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Report No. 145

4.3. Problems of documents.-

A point has been made1 that if there is litigation between a private person and agency A, and, in that litigation, the private party tenders in evidence a document issued by agency B, difficulties arise because (it is stated) the document issued by one instrumentality is supposed to be accepted by all agencies in the public sector. We are afraid that such a plea cannot, as per the provisions of the Evidence Act, be taken successfully in a court. Probably, such a stand is taken, or sought to be taken, by litigants in the light of the provisions of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 relating to "Public documents".

But we should point out that as per the concept of public documents envisaged by that Act, a document issued by a public sector undertaking does not necessarily become a public document. In the scheme of that Act, a document must satisfy the statutory requirement, before it could fall in the category of public document. In this connection, we would like to refer to the provisions of sections 74 and 75 of that Act, which read as under:-

"74. Public documents.-The following documents are public documents:-

(1) Documents forming the acts, or records of the acts-

(i) of the sovereign authority,

(ii) of official bodies and tribunals, and

(iii) of public officers, legislative, judicial and executive of any part of India or of the Commonwealth or of a foreign country.

(2) Public records kept in any State of private documents.

75. Private documents.-All other documents are private."

It will be seen that the definition of "public documents" in section 74 would not cover public sector undertakings and their officers. They cannot be regarded as "official bodies and tribunals." As regards the expression "public officers" which occurs in section 74 (and is not denned in the Evidence Act) one can at best, consult section 2(17) of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.

The enumeration of various persons to be. regarded as "public officers" in that clause does not cover employees of public sector undertakings. Further, it has been held that an officer of a body corporate cannot be a public offices.2 Officers of the Food Corporation of India, a public sector undertaking, are not "Public Officers" within the meaning of section 2(17)(h) and section 80 of the Code of Civil Procedure.3 This view has been approved by the Supreme Court also.4

In spite of the control and supervision exercised by the State Government on the funds and activities of the State Electricity Board, it cannot be held to constitute "Government" and its officers cannot be regarded as "Public Officers" for the purpose of section 80 the Civil Procedure Code.5 Probably, some misconception seems to have arisen because, for the purposes of the Indian Penal Code, the expression "public servant" has been defined as denoting a person falling under the specified descriptions, and Clause "twelfth" of section 21, which covers the following:-

Every person-

(a) In the service or pay of the Government or remunerated by fees or commission for the performance of any public duty by the Government;

(b) In the service or pay of a local authority, a corporation established by or under a Central, Provincial or State Act or a Government company as defined in section 617 of the Companies Act, 1956 (1 of 1956).

It should be pointed out that even the definition in the Penal Code defines the expression "public servant" and not the expression "public officer". Its main object is to-

(i) deal effectively with the offence of bribery which (under the Code as enacted) is defined in terms of public servants;

(ii) make effective provisions for certain offences against public servants, including contempt of the lawful authority of the public servants;

(iii) deal with conduct which becomes aggravated when committed by or against a public servant; and

(iv) make provisions for the connected sections of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, particularly section 197, under which, certain public servants cannot be prosecuted for any offence alleged to have been committed by them while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of their official duties, except with the previous sanction of the appropriate Government. The definition of public servant in the Penal Code has no relevance for construing the expression "public officer" as occurring in the Evidence Act.

1. See para. 1.3, last sub-paragraph, supra.

2. Renuka Batra v. Grindlays Bank Ltd., Amritsar, AIR 1980 P&H 146.

3. Kanta Prasad Singh v. Food Corporation of India, AIR 1974 Pat 376.

4. Coal Mines Provident Fund Commissioner v. Ramesh Chander Jha, AIR 1990 SC 648.

5. V. Padmanabhan Nair v. Kerala State Electricity Board, AIR 1989 Ker 86.

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