The Punjab and Haryana high court has ruled that on the basis of presumption and fact that witnesses turned hostile during the course of trial it could not be concluded that the officers had failed to investigate the case and acted in an arbitrary and illegal manner.
The observations came in a disproportionate assets case in which Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his family were acquitted by an SAS Nagar court in 2010 due to lack of evidence.
Following the acquittal, the trial court had asked the Punjab government to initiate perjury proceedings against two Punjab Indian Police Service (IPS) officers BK Uppal, and Surinder Pal Singh (retd) and passed strictures against third officer S Chattopadhyaya.
The high court held that there was no evidence on record that the officers indulged in fabricating false evidence and record. It stated that from the observations of the trial court, it appeared that had the case not failed on account of witnesses turning hostile, probably neither the appellants nor the investigation in the present case would have been called in question.
“It is just because the case having failed on account of trustworthy evidence, the appellants have been ordered to be proceeded against and prosecuted for dereliction of duties in the present case.
This, to my mind, cannot be permitted, as the same would not only deter a public servant/police officer to impartially and in a fair and free manner investigate a case properly but would also send a wrong signal to the society who look forward upon the government machinery to cater to their day-to-day needs and turmoil,” the court held while setting aside the SAS Nagar court order of 2010.
The high court has held that no inquiry was conducted before ordering filing of the complaint against the said officers which, as per criminal procedure code, should have been done. It further observed that it was not established as to whether they had acted in good faith or in an arbitrary or partial manner.
The high court has also taken exception that no sanction was obtained for prosecution against the said officers from the government.
One technical aspect also went against the prosecution which, as per the high court, made the case non-maintainable. The complaint in the case was filed by Rajiv Verma, an ahlmad to the court of special judge, SAS Nagar, in the capacity of an official of the court. The court held that there was no power or authorisation bestowed upon an ahlmad of the court to act as an ‘officer of the court’ so as to launch proceedings.
As of strictures against Chattopadhyaya, who was entrusted with the investigation of foreign properties of Badals, and had approached the court against the strictures passed against him, the high court held that no malafides or dereliction of duty could be cast upon him and, thus the strictures were “uncalled for” and “unwarranted”.
The Badal and his family were acquitted in October 2010 by a Mohali court. Following the judgment, the three police officers had moved the high court. The Mohali court judgment had come in a case registered in 2003 under the Prevention of Corruption Act, against Badal and his family.