Evidence of the Complainant is not compulsory to deduct culpability of a Public Servant under the Prevention of Corruption Act: SC


A Five Judge Bench (Constitution Bench) of the Supreme Court of India recently while deciding a Criminal Appeal under the Prevention of Corruption Act titled NEERAJ DUTTA Versus STATE (GOVT. OF NCT OF DELHI), CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 1669 OF 2009 has held that, "In the absence of evidence of the complainant (direct/primary, oral/documentary evidence) it is permissible to draw an inferential deduction of culpability/guilt of a public servant under Section 7 and Section 13(1)(d) read with Section 13(2) of the Act based on other evidence adduced by the prosecution."

The Five Judge Bench of the Court was hearing the appeal after a Three Judge Bench of the court had referred the question of law framed to be decided by a Bench of appropriate strength.  And Accordingly the current batch of cases was referred to the Constitution Bench comprising of five judges by Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India.

The moot question before the bench was that, "In the absence of the complainant letting in direct evidence of demand owing to the non-availability of the complainant or owing to his death or other reason, whether the demand for illegal gratification could be established by other evidence. This is because in the absence of proof of demand, a legal presumption under Section 20 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (for short ‘the Act’) would not arise. Thus, the proof of demand is a sine qua non for an offence to be established under Sections 7, 13(1)(d)(i) and (ii) of the Act and de hors the proof of demand the offence under the two sections cannot be brought home. Thus, mere acceptance of any amount allegedly by way of illegal gratification or recovery thereof in the absence of proof of demand would not be sufficient to bring home the charge under Sections 7, 13(1)(d)(i) and (ii) of the Act. Hence, the pertinent question is, as to how demand could be proved in the absence of any direct evidence being let in by the complainant owing to the complainant not supporting the complaint or turning “hostile” or the complainant not being available on account of his death or for any other reason. In this regard, it is necessary to discuss the relevant Sections of the Evidence Act before answering the question for reference."

While considering the case in hand, the question framed for determination by the larger Bench was,“Whether, in the absence of evidence of complainant/direct or primary evidence of demand of illegal gratification, is it not permissible to draw an inferential deduction of culpability/guilt of a public servant under Section 7 and Section 13(1)(d) read with Section 13(2) of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 based on other evidence adduced by the prosecution?” 

And in order to answer the aforesaid question, the court observed that, "it would be useful to recapitulate the relevant provisions of the law of evidence vis-à-vis tendering of oral and documentary evidence; presumptions and circumstantial evidence. Thereafter to analyse the three cases and also other cases cited at the Bar in the background of the question raised and to derive a conclusion from the said discussion.

Relevant provisions of Law of Evidence - A discussion: 

29. Since the main thrust of this case is on the quality of evidence for proof of demand and acceptance of an illegal gratification before a public servant can be held guilty of an offence under Section 7 and/or Section 13(1)(d) of the Act, it would be appropriate to discuss the salient principles of law of evidence relevant to the question under consideration. 

In this context, it would be necessary to refer to Sections 3, 4, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65 and 154 of the Evidence Act. 

30. Congruent to the principle of res gestae, a fact includes a state of things or events as well as the mental state i.e. intention or animus. A fact in law of evidence includes the factum probandum i.e., the principal fact to be proved and the factum probans, i.e., the evidentiary fact from which the principal fact follows immediately or by inference. On the other hand, the expression “fact in issue” means the matters which are in dispute or which form the subject of investigation. (vide Section 3 of Evidence Act). 

31. It is well settled that evidence is upon facts pleaded in a case and hence, the principal facts are sometimes the facts in issue. Facts relevant to the issue are evidentiary facts which render probable the existence or non-existence of a fact in issue or some relevant fact.

32. In criminal cases, the facts in issue are constituted in the charge, or acquisition, in cases of warrant or summon cases. The proof of facts in issue could be oral and documentary evidence. Evidence is the medium through which the court is convinced of the truth or otherwise of the matter under enquiry, i.e., the actual words of witnesses, or documents produced and not the facts which have to be proved by oral and documentary evidence. Of course, the term evidence is not restricted to only oral and documentary evidence but also to other things like material objects, the demeanour of the witnesses, facts of which judicial notice could be taken, admissions of parties, local inspection made and answers given by the accused to questions put forth by the Magistrate or Judge under Section 313 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). 

33. Further, according to Sarkar on Law of Evidence, 20th Edition, Volume 1, “direct” or “original” evidence means that evidence which establishes the existence of a thing or fact either by actual production or by testimony or demonstrable declaration of someone who has himself perceived it, and believed that it established a fact in issue. Direct evidence proves the existence of a fact in issue without any inference of presumption. On the other hand, “indirect evidence” or “substantial evidence” gives rise to the logical inference that such a fact exists, either conclusively or presumptively. The effect of substantial evidence under consideration must be such as not to admit more than one solution and must be inconsistent with any explanation that the fact is not proved. By direct or presumptive evidence (circumstantial evidence), one may say that other facts are proved from which, existence of a given fact may be logically inferred. 

34. Again, oral evidence can be classified as original and hearsay evidence. Original evidence is that which a witness reports himself to have seen or heard through the medium of his own senses. Hearsay evidence is also called derivative, transmitted, or second-hand evidence in which a witness is merely reporting not what he himself saw or heard, and not what has come under the immediate observation of his own bodily senses, but what he has learnt in respect of the fact through the medium of a third person. Normally, a hearsay witness would be inadmissible, but when it is corroborated by substantive evidence of other witnesses, it would be admissible vide Mukhtiar Singh. 

35. Evidence that does not establish the fact in issue directly but throws light on the circumstances in which the fact in issue did not occur is circumstantial evidence (also called inferential or presumptive evidence). Circumstantial evidence means facts from which another fact is inferred. Although circumstantial evidence does not go to prove directly the fact in issue, it is equally direct. Circumstantial evidence has also to be proved by direct evidence of the circumstances. 

Further, letting in evidence should be in accordance with the provision of the Evidence Act by the examination of witnesses, i.e., examination-in-chief, cross-examination, and re-examination. 

36. Section 59 of the Evidence Act states that all facts, except the contents of documents or electronic records, may be proved by oral evidence. Oral evidence means the testimony of living persons examined in the presence of the court or commissioners appointed by the court, deaf and dumb persons may also adduce evidence by signs or through interpretation or by writing, if they are literate. 

37. Documentary evidences, on the other hand, are to be proved by the production of the documents themselves or, in their absence, by secondary evidence under Section 65 of the Act. Further, facts showing the existence of any state of mind, such as intention, knowledge, good faith, negligence, or ill will need not be proved by direct testimony. It may be proved inferentially from conduct, surrounding circumstances, etc. (See Sections 8 and 14 of Evidence Act). 

38. Insofar as oral evidence is concerned, this Court in State of Rajasthan vs. Babu Meena (2013) 4 SCC 206 (“Babu Meena”) has classified the same into three categories :–(i) wholly reliable; (ii) wholly unreliable, and; (iii) neither wholly reliable nor wholly unreliable. While an accused can be convicted on the sole testimony of a wholly reliable witness, the uncorroborated evidence of a wholly unreliable testimony of a witness must result in an acquittal. 

39. Section 60 of the Evidence Act requires that oral evidence must be direct or positive. Direct evidence is when it goes straight to establish the main fact in issue. The word “direct” is used in juxtaposition to derivative or hearsay evidence where a witness gives evidence that he received information from some other person. If that person does not, himself, state such information, such evidence would be inadmissible being hearsay evidence. On the other hand, forensic procedure as circumstantial or inferential evidence or presumptive evidence (Section 3) is indirect evidence. It means proof of other facts from which the existence of the fact in issue may be logically inferred. In this context, the expression “circumstantial evidence” is used in a loose sense as, sometimes, circumstantial evidence may also be direct.

40. Although the expression “hearsay evidence” is not defined under the Evidence Act, it is, nevertheless, in constant use in the courts. However, hearsay evidence is inadmissible to prove a fact which is deposed to on hearsay, but it does not necessarily preclude evidence as to a statement having been made upon which certain action was taken or certain results followed such as evidence of an informant of the crime. 

41. At this stage, it must be distinguished that even with regard to oral evidence, there are sub-categories – primary evidence and secondary evidence. Primary evidence is an oral account of the original evidence i.e., of a person who saw what happened and gives an account of it recorded by the court, or the original document itself, or the original thing when produced in court. Secondary evidence is a report or an oral account of the original evidence or a copy of a document or a model of the original thing. 

42. Section 61 deals with proof of contents of documents which is by either primary or by secondary evidence. When a document is produced as primary evidence, it will have to be proved in the manner laid down in Sections 67 to 73 of the Evidence Act. Mere production and marking of a document as an exhibit by the court cannot be held to be due proof of its contents. Its execution has to be proved by admissible evidence. On the other hand, when a document is produced and admitted by the opposite party and is marked as an exhibit by the court, the contents of the document must be proved either by the production of the original document i.e., primary evidence or by copies of the same as per Section 65 as secondary evidence. So long as an original document is in existence and is available, its contents must be proved by primary evidence. It is only when the primary evidence is lost, in the interest of justice, the secondary evidence must be allowed. Primary evidence is the best evidence and it affords the greatest certainty of the fact in question. Thus, when a particular fact is to be established by production of documentary evidence, there is no scope for leading oral evidence. What is to be produced is the primary evidence i.e., document itself. It is only when the absence of the primary source has been satisfactorily explained that secondary evidence is permissible to prove the contents of documents. Secondary evidence, therefore, should not be accepted without a sufficient reason being given for non-production of the original. 

43. Section 62 of the Evidence Act defines primary evidence to mean the documents itself produced for the inspection of the court. If primary evidence is available, it would exclude secondary evidence. Section 63 of the Evidence Act deals with secondary evidence and defines what it means and includes. Section 63 mentions five kinds of secondary evidence, namely, - 

(i) Certified copies given under the provisions hereinafter contained; 

(ii) Copies made from the original by mechanical processes which in themselves ensure the accuracy of the copy, and copies compared with such copies; 

(iii) Copies made from or compared with the original; 

(iv) Counterparts of documents as against the parties who did not execute them; 

(v) Oral accounts of the contents of a document given by some person who has himself seen it. 

44. Section 64 of the Evidence Act states that documents must be proved by primary evidence except in certain cases mentioned above. Once a document is admitted, the contents of that document are also admitted in evidence, though those contents may not be conclusive evidence. Moreover, once certain evidence is conclusive it shuts out any other evidence which would detract from the conclusiveness of that evidence. There is a prohibition for any other evidence to be led which may detract from the conclusiveness of that evidence and the court has no option to hold the existence of the fact otherwise when such evidence is made conclusive. Thus, once a document has been properly admitted, the contents of the documents would stand admitted in evidence, and if no objection has been raised with regard to its mode of proof at the stage of tendering in evidence of such a document, no such objection could be allowed to be raised at any later stage of the case or in appeal vide Amarjit Singh vs. State (Delhi Admn.) 1995 Cr LJ 1623 (Del) (“Amarjit Singh”). But the documents can be impeached in any other manner, though the admissibility cannot be challenged subsequently when the document is bound in evidence. 

45. The cases in which secondary evidence relating to documents may be given are stated in Section 65 of the Evidence Act read with Section 66, Section 67(2), Section 78. Proof of documents, whether public or private, including execution of such documents etc. 


46. Courts are authorised to draw a particular inference from a particular fact, unless and until the truth of such inference is disproved by other facts. The court can, under Section 4 of the Evidence Act, raise a presumption for purposes of proof of a fact. It is well settled that a presumption is not in itself evidence but only makes a prima facie case for a party for whose benefit it exists. As per English Law, there are three categories of presumptions, namely, (i) presumptions of fact or natural presumption; (ii) presumption of law (rebuttable and irrebuttable); and (iii) mixed presumptions i.e., “presumptions of mixed law and fact” or “presumptions of fact recognised by law”. The expression “may presume” and “shall presume” in Section 4 of the Evidence Act are also categories of presumptions. Factual presumptions or discretionary presumptions come under the division of “may presume” while legal presumptions or compulsory presumptions come under the division of “shall presume”. “May presume” leaves it to the discretion of the court to make the presumption according to the circumstances of the case but “shall presume” leaves no option with the court, and it is bound to presume the fact as proved until evidence is given to disprove it, for instance, the genuineness of a document purporting to be the Gazette of India. The expression “shall presume” is found in Sections 79, 80, 81, 83, 85, 89 and 105 of the Evidence Act. 

47. Similarly in a trial under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, a presumption will have to be made that every negotiable instrument was made or drawn for consideration and that it was executed for discharge of debt or liability once the execution of negotiable instrument is either proved or admitted vide Kumar Exports vs. Sharma Carpets (2009) 2 SCC 513 (“Kumar Exports”). Further, the question as to whether the presumption stood rebutted or not must, therefore, be determined keeping in view the other evidence on record. [Krishna Janardhan Bhat vs. Dattatraya G Hegde (2008) 4 SCC 54 (“Krishna Janardhan Bhat”)]. 

48. Section 20 of the Act deals with presumption where public servant accepts gratification other than legal remuneration. It uses the expression “shall be presumed” in sub-section (1) and sub-section (2) unless the contrary is proved. The said provision deals with a legal presumption which is in the nature of a command that it has to be presumed that the accused accepted the gratification as a motive or reward for doing or forbearing to do any official act etc., if the condition envisaged in the former part of the Section is satisfied. The only condition for drawing a legal presumption under Section 20 of the Act is that during trial, it should be proved that the accused had accepted or agreed to accept any gratification. The Section does not say that the said condition should be satisfied through direct evidence. Its only requirement is that it must be proved that the accused has accepted or agreed to accept gratification. 

49. In State of Madras vs. A. Vaidyanatha Iyer AIR 1958 SC 61 (“A. Vaidyanatha Iyer”), it was observed that the presumption under Section 4(1) of the 1947 Act which is similar to Section 20 of the Act under consideration would arise where illegal gratification has been accepted, then the presumption introduces an exception to the general rule as to the burden of proof in criminal cases and shifts the onus on to the accused. The legislature has used the words “shall presume” and not “may presume” which means that the presumption has to be raised as it is a presumption of law and therefore it is obligatory on the court to raise this presumption. Further, the presumptions of law constitute a branch of jurisprudence unlike a case of presumption of fact which is discretionary.

50. Distinguishing a presumption under Section 4(1) of the 1947 Act with a presumption under Section 114 of the Evidence Act, it was observed in Dhanvantrai Balwantrai Desai vs. State of Maharashtra AIR 1964 SC 575 (“Dhanvantrai Balwantrai Desai”) that a presumption under Section 114 of the Evidence Act is discretionary in nature inasmuch as it is open to the court to draw or not to draw a presumption as to the existence of one fact from the proof of another fact. This is unlike a presumption under Section 4(1) of the 1947 Act or Section 20 of the Act where the court has to draw such presumption, if a certain fact is proved, that is, where any illegal gratification has been received by an accused. In such a case the presumption that has to be drawn that the person received that thing as a motive of reward. Therefore, the court has no choice in the matter, once it is established that the accused has received a sum of money which was not due to him as a legal remuneration. Of course, it is open to the accused to show that though that money was not due to him as a legal remuneration it was legally due to him in some other manner or that he had received it under a transaction or an arrangement which is lawful. The burden resting on the accused in such a case would not be as light as it is where a presumption is raised under Section 114 of the Evidence Act and cannot be held to be discharged merely by reason of the fact that the explanation offered by the accused is reasonable and probable. It must further be shown that the explanation is a true one. The words “unless the contrary is proved” which occur in this provision make it clear that the presumption has to be rebutted by “proof” and not by a bare explanation which is merely plausible. A fact is said to be proved when its existence is directly established or when upon the material brought before it, the Court finds its existence to be so probable that a reasonable man would act on the supposition that it exists. Unless, therefore, the explanation is supported by proof, the presumption created by the provision cannot be said to be rebutted. 

51. One of the modes through which a fact can be proved. But, that is not the only mode envisaged under the Evidence Act. Proof of the fact depends upon the degree of probability of it having existed. The standard required for reaching the supposition is that of a prudent man acting in any important matter concerning him. 

52. As opposed to the expressions “may presume” and “shall presume”, the expression “conclusive proof” is also used in Section 4 of the Evidence Act. When the law says that a particular kind of evidence would be conclusive, that fact can be proved either by that evidence or by some other evidence that the court permits or requires. When evidence which is made conclusive is adduced, the court has no option but to hold that the fact exists. For instance, the statement in an order of the court is conclusive of what happened before the presiding officer of the court. Thus, conclusive proof gives an artificial probative effect by the law to certain facts. No evidence is allowed to be produced with a view to combat that effect. When a statute makes certain facts final and conclusive, evidence to disprove such facts is not to be allowed. 

Circumstantial Evidence 

53. As already noted, all evidence let in before the court of law are classified either as direct or circumstantial evidence. “Direct evidence” means when the principal fact is attested directly by witnesses, things or documents. For all other forms, the term “circumstantial evidence” which is “indirect evidence” is referred, whether by witnesses, things or documents, which can be received as evidence. This is also of two kinds namely, conclusive and presumptive. Conclusive is when the connection between the principal and evidentiary facts – the factum probandum and factum probans - is a necessary consequence of the laws of nature; “presumptive” is when the inference of the principal fact from the evidence is only probable, whatever be the degree of persuasion which it may generate (Best, 11th Edition, Section 293). Thus, circumstantial evidence is evidence of circumstances as opposed to what is called direct evidence. The prosecution must take place and prove all necessary circumstances constituting a complete chain without a snap and pointing to the hypothesis that except the accused, no one had committed the offence vide Navaneethakrishnan vs. State by Inspector of Police AIR 2018 SC 2027 (“Navaneethakrishnan”). 

54. The principal fact can be proved indirectly by means of certain inferences drawn from its existence or its connection with other circumstantial evidence. It is often said that witnesses may lie but not the circumstances. However, the court must adopt a cautious approach while basing its conviction purely on circumstantial evidence. Inference of guilt can be drawn only when all incriminating facts and circumstances are found to be incompatible with the innocence of an accused. In other words, circumstantial evidence is not direct to the point in issue but consists of evidence of various other facts which are so closely associated with the fact in issue that, taken together they form a chain of circumstances from which the existence of the principal fact can be legally inferred or presumed. 

55. It is trite law that in cases dependent on circumstantial evidence, the inference of guilt can be made if all the incriminating facts and circumstances are incompatible with the innocence of the accused or any other reasonable hypotheses than that of his guilt, and provide a cogent and complete chain of events which leave no reasonable doubt in the judicial mind. When an incriminating circumstance is put to the accused and the said accused either offers no explanation or offers an explanation which is found to be untrue, then the same becomes an additional link in the chain of circumstances to make it complete. If the combined effect of all the proven facts taken together is conclusive in establishing the guilt of the accused, a conviction would be justified even though any one or more of those facts by itself is not decisive. (Sharad Birdhichand Sarda vs. State of Maharashtra (1984) 4 SCC 116 (“Sharad Birdhichand Sarda”) as reiterated in Prakash vs. State of Rajasthan (2013) 4 SCC 668 (“Prakash”)). 

56. In Kundan Lal Rallaram vs. The Custodian, Evacuee Property Bombay AIR 1961 SC 1316 (“Kundan Lal Rallaram”), this Court speaking though K. Subba Rao, J. observed that the rules of evidence pertaining to burden of proof are embodied in Chapter 7 of the Evidence Act. The phrase “burden of proof” has two meanings :- one, the burden of proof as a matter of law and pleading and the other, the burden of establishing a case; the former is fixed as a question of law on the basis of the pleadings and is unchanged during the entire trial, whereas the latter is not constant but shifts as soon as a party adduces sufficient evidence to raise a presumption in his favour. The evidence required to shift the burden need not necessarily be direct evidence i.e., oral or documentary evidence or admissions made by opposite party; it may comprise of circumstantial evidence or presumptions of law or fact. 


57. In the case of B. Jayaraj, the complainant did not support the prosecution case. In P. Satyanarayana Murthy, the complainant had died prior to letting in his evidence in the case. In M. Narasinga Rao, the question was whether a legal presumption could be based on a factual presumption. In Hazari Lal, this Court through O. Chinnappa Reddy, J. observed that it is not necessary that the passing of money should be proved by direct evidence, it could also be proved by circumstantial evidence. Furthermore, in Madhukar Bhaskarrao Joshi vs. State of Maharashtra (2000) 8 SCC 571 (“Madhukar Bhaskarrao Joshi”), it was observed that in order to draw a presumption under Section 20 of the Act, the premise is that there was payment or acceptance of gratification. Once the said premise is established, the inference to be drawn is that the said gratification was accepted as a “motive or reward” for doing or forbearing to do any official act. 

58. P. Satyanaratana Murthy has been referred to in State vs. Dr. Anup Kumar Srivastava (2017) 15 SCC 560 (“Dr. Anup Kumar Srivastava”) by observing that what constitutes illegal gratification is a question of law; whether on the evidence let in, crime has been 58 committed or not is a question of fact. If, therefore, the evidence regarding the demand and acceptance of a bribe leaves room for doubt and does not displace wholly, the presumption of innocence, the charge cannot be said to have been established. The court also made observations regarding framing of charge in a criminal trial where the court is expected to apply its mind to the entire record and documents placed therewith before the court. It was also held that proof of demand is an indispensable mandate for the offence under Sections 7 and 13 of the Act. On the facts of the said case, it was held that the same was absent and the accused was liable to be acquitted. 

59. In all the cases leading to the reference, it is either the death or the refusal to support the prosecution case that has led to the legal presumption under Section 20 of the Act not being raised and not bringing home the guilt of the accused. 

60. Learned ASG and counsel also drew our attention to the following precedents: 

(i) In the case of State of Andhra Pradesh vs. V. Vasudeva Rao (2004) 9 SCC 319 (“V. Vasudeva Rao”), this Court, in the absence of the complainant due to his death proceeded to convict the accused based on the evidence available on record and further held that for the purpose of reaching a conclusion, the court can rely on factual presumption under section 114 of the Evidence Act. A fact may also be proved by direct testimony or by circumstantial evidence. 

(ii) In Kishan Chand Mangal, this Court upheld the conviction based on the evidence of the shadow witnesses. Similarly in State of Andhra Pradesh vs. P. Venkateshwarlu (2015) 7 SCC 283 (“P. Venkateshwarlu”), when the complainant died during the pendency of the trial, this Court convicted the accused by relying upon the evidence of the other witnesses, as the factum of demand, acceptance and recovery of the tainted money was proved by the prosecution. 

(iii) In contradiction to the aforesaid cases, our attention was drawn to Selvaraj vs. State of Karnataka (2015) 10 SCC 230 (“Selvaraj”), wherein on the death of the complainant, acquittal was ordered as the accused was relieved from his duty and was not competent to transact any official business apart from the fact that there was contradiction in the version of witnesses. 

(iv) In A. Subair, the acquittal was based on the ground that there was no other evidence to fall back upon in the absence of the complainant letting in evidence. 

61. Learned senior counsel Shri Aristotle, further contended that in those cases, where the complainant becomes “hostile”, his evidence does not get effaced as the court must consciously ascertain as to what extent he has supported the case of the prosecution. The evidence of a “hostile” witness “complainant” stands on a different footing than the death of the complainant or the non-availability of the complainant. It was submitted that when the complainant turns “hostile”, the evidence of the shadow witness would play a vital role as he can also tender primary evidence with regard to the demand of illegal gratification. Similarly, Nayan Kumar Shivappa Waghmare vs. State of Maharashtra (2015) 11 SCC 213 (“Nayan Kumar Shivappa Waghmare”), was relied upon to buttress the fact that if the complainant turns “hostile”, the conviction is permissible on the basis of presumption and other evidence. On the other hand, in B. Jayaraj the acquittal was based on the fact that the complainant had turned “hostile” and there was no other witness to support the case of the prosecution and hence, there was lack of evidence against the accused. In C.P. Rao, the acquittal was based not merely on the nonavailability of the complainant but the fact that there was previous animosity between the complainant and the accused and also on the ground that money was thrust into the hands of the accused. Similarly, in N. Sunkanna, the accused was acquitted on the ground that the witness had turned “hostile” and the demand was not proved. So also, in the case of M.R. Purushotam.

62. Learned counsel Shri Aristotle also made reference to C.M. Sharma wherein the conviction was upheld even though the shadow witness was not present when the demand for illegal gratification was made and the amount was paid and there was recovery of tainted money. So also, in Prakash Chand vs. State (Delhi Admn.) (1979) 3 SCC 90 (“Prakash Chand”) when the shadow witness turned “hostile”, the conviction was based on the evidence of other witnesses. Therefore, even in the absence of a complainant letting in his evidence or the complainant turning “hostile”, the case of the prosecution would not collapse and the prosecution can only prove the case beyond reasonable doubt if there is other evidence to prove the case. 

63. Before answering the question under reference, we deem it necessary to clarify on one aspect of the matter and that is with regard to “hostile witness”. 

64. Learned senior counsel Shri Nagamuthu submitted that the expression “hostile witness” must be read in the context of Section 154 of the Evidence Act. Section 154 of the Evidence Act states that the court may, in its discretion, permit the person who calls a witness to put any question to him which might be put in cross-examination by the adverse party. It further states that the Section does not disentitle the person so permitted to rely on any part of the evidence of such witness. For immediate reference, Section 154 of the Evidence Act is extracted as under: 

154. Question by party to his own witness.— (1) The Court may, in its discretion, permit the person who calls a witness to put any question to him which might be put in cross-examination by the adverse party. (2) Nothing in this section shall disentitle the person so permitted under sub-section (1), to rely on any part of the evidence of such witness.” 

The said Section was amended with effect from 16.04.2006 and sub-section (2) of Section 154 was added from the said date while the original Section was renumbered as sub-section (1) of Section 154. 

65. Learned senior counsel Shri Nagamuthu submitted that when the prosecution examines a witness who does not support the case of the prosecution he cannot be “declared” to be a “hostile witness” and his evidence cannot be discarded as a whole. Although, permission may be given by the Court to such a witness to be cross-examined by the prosecution as per sub-section (2) of Section 154 of the Evidence Act, it is not necessary to declare such a witness as a “hostile witness”. This is because a statement of a “hostile witness” can be examined to the extent that it supports the case of prosecutor. 

66. In this regard, our attention was drawn to Sat Paul vs. Delhi Administration (1976) 1 SCC 727 (“Sat Paul”) which is a case arising under the 1947 Act wherein this Court speaking through Sarkaria, J. has made pertinent observations regarding the credibility of a hostile witness. It was observed in paragraph 30 of the judgment that the terms “hostile witness”, “adverse witness”, “unfavourable witness”, “unwilling witness” are all terms of English law. At Common law, if a witness exhibited manifest antipathy, by his demeanour, answers and attitude, to the cause of the party calling him, the party was not, as a general rule, permitted to contradict him with his previous inconsistent statements, nor allowed to impeach his credit by general evidence of bad character. It was observed in paragraph 33 that the rigidity of the rule prohibiting a party to discredit or contradict its own witness was to an extent relaxed by evolving the terms “hostile witness” and “unfavourable witness” and by attempting to draw a distinction between the two categories. A “hostile witness” is described as one who is not desirous of telling the truth at the instance of the party calling him, and an “unfavourable witness” is one called by a party to prove a particular fact in issue or relevant to the issue who fails to prove such fact, or proves an opposite fact. In the context of Sections 142 and 154 of the Evidence Act, this Court observed in paragraphs 38 and 52 as under: 

38. To steer clear of the controversy over the meaning of the terms “hostile” witness, “adverse” witness, “unfavourable” witness which had given rise to considerable difficulty and conflict of opinion in England, the authors of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 seem to have advisedly avoided the use of any of those terms so that, in India, the grant of permission to cross-examine his own witness by a party is not conditional on the witness being declared “adverse” or “hostile”. Whether it be the grant of permission under Section 142 to put leading questions, or the leave under Section 154 to ask questions which might be put in cross-examination by the adverse party, the Indian Evidence Act leaves the matter entirely to the discretion of the court (see the observations of Sir Lawrence Jenkins in Baikuntha Nath vs. Prasannamoyi AIR 1922 PC 409. The discretion conferred by Section 154 on the court is unqualified and untrammelled, and is apart from any question of “hostility”. It is to be liberally exercised whenever the court from the witnesses' demeanour, temper, attitude, bearing, or the tenor and tendency of his answers, or from a perusal of his previous inconsistent statement, or otherwise, thinks that the grant of such permission is expedient to extract the truth and to do justice. The grant of such permission does not amount to an adjudication by the court as to the veracity of the witness. Therefore, in the order granting such permission it is preferable to avoid the use of such expressions, such as “declared hostile”, “declared unfavourable”, the significance of which is still not free from the historical cobwebs which, in their wake bring a misleading legacy of confusion, and conflict that had so long vexed the English courts. 

52. From the above conspectus, it emerges clear that even in a criminal prosecution when a witness is crossexamined and contradicted with the leave of the court, by the party calling him, his evidence cannot, as a matter of law, be treated as washed off the record altogether. It is for the Judge of fact to consider in each case whether as a result of such cross-examination and contradiction, the witness stands thoroughly discredited or can still be believed in regard to a part of his testimony. If the Judge finds that in the process, 65 the credit of the witness has not been completely shaken, he may, after reading and considering the evidence of the witness, as a whole, with due caution and care, accept, in the light of the other evidence on the record, that part of his testimony which he finds to be creditworthy and act upon it. If in a given case, the whole of the testimony of the witness is impugned, and in the process, the witness stands squarely and totally discredited, the Judge should, as a matter of prudence, discard his evidence in toto.” 

67. Therefore, this Court cautioned that even if a witness is treated as “hostile” and is cross-examined, his evidence cannot be written off altogether but must be considered with due care and circumspection and that part of the testimony which is creditworthy must be considered and acted upon. It is for the judge as a matter of prudence to consider the extent of evidence which is creditworthy for the purpose of proof of the case. In other words, the fact that a witness has been declared “hostile” does not result in an automatic rejection of his evidence. Even, the evidence of a “hostile witness” if it finds corroboration from the facts of the case may be taken into account while judging the guilt of the accused. Thus, there is no legal bar to raise a conviction upon a “hostile witness” testimony if corroborated by other reliable evidence. 

68. What emerges from the aforesaid discussion is summarised as under:  

(a) Proof of demand and acceptance of illegal gratification by a public servant as a fact in issue by the prosecution is a sine qua non in order to establish the guilt of the accused public servant under Sections 7 and 13 (1)(d) (i) and(ii) of the Act. 

(b) In order to bring home the guilt of the accused, the prosecution has to first prove the demand of illegal gratification and the subsequent acceptance as a matter of fact. This fact in issue can be proved either by direct evidence which can be in the nature of oral evidence or documentary evidence. 

(c) Further, the fact in issue, namely, the proof of demand and acceptance of illegal gratification can also be proved by circumstantial evidence in the absence of direct oral and documentary evidence. 

(d) In order to prove the fact in issue, namely, the demand and acceptance of illegal gratification by the public servant, the following aspects have to be borne in mind: 

    (i) if there is an offer to pay by the bribe giver without there being any demand from the public servant and the latter simply accepts the offer and receives the illegal gratification, it is a case of acceptance as per Section 7 of the Act. In such a case, there need not be a prior demand by the public servant. 

    (ii) On the other hand, if the public servant makes a demand and the bribe giver accepts the demand and tenders the demanded gratification which in turn is received by the public servant, it is a case of obtainment. In the case of obtainment, the prior demand for illegal gratification emanates from the public servant. This is an offence under Section 13 (1)(d)(i) and (ii) of the Act. 

    (iii) In both cases of (i) and (ii) above, the offer by the bribe giver and the demand by the public servant respectively have to be proved by the prosecution as a fact in issue. In other words, mere acceptance or receipt of an illegal gratification without anything more would not make it an offence under Section 7 or Section 13 (1)(d), (i) and (ii) respectively of the Act. Therefore, under Section 7 of the Act, in order to bring home the offence, there must be an offer which emanates from the bribe giver which is accepted by the public servant which would make it an offence. Similarly, a prior demand by the public servant when accepted by the bribe giver and inturn there is a payment made which is received by the public servant, would be an offence of obtainment under Section 13 (1)(d) and (i) and (ii) of the Act. 

(e) The presumption of fact with regard to the demand and acceptance or obtainment of an illegal gratification may be made 68 by a court of law by way of an inference only when the foundational facts have been proved by relevant oral and documentary evidence and not in the absence thereof. On the basis of the material on record, the Court has the discretion to raise a presumption of fact while considering whether the fact of demand has been proved by the prosecution or not. Of course, a presumption of fact is subject to rebuttal by the accused and in the absence of rebuttal presumption stands. 

(f) In the event the complainant turns ‘hostile’, or has died or is unavailable to let in his evidence during trial, demand of illegal gratification can be proved by letting in the evidence of any other witness who can again let in evidence, either orally or by documentary evidence or the prosecution can prove the case by circumstantial evidence. The trial does not abate nor does it result in an order of acquittal of the accused public servant. 

(g) In so far as Section 7 of the Act is concerned, on the proof of the facts in issue, Section 20 mandates the court to raise a presumption that the illegal gratification was for the purpose of a motive or reward as mentioned in the said Section. The said presumption has to be raised by the court as a legal presumption or a presumption in law. Of course, the said presumption is also subject to rebuttal. Section 20 does not apply to Section 13 (1) (d) (i) and (ii) of the Act. 

(h) We clarify that the presumption in law under Section 20 of the Act is distinct from presumption of fact referred to above in point (e) as the former is a mandatory presumption while the latter is discretionary in nature. 

69. In view of the aforesaid discussion and conclusions, we find that there is no conflict in the three judge Bench decisions of this Court in B. Jayaraj and P. Satyanarayana Murthy with the three judge Bench decision in M. Narasinga Rao, with regard to the nature and quality of proof necessary to sustain a conviction for offences under Sections 7 or 13(1)(d)(i) and (ii) of the Act, when the direct evidence of the complainant or “primary evidence” of the complainant is unavailable owing to his death or any other reason. The position of law when a complainant or prosecution witness turns “hostile” is also discussed and the observations made above would accordingly apply in light of Section 154 of the Evidence Act. In view of the aforesaid discussion, we hold that there is no conflict between the judgments in the aforesaid three cases. 

70. Accordingly, the question referred for consideration of this Constitution Bench is answered as under: 

    In the absence of evidence of the complainant (direct/primary, oral/documentary evidence) it is permissible to draw an inferential deduction of culpability/guilt of a public servant under Section 7 and Section 13(1)(d) read with Section 13(2) of the Act based on other evidence adduced by the prosecution. 

While observing on the menace of Corruption, the court observed that, "Before we conclude, we hope and trust that the complainants as well as the prosecution make sincere efforts to ensure that the corrupt public servants are brought to book and convicted so that the administration and governance becomes unpolluted and free from corruption. 

In this regard, we would like to reiterate what has been stated by this Court in Swatantar Singh vs. State of Haryana (1997) 4 SCC 14: 

6. ………..Corruption is corroding, like cancerous lymph nodes, the vital veins of the body politic, social fabric of efficiency in the public service and demoralising the honest officers. The efficiency in public service would improve only when the public servant devotes his sincere attention and does the duty diligently, truthfully, honestly and devotes himself assiduously to the performance of the duties of his post. The reputation of corruption would gather thick and unchaseable clouds around the conduct of the officer and gain notoriety much faster than the smoke

The above has been reiterated in A.B. Bhaskara Rao vs. CBI (2011) 10 SCC 259 by quoting as under from the case of State of M.P. vs. Shambhu Dayal (2006) 8 SCC 693

32. It is difficult to accept the prayer of the respondent that a lenient view be taken in this case. The corruption by public servants has become a gigantic problem. It has spread everywhere. No facet of public activity has been left unaffected by the stink of corruption. It has deep and pervasive impact on the functioning of the entire country. Large-scale corruption retards the nation-building activities and everyone has to suffer on that count.”

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