Delay in trial of offence under Prevention of Corruption Act.

No time limit can be stipulated for disposal of the criminal trial. The delay caused has to be weighed on the factual score, regard being had to the nature of the offence and the concept of social justice and the cry of the collective.

In the case at hand, the appellant has been charge-sheeted under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 for disproportionate assets. The said Act has a purpose to serve. The Parliament intended to eradicate corruption and provide deterrent punishment when criminal culpability is proven. The intendment of the legislature has an immense social relevance. In the present day scenario, corruption has been treated to have the potentiality of corroding the marrows of the economy. There are cases where the amount is small and in certain cases, it is extremely high. The gravity of the offence in such a case, in our considered opinion, is not to be adjudged on the bedrock of the quantum of bribe. An attitude to abuse the official position to extend favour in lieu of benefit is a crime against the collective and an anathema to the basic tenet of democracy, for it erodes the faith of the people in the system. It creates an incurable concavity in the Rule of Law. Be it noted, system of good governance is founded on collective faith in the institutions. If corrosions are allowed to continue by giving allowance to quash the proceedings in corruption cases solely because of delay without scrutinizing other relevant factors, a time may come when the unscrupulous people would foster and garner the tendency to pave the path of anarchism.

It can be stated without any fear of contradiction that corruption is not to be judged by degree, for corruption mothers disorder, destroys societal will to progress, accelerates undeserved ambitions, kills the conscience, jettisons the glory of the institutions, paralyses the economic health of a country, corrodes the sense of civility and mars the marrows of governance.

It is worth noting that immoral acquisition of wealth destroys the energy of the people believing in honesty, and history records with agony how they have suffered. The only redeeming fact is that collective sensibility respects such suffering as it is in consonance with the constitutional morality. Therefore, the relief for quashing of a trial under the 1988 Act has to be considered in the above backdrop.

It is perceivable that delay has occurred due to dilatory tactics adopted by the accused, laxity on the part of the prosecution and faults on the part of the system, i.e., to keep the court vacant. It is also interesting to note that though there was no order directing stay of the proceedings before the trial court, yet at the instance of the accused, adjournments were sought. After the High Court clarified the position, the accused, by exhibition of inherent proclivity, sought adjournment and filed miscellaneous applications for prolonging the trial, possibly harbouring the notion that asking for adjournment is a right of the accused and filing applications is his unexceptional legal right. When we say so, we may not be understood to have said that the accused is debarred in law to file applications, but when delay is caused on the said score, he cannot advance a plea that the delay in trial has caused colossal hardship and agony warranting quashment of the entire criminal proceeding. In the present case, as has been stated earlier, the accused, as alleged, had acquired assets worth Rs. 33.44 lacs. The value of the said amount at the time of launching of the prosecution has to be kept in mind. It can be stated with absolute assurance that the tendency to abuse the official position has spread like an epidemic and has shown its propensity making the collective to believe that unless bribe is given, the work may not be done. To put it differently, giving bribe, whether in cash or in kind, may become the “mantra” of the people. We may hasten to add, some citizens do protest but the said protest may not inspire others to follow the path of sacredness of boldness and sacrosanctity of courage. Many may try to deviate. This deviation is against the social and national interest. Thus, we are disposed to think that the balance to continue the proceeding against the accused-appellants tilts in favour of the prosecution and, hence, we are not inclined to exercise the jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Constitution to quash the proceedings.

[Source: Niranjan Hemchandra Sashittal vs State Of Maharashtra decided by SC on 15 March, 2013 published (2013) 4 SCC 642]

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