Achuthanandan filed an appeal in Supreme Court against their acquittal by High Court

The Supreme Court on Thursday convicted and sentenced the former Kerala Minister, R. Balakrishna Pillai; the former Chairman of the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB), Ramabhadran Nair; and P.K. Sajeev, a close friend of Mr. Pillai, to one-year rigorous imprisonment in the Idamalayar Hydroelectric Power Project case.

A Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and B.S. Chauhan allowed a special leave petition filed by Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan (who was then the Leader of the Opposition) against a Kerala High Court judgment acquitting the three after reversing the trial court verdict awarding five years imprisonment to them. He filed the appeal since the State did not prefer an appeal against the acquittal.

The Bench said, “It is our duty to point out that all the cases in which charges relating to corruption by public servants are involved, normally take longer time to reach their finality. Though the issue [in this case] was handled by a Special Court constituted for the sole purpose of finding out the truth or otherwise of the prosecution case, the fact remains it had taken nearly two decades to reach its finality.”

The Bench said though the Government of India was making all efforts for expeditious disposal of cases of this nature by constituting special courts, “the fact remains that it takes longer time to reach its destination.”

When a matter of this nature was entrusted to a special court or a regular court, it was but proper on the part of the court concerned to give priority to the same and conclude the trial within a reasonable time. The High Court [concerned], having overall control and supervisory jurisdiction under Article 227 of the Constitution of India, was expected to monitor and even call for a quarterly report from the court concerned for speedy disposal.

“Inasmuch as the accused is entitled to speedy justice, it is the duty of all in charge of dispensation of justice to see that the issue reaches its end as early as possible” the Bench said.

The prosecution case was that Mr. Pillai, who was the Electricity Minister in the UDF government during 1980-87, caused a pecuniary loss of about Rs. 2 crore to the KSEB by awarding contracts for the construction of a power tunnel and surge shaft of the Idamalayar project to K.P. Poulose (now deceased) at “extraordinarily high rates.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Sathasivam said, “The State government initiated a prosecution in 1991 and trial prolonged up to November 19, 1999. Thereafter, the matter was kept pending at the High Court from 1999 to October 2003, when the High Court pronounced its order acquitting all the accused and the matter was taken up to this court by the present appellant initially by way of a special leave petition in 2005.”

The Bench held that the prosecution had proved that works of Idamalayar were awarded at a very high and exorbitant rate with special conditions having heavy financial implications by reducing the retention and security amount and by allowing the contractor to return only 50 per cent of the empty cement bags.

However, on the quantum of sentence, the Bench said that since all the three accused had undergone the agony of these proceedings for nearly two decades, ends of justice would be met by awarding rigorous imprisonment for one year with a fine of Rs. 10,000 each.

“In our considered view, the High Court committed a grave error in acquitting the accused without adverting to the reliable and acceptable evidence adduced by the prosecution,” the Bench said.

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