V.M. Ashraf v. State of Kerala

Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 – Can a possession certificate be considered as a ‘valuable thing’ within the purview of Section 13(1)(d) of the Act ? Held, the possession certificate issued by the Village Officer to the accused cannot be considered as ‘valuable thing’ in the context of Section 13(1)(d) of the Act.

The expression ‘valuable thing’ in the context of Section 13(1)(d) of the Act means thing which should have money value or market value. [Paras 23 & 24]

Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 – Section 482 – Penal Code, 1860 – Sections 468, 471 and 120B -Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 – Section 13 (2)When there was no statutory or legal obligation on the part of the petitioner to specifically state the nature or class of land in the possession certificate, it cannot be found that he had illegally or fraudulently issued the certificate to the second accused by abusing his official position as a Village Officer. No criminal action is legally maintainable against the petitioner merely on the ground that he did not specify the nature or class of land in the possession certificate issued to the second accused.

It was immaterial that the petitioner had personal knowledge that, in the revenue records, the nature of the land was recorded as wet land. He was bound to issue the possession certificate stating only the facts or matters required. Further, though the revenue records showed the land as wet land, investigation of the case has revealed that it had been converted into dry land many years ago. Learned Special Judge himself has found that the land was converted prior to the enactment of the Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wet Land Act, 2008. If that be so, in a possession certificate issued on 11.02.2009, the fact that the Village Officer did not specifically state that, as per records, the land was wet land, cannot have any special significance. By no stretch of imagination, it can be found that the possession certificate issued by the petitioner was a false document and it was used by any person as genuine. Therefore, the offences punishable under Sections 468 and 471 of the Indian Penal Code are not attracted against the petitioner. [Paras 14, 17 & 18]

Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 Merely for the reason that the petitioner was holding charge of the Village Officer only for two or three days and it was during that period that he issued the possession certificate to the second accused, it cannot be found that the petitioner had shown undue haste in issuing the certificate.

A Village Office is a public service institution. Usually, large number of ordinary persons go to the Village Office for many urgent matters, especially for obtaining certificates of various nature. In such a situation, if the Village Officer is absent for any reason and if the officer holding charge of the Village Officer does not attend to usual matters, the functioning of the Village Office will come to a standstill. If there is no legal or procedural hurdle, a person holding the charge of a Village Officer, even if only for a short period, is expected to provide the public the services required. There was no undue haste on the part of the petitioner in issuing the possession certificate to the second accused. It was an act done as a part of the ordinary course of business in a Village Office. [Paras 15 & 16]

Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 Section 13(1)(d) of the Act provides that, a public servant is said to commit the offence of criminal misconduct, if he, – (i) by corrupt or illegal means, obtains for himself or for any other person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage; or (ii) by abusing his position as a public servant, obtains for himself or for any other person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage; or (iii) while holding office as a public servant, obtains for any person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage without any public interest.

A perusal of Section 13(1)(d) of the Act makes it clear that, if the elements of any of the three sub-clauses are met, the same would be sufficient to constitute an offence of ‘criminal misconduct’ under that provision. The three wings of clause (d) of Section 13(1) are independent, alternative and disjunctive. Thus, under Section 13(1)(d)(i) of the Act, obtaining any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage by corrupt or illegal means by a public servant in itself would amount to criminal misconduct. Under Section 13(1)(d)(ii) of the Act, “obtaining a valuable thing or pecuniary advantage” by abusing his official position as a public servant, either for himself or for any other person, would amount to criminal misconduct. Under Section 13(1)(d)(iii) of the Act, if a public servant, while he holds office, obtains for any person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage without any public interest, it would amount to criminal misconduct. Obtaining of “any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage” by the public servant himself or by any other person is necessary to attract an offence under Section 13(1)(d) of the Act. [Paras 20 & 21]

Facts of the Case

The allegation against the petitioner is that, though he was aware of the fact that the land was shown as wet land in revenue records, he misused his official position as Village Officer and that he issued possession certificate to the second accused without specifying the nature of the land in the certificate, thereby enabling the second accused to obtain permit from the Panchayat for construction of a commercial building in that land.

Case Law Reference

  1. Sangeetha v. Deputy Superintendent of Police, 2018(3) KHC 423 : 2018 (3) KLT 25
  2. NOIDA Entrepreneurs Association v. NOIDA, AIR 2011 SC 2112