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28 years on, man acquitted of taking ₹250 bribe, hopes civic body will pay him gratuity

New Delhi: Seventy nine-year-old Jagannath, a former municipal corporation employee in Malviya Nagar, now lives with the hope of getting his gratuity from the civic body after the Delhi high court recently acquitted him, after 28 years, of the charge of taking a bribe of ₹250 to release an impounded cow.

His fears that even though he is acquitted, he might not be able to avail of his gratuity as most records of the department are destroyed after 10 years have lapsed.

“Even though I have retired in 2002, I am yet to get my gratuity. But I fear that none of the records would be available because records that are 10 years or older are not maintained,” Jagannath said.

Jagannath, who has a family of eight to take care of, was earlier convicted by a trial court in February 2002, after he was allegedly caught red-handed by the anti-corruption branch (ACB) of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in 1991 on the complaint of one Jeet Ram, a local resident.

Ram had complained to the ACB-CBI that Jagannath had demanded for a bribe of ₹250 to release a cow which the MCD (then a single body) officials had impounded. Jagannath was employed as a munshi in the department and also the in-charge of the place where the impounded cow was kept.

According to the ACB-CBI, a trap was laid to catch Jagannath while accepting the bribe. It was alleged that the team found him reiterating the demand and accepting the amount. They also claimed that the money was later recovered from pants pocket.

After the incident in 1991, Jagannath was suspended for three years till 1994. His family, including his handicapped son, had a hard time. Ravi, Jagannath’s fifth child, narrated how he along with his other siblings had to study and work at the same time to make the ends meet.

“I was just 16 years old when the incident took place. My father told us that now we will have to fend for ourselves. We studied and worked to earn our bread,” Ravi said, adding that things improved only after his father was reinstated after three years.

Jagannath, who now hardly walks, pleaded not guilty and faced trial. A trial court, in 2002, found him guilty of accepting the bribe and awarded him a one-year sentence and a fine.

He appealed in the Delhi high court through counsel Sumer Kumar Sethi following which his sentence was suspended on April 9, 2002.

Seventeen years after he was convicted, on May 23, justice R K Gauba acquitted Jagannath extending him the benefit of doubt. The court said there was a lot of confusion with the recovery of the bribe money.

“It appears unnatural that the first search would reveal possession of only the bribe money and after such recovery had been effected, the personal search would bring out a larger amount of money,” the court said, adding that the “sequence of events, as set out in the prosecution case, evoke uneasy feeling as to its credibility, particularly when two crucial witnesses are not very sure about the two separate recoveries”.

The court also noted that the trial court seems to have proceeded on the assumption that the detention of the cow was itself illegal.

“If so, the appellant (Jagannath) cannot be held responsible for such an act as it would be the municipal official who had brought the cow to the cattle pound who would be accountable,” justice Gauba said in a seven-page judgment.

The court set aside the sentence and fine imposed on Jagannath, who now is relieved to have his name cleared of the charge.

“I am happy that after my struggle of 28 years, I have finally got justice. I was framed and now I am cleared of all charges. I would have been happy if the vigilance department also clears my name and I’m able to get my gratuity,” he said.

“The last 28 years have been challenging for me. About 10 years ago, I have developed a kind of blood infection that leads to the formation of blisters on my body. But I continued to fight and attended the court hearings on a wheelchair with my son,” Jagannath said.

First Published:
Jun 05, 2019 21:29 IST

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