Slow and Steady Judiciary- Another Example

28 years on, a Delhi man has been acquitted of charge of taking Rs 250 bribe by the Delhi High Court. Seventy nine-year-old Jagannath, a former municipal corporation employee in Malviya Nagar, now lives with the hope of getting his gratuity from the civic body after the Delhi high court recently acquitted him, after 28 years, of the charge of taking a bribe of Rs 250 to release an impounded cow.

“Even though I have retired in 2002, I am yet to get my gratuity. But I fear that none of the records would be available because records that are 10 years or older are not maintained,” Jagannath said.

Jagannath, who has a family of eight to take care of, was earlier convicted by a trial court in February 2002, after he was allegedly caught red-handed by the anti-corruption branch of the Central Bureau of Investigation (ACB-CBI) in 1991 on the complaint of a man named Jeet Ram.

Ram had complained that Jagannath had demanded the bribe to release a cow which the MCD (then a single body) officials had impounded. Jagannath was employed as a munshi in the department.

According to the ACB-CBI, the team found him reiterating the demand and accepting the amount.

They also claimed that the money was later recovered from his pocket.

Jagannath was suspended for three years. His family, including his handicapped son, had a hard time. Ravi, Jagannath’s fifth child, narrated how he along with his other siblings had to study and work at the same time to make the ends meet.

“I was just 16 at the time. My father told us that now we will have to fend for ourselves. We studied and worked to earn our bread,” Ravi said, adding that things improved only after his father was reinstated.

Jagannath, who now hardly walks, pleaded not guilty and faced trial. A trial court, in 2002, found him guilty of accepting the bribe and awarded him a one-year sentence and a fine.

He appealed in the Delhi High Court in 2002 following which his sentence was suspended on April 9, 2002. Appearing for him in the high court, advocate Sumer Kumar Sethi, contended that his client was old and has been fighting for justice from a long time.

Seventeen years after he was convicted, on May 23, justice R K Gauba acquitted Jagannath extending him the benefit of doubt.

The court said there was a lot of confusion with the recovery of the bribe. “It appears unnatural that the first search would reveal possession of only the bribe money and after such recovery had been effected, the personal search would bring out a larger amount of money,” the court said, adding that the “sequence of events, as set out in the prosecution case, evoke uneasy feeling as to its credibility, particularly when two crucial witnesses are not very sure about the two separate recoveries”.

The court also noted that the trial court seems to have proceeded on the assumption that the detention of the cow was itself illegal.

“If so, the appellant (Jagannath) cannot be held responsible for such an act as it would be the municipal official who had brought the cow to the cattle pound who would be accountable,” justice Gauba said in a seven-page judgment.

The court set aside the sentence and fine imposed on Jagannath, who now is relieved to have his name cleared of the charge.

“I am happy that after my struggle of 28 years, I have finally got justice. I was framed and now I am cleared of all charges. I would have been happy if the vigilance department also clears my name and I’m able to get my gratuity,” he said.

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