Criminal proceedings against former railway minister C.K. Jaffer Sharief in an alleged case of graft under the Prevention of Corruption Act has been quashed by the supreme court.
In a case dating back to 1995, Sharief was accused of corrupt practices by taking his personal staff to London during one of his various trips as railway minister. He had gone to London for cardiac treatment.
Quashing the proceedings, an apex court bench of Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi told that the matter could not be construed as a corrupt or illegal activity for any pecuniary gains for himself.
Sharief had challenged the April 11 Delhi High court order affirming the order of the trial court rejecting his application seeking discharge in the criminal prosecution initiated against him.
Sharief was railway minister during the Congress government led by P.V. Narasimha Rao.
The CBI had alleged that Sharief forced the managing directors of two public sector undertakings, RITES and IRCON, to sanction travel for four of his employees during the trip for a heart operation.
Taking note of the fact that besides working as the minister of railways, he was head of the two public sector undertakings, the court said it appeared from the materials on record that the four people while in London had assisted Sharief.
Having noted it, Justice Gogoi, pronouncing the judgment, said: “It is difficult to visualise as to how in the light of the above facts, demonstrated by the materials revealed in the course of investigation, the appellant (Jaffer Sharief) can be construed to have adopted corrupt or illegal means or to have abused his position as a public servant to obtain any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage either for himself or for any of the aforesaid four persons.”
According to the judgment, “If the statements of the witnesses examined under Section 161 show that the aforesaid four persons had performed certain tasks to assist the minister in the discharge of his public duties, however insignificant such tasks may have been, no question of obtaining any pecuniary advantage by any corrupt or illegal means or by abuse of the position of the appellant as a public servant can arise”
As a minister, the court told that it was for Jaffer Sharief to decide on the “number and identity of the officials and supporting staff who should accompany him to London if it was anticipated that he would be required to perform his official duties while in London.”
If in the process, the court also told that the rules or norms applicable were violated or the decision taken shows an extravagant display of redundance it is the conduct and action of the appellant (Jaffer Sharief) which may have been improper or contrary to departmental norms.
“But to say that the same was actuated by a dishonest intention to obtain an undue pecuniary advantage will not be correct”, the judgment observed.
Referring to the Section 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, the court said that it talked about “corrupt or illegal means and abuse of position as a public servant.”
Having noted this, the judgment said that considering the totality of material on on record, “we do not find any reason to allow the prosecution to continue against the appellant. Such continuance, in our view, would be an abuse of the process of court and therefore it will be the plain duty of the court to interdict the same.”