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Offences involving moral turpitude

In a number of statutes, both Central and the State, the expression 'offence involving moral turpitude' is frequently used to denote a disqualification for holding a public office, whether elected or otherwise. For example, Section 25 of the UP Municipal Corporation Act debars a person for being a corporator, if he is convicted for an offense involving moral turpitude.

india Updated: Mar 06, 2006 00:29 IST
BC Shukla
BC Shukla

In a number of statutes, both Central and the State, the expression 'offence involving moral turpitude' is frequently used to denote a disqualification for holding a public office, whether elected or otherwise. For example, Section 25 of the UP Municipal Corporation Act debars a person for being a corporator, if he is convicted for an offense involving moral turpitude.

Section 13 and 26 of the UP Kshetra Panchayats and Zila Panchayats Adhiniyam also provide that a person held guilty for an offence involving moral turpitude shall not be qualified for being chosen as a member of a Kshetra Panchayat, Adhyaksh or Upadhyaksh of a zila panchayat. Similarly, section 5-A of the UP Panchayat Raj Act also prohibits such a convict from holding the office in any Gaon Sabha, gaon panchayat or Nyaya Panchayat.

Laws relating to educational institutions also deal with offenses involving moral turpitude.

Thus, section 67 of the UP State Universities Act, 1973 empowers the University Court to remove any person from the membership of any authority or body of the University, if such person has to his credit (or to his discredit) a conviction for an offense involving moral turpitude. Section 16-G of the Intermediate Education Act directs the suspension of an employee of a recognised institution, if he is involved in offenses relating to moral turpitude.

The National Council for Teachers' Education Act, 1993 similarly enjoins that a member of the National Council shall be disqualified, if he is convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for morality related offenses. It is therefore pertinent to understand the true scope and meaning of the term ' moral turpitude' which the law has avoided to define thus far.

According to Bouvier's dictionary, the expression 'moral turpitude' refers to an act of baseness, vileness or depravity in the private and social duties, which a man owes to his fellow men or to the society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and man. In Marry's Dictionary, the term ' turpitude' has been explained to mean base or shameful character, baseness or vileness, depravity or wickedness.

Thus, the meanings given in both the dictionaries convey almost the same type of failings in a man's moral and mental make-up.

That ideas of morality have often undergone changes during different periods of world's history is not disputed. Different people of the society sometimes differ as to whether a particular act is moral or not.

Thus, whenever a question arises as to whether or not, a particular conduct is moral; one has to consider as to how the act complained of is viewed by the society or the community at large. If the society views such act as immoral, then even though some individuals may not consider it so, it will not make the act a moral one. The morality of an action has to be judged not necessarily on abstract motions of right or wrong, but how that act is looked upon by the society in general.

 Thus, subjecting a woman to cruelty or killing her for dowry would be an offense involving moral turpitude. Conviction for a charge of attempt to murder has also been held to be an offense involving moral turpitude.

According to the Supreme Court, the term ' moral turpitude' should not be given a narrow interpretation. Thus, any act done contrary to justice, honesty, modesty or good morals undoubtedly falls within the sweep of moral turpitude.
By notifications dated 10.7.61 and 27.2.62 issued under section 13 (j) of the UP District Boards Act, 1922,the state government had declared certain offenses punishable under the Indian penal code, together with all offenses specified under schedule I of the UP Pure Food Act to involve moral turpitude for the purposes of election as a member of the District Board. But since the said Act stands repealed, the notifications under reference also ceased to be in force.
Under the Tripartite Agreement of 1966, the Bank authorities were competent to suspend an employee if he was alleged to be guilty of an offense involving moral turpitude.

In one case, a Bank employee was charged for withdrawing certain amount by committing a criminal conspiracy, and was accordingly suspended.

The High Court took the view that the charge of criminal conspiracy could not be termed as an offense involving moral turpitude. Setting aside the said order, the Apex court held that entering into criminal conspiracy and withdrawing money belonging to others clearly amounts to a serious type of moral turpitude.
The case of Chakki Lal of Etawah, a candidate for the post of Gram Pradhan, is interesting as well as informative.

The nomination papers of Chakki Lal were rejected on the ground that he stood convicted under Section 60 of the Excise Act for possessing one Tola of Bhang and had to pay a fine of Rs. 10/-. The High Court noticed that on the relevant date, no prohibition was in force in Etawah from where the candidate purchased the Bhang from a licensed shop under the medical advice.

Later on Chakki Lal proceeded to Kanpur (where prohibition was in force) to attend a marriage ceremony. Under the circumstances, conviction of Chakki Lal at Kanpur cannot be said for an offense involving moral turpitude. In this connection, their lordships laid down the following propositions for determining the question of moral turpitude: -

(a) Whether the act leading to the conviction was such as would shock the moral conscience of the society in general?

(b) Whether the motive leading to the act complained of was a base one?

(c) Whether on account of the act, the perpetrator could be considered to be a man of depraved character or a person who could be looked down by the society?

In another case, a sitting legislator was elected as a Manager of a High School governed by the Intermediate Education Act.

The scheme of Administration of the school provided that no person should be elected as Manager if he was convicted for moral offenses.  Admittedly, the legislator stood convicted for an offense punishable under Section 302 IPC and had been granted remission under section 432 Cr.PC. It was held that despite remission, the legislator continues to be a convict involving moral turpitude and he could not act as a Manager of the school.

The courts have held that if a teacher was taken into custody on charges under section 304-B and 498-A of the Penal Code, such offenses do involve moral turpitude.

In co-educational institutions, if a male teacher tries to kiss or embrace a girl student, his dismissal deserves to be upheld on the ground of moral turpitude.
A conviction under section 13 of the Public Gambling Act or section 182 of the Penal Code constitutes a disqualification for the purposes of section 5-A of the Panchayat Raj Act.

However, a conviction under section 107 of Cr. PC does not involve turpituted morality. In nutshell, it is not the gravity of the offense or the quantum of punishment, which is determinative of the question. It is the nature and the circumstances in which the offense was committed which is material.

It would thus be clear that the legal concept of 'offenses involving moral turpitude' has not been clarified with due precision. Time has therefore, come when we should exhaustively define the aforesaid term in UP General Clauses Act. 1904 so that the line of distinction between law and the morality is fully obliterated.

Law should also be clarified whether the convicts getting clemency under Articles 72 and 161 of the Constitution should be made entitled to contest elections to public offices.

This is necessary because of the following observations in the Halsbury's Laws of England (Hailsham edition) -Page 479: -
' The effect of a pardon under the Great Seal is to clear the person from all infamy and from all consequences   of the offense for which it was granted and from all statutory or other disqualifications following such conviction."
                                                      (The writer is ex-Secretary, Assembly)

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