of MBBS course. The factum has been verified by the appropriate authorities at various stages as stated above, hence there is no rationale of committing the alleged offence of giving of bribe.

ii) Further, the Approver on the basis of whose statement petitioner has been made an accused, was impleaded in the case without sanction from the appropriate authorities and his statement is thus inadmissible.

iii) Nothing as alleged in the recorded conversation intercepted by the investigating agency forms direct basis or has any connection whatsoever with the need for bribery, nor is there any rationale for offering of the alleged bribe. The recovery made has also been explained and accounted for by the Petitioner with evidence as being a part of the advance received by the Petitioner in lieu of sale of his village land.

iv) Tape records of the calls intercepted in the instant case are not admissible since the due procedure for such interception as mandated by the Telegraph Act and the Rules framed thereunder has not been followed. Further, even the same has not been verified in the FSL report. No further witness/evidence to implicate the petitioner is on record.

v) Additionally, the public servant who is alleged to have been involved in the said transaction has already been discharged and cannot, therefore, be prosecuted under the PC Act.

Thus, in an offence alleging conspiracy, where the main conspirator has been discharged and in the absence of evidence implicating the petitioner as a co-conspirator alleged to be a middle-man, there is no point in continuing with the case and keep the entire criminal justice machinery running endlessly especially in light of the fact that the criminal proceedings had been initiated ten years back and has stayed pending ever since.”

No less significant is what is stated in para 76(a) and in short it must be stated here that, “The most relevant piece of evidence relied upon by the prosecution, i.e., the copy of the voice-recording of the telephonic conversation allegedly involving the petitioner, is not even admissible in light of the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Anvar P.V. (Supra), the same ratio was followed by this Court in its judgment dated 20th November, 2014 in Ankur Chawla v. CBI, Crl. M. C. No. 2455/2012.”

Shortly stated, it is then encapsulated in para 77 that, “Even otherwise, the prosecution has till date not advanced anything qua the genuineness of the voice recording involving the petitioner. In the absence of a forensic analysis and report (or for that matter, any other certifying instrument) pertaining to the authenticity of the voice recording in question, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the prosecution’s case at trial would be materially impacted. In the case of Nilesh Dinkar Paradkar v. State of Maharashtra, 2011 (4) SCC 143, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has held as follows: ―

31. In our opinion, the evidence of voice identification is at best suspect, if not, wholly unreliable. Accurate voice identification is much more difficult than visual identification. It is prone to such extensive and sophisticated tampering, doctoring and editing that the reality can be completely replaced by fiction. Therefore, the courts have to be extremely cautious in basing a conviction purely on the evidence of voice identification. This Court, in a number of judgments emphasised the importance of the precautions, which are necessary to be taken in placing any reliance on the evidence of voice identification.”

Most significantly, the gist of para 78 that must be mentioned here is this: “Apart from the aforesaid, in this case, the public servant who was said to be involved in the alleged transaction has already been discharged and is not being tried for any offence under the PC Act. That leaves only the private individual i.e., the petitioner/alleged middleman to face trial for charges under Section 12 of the PC Act, read with Section 120B of the IPC, and that too without any material in the charge-sheet that the Petitioner either instigated the public servant or entered into a conspiracy with the public servant and/or the bribe giver. As such, the facts and circumstances of the present case fall within the scope of the third category set out in Section 107 of the IPC. Therefore, permitting the trial to continue would be untenable in light of the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in CBI v. V.C. Shukla, (1998) 3 SCC 410, which similarly dealt with accused who had acted as middlemen.”

Adding more to it, the Bench then enunciates in para 80 that, “Lastly, the charge-sheet against the petitioner is underpinned by the allegation of abetment under Section 12 of the PC Act without there being any admissible evidence of the demand or offer of bribe. Needless to state, such a trial would be an exercise in futility, more so because there are judicial precedents to the effect that a demand of illegal gratification is imperative for punishment (for abetment as an offence) under Section 12 of the PC Act. In fact, the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in State of Punjab v. Madan Mohan Lal Verma, (2013) 14 SCC 153, which reads as under, is applicable here: ―

11. The law on the issue is well settled that demand of illegal gratification is sine qua non for constituting an offence under the 1988 Act. Mere recovery of tainted money is not sufficient to convict the accused when substantive evidence in the case is not reliable, unless there is evidence to prove payment of bribe or to show that the money was taken voluntarily as a bribe. Mere receipt of the amount by the accused is not sufficient to fasten guilt, in the absence of any evidence with regard to demand and acceptance of the amount as illegal gratification. Hence, the burden rests on the accused to displace the statutory presumption raised under Section 20 of the 1988 Act, by bringing on record evidence, either direct or circumstantial, to establish with reasonable probability, that the money was accepted by him, other than as a motive or reward as referred to in Section 7 of the 1988 Act. While invoking the provisions of Section 20 of the Act, the court is required to consider the explanation offered by the accused, if any, only on the touchstone of preponderance of probability and not on the touchstone of proof beyond all reasonable doubt. However, before the accused is called upon to explain how the amount in question was found in his possession, the foundational facts must be established by the prosecution.

The complainant is an interested and partisan witness concerned with the success of the trap and his evidence must be tested in the same way as that of any other interested witness. In a proper case, the court may look for independent corroboration before convicting the accused person. (Vide Ram Prakash Arora v. State of Punjab [(1972) 3 SCC 652 : 1972 SCC (Cri) 696 : AIR 1973 SC 498] , T. Subramanian v. State of T.N. [( 2006) 1 SCC 401 : (2006) 1 SCC (Cri) 401] , State of Kerala v. C.P. Rao [(2011) 6 SCC 450 : (2011) 2 SCC (Cri) 1010 : (2011) 2 SCC (L&S) 714] and Mukut Bihari v. State of Rajasthan [(2012) 11 SCC 642 :(2013) 1 SCC (Cri) 1089 : (2013) 1 SCC (L&S) 136].).”

As a corollary, the Bench then hastens to add in para 81 that, “Therefore, in light of the facts of the case along with the material on record, and since there is no substance in the accusation levelled nor any admissible evidence is on record incriminating the petitioner, the petitioner is entitled to relief under Section 482 of the Code.”

Going ahead, the Bench then holds in para 82 that, “In view of these facts and circumstances, as well as the provisions of law, their application to the case at hand and the analysis made, this Court is inclined to allow the instant petition.”

Furthermore, the Bench then also holds in para 83 that, “For the reasons recorded above, this Court allows the instant petition as prayed for. The impugned orders dated 1st June 2012 and 4th June 2012 passed by Learned Special Judge, (CBI-05), New Delhi whereby charges have been framed qua the Petitioner, are hereby set aside.”

Going forward, the Bench then held in para 84 that, “Accordingly, the petition and pending applications stand disposed of.”

Finally, the Bench then concludes by directing in para 85 that, “The judgment be uploaded on the website forthwith.”

In essence, the key takeaway from this most noteworthy judgment by the Delhi High Court is that permitting use of illegally intercepted conversations in courts would violate citizen’s fundamental rights.

So, it can be logically deduced from this that the use of illegally intercepted conversations in courts cannot be permitted. No denying it.

Most significantly, the gist of para 78 that must be mentioned here is this: “Apart from the aforesaid, in this case, the public servant who was said to be involved in the alleged transaction has already been discharged and is not being tried for any offence under the PC Act. That leaves only the private individual i.e., the petitioner/alleged middleman to face trial for charges under Section 12 of the PC Act, read with Section 120B of the IPC, and that too without any material in the charge-sheet that the Petitioner either instigated the public servant or entered into a conspiracy with the public servant and/or the bribe giver. As such, the facts and circumstances of the present case fall within the scope of the third category set out in Section 107 of the IPC. Therefore, permitting the trial to continue would be untenable in light of the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in CBI v. V.C. Shukla, (1998) 3 SCC 410, which similarly dealt with accused who had acted as middlemen.”

The post Permitting use of illegally intercepted conversations in court would violate citizens’ fundamental rights: Delhi HC appeared first on The Daily Guardian.

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