NEW DELHI (TIP): The Supreme Court on November 9 absolved former railway minister C K Jaffer Sharief of corruption charges by ruling that a minister commits no criminal offence by taking excess staff with him on a foreign trip if he is able to demonstrate that they performed some task, howsoever insignificant these might be.
The CBI had accused Sharief of causing loss to public sector undertakings Rail India Technical & Economic Services Ltd (RITES) and Indian Railway Construction Company Ltd (IRCON) by making them foot the bill for his four staff members, including his additional PS, two stenographers and a domestic help, who accompanied him to London for his medical treatment.
Rejecting the CBI’s charge that it amounted to causing pecuniary loss to the government through corrupt practice, a bench of Justices P Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi said, “As a minister, 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 rules and norms applicable were violated or the decision taken shows an extravagant display of redundancies, it is the conduct and action of Jaffer Sharief which may have been improper or contrary to department norms. But to say that the same was actuated by a dishonest intention to obtain an undue pecuniary advantage will not be correct.”
The CBI had filed an FIR on June 3, 1998 and filed the charge-sheet on October 22, 2005 accusing Sharief of causing pecuniary loss to the PSUs through his wrongful acts. The Delhi High Court on April 11 had upheld the trial court’s decision to reject the former minister’s plea for discharge.
The CBI had alleged that neither RITES nor IRCON had any pending business in London and that none of the four persons had performed any duty pertaining to these PSUs while they were in London. Yet, the airfares of all four were paid by them.
“It also appeared from the material on record that the four persons while in London had assisted the minister in performing certain tasks connected with the discharge of his official duties,” said Justice Gogoi, who authored the judgment for the bench.
“It is difficult to visualize as to how in the light of the above facts, demonstrated by the material revealed during the course of investigation, Jaffer Sharief can be construed to have adopted corrupt or illegal means or to have abused his position as a public servant to obtain valuable thing or pecuniary advantage either for himself or for any of the aforesaid four persons,” the bench added.
Taking into account the facts and evidence in the case, the bench said, “We do not find any reason to allow the prosecution to continue against Jaffer Sharief. 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.”