Friday, 11 August 2017

‘Lax’ lokayukta loses five-year-old bribery case

In a trap set by lokayukta police five years ago, three policemen were accused of accepting Rs 3 lakh as a bribe. The cops were acquitted on Tuesday as lokayukta failed to prove their case because a vital piece of evidence – the tape involving the alleged conversations between the accused and complainant – had not been certified by a forensic science laboratory.

The anti-corruption body had taken up the case against three cops, meticulously investigated the case and filed a chargesheet, but it overlooked one basic necessity that eventually led to them losing the case.

What is even more appalling is that the lokayukta even failed to produce the originals of these tapes – the only piece of evidence that could have justified the demand and acceptance, without which a trap can’t be proved.

Money for favours

The case pertained to three cops – police inspector Mohan Kumar, then with Wilson Garden, and constables Doddasiddaiah and Dasharatharama. A trap had been laid on September 21, 2011 based on a complaint by one Prabhakar SR. According to Prabhakar’s complaint, his friend Sridhar was facing a case pertaining to a land issue in Wilson Garden limits and the three accused had allegedly demanded a bribe of Rs 4 lakh to help him out.

A trap was then laid and constable Doddasiddaiah had been caught while taking Rs 3 lakh from Sridhar as part of the bribe to help him in the case. The trap had also led to the arrest of inspector Mohan Kuman and constable Dasharatharama. Evidence had been recorded between November 2016 and March 2017.

Five years after the trap, on July 17, the lokayukta special court which heard the prosecution by SP Hubballi and defence by CG Sundar acquitted the three policemen.

Lacuna in lokayukta’s case

The court observed that lax approach by lokayukta missed out on basics to prove the corruption case and failed to establish the prosecution’s case beyond doubt. “Non-examination of material evidence was fatal to the prosecution’s case,” the court said in its final order.

Sridhar, who was a key person in the case, never appeared in court and lokayukta could not secure him either. The court also ruled that the need for the inspector to do any favour for Sridhar never arose as he had already obtained bail from a court. This ruled out the pending ‘official favour’ part which is necessary in any trap case besides demand and acceptance.

“In this case, the original voice recorder and digital camera were not produced before the court and contents of the voice recorded were reduced to writing and were not accompanied with a certificate from a forensic lab, so it is inadmissible evidence,” the court said before acquitting the three.

Further, the court observed that Mohan Kumar’s absence during the trap only weakened the prosecution case against him. Questioning why statements of the staff and public at the KFC in Forum Mall, where the trap took place, were not recorded, the court observed that the non-citing of these witnesses in the mahazar was fatal to the prosecution’s case.

In case of the constable who took the money, it was ruled that mere acceptance was not sufficient to prove a case.

While the cops welcomed the judgment, lokayukta police wing maintained that they will decide if they should challenge the decision after getting legal opinion.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Builders in Bengaluru force home buyers to take over incomplete flats

BENGALURU: In a bid to beat the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act 2016, builders in Bengaluru are arm-twisting property buyers into taking possession of flats in incomplete projects, consumers who spoke to Express said.
The builders are in a rush to get Occupancy Certificates (OC), as only ongoing projects come under the purview of the Act. Such instances have particularly gone up over the last one month, as the deadline for implementation of RERA is approaching. The Act will make it difficult for builders to sell flats that don’t conform to norms.
A case in point is Vishnu (name changed), an IT professional in the city whose builder has threatened him with a hefty penalty of Rs 70,000 for not agreeing to take posession of an incomplete apartment.

Vishnu who has bought a property in Anekal from an established brand told Express that the builder recently got hold of an Occupancy Certificate (OC), based on a Certificate of Completion (CC) from his own architect. The builder has not even completed all the amenities promised as per the contract. “His own architect gave a CC. Also, the Panchayat is not authorised to give the Occupancy Certificate. They were asking me to take possession even before completion of the official procedure. Since I refused, they have threatened me with holding additional charges for the property.” Express spoke to several buyers who said their builders were making scurried attempts to get occupancy certificates without completion of the amenities mentioned in the contract.
Property buyers are forced to enter into sale deed, pay balance amount and take possession of the apartment in incomplete projects. The builders would not even have ensured basic amenities like electricity and water, explained M S Shankar, who leads the Karnataka chapter of the forum Fight for RERA. He said the number of these instances had grown over the last month since the deadline for implementation of RERA was drawing close.
‘Don’t dilute RERA’
‘Fight for RERA’ wants the government to ensure that all the ongoing projects are covered under the Act. “In some states, the Act has been diluted by excluding projects that have seen 60 per cent completion. We want the government to ensure that all ongoing projects are under the purview of the Act to hold them accountable,” Shankar added.
‘Nothing wrong in getting OCs’
If a builder has completed his project and is expediting the process of getting an OC, there is nothing wrong with it, observed Suresh Hari, spokesperson, CREDAI. As for amenities that have not been completed, the builder is legally bound. “It is subject to legal scrutiny. The builder cannot escape from delivering it,” he said.
Delayed implementation in Karnataka
While the Union government had stipulated May 1, 2017 as the date from which RERA would come into force, the implementation of the Act will be delayed in Karnataka, as the government is yet to notify the rules. In October last year, the state government brought out the draft rules for the Act. However, the final rules are yet to be passed. Sources in the housing department said they were still working on it and it would not be announced by April 30, as hoped earlier. Housing Minister M Krishnappa too said they were looking into it and it would be presented in the next cabinet meeting.

- Source: Indian Express

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Why the Jayalalithaa case of Disproportionate Assets matters

The late Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa’s 20-year-old Disproportionate Assets (DA) case is no ordinary one. Its ramifications, legally, in the country are wide-ranging and severe. A case regarding acquisition of disproportionate assets by a public servant, under the Prevention of Corruption Act, stands on a slightly different footing from an ordinary criminal case. In the case of possessing disproportionate assets, the allegation is that a public servant amasses wealth by illegal means and the object of law is not merely to punish the offender but also to see that the offender or his/her legal representatives do not own or enjoy such illegally acquired assets.
The Chief Minister passed away on December 5, 2016. Orders in the DA case had been reserved six months prior to this, after all hearings had concluded on June 7, 2016. On February 14, the Supreme Court upheld the ‘guilty’ verdict of the Bengaluru trial court, sending the other three accused — V.K. Sasikala, J. Ilavarasi and V.N. Sudhakaran — to jail, with a penalty of ₹10 crore each. The first accused, Jayalalithaa, was no more and hence the court held that the charges against her had abated.
On March 21, the State of Karnataka filed a review petition challenging that part of the order which held that the case against Jayalalithaa had abated. Our argument was that when the death of the accused takes place long after the arguments are concluded but before a judgment is pronounced, there will be no question of abatement of appeal.
But the Supreme Court, by dismissing on April 5 the review petition filed by the State of Karnataka, missed an opportunity to settle this issue. Consequentially, what the highest court of the country has done is to set a bad precedent in helping corrupt public servants.
Take the instance of an accused public servant choosing to commit suicide after acquiring huge property by illegal means. Legal representatives or heirs of the accused, according to the Supreme Court, can later enjoy the benefits of the illegally accrued wealth and property left behind, as the case against the accused public servant abates. This is a retrograde step in the march towards eradication of corruption in public life.

The question of abatement

Apart from the question as to whether a criminal appeal filed with leave under Article 136 of the Constitution of India will ever abate on the death of the accused, this particular case raised other equally important questions regarding alleged abatement where death has taken place after conclusion of the arguments and the judgment was reserved.
It is settled law that there is no hiatus (a break or a gap) between the date of conclusion of arguments and the date on which the judgment is ultimately delivered. A judgment is expected to be pronounced immediately after the conclusion of the arguments and pronouncing the judgment on a later date is only for the convenience of the court. Any event occurring between the date the judgment is reserved and the actual date it was delivered on could not have any effect on the judgment which is ultimately pronounced.
Order XXII Rule 6 of the Code of Civil Procedure in unambiguous terms states that there will be no abatement of an appeal if the death is after judgment is reserved. It further clarifies that such judgment pronounced shall have the same force and effect as if the judgment was delivered on the date on which the arguments were concluded.
The Supreme Court itself has constitutionally applied this rule in quite a few civil appeals by holding that there is no abatement of appeal where the death is after the judgment was reserved. The Supreme Court rules also provide that in the case of an election petition, the proceedings will not abate on the death of a candidate if death is after judgment is reserved once arguments are concluded.

There is no principle or authority which can be pressed into service to hold that a different view is possible in the case of a criminal appeal. The Supreme Court, in clear terms, held that the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure are not applicable to the appeals filed before the Supreme Court, by applying for Special Leave under Article 136 of the Constitution, though for the purpose of uniformity principles therein can be applied in suitable cases. The Supreme Court rules also do not provide for abatement of any criminal appeal. It can therefore be safely concluded that there is no constitutional or statutory provision providing for abatement of appeal, especially in a case where death has taken place after the judgment is reserved.
The abrupt conclusion of the Supreme Court that the appeal against Jayalalithaa has abated ignores the above said principle of law. It is also relevant to note that the case was never posted for further hearing after the death of the accused.
When judgment was pronounced on February 14, the court stated that the case against Jayalalithaa had abated, without any discussion on the questions involved. This finding was recorded without hearing the parties. Under the circumstances, it would have been appropriate for the Supreme Court to at least afford an opportunity to the parties to address arguments on this question and take a suitable decision. However, the court dismissed the review petition on merits, rejecting the request for oral hearing.
The legal implications arising out of the death of the accused after the judgment is reserved was not debated but the dismissal was recorded based on an erroneous view of law. The principle of sub silentio (action taken without notice, in legal terms) is thus applicable to the facts of the present case.

Reasons for review petition

In a section of the media an erroneous impression has been created that the State of Karnataka, in its greed to collect the fine amount of ₹100 crore imposed on Jayalalithaa by the trial court, has filed the review petition. The DA case was originally filed by the State of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka had to step into the case only after the direction of the Supreme Court, which transferred the case on a finding that the process of justice was being subverted in Tamil Nadu as the main accused held the post of Chief Minister of the State at the time.
The Supreme Court declared that the State of Karnataka is sole prosecuting agency in the case. It is only in obedience of the order of the Supreme Court that Karnataka has performed its role as sole prosecuting agency, so that there was a fair trial of the case. The State of Karnataka has no individual interest in the matter. The fine amount collected as also the confiscated assets could only benefit Tamil Nadu. Karnataka is not a beneficiary.
The right of the State of Karnataka is only for reimbursement of the expenses incurred in connection with the litigation (legal expenses) as ordered by the Supreme Court. Karnataka filed the review petition as it felt that an important question of law has been erroneously decided. It has chosen to do so only to fulfil its constitutional obligations. Now that the review petition has been dismissed, the case has ultimately reached its logical end. Karnataka can have the satisfaction of knowing that it has effectively performed the obligations imposed on it by the Supreme Court.
B.V. Acharya- served as special public prosecutor and special counsel in the disproportionate assets case involving the late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and AIADMK general secretary V.K. Sasikala

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Panchayat employee in Kerala wears his campaign against corruption on his sleeve.

"No bribes needed here", says Abdul Saleem

A smiling panchayat clerk who welcomes visitors and even wants their rating at the end of a visit to the local body would seem cinematic, but not in Kerala’s largest grama panchayat in Malappuram district.
Abdul Saleem Palliyalthody is the face visitors look for at the Angadipuram panchayat office when they go for service. At 42, he has been employed at the local body for three years now.
Mr. Saleem makes no secret of his public service enthusiasm. On his table is a prominent notice that declares his opposition to bribery.
The notice in Malayalam reads: “The government pays me Rs. 811 a day (Rs. 24,340 a month) to serve you. If you are not happy with my service, please tell me about it.” He has updated his pay whenever it changed since he put up the notice in 2014.
The ‘anti-corruption’ notice went viral when a curious visitor posted it on social media recently.
“Service is the essence of any government job. People coming to us for different things should not return empty-handed. They should return satisfied,” says Mr. Saleem, whose panchayat has a staff strength of 17.
No one entering the office can miss the central figure. He offers to help even if it is not part of his job, which involves issue of various certificates and documents on buildings. “His approach makes people aware of their rights,” says his superintendent, I.P. Peethambaran.

Polio does not deter

Mr. Saleem says panchayat secretary, K. Sidheek, who is himself a State best secretary awardee for 2011-12, let him be outspoken. Mr. Sidheek says his junior colleague has had a positive impact on the entire staff.

Motivating effect

Panchayat president O. Kesavan welcomes the ‘motivating’ effect. Unlike other local body staff, Mr. Saleem is from the same village and worked elsewhere, including in West Asia, before returning to home base.
He does not let his 40% polio disability affect field visits done on his scooter. The Vigilance Department had recently said local bodies and revenue offices were among the most corrupt government offices.

Source- The Hindu

Saturday, 28 January 2017

True lies of police statistics: Traffic violations dipped

HYDERABAD: Statistics can be deceptive. While Hyderabadis zip past on streets by violating rules, traffic police have churned out figures to state there has been a 50% dip in cases of triple riding, signal jumping and cell phone driving in 2016 compared to last year.

While one might believe statistics are an outcome of better enforcement and awareness, an independent inquiry proves the opposite.

In 2016, especially after August, a combination of factors like heavy rains and demonetisation crippled traffic police.

When rains damaged city roads between August and October, traffic cops were redeployed to help Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation officials with road repair. Enforcement of rules took a back seat.

The next big slowdown came in wake of demonetisation. No major drive was taken up against violations between November 8 and December 31, except for a few glaring cases being booked.The drop in three categories was both in terms of those being booking on the spot and through e-surveillance.Between 2015 and 2016, the dip in cases of triple riding was about 56.9%, 68.3% for signal jumping and a massive 71.7% for driving while on the phone.

Speaking to TOI, deputy commissioner of police (traffic) A V Ranganath admitted to a slowdown in enforcement for almost five months last year. Heavy rains from August required better regulation of roads and this was the focus of traffic cops, he said. After demonetisation, "people were busy depositing old notes in banks. There was an acute shortage of lower denomination currency too because of which cops were deployed to ensure transactions happened without unrest. We will now intensify the drive against traffic rule violators," he said.

Pointing out another possibility for the drop in cases in just these three categories, road safety experts alleged traffic police focused more on enforcing the helmet rule in 2016 because of which not many cases were booked for other traffic violations. Admitting to the danger of lack of enforcement, police admitted most accidents occur due to signal jumping, which often turn fatal. Yet they were unable to give statistics for the number of deaths in this category, or for the other two, which they said were equally dangerous. Dr K Prashant, consultant psychologist, Yashoda Hospital, said it was important to send a strong message to erring drivers.

"It is essential from enforcement point of view to send a clear message to motorists that no one can escape if they violate rules," he said, adding that the severity of punishment and penalty should be enough to be a deterrent.

Social activist T S Gupta said police officers at the highest level must take strin gent action against cops who themselves violate traffic rules by speaking on the cell phone while driving or while standing at junctions instead of regulating traffic.

Indian Road Safety Federation chief functionary Vinod Kumar Kanumala said intensifying the drive against signal jumping, triple riding and cell phone driving would not be enough. A continuous education programme in schools and colleges is needed to change the mindset of people, he said.