A remarkable Supreme Court judgment on corruption issued during the course of the week has gone unnoticed. In a verdict that can make prosecution in corruption cases somewhat easier, the court ruled that the acceptance of bribe can be presumed if the accused fails to give satisfactory explanation for possessing bribe money. A bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice R Banumathi ruled that if there is evidence of demand and acceptance of bribery money, the recovery of such money is not important for prosecution of the accused.
Interpreting Section 20 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, the Supreme Court observed that once the prosecution has established that the accused was possessing the bribe money, it is for the accused to explain how the bribe money has been received by him and if he fails to offer any satisfactory explanation, it will be presumed that he has accepted the bribe.
The State of Gujarat had challenged a Gujarat High Court verdict in a corruption case in which the conviction ordered by the trial court had been reversed. The trial court had held that the demand and acceptance of illegal gratification was proved by the prosecution by way of evidence. However, the high court observed that there was no recovery from the accused and that the demand and acceptance by the accused persons had not been proved.
The Supreme Court bench, however, observed that when the demand and acceptance of illegal gratification has been proved by evidence, the high court was not right in holding that the demand and acceptance was not proved. “Since it is established that the accused was possessing the bribe money, it was for them to explain that how the bribe money has been received by them and if he fails to offer any satisfactory explanation, it will be presumed that he has accepted the bribe…,” the court said.
The stringent conditions for proving demand and acceptance as well as recovery of the bribe money have made prosecution in corruption cases so very difficult, especially when those who accept bribe do not oblige the law enforcement authorities by leaving enough evidence. There are no receipts issued for accepting bribery. The difficulty to prove bribe-taking, in fact, acts like an incentive to demand and take more bribes. The anti-corruption laws have to cover more ground if bribe taking has to be tackled in the modern age, in which there are unlimited options to demand and accept bribe and beat the system.
There is need for a paradigm shift in the approach to corruption cases. The bribe takers often outsmart the law to leave no trails of their crime and this ability acts like an incentive to indulge in further corruption. So, subject to certain conditions being fulfilled, the onus of proving innocence must rest with the accused, who should be presumed guilty until proven innocent. The current approach of presuming someone innocent until proven guilty has been abused so much that we need to make amends if we are serious about bringing the culprits to book.
The law has to take into account the progressive moral degradation that has been happening to the society. The moral values that the law makers presumed for the subjects are no longer applicable today and, therefore, the laws have to reflect those changes. This cannot be handled by the current set of laws, which were drawn up on the basis of ethical standards of a bygone era. Such dead laws will not do. We need living laws capable of equalling the challenge of innumerable smart ways in which a morally decadent society can dodge conventional morality and systems.
In the changed situation, the tendency to become corruptible must be taken as the rule and honesty as an exception, rather than the other way around, which has been the essence of conventional jurisprudence. But experience shows it is honesty that is at a premium as people in authority are more likely to abuse their position, rather than act honestly. The inability of the current laws and systems to make the corrupt accountable only serves as encouragement to indulge in more and more violations.
It is sickening to see probes into scam and after scam ending up in smoke as the charges flounder on lack of evidence as required by an archaic system incapable of cracking corporatised corruption. More often than not, it is the abuse of the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ approach that frustrates punishment, rather than the absence of guilt. The failure of the system to nail the culprits in scams such as 2G Spectrum and others only encourages the scamsters to do more.
In fact, the exoneration of all the 2G Spectrum accused has now led to a situation in which probe into any new scam is stonewalled with the results of that case. And our system of reddressal is so slow that it will be ages before the legal process can correct the error and can catch up with the culprits. And by that time, the con artistes would have performed many more scams of even bigger proportions. (IPA)