Former minister did not adopt corrupt means or abused his position during London visit

The Supreme Court on Friday quashed the criminal proceedings initiated by the Central Bureau of Investigation against Jaffer Sharief under the Prevention of Corruption Act and the Indian Penal Code for an alleged corrupt practice he indulged in as Railway Minister in 1995. Mr. Sharief was accused of conspiracy and taking four railway personnel along with him when he went to England for treatment in 1995 and causing the exchequer a loss of Rs. 7 lakh. But he contented that it was an official visit and as Minister, he was entitled to take personal staff during his foreign trip.

Allowing Mr. Sharief’s appeal against a Delhi High Court order, which upheld the trial court’s refusal to discharge him, a Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi said: “To make a person criminally accountable it must be proved that an act, forbidden by law, has been caused by his conduct and that the conduct was accompanied by a legally blameworthy attitude of mind.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Gogoi said “the appellant, besides working as Minister of Railways, was the head of two public sector undertakings in question. It also appears from the materials on record that the four persons while in London had assisted the appellant in performing certain tasks connected with the discharge of duties as Minister. It is difficult to visualise how in the light of the above facts… the appellant can be construed to have adopted corrupt or illegal means or to have abused his position as a public servant to obtain any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage either for himself or for any of the four persons.”

The Bench said: “As Minister, it was for the appellant to decide on the number and identity of the officials and supporting staff who should accompany him if it was anticipated that he would be required to perform his official duties while in London. If in the process, the rules or norms applicable were violated or the decision taken shows an extravagant display of redundancy, it is the conduct and action of the appellant which may have been improper or contrary to departmental norms. But to say that the same was actuated by a dishonest intention to obtain an undue pecuniary advantage will not be correct. That dishonest intention is the gist of the offence under Section 13(1) (d) implicit in the words used i.e. corrupt or illegal means and abuse of position as a public servant. If the totality of the materials on record indicates the above position, we do not find any reason to allow the prosecution to continue. Such continuance, in our view, would be an abuse of the process of court and therefore it will be the plain duty of the court to interdict the same.”

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