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State of M.P. Vs. Sheetla Sahai & Ors. [2009] INSC 1388 (4 August 2009)

Judgment

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. OF 2009 [Arising out of SLP (Crl.) No. 4130 of 2006] State of Madhya Pradesh ...Appellant Versus Sheetla Sahai & Ors. ...Respondents

S.B. SINHA, J :

1.     Leave granted.

2.     Appellant is before us being aggrieved by and dissatisfied with a judgment and order dated 12.01.2006 passed by a learned Single Judge of the Madhya Pradesh High Court allowing the criminal revision applications filed by the respondents herein arising out of the orders dated 21.12.1998 2 and 13.05.1997 passed by the Special Judge, Bhopal in Special Case No. 6 of 1997.

3.     The respondents herein were proceeded against for commission of offences under Section 13(1)(d)(2)(ii-iii) read with Section 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (for short "the Act") and Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

4.     Before proceeding further, we may notice the positions held by the respondents herein. Respondent No. 1 Sheetla Sahai was Minister for Water Resources of the State of Madhya Pradesh. Respondent No. 2 D.V.S.R. Sarma and the respondent No. 7 S.W. Mohgoankar were the Secretary to the Government of Madhya Pradesh. Respondent No. 3 P.V. Srinivasaiyah was the Engineer-in-Chief and the respondent No. 4 A.S. Laxminarsimhaiya was the Deputy Secretary in the Government of Madhya Pradesh. Respondent No. 5 V.R.B. Gopal and the respondent No. 6 M.N. Nadkarni were the Chief Engineers, Hasdeo Bango Project. Respondent No. 11 R.P. Khare was the Secretary, Control Board for Major Projects.

5.     Appellant under the aegies of the World Bank undertook construction of the Hasdeo Bango Masonry dam project. For the aforementioned purpose, the respondent Nos. 8, 9 and 10 herein, viz.,M/s Progressive Constructions Pvt. Ltd., M/s Prasad & Company, M/s SEW Construction Co. (hereinafter referred to as "the contractors") were awarded contracts in terms whereof they were required to excavate stones etc. from Therma Pahar Quarry, which was situate at only 12 kms. away from the site, for use of the stone to be extracted there from for construction of masonry spillway.

6.     One of the terms of the said contract is as under:

"...The tenderer should satisfy himself regarding availability of the required quality and quantity of the materials, if any quarry is changed for any reason whatsoever, no claim shall be entertained on this account."

In addition to the guidelines, a plan was also supplied to the contractors containing the following note:

"the contractor shall extract materials from the approved sources and quarry areas to be designated by the engineer-in-charge for their particular contract group. They shall have no claim for any material collected elsewhere without 4 having obtained the prior approval in writing of the engineer in charge. Such material shall become the property of the department unless approval to use the same is subsequently accorded by the engineer-in-charge, in which case, however, the contractor shall not be entitled for any extra rate or lead."

7.     However, on the premise that whereas eight lakh cubic meters of stones of the requisite specification were required for masonry work, only one lakh cubic meter stone was available from the Therma Pahar Quarry, permission was sought for by the contractors to excavate stones, rubbles and other materials from a quarry known as Katghora Quarry which was situated at a distance of 22 kms. from the dam.

8.     The question was considered by the concerned engineers. The District Mining Officer and the Additional Collector Korba, having regard to the fact that the mining leases in respect of the said quarries were to be granted, asked them not to do so as the stones in the hillocks of villages Katghora, Hunkra and Maheshpur were found to be suitable for the masonry work of the dam, as would appear from a letter dated 14.07.1983 issued by the Executive Engineer to the Additional Collector, Korba.

9.     The Superintending Engineer, respondent No. 7 herein also by his letter dated 28.07.1983 addressed to Shri R.C. Gupta, the then Executive Engineer stated:

"I am informed that Rampura quarry near Katghora on Kathora Ambikapur road, may also yield good masonary stones. You may also explore this possibility and let me know if the stones were got tested. If not, the samples from this quarry may also be tested. Case could also be moved to obtain lease for this quarry."

10.  A request was also made to the Mining Officer of Bilaspur to the same effect by Shri R.C. Gupta, the then Executive Engineer by a letter dated 16.10.1983, stating:

"...Adequate quantity of rubble is not available from Therma quarries of Forest Department acquired for this purpose and Geologist, Geological Survey of India had intimated that about one lakh cum. of rubble can only be extracted from Therma quarries. For completion of this major dam about ten lakh cum. rubble & metal are needed. Out of which 1 lakh cum. can be extracted from Therma quarry, about three lakh cum. can be used out of the stone received from excavation of foundation of dam, remaining 6 (six) lakh cum. is required from adjacent stone quarries like Katghora, Hukra & Maheshpur. Hence, I have requested in my letter cited above (copy enclosed) 6 to additional Collector, Korba, to reserve rubble quarries in the surroundings of the above villages so that rubble from these quarries can be extracted for completion of the Bango Dam in time.

Now I understand that you have proposed the above quarries for auction on 20th & 21st Oct.'83. I request to delete the rubble quarries situated in the surrounding of Katghora, Hukra & Maheshpur from the purview of auction and transfer to Irrigation Department. Depending upon the quantity of rubble required by each agency executed masonry works at Bango Dam, allotment of individual quarries will be made by us after the agencies deposit the royalty charges which will be refundable to them after awarding the certificate of utilizing the material in bonafide Government works.

Till the formalities are over for transfer of the above quarries to Irrigation Department, I request to delete the following quarries from the purview of auction.

S.No. Name of PC No. Name of Khasra No. Area Village material

1. Hukra 47 Stone 347/1 17.396 Hec.

2. Maheshpur 31-A Stone 1/1-K 30.425 Hec."

11.  The Additional Collector (Mining Section), Korba in response thereto by a letter dated 22.11.1983 addressed to the Executive Engineer reserved 7 the aforementioned quarries for extraction of stones departmentally, subject to the conditions mentioned therein.

12.  Yet again, the Executive Engineer by a letter dated 05.12.1984 addressed to the Superintending Engineer brought to his notice that alternative sites for quarrying operations for extraction of stones were necessary, inter alia, stating:

"2. The quarrying operations for extraction of stones was started in the real sense during 82-83 working season, i.e., prior to the area was ready for starting the masonry. The contractors after the start of quarry operations, repeatedly wrote, regarding the non availability of sufficient stones of requisite quality. They had also brought out that the yield of even this small quantity of stone was very much less. In consultations with the department and the resident geologist, they have opened more number of quarry faces, but this did not result yields. This office has also carried out case studies which has established the yield of useful stone to be very much less. The details enclosed at Annexure A. Even the quantum of stone available is less, when compared to the requirement.

3. It was reported that the quantum of useful rubble available in the entire Therma Pahad Hills is to the tune of one lakh cum. against the total requirement of 8 lakh cum. for the entire dam.

This was based on the detailed investigations and 8 report of the Resident Geologist. Even this quantity can be extracted with much difficulty.

Therma Pahad Quarry on the visual appearance and the random bore holes, initially appeared to be good. As such this was declared as quarry for masonry stone and accordingly estimates prepared and designated as the specified quarry in the quarry map enclosed along with the agreements.

The contractors naturally could not have investigated the quarry by actual opening/ operation, and have inspected the quarry with the data available to them. Therefore neither department nor the contractor could have foreseen the non availability of useful stone in the required quantity from the designated quarry."

It was requested:

"It is therefore requested that the sanction may be obtained for payment of additional leads and communicated. However, the payment towards additional wasteful expenditure incurred in therma quarries as claimed by contractors is recommended for rejection."

13.  The Superintending Engineer brought the same to the notice of the Chief Engineer by a letter dated 18.12.1984 stating that there had always been a controversy regarding the use of those stones as rubble in masonry dam. A question was also raised as to whether the department would permit additional payment due to change in the quarry. If such a step is not taken, 9 the contractor may put an end to the contract and, thus, inter alia requested that payment of additional leads from Katghora quarry may be allowed.

14.  It appears that even the Central Water Commission of the Government of India by a letter dated 04.05.1984 informed the Chief Engineer of the project to the following effect:

"Please refer to your letter on the above mentioned subject. You have proposed to use stone from Therma Pahar quarry for the construction of the dam. Though the stone from this quarry has been approved as Granite, the Compressive strength of the stone from this quarry varies from 289 kg/cm to 373 kg/cm, which is very low. It is necessary that the reasons for such low strength for the Granite are investigated before deciding to use the same for the construction of the dam."

15.  By a letter dated 7.06.1983, the Executive Engineer of the Quality Control Division brought the following to the notice of the Superintending Engineer of the Quality Control Department:

"Thus, it is noticed the mica existing in the rocks under question varies from 7% to 11%. No mention of the permissible percentage of mica is given in IS codes or other books. Only Hand book on civil engineering by PN Khanna, reveals that 10 2% of mica is permissible. In view of the above it is submitted that the pigmetite band stones are not fit for use in masonry dam from quality control unit Machadoli's point of view. This is, however, continuously used in masonry on dam blocks 16, 17, 18, 19, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 35, 37 in which work continuously in progress. If the higher authority deems it fit, that use of pigmetite is to be continued by overruling the opinion of the undersigned clear written instructions may kindly be issued to this office for guiding the A.R.Os. Quality Control deployed on Quality control work of masonry dam.

Early reply is solicited."

16.  In view of the aforementioned development, the Chief Engineer of the Project brought the same to the notice of the Secretary of the Major, Medium and Minor Irrigation Department, Bhopal by a letter dated 11.01.1985 inter alia making the following recommendations:

"(i) Permitting the Chief Engineer for declaring Katghora quarry as an additional quarry for balance quantity of rubble quarry for rubble for masonry dam other than one lakh cubic meter of rubble, as assessed by the geologist to be extracted by the contractors from Therma Pahad quarry as far as possible in the contracts mentioned in this letter.

(ii) To allow payment of additional leads from Katghora quarry for cum of masonry at the rates detailed in table at para 5.3 above."

11 Along with the said letter, various other documents were enclosed as specified therein including a letter dated 4.05.1990, wherein it was inter alia stated:

"10. In view of the above, the Chief Engineer submitted proposals on 4.07.85 for Government Orders. According to the above proposals sanction to pay extra lead amounting to Rs. 1,23,23,767/- has been sought. This amount is about 3% of the total amount of contract of Rs. 41.77 crores. The Chief Engineer had also sought the opinion of the World Bank, and the World Bank gave a suggestion to deal the issue with in the contractual provisions. Similar problem has been raised by the contractors in Bansagar Project also, and the Executive Committee had recommended approval of lead payment.

11. According to the Chief Engineer's report, the Executive Engineers had reported that only 30% to 35% useful stones can be extracted which was not economical. This project is under construction with the World Bank assistance, will have to be completed on time, to supply water to the National Thermal Power Corporation, and also to the M.P.E.B. Power Station. In view of this stones have been brought from Katghora quarry situated at 22 Km. where sufficient quality of stones are available.

In case, due to above reasons had the Agreements drawn been cancelled and new tenders recalled the cost would have been more. Further, precious time would have been lost in this process which would have affected the works and it would not be 12 possible to supply water to N.T.P.C. and M.P.E.B."

17.  In a letter dated 14.02.1985 addressed to the Chief Engineer, the World Bank stated:

"We note you have referred the matter to the Secretary, Irrigation Department, Bhopal for decision. We suggest that the matter be resolved within contractual limits."

18.  Pursuant thereto and in furtherance thereof, even the Progress Review Committee observed in its note dated 14.05.1985 as follows:

"27. Chief Engineer (HBP) explained his proposal submitted through his memo No. 1916/HB/84 dated 29/3/85. He gave the background of the change of quarry, in view of unexpectedly low yield of useful stone from the Therma Pahad quarry, approved in the technically sanctioned, sanctioned estimate and also on which basis tenders had been invited and contractors' rates accepted. He informed the Committee that the total extra commitment for the various contracts worked out to Rs. 1.23 crores - approximately 3% of the total contract value.

28. Financial Adviser observed that he had no offered any comments on the merit of the case, as 13 then appeared to him essentially a claim case.

PRC does not deal such claim cases.

29. The Committee observed that the World Bank too vide their letter of 14/2/85 had suggested that the matter be resolved within contractual limits.

30. In view of the above, the Committee did not examine the proposal of Chief Engineer and refrained from giving any comments in the matter at this stage."

19.  However, the contractors invoked the arbitration agreement contained in the said contract in the year 1987 and an ad hoc settlement was proposed.

20.  The matter was placed before the Financial Adviser. The Financial Adviser in his note dated 4.01.1991 to the Secretary, while stating that the Financial Adviser functions as a consultant offering comments on cases referred to him in the light of his background, experience and expertise and going by the facts placed before him which may not be treated as a substitute for vetting by the Finance Department wherever such vetting is required under the rules of governmental business, inter alia made the following comments:

14 "...However, since the whole contract action was based on the presumption that the required quantity of material of required specification would be available from a quarry with in 12 KM of the work site, it can be reasonable assumed that the contractors have quoted their rates on this assumption. The departmental estimates were also based on this assumption. Since, later on, this assumption was found to be invalid and majority of the material had to be obtained from a quarry with an average lead of 22 KM from the work site as against 12 KM in respect of the contemplated quarry, the contractors have a reasonable case for additional payment on account of extra lead of the material brought by them from this second quarry.

Thus, their claim is based on consideration of equity rather than there of law."

In regard thereto, the Financial Adviser opined:

"4. Since the proposed settlement will amount to extra-contractual payment, it has to be ensured that the proposed settlement is acceptable to the contractors concerned. In other words, the settlement has to be a negotiated settlement and should not leave room for further disputes with the various contractors. Since the purpose of the whole exercise is to avoid arbitration it could even be ascertained if there are any other disputed issues in these contracts. If an overall settlement of all the disputes could be attempted and a sort of package deal is evolved in respect of each contract so that the contracts are finalized once for all leaving no scope for arbitration on the other hand 15 if the contractors intend to take resort to arbitration for other issues, this issue could also go in for arbitration. A package approach would allow negotiation in a spirit or give and take for an over- all settlement of all disputes."

21.  The then Secretary (Irrigation) Shri M.S. Billore constituted a committee comprising of the Engineer-in-Chief P.V. Srinivasaiyah, the Chief Engineer, the Financial Adviser, Secretary (Control Board) and the Deputy Secretary, some of whom are Accused Nos. 3, 4,5 and 11.

22.  The said Committee submitted a report in respect whereof the Secretary made a note that the same be critically examined.

The Officer on Special Duty noticed the recommendations of the Committee, which are as under:

"(i) As the quarry has been changed by the Department due to Technical reasons the contractors cannot be held responsible.

(ii) When the Department itself did not know about the quarry's unsuitability it will be unfair to expect the contractors to bring stones from the changed quarry at the same rates.

(iii) Payment to the extent of actual quantity brought from the quarries be made."

16 The proposals of the Chief Engineer, the quantities under each agreement, the rate and the amount were also noticed. It was proposed:

"Therefore, it is proposed to approve payment for actual quantity and the Chief Engineer may be informed to take undertakings from the contractors before making the payment."

The Financial Adviser was asked to examine the said proposal in details. Some discussions apparently were held and it was found necessary to obtain the following information before taking decision at the government level:

"1. After the inspection of the Geologists how much quantity has been brought from Therma Pahad by each contractor.

2. How much quantity has been brought from Katghora quarry.

3. How the records are kept by the Department about the quantity of stones brought from different quarries."

A draft letter was also prepared.

23.  On or about 6.04.1991, one Shri Uday Shinde in his note stated that the Chief Engineer had not sent any detail in regard to Block 31-38 as in the agreement only Therma Pahar quarry had been shown for the balance work and as the original file was sent to the Hon'ble Minister, it was not possible to deal with the case. The file was re-submitted and the amount payable to the contractor for additional lead was again put up for administrative approval. Yet again, the Engineering in-Chief Committee was asked to examine the matter.

24.  In a note to the Secretary dated 27.04.1991, the salient features in respect of the aforementioned matter were placed again to which Shri M.S. Billore by his note dated 1.05.1991 opined :

"Since government decision has already been informed to the Chief Engineer, Hasdeo Bango Project through government letter No: 9/CP/B/31/89/319, Bhopal dated 28.2.89. Hence, any action at government level is not pending in this case and Chief Engineer to take action in this case as per government order."

25.  Allegedly, the respondent No. 1 who was Minister at the relevant point of time sat over the file for a period of about six months. He on 4.11.1991 noted:

"I have studied the case. Whenever any opinion has been sought by the Secretary, from whichever authority, they gave their opinion as per their wisdom. Every time the Secretary has been seeking the opinion from one after another officer.

In this process he spent a period of one year between 3.5.90 to 1.5.91. In accepting the opinion or recommending any action, it was expected from the Secretary to take into consideration the fact that the opinions had been given as per their wisdom. Therefore, question does not arise to take any action against the subordinate officers.

No basis appears for the Secretary to take a totally different view than the unanimous opinions.

Therefore, it is necessary to investigate the basis on which the Secretary Shri Billore had rendered his opinion.

The new Secretary to study the case and give opinion."

26.  Pursuant thereto or in furtherance thereof, the respondent No. 2 Shri D.V.S.R. Sarma submitted a report upon constitution of a Committee, stating:

19 "(i) Due to technical reasons, the department has changed the quarry. Therefore, its liability should not be upon the contractors.

(ii) When the Department had not any knowledge about the quarry, and to expect this that even under the changed quarry the contractor should fetch/ transport the stones at the same rate, is also not proper.

(iii) Where & Where (sic) and for that much of the quantities, the materials have been brought from a quarry at more distance, it is proper to make payment for that much excess distance."

27.  The respondent No.1 approved the said note of the respondent No. 2 on or about 20.01.1992 whereupon the amount in question was sanctioned.

28.  Thereafter, the accounts were audited and one Shri G.K. Shukla, Deputy Accountant General reported:

"a) The clause of the agreement noted above and the quarry chart clearly bring out that in the event of change of quarry on whatever reasons no claim will be entertained and contractor should before quoting rates, visit the quarry site and satisfy himself regarding quantity and quality of the material available. Thus, the sanction appears a negotiated settlement beyond the contractual provisions, for which concurrence of Finance Department ought to have been obtained.

20 b) The PRC considered this as a claim case which was to be decided by Arbitrator under M.P.

Adhikaran Adhiniyan, 1983.

c) The Member, World Bank suggested to resolve the matter within the contractual limits.

d) The Secretary Irrigation had earlier rejected the case as it was not admissible.

e) The rates quoted by the contractors were inclusive of all lead and lift, being item rate tender."

The Auditor General of India also took note of the said report, stating:

"Therefore, in spite of the report of the Geologist that the good quality of stone was available in sufficient quantities in the upper portion of the quarry situated in the hill mentioned in the agreement and in spite of there being specific provision in the agreements that no additional payment would be acceptable in the event of change in leads or change in quarry, the payments made to the contractors were irregular and resultantly made additional gains of Rs. 102.46 lacs to them."

29.  Pursuant thereto or in furtherance thereof, a complaint was lodged.

The matter was investigated by the Special Police Establishment. They collected all the materials and filed a chargesheet in the Court of learned 21 Special Judge on 27.03.1997. The case was registered as Special Case No. 6 of 1997.

30.  By an order dated 13.05.1997, the learned Special Judge took cognizance of the case, opining:

(i) As none of the accused is a public servant, no sanction was required to be obtained in terms of Section 19 of the Act.

(ii) Criminal misconduct relating to corrupt practice under Section 13(1)(d)(ii-iii) of the Act has nothing to do with normal activity and work under government duty of any public servant at any time.

31.  In the year 1997, the respondent Nos. 1 and 2 had filed a revision application before the High Court.

32.  The Special Judge framed charges against the respondents on or about 29.07.1999; a sample copy whereof reads as under:

"You were working as Minister In-charge, Ministry of Water Resources, Government of Madhya Pradesh from June 1990 to September 22 1992. On the recommendatory note of Shri D.V.S.R. Sharma ignoring the letter dated 14.02.85 of the Finance Branch of World Bank and earlier decision dated 18.02.85 according to which the case of extra lead was to be decided within the ambit of the contract in respect of payment of extra lead to the concerned Tender Contractors for transportation of stones used in construction work of masonry non-flow dam upstream in Hasdeo Bango Project. You in conspiracy with the employees and Tender Contractors accorded administrative sanction and payment of one crore two lac forty six thousand two hundred rupees was made to the Contractors towards extra lead.

Hence, you while holding the post of public servant misusing the position of the post provided financial benefit to the Tender Contractors without public interest.

Your above act being offence under Section 13(1)(D)(ii-iii), the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 is punishable under Section 13(2) the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. In the alternative, you in criminal conspiracy with Shri D.V.S.R. Sharma, Secretary, working in the Ministry of Water Resources, Government of Madhya Pradesh and other employees and contractors acted as mentioned above, which is punishable under Section 13(1)(D)(ii and iii) read with Section 120B IPC, which is within the jurisdiction of this Court.

Hence, I hereby direct that you will be tried for the offence mentioned above by this Court."

33.  Aggrieved by and dissatisfied therewith, the respondents filed revision applications before the High Court, which by reason of the impugned order have been allowed. The State is, thus, before us.

34.  Mr. K.T.S. Tulsi, learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant, in support of the appeal, inter alia would submit:

(i) The High Court committed a serious error in opining that an order of sanction in terms of Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure was required to be obtained despite the fact that the respondent Nos. 1 to 7 were no longer holders of public office(s).

(ii) While exercising its revisional jurisdiction, the High Court could not enter into the question of appreciation of evidence as also the probative value of the materials brought on record, contrary to the tests laid down by this Court in Soma Chakravarty v. State Through CBI [(2007) 5 SCC 403] as the tests for framing of charge are different from the tests for recording a judgment of acquittal against an accused insofar as whereas in the former, strong suspicion would be sufficient, in the latter proof beyond any reasonable doubt is necessary.

24 (iii) The prosecution agency being a special agency constituted under the Madhya Pradesh Special Police Establishment Act, which functions under the jurisdiction of the Lokayukata, only because all materials have been made part of the chargesheet, the same could not have been relied upon by the High Court as the only materials upon which the prosecution would rely upon for proving its case would be the terms of the contract, the note sheets, the letters dated 4.08.1983, 11.08.1983, 16.08.1983, 17.08.1983, 10.07.1984, 14.11.1984 and 2.03.1988, in terms whereof the contractors were categorically informed that they would not be entitled to any extra amount towards additional lead or otherwise.

(iv) The World Bank having opined that stones from alternative sources may be obtained within the budgeted amount, the extra amount could not have been sanctioned by the respondents.

(v) By reason of the acts of the respondents, the State has suffered a loss to the extent of Rs. 1.02 crores and in that view of the matter, the High Court should not have passed the impugned order.

(vi) As none of the accused is a public servant, the question of obtaining sanction in terms of Section 19 of the Act did not arise.

25 (vii) Criminal misconduct relating to corrupt practices under Section 13(1)(d)(ii-iii) of the Act cannot be mingled with the normal activity and duties of the public servant at any time, and, thus, no order of sanction was required to be obtained even under Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

(viii) The Indian Institute of Technology having tested the rocks excavated from Therma Pahar Quarry and having opined that they can safely be used for rubble masonry as well as for coarse and fine aggregate, any opinion rendered contrary thereto or inconsistent therewith should have been ignored.

35.  Mr. U.U. Lalit and Mr. Vivek Tankha, learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of the respondents, on the other hand, urged :

(i) The court at the stage of framing of charge and consequently the High Court in exercise of its jurisdiction under Sections 397 and 401 of the Code of Criminal Procedure were entitled to consider the entire materials on record for the purpose of arriving at a finding as to whether the contents thereof, even if taken to be 26 correct in their entirety, constituted a prima facie case against the accused or not.

(ii) It would not be correct to contend that although all the documents collected during investigation form part of the final report submitted by the Special Police Establishment in terms of Sub- section (5) of Section 173 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, for the purpose of framing of charge or otherwise the prosecution can rely only on a few of them so as to make a distinction between the documents which are in favour of the prosecution and those which are in favour of the accused.

(iii) The materials brought on record clearly show that the concerned authorities found it necessary to explore the possibility of procuring stones of requisite quality from other sources as they had proceeded on a wrong premise that stone of requisite quality to the extent of 8 lakh cubic meters would be available in the quarry in question.

(iv) Although the contract could be considered to show that no claim for any material collected elsewhere, without obtaining the prior approval of the Engineer In-charge, as was contended by the prosecution, was admissible, on a close reading of the terms of the 27 contract it would appear that a contingency of this nature, viz., that the parties entered into a contract on a mistaken fact was not contemplated as the contractors cannot be asked to take upon themselves the financial burden in respect of matter for which they were not responsible.

(v) A decision having been taken by the highest authority not only upon taking into consideration the opinion of all concerned, viz., from Executive Engineer to the Minister concerned but also in view of the opinion of the Government of India and on the basis of two reports of the Committee, viz., reports by respondent No. 2 D.V.S.R. Sarma Committee and respondent No. 3 P.V. Srinivasaiyah Committee, no interference with the impugned judgment is warranted.

(vi) The documents relied upon by the prosecution, even if given face value and taken to be correct in their entirety, do not disclose commission of any offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act as no allegation had been made as regards misuse or abuse of office.

(vii) The State having acted within its jurisdiction in taking a decision in regard to making of extra payment by way of novation of the 28 original contract, no exception thereto can be taken as the situation was unforeseen. Even the arbitral tribunal having passed an award in favour of the contractor which is in consonance with a decision of this Court in K.N. Sathyapalan (Dead) by LRs. v. State of Kerala & Anr. [(2006) 12 SCALE 654], the respondents cannot be said to have committed any offence.

(viii) In any view of the matter, no evidence has been brought on record to show that any conspiracy was entered into by the respondents inter se.

(ix) Assuming that the respondents have arrived at a wrong conclusion, the same would only constitute an error of judgment and not a criminal misconduct.

(x) The malafide attitude on the part of the State would be evident from the fact that the respondents herein who were members of the Committee have also been roped in although they had made fair, proper and impartial recommendations which could have been accepted or rejected. Even the respondent No. 1 in his note dated 4.11.1991 did not issue any direction to make payment but merely asked the respondent No. 2 to have a re-look at the entire matter as prior to the purported opinion of Mr. Billore, as contained in his 29 note dated 1.05.1991 he had opined otherwise, viz., not in the tune of the recommendations made by the Quality Control Department, i.e., in favour of the contractors.

(xi) There is nothing on record to show that the respondent Nos. 1 to 7 herein have done any act which was beyond their official duty and hence, the impugned judgment is unassailable.

36.  The question raised before us is required to be determined on the backdrop of factual matrix involved herein. We have taken into consideration in details the background materials only with a view to consider as to whether the High Court was right in opining that no case for framing of charges against the respondents was made out.

The fact that the State entered into contracts with the respondent Nos. 8, 9 and 10 is not in dispute. The basic terms of the contract, which we have taken note of, are also not in dispute. What is in dispute is the interpretation and application thereof.

37.  The contract contained an arbitration clause. The respondents herein invoked the said arbitration agreement, as noticed hereinbefore, as far back 30 in the year 1987. Indisputably, an award had been made in their favour on the basis of a settlement arrived at by and between the parties. Such a settlement was arrived at on the basis of the stand taken by the authorities of the State of Madhya Pradesh upon entering into detailed deliberations.

38.  The learned counsel for the parties took us through the entire agreement to raise rival contentions as to whether despite the apparent rigours contained therein, the contractors could have been paid any additional amount towards extra lead.

39.  We think a construction of the terms of contract in the light of the factual matrix of the matter to which we have adverted to heretobefore, as has been argued by the respondents, is possible. It is, however, not necessary for us to delve deep into the matter inasmuch as we are concerned only with the question as to whether the materials brought on record form sufficient basis for framing of charges under Section 13(1)(d)(ii-iii) of the Act read with Section 13(2) thereof read with Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code or not.

40.  At the outset, however, we must place on record that construction of the dam over river Hasdeo Bango became necessary for the purpose of supply of water to the National Thermal Power Corporation. It was a World Bank project. The project was required to be completed within a time frame.

Stones required to be used for the construction of the dam, as of necessity, were required to be of sufficient strength. The opinion of the Indian Institute of Technology, referred to by Mr. Tulsi, is not on record. Correspondences as also the opinion of the Central Water Commission, Government of India, however, point out that stones of requisite strength were not available at Therma Pahar Quarry. The quantum of stone required was eight lakh cubic meters and only one lakh cubic metres was available thereat. The balance seven lakh cubic meters of stone was, thus, required to be obtained from the quarries situated at villages villages Katghora, Hunkra and Maheshpur.

41.  Stone is a minor mineral within the meaning of the provisions of the Mines and Minerals (Regulation and Development) Act, 1957 and the Minor Mineral Concession Rules framed by the State. Lease and/ or licence for extraction thereof is to be granted by the Collector. Although the Mines Department of the State intended to grant `Quarry lease' in favour of others 32 having regard to the requirements of the State, the said quarries were reserved, subject to certain conditions.

42.  The respondent Nos. 8 to 10, in view of the provisions of the Mines and Mineral (Regulation and Development) Act, 1957 and the Madhya Pradesh Minor Mineral Concession Rules could not have on their own undertaken mining operation for the purpose of extracting the said minor mineral. They could have done so only on a licence granted in their favour by the Collector/State. However, as the hillocks of the villages in question were reserved for departmental use, only by reason thereof the contractors could carry on mining operation thereat and not otherwise. It was, therefore, a conscious decision on the part of the competent authorities of the State.

43.  The contract itself suggests that there was a possibility of dispute in regard to allocation of the parts of the quarries. A dispute resolution mechanism by creating a forum viz. the Office of the Superintending Engineer was created.

44.  The intra-departmental and inter-departmental correspondences and notesheets to which we have adverted to heretobefore clearly go to show that 33 the authorities incharge of construction of the dam were aware of the difficulties which were being faced by the contractors. Their apprehension was that in the event the contractors were not permitted to mine stones from Katghora Quarry and other Quarries, they may leave the job as a result whereof the entire project might come to a stand-still.

45.  The representations made by the contractors for the aforementioned purpose, even if to be ignored, the intra-departmental and inter-departmental correspondences cannot be. They clearly point out a clear picture as regards necessity for explaining the possibilities of extracting stones from some other mines for being used in the construction of dam.

46.  We would proceed on the basis that two divergent opinions on the construction of the contract in the light of the stand taken by the World Bank as also the earlier decision taken by the State was possible. That, however, would not mean that a fresh decision could not have been taken keeping in view the exigencies of the situation. A decision to that effect was not taken only by one officer or one authority. Each one of the authorities was ad idem in their view in the decision making process. Even the Financial Adviser who was an independent person and who had nothing to do with the 34 implementation of the project made recommendations in favour of the contractors stating that if not in law but in equity they were entitled to the additional amount.

47.  From the materials available on record, it is crystal clear that the decision taken was a collective one. The decision was required to be taken in the exigency of the situation. It may be an error of judgment but then no material has been brought on record to show that they did so for causing any wrongful gain to themselves or to a third party or for causing wrongful loss to the State

48.  Section 13 of the Act provides for criminal misconduct by a public servant. Such an offence of criminal misconduct by a public servant can be said to have been committed if in terms of Section 13(1)(d)(ii-iii) a public servant abuses its position and obtains for himself or for any other person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage; or while holding office as a public servant, obtains for any person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage without any public interest. Sub-section (2) of Section 13 provides that any public servant who commits criminal misconduct shall be 35 punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall be not less than one year but which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine.

49.  Criminal conspiracy has been defined in Section 120A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 to mean:

"When two or more persons agree to do, or cause to be done,-- (1) an illegal act, or (2) an act which is not illegal by illegal means, such an agreement is designated a criminal conspiracy:

Provided that no agreement except an agreement to commit an offence shall amount to a criminal conspiracy unless some act besides the agreement is done by one or more parties to such agreement in pursuance thereof.

Explanation.--It is immaterial whether the illegal act is the ultimate object of such agreement, or is merely incidental to that object."

Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code provides for punishment for criminal conspiracy.

50.  Criminal conspiracy is an independent offence. It is punishable separately. Prosecution, therefore, for the purpose of bringing the charge of criminal conspiracy read with the aforementioned provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act was required to establish the offence by applying the same legal principles which are otherwise applicable for the purpose of bringing a criminal misconduct on the part of an accused.

51.  A criminal conspiracy must be put to action inasmuch as so long a crime is generated in the mind of an accused, it does not become punishable.

What is necessary is not thoughts, which may even be criminal in character, often involuntary, but offence would be said to have been committed thereunder only when that take concrete shape of an agreement to do or cause to be done an illegal act or an act which although not illegal by illegal means and then if nothing further is done the agreement would give rise to a criminal conspiracy.

Its ingredients are (i) an agreement between two or more persons;

(ii) an agreement must relate to doing or causing to be done either (a) an illegal act; (b) an act which is not illegal in itself but is done by illegal means.

What is, therefore, necessary is to show meeting of minds of two or more persons for doing or causing to be done an illegal act or an act by illegal means.

52.  While saying so, we are not oblivious of the fact that often conspiracy is hatched in secrecy and for proving the said offence substantial direct evidence may not be possible to be obtained. An offence of criminal conspiracy can also be proved by circumstantial evidence.

In Kehar Singh and Ors. v. State (Delhi Administration), [1988 (3) SCC 609 at 731], this Court has quoted the following passage from Russell on Crimes (12th Edn. Vol 1):

"The gist of the offence of conspiracy then lies, not in doing the act, or effecting the purpose for which the conspiracy is formed, nor in attempting to do them, nor in inciting others to do them, but in the forming of the scheme or agreement between the parties. Agreement is essential. Mere knowledge, 38 or even discussion, of the plan is not, per se enough"

In State (NCT) of Delhi v. Navjot Sandhu @ Afsan Guru [(2005) 11 SCC 600], this Court stated the law, thus:

"101. One more principle which deserves notice is that the cumulative effect of the proved circumstances should be taken into account in determining the guilt of the accused rather than adopting an isolated approach to each of the circumstances. Of course, each one of the circumstances should be proved beyond reasonable doubt. Lastly, in regard to the appreciation of evidence relating to the conspiracy, the Court must take care to see that the acts or conduct of the parties must be conscious and clear enough to infer their concurrence as to the common design and its execution."

We may also notice that in Ram Narayan Popli v. CBI [(2003) 3 SCC 641], it was held:

"...Law making conspiracy a crime is designed to curb immoderate power to do mischief which is gained by a combination of the means. The encouragement and support which co-conspirators give to one another rendering enterprises possible which, if left to individual effort, would have been impossible, furnish the ground for visiting 39 conspirators and abettors with condign punishment..."

In Yogesh @ Sachin Jagdish Joshi v. State of Maharashtra [(2008) 6 SCALE 469], this Court opined:

"23. Thus, it is manifest that the meeting of minds of two or more persons for doing an illegal act or an act by illegal means is sine qua non of the criminal conspiracy but it may not be possible to prove the agreement between them by direct proof.

Nevertheless, existence of the conspiracy and its objective can be inferred from the surrounding circumstances and the conduct of the accused. But the incriminating circumstances must form a chain of events from which a conclusion about the guilt of the accused could be drawn. It is well settled that an offence of conspiracy is a substantive offence and renders the mere agreement to commit an offence punishable even if an offence does not take place pursuant to the illegal agreement."

Ex facie, there is no material to show that a conspiracy had been hatched by the respondents.

53.  Mr. Tulsi would suggest that the very fact that the respondent No. 1 being a Minister kept the file with him for a period of six months so as to see that the then Secretary Mr. M.S. Billore retires so as to enable him to obtain 40 opinion of another officer would prima facie establish that he intended to cause pecuniary gain to the respondent Nos. 8, 9 and 10.

We have noticed hereinbefore that the Minister in his note dated 4.11.1991 did not make any recommendation. He merely lamented the manner in which the former Secretary Mr. M.S. Billore acted as prior thereto, the said authority himself for all intent and purport had accepted the recommendations of the authorities incharge of construction of the dam including the Chief Engineer. He constituted a committee. He obtained the opinion of the Financial Adviser. If upon consideration of the entire materials on record, independent opinion had been rendered and recommendations were made, it is difficult to comprehend as to how that by itself would constitute a criminal misconduct or leads to the conclusion of hatching any criminal conspiracy. Recommendations made by the Committee or the opinion rendered by an independent officer like Financial Adviser need not be acted upon. It was for the State to take a decision.

Such a decision was required to be taken on the basis of the materials available.

41 In Inspector Prem Chand v. Govt. of N.C.T. of Delhi & Ors. [2007 AIR SCW 2532], this Court observed:

"In State of Punjab and Ors. vs. Ram Singh Ex.

Constable [1992 (4) SCC 54], it was stated:

"Misconduct has been defined in Black's Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition at page 999, thus:

'A transgression of some established and definite rule of action, a forbidden act, a dereliction from duty, unlawful behaviour, wilful in character, improper or wrong behaviour, its synonyms are misdemeanor, misdeed, misbehavior, delinquency, impropriety, mismanagement, offense, but not negligence or carelessness.' Misconduct in office has been defined as:

"Any unlawful behaviour by a public officer in relation to the duties of his office, willful in character. Term embraces acts which the officer holder had no right to perform, acts performed improperly, and failure to act in the face of an affirmative duty to act."

In P. Ramanatha Aiyar's Law Lexicon, 3rd edition, at page 3027, the term 'misconduct' has been defined as under:

"The term `misconduct' implies, a wrongful intention, and not a mere error of judgment.

Misconduct is not necessarily the same thing as conduct involving moral turpitude.

42 The word `misconduct' is a relative term, and has to be construed with reference to the subject matter and the context wherein the term occurs, having regard to the scope of the Act or statute which is being construed. Misconduct literally means wrong conduct or improper conduct."

[See also Bharat Petroleum Corpn. Ltd. vs. T.K. Raju, [2006 (3) SCC 143]."

54.  Even under the Act, an offence cannot be said to have been committed only because the public servant has obtained either for himself or for any other person any pecuniary advantage. He must do so by abusing his position as public servant or holding office as a public servant. In the latter category of cases, absence of any public interest is a sine qua non. The materials brought on record do not suggest in any manner whatsoever that the respondent Nos. 1 to 7 either had abused their position or had obtained pecuniary advantage for the respondent Nos. 8, 9 and 10, which was without any public interest.

55.  Whether, on the one hand, the dam should be constructed within a time frame fixed by the World Bank is a public interest or whether sticking to the terms of the contract which may lead to abandonment of work by the contractors would be a public interest is a matter over which a decision was 43 required to be taken, particularly when the authorities proceeded on the basis that they had made advertisements and called for the tender on a wrong premise, viz., the stones available in the quarry in question for supply of requisite quality of stone was not in requisite quantity.

56.  It is also interesting to notice that the prosecution had proceeded against the officials in a pick and choose manner. We may notice the following statements made in the counter-affidavit which had not been denied or disputed to show that not only those accused who were in office for a very short time but also those who had retired long back before the file was moved for the purpose of obtaining clearance for payment of additional amount from the government, viz., M.N. Nadkarni who worked as Chief Engineer till 24.03.1987 and S.W. Mohogaonkar, Superintending Engineer who worked till 19.06.1989 have been made accused but, on the other hand, those who were one way or the other connected with the decision, viz., Shri J.R. Malhotra and Mr. R.D. Nanhoria have not been proceeded at all. We fail to understand on what basis such a discrimination was made.

57.  In Soma Chakravarty (supra), whereupon strong reliance has been placed by Mr. Tulsi, this Court opined:

44 "23. In a case of this nature, the learned Special Judge also should have considered the question having regard to the "doctrine of parity" in mind.

An accused similarly situated has not been proceeded against only because, the departmental proceedings ended in his favour. Whether an accused before him although stands on a similar footing despite he having not been departmentally proceeded against or had not been completely exonerated also required to be considered. If exoneration in a departmental proceeding is the basis for not framing a charge against an accused person who is said to be similarly situated, the question which requires a further consideration was as to whether the applicant before it was similarly situated or not and/or whether the exonerated officer in the departmental proceeding also faced same charges including the charge of being a party to the larger conspiracy."

58.  There cannot be any doubt whatsoever that the tests for the purpose of framing of charge and the one for recording a judgment of conviction are different.

A distinction must be borne in mind that whereas at the time of framing of the charge, the court may take into consideration the fact as to whether the accused might have committed the offence or not; at the time of 45 recording a judgment of conviction, the prosecution is required to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused has committed the offence.

59.  In this case, the probative value of the materials on record has not been gone into. The materials brought on record have been accepted as true at this stage. It is true that at this stage even a defence of an accused cannot be considered. But, we are unable to persuade ourselves to agree with the submission of Mr. Tulsi that where the entire materials collected during investigation have been placed before the court as part of the chargesheet, the court at the time of framing of the charge could only look to those materials whereupon the prosecution intended to rely upon and ignore the others which are in favour of the accused. The question as to whether the court should proceed on the basis as to whether the materials brought on record even if given face value and taken to be correct in their entirety disclose commission of an offence or not must be determined having regard to the entirety of materials brought on record by the prosecution and not on a part of it. If such a construction is made, Sub-section (5) of Section 173 of the Code of Criminal Procedure shall become meaningless.

46 The prosecution, having regard to the right of an accused to have a fair investigation, fair inquiry and fair trial as adumbrated under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, cannot at any stage be deprived of taking advantage of the materials which the prosecution itself has placed on record.

If upon perusal of the entire materials on record, the court arrives at an opinion that two views are possible, charges can be framed, but if only one and one view is possible to be taken, the court shall not put the accused to harassment by asking him to face a trial.

{See State of Maharashtra and Others v. Som Nath Thapa and Others [(1996) 4 SCC 659]}.

60.  This leaves us with the question as to whether an order of sanction was required to be obtained. There exists a distinction between a sanction for prosecution under Section 19 of the Act and Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Whereas in terms of Section 19, it would not be necessary to obtain sanction in respect of those who had ceased to be a public servant, Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure requires sanction both for those who were or are public servants.

61.  Strong reliance has been placed by Mr. Tulsi on a judgment of this Court in Centre for Public Interest Litigation and Another v. Union of India and Another [(2005) 8 SCC 202]. In that case, it was held:

"9. The protection given under Section 197 is to protect responsible public servants against the institution of possibly vexatious criminal proceedings for offences alleged to have been committed by them while they are acting or purporting to act as public servants. The policy of the legislature is to afford adequate protection to public servants to ensure that they are not prosecuted for anything done by them in the discharge of their official duties without reasonable cause, and if sanction is granted, to confer on the Government, if they choose to exercise it, complete control of the prosecution.

This protection has certain limits and is available only when the alleged act done by the public servant is reasonably connected with the discharge of his official duty and is not merely a cloak for doing the objectionable act. If in doing his official duty, he acted in excess of his duty, but there is a reasonable connection between the act and the performance of the official duty, the excess will not be a sufficient ground to deprive the public servant from the protection. The question is not as to the nature of the offence such as whether the alleged offence contained an element necessarily dependent upon the offender being a public servant, but whether it was committed by a public servant acting or purporting to act as such in the discharge of his official capacity. Before Section 197 can be invoked, it must be shown that the official concerned was accused of an offence alleged to have been committed by him while 48 acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official duties. It is not the duty which requires examination so much as the act, because the official act can be performed both in the discharge of the official duty as well as in dereliction of it.

The act must fall within the scope and range of the official duties of the public servant concerned. It is the quality of the act which is important and the protection of this section is available if the act falls within the scope and range of his official duty.

There cannot be any universal rule to determine whether there is a reasonable connection between the act done and the official duty, nor is it possible to lay down any such rule. One safe and sure test in this regard would be to consider if the omission or neglect on the part of the public servant to commit the act complained of could have made him answerable for a charge of dereliction of his official duty. If the answer to this question is in the affirmative, it may be said that such act was committed by the public servant while acting in the discharge of his official duty and there was every connection with the act complained of and the official duty of the public servant. This aspect makes it clear that the concept of Section 197 does not get immediately attracted on institution of the complaint case.

10. Use of the expression "official duty" implies that the act or omission must have been done by the public servant in the course of his service and that it should have been in discharge of his duty.

The section does not extend its protective cover to every act or omission done by a public servant in service but restricts its scope of operation to only those acts or omissions which are done by a public servant in discharge of official duty.

11. If on facts, therefore, it is prima facie found that the act or omission for which the accused was charged had reasonable connection with discharge of his duty then it must be held to be official to which applicability of Section 197 of the Code cannot be disputed."

62.  Were the respondent Nos. 1 to 7 required to act in the matter as a part of official duty? Indisputably, they were required to do so. Be he an Executive Engineer, Superintending Engineer, Chief Engineer, Engineer-in-Chief, Secretary or Deputy Secretary, matters were placed before them by their subordinate officers. They were required to take action thereupon. They were required to apply their own mind. A decision on their part was required to be taken so as to enable them to oversee supervision and completion of a government project. The Minister having regard to the provisions of the Rules of Executive Business was required to take a decision for and on behalf of the State. Some of the respondents, as noticed hereinbefore, were required to render their individual opinion required by their superiors. They were members of the Committee constituted by the authorities, viz., the Minister or the Secretary. At that stage, it was not possible for them to refuse to be a Member of the Committee and/ or not to 50 render any opinion at all when they were asked to perform their duties.

They were required to do the same and, thus, there cannot be any doubt whatsoever that each one of the respondent Nos. 1 to 7 was performing his official duties.

63.  For the purpose of attracting the provisions of Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, it is not necessary that they must act in their official capacity but even where a public servant purports to act in their official capacity, the same would attract the provisions of Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. It was so held by this Court in Sankaran Moitra v. Sadhna Das and Another [(2006) 4 SCC 584].

The question came up for consideration before this Court in Matajog Dobey v. H.C. Bhari [AIR 1956 SC 44 : 1955 (2) SCR 925] wherein it was held:

"17. Slightly differing tests have been laid down in the decided cases to ascertain the scope and the meaning of the relevant words occurring in Section 197 of the Code; "any offence alleged to have been committed by him while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official duty". But the difference is only in language and not in substance.

The offence alleged to have been committed must 51 have something to do, or must be related in some manner with the discharge of official duty. No question of sanction can arise under Section 197, unless the act complained of is an offence; the only point to determine is whether it was committed in the discharge of official duty. There must be a reasonable connection between the act and the official duty. It does not matter even if the act exceeds what is strictly necessary for the discharge of the duty, as this question will arise only at a later stage when the trial proceeds on the merits.

What we must find out is whether the act and the official duty are so inter-related that one can postulate reasonably that it was done by the accused in the performance of the official duty, though possibly in excess of the needs and requirements of the situation. In Hori Barn Singh v. Crown Sulaiman, J. observes:

"The section cannot be confined to only such acts as are done by a public servant directly in pursuance of his public office, though in excess of the duty or under a mistaken belief as to the existence of such duty. Nor is it necessary to go to the length of saying that the act constituting the offence should be so inseparably connected with the official duty as to form part and parcel of the same transaction."

The interpretation that found favour with Varadachariar, J. in the same case is stated by him in these terms at p. 187: "There must be something in the nature of the act complained of that attaches it to the official character of the person doing it."

In affirming this view, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council observe in Gill case: "A public servant can only be said to act or purport to act in the discharge of his official duty, if his act is such as to lie within the scope of his official duty ...

The test may well be whether the public servant, if challenged, can reasonably claim that, what he 52 does, he does in virtue of his office." Hori Ram case is referred to with approval in the later case of Lieutenant Hector Thomas Huntley v. King- Emperor but the test laid down that it must be established that the act complained of was an official act appears to us unduly to narrow down the scope of the protection afforded by Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code as defined and understood in the earlier case. The decision in Meads v. King does not carry us any further; it adopts the reasoning in Gill's case."

The said principle has been reiterated by this Court in B. Saha v. M.S. Kochar [(1979) 4 SCC 177] in the following terms:

"17. The words "any offence alleged to have been committed by him while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official duty" employed in Section 197(1) of the Code, are capable of a narrow as well as a wide interpretation. If these words are construed too narrowly, the section will be rendered altogether sterile, for, "it is no part of an official duty to commit an offence, and never can be". In the wider sense, these words will take under their umbrella every act constituting an offence, committed in the course of the same transaction in which the official duty is performed or purports to be performed. The right approach to the import of these words lies between these two extremes. While on the one hand, it is not every offence committed by a public servant while engaged in the performance of his official duty, which is entitled to the protection of Section 197(1), an act constituting an offence, directly and reasonably connected with his official duty will 53 require sanction for prosecution under the said provision. As pointed out by Ramaswami, J., in Baijnath v. State of M.P., "it is the quality of the act that is important, and if it falls within the scope and range of his official duties, the protection contemplated by Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code will be attracted".

18. In sum, the sine qua non for the applicability of this section is that the offence charged, be it one of commission or omission, must be one which has been committed by the public servant either in his official capacity or under colour of the office held by him."

[See also R. Balakrishna Pillai v. State of Kerala and Another [(1996) 1 SCC 478] In Rakesh Kumar Mishra v. State of Bihar and Others [(2006) 1 SCC 557], this Court held:

"12. It has been widened further by extending protection to even those acts or omissions which are done in purported exercise of official duty; that is under the colour of office. Official duty, therefore, implies that the act or omission must have been done by the public servant in the course of his service and such act or omission must have been performed as part of duty which further must have been official in nature. The section has, thus, to be construed strictly, while determining its applicability to any act or omission in the course of service. Its operation has to be limited to those duties which are discharged in the course of duty.

But once any act or omission has been found to 54 have been committed by a public servant in the discharge of his duty then it must be given liberal and wide construction so far its official nature is concerned. For instance a public servant is not entitled to indulge in criminal activities. To that extent the section has to be construed narrowly and in a restricted manner. But once it is established that an act or omission was done by the public servant while discharging his duty then the scope of its being official should be construed so as to advance the objective of the section in favour of the public servant. Otherwise the entire purpose of affording protection to a public servant without sanction shall stand frustrated. For instance a police officer in the discharge of duty may have to use force which may be an offence for the prosecution of which the sanction may be necessary. But if the same officer commits an act in the course of service but not in the discharge of his duty and without any justification therefor then the bar under Section 197 of the Code is not attracted..."

64.  Reliance has been placed by Mr. Tulsi on Parkash Singh Badal v. State of Punjab and Others [(2007) 1 SCC 1] wherein this Court held:

"38. The question relating to the need of sanction under Section 197 of the Code is not necessarily to be considered as soon as the complaint is lodged and on the allegations contained therein. This question may arise at any stage of the proceeding.

The question whether sanction is necessary or not may have to be determined from stage to stage."

55 In that case, the appellant therein was charged for commission of an offence of cheating under Section 420 and Sections 467, 468, 471 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code.

In the factual matrix involved therein, it was held:

"29. The effect of sub-sections (3) and (4) of Section 19 of the Act are of considerable significance. In sub-section (3) the stress is on "failure of justice" and that too "in the opinion of the court". In sub-section (4), the stress is on raising the plea at the appropriate time.

Significantly, the "failure of justice" is relatable to error, omission or irregularity in the sanction.

Therefore, mere error, omission or irregularity in sanction is (sic not) considered fatal unless it has resulted in failure of justice or has been occasioned thereby. Section 19(1) is a matter of procedure and does not go to the root of jurisdiction as observed in para 95 of Narasimha Rao case. Sub-section (3)(c) of Section 19 reduces the rigour of prohibition. In Section 6(2) of the old Act [Section 19(2) of the Act] question relates to doubt about authority to grant sanction and not whether sanction is necessary."

65.  In State of Karantaka v. Ameerjan [(2007) 11 SCC 273], it was held that an order of sanction is required to be passed on due application of mind.

66.  Thus, in this case, sanction for prosecution in terms of Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure was required to be obtained.

67.  For the reasons aforementioned, there is no merit in this appeal which is dismissed accordingly.

...............................J. [S.B. Sinha]

................................J. [Cyriac Joseph]

New Delhi;

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