A bribery case involving Rs.25 and two decades!

New Delhi, May 27 (IANS) It took the Indian judiciary exactly 20 years, one month and one day to decide a corruption case involving an alleged bribe of Rs.25, with the Supreme Court finally giving the accused – a Kerala clerk – the benefit of doubt and acquitting him.

The case dates back to April 25, 1989, when A. Subair, a lower division clerk working in the Sub-Regional Transport Office at Attingal in Kerala, was caught allegedly accepting a bribe of Rs.25 from one Manaf for issuing a driving licence.

After he was caught, Subair was arrested and later granted bail as he faced trial before a designated anti-corruption court at Thiruvananthapuram, which held him guilty of corruption and sentenced him to one year in jail along with a fine of a few hundred rupees. But the process took almost a decade as the court pronounced its ruling in 1998.

Against the trial court’s ruling, Subair approached the Kerala High Court, which too confirmed his guilt and endorsed the punishment given by the trial court. But here too, the court took its own sweet time and gave the ruling in 2004.

Subair eventually approached the apex court, which pronounced its verdict Tuesday and acquitted him of the charges of accepting the bribe, giving him the benefit of doubt.

But a closer scrutiny of the apex court ruling reveals how the snail’s pace of judiciary may have helped Subair escape the clutches of law.

As Subair’s trial initially stretched up to a decade, complainant Munaf left India for the Gulf in pursuit of better opportunities and this resulted in the prosecution losing one of its prime witnesses.

Though the trial court and then also the high court held Subair guilty of accepting the bribe, ignoring the prosecution’s inability to produce Munaf to depose before them, the apex court pointed out in its ruling that absence of Munaf rendered the prosecution unable to prove if Subair at all demanded the bribe, a must for his conviction under the anti-corruption law.

By and by some other crucial witnesses too were unable to recall the minute details of the incident. This resulted in the trial court declaring some more crucial witnesses hostile.

Though the trial court and high court convicted Subair, ignoring various weaknesses in the prosecution version, the apex court pointed out those weaknesses and eventually ended up acquitting him.