Sunday, 7 October 2018

Whether government doctor accepting charges for examining patient can be prosecuted under prevention of corruption Act?

19. It is pertinent to note here that in case of Kanwarjit Singh Kakkar (supra), the Hon'ble Supreme Court has inter alia observed as under:—
“(15) But the most important and vital check before a public servant can be booked under the Prevention of Corruption Act, the ingredients of offence will have to be deduced from the facts and circumstances obtained in the particular case. Judging the case of the appellants on this anvil, it is not difficult to notice that in the case at hand, the amount that is alleged to have been accepted even as per the allegation of the complainant/informant was not by way of gratification for doing any favour to the accused, but admittedly by way of professional fee for examining and treating the patients. However, no presumption can be drawn that it was accepted as motive or reward for doing or forbearing any official act so as to treat the receipt of professional fee as gratification much less illegal gratification. The professional fee even as per the case of the complainant/informant was that this act on the part of the accused appellants was, contrary to the Government circular and the circular itself had a rider in it which stated that the Government doctor could do private practice also, provided he sought permission from the Government in this regard. Thus the conduct of the appellants who are alleged to have indulged in private practice while holding the office of Government doctor and hence public servant at the most, could be proceeded with for Departmental proceedings under the Service Rules but in so far as making out of an offence either under the Prevention of Corruption Act or under the IPC, would be difficult to sustain as we have already observed that examination of patients by doctor and thereby charging professional fee, by itself, would not be an offence but as per the complaint, since the same was contrary to the Government circular much instructed that private practice may be conducted by the Government doctors in the State of Punjab provided permission was sought from the Government in this regard, the appellants were fit to be prosecuted. Thus, the appellants even as per the FIR as it stands, can be held to have violated only the Government instructions which itself has not termed private practice as ‘corruption’ under the Prevention of Corruption Act merely on account of charging fee as the same in any event was a professional fee which could not have been charged since the same was contrary to the Government instructions. Thus, if a particular professional discharges the duty of a doctor, that by itself is not an offence but becomes an offence by virtue of the fact that it contravenes a bar imposed by a circular or instruction of the Government. In that event, the said act clearly would fall within the ambit of misconduct to be dealt with under the Service Rules but would not constitute criminal offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

In the High Court of Gujarat at Ahmedabad
(Before R.P. Dholaria, J.)
Rambhai Hajabhai Garaniya
v.
State of Gujarat
R/Criminal Appeal No. 340 of 2004
Decided on May 2, 2018
Citation: 2018 SCC OnLine Guj 1248

The Judgment of the Court was delivered by
R.P. Dholaria, J.:— The present Criminal Appeal is preferred by the appellant against judgment dated 25.02.2004 passed by learned Special Judge, Amreli in Special Case No. 13 of 2001 whereby the appellant has been convicted and sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for one year with fine of Rs. 10,000/- and in default, two months' simple imprisonment under Section 7 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (‘the Act’ for short) and is also convicted and sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for three years with fine of Rs. 10,000/-, and in default, simple imprisonment for three months under Section 13(2) read with 13(1)(d) of the Act. Both the sentences were ordered to run concurrently.
2. The short facts of the present case are that the accused was serving as Medical Officer at Primary Health Center, Chalala, District Amreli. The wife of the complainant was suffering from back pain, therefore his wife and sister-in-law visited the hospital and met the accused. As wife of the complainant was to be operated, the accused demanded Rs. 1700/- towards fees which the complainant handed over in relation to such operation which was an amount of illegal gratification and thereby, the accused committed an offence punishable under Section 7, Section 13(2) read with Section 13(1)(d) of the Act.
3. In pursuance of the complaint, the Investigating Officer carried out the investigation and filed the charge-sheet against the accused. The charge was framed against the accused. The accused pleaded not guilty to the charge and claimed to be tried.
4. In order to bring home the guilt, the prosecution has examined four witnesses and also produced five documentary evidence.
5. At the end of the trial, after recording the statement of the accused under Section 313 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 and hearing the arguments on behalf of the prosecution and the defence, learned Trial Court delivered the judgment and order, as stated above.
6. Being aggrieved by the same, the appellant has preferred the aforesaid Criminal Appeal before this court.
7. By way of preferring the present appeal, the appellant-original accused has mainly contended that learned Trial Court has failed to appreciate the evidence on record and wrongly recorded the order of conviction. It is further contended that learned Trial Judge has not appreciated the evidence on record in its proper perspective and in fact, there was no appreciation of evidence so far and hence, the impugned judgment and order of conviction is required to be reversed, as such.
8. Learned advocate Mr. Bhargav Bhatt for learned advocate Mr. Umang Vyas for the appellant has taken this Court through the entire record & proceedings and read over the relevant evidence of the complainant, shadow panch and Investigating Officer. He has argued that the evidence of the complainant is not at all disclosing that there was any prior demand for treating his wife prior to lodging the complaint. He has pointed out that on going through the entire recitals of the complaint, nowhere it is mentioned that the appellant had ever demanded any amount of illegal gratification and in the complaint itself, it has been narrated that the appellant demanded Rs. 1700/- towards fees for carrying out curative operation over the wife of the complainant.
9. Learned advocate has further pointed out that on going through the evidence of the complainant, the complainant's evidence itself suffers from material contradictions and even primarily, he was totally unaware and his deposition makes it clear that when he visited the hospital in pursuance of his complaint and at the time of trap, he had, for the first time, came to know that the Doctor had demanded the fees. Consequently therefore, according to his submission, the complaint itself is having no foundation of demand of illegal gratification and thereafter also, the complainant has not at all uttered a single word in his deposition that the appellant had ever demanded any amount of illegal gratification. Learned advocate has also pointed out that the evidence of the shadow panch is also in the similar lines and he has at all not deposed that the appellant had demanded any amount of illegal gratification.
10. Learned advocate for the appellant has submitted that the present case is squarely covered by the decisions of the Supreme Court in Kanwarjit Singh Kakkar v. State of Punjab and Dr. Rajinder Singh Chawla v. State of Punjab as reported in 2011 (2) GLH 445. According to his submission, the appellant was serving as Medical Officer, Primary Health Center at Chalala, District Amreli. He has submitted that at the time of trap, the appellant was indisputably found at home and upon calling him in the hospital, the complainant had handed over the tainted currency notes to the appellant as per the direction of the official of the Anti Corruption Bureau and that amount was towards the fees for carrying out curative operation over the wife of the complainant. Thus, the case is squarely covered by the aforesaid decisions of the Supreme Court and the case is not made out so as to make punishable under the provisions of the Act.
11. On the other hand, learned Additional Public Prosecutor Mr. K. P. Raval has supported the impugned judgment and order of conviction and sentence recorded by learned Trial Judge. He has argued that when the complainant visited the hospital where the appellant-accused was serving as Medical Officer, he had handed over Rs. 1700/- towards illegal gratification to the accused and that fact is fully getting corroboration from the evidence of the shadow panch. Consequently therefore, the prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused had demanded the amount of illegal gratification, accepted the same and the same is also recovered in presence of panchas as well as police officials. Therefore, all the three ingredients i.e. demand, acceptance and recovery are established and therefore, the learned Judge has rightly convicted the accused which warrants no interference by this Court.
12. This Court has minutely gone through the impugned judgment rendered by learned Trial Court as well as the evidence on record in detail.
13. Prosecution witness No. 1-Prafulbhai Lakhabhai Kathrotia-the complainant deposed that his wife was suffering from back pain, consequently therefore, his wife and sister-in-law visited the hospital and met the accused. He further deposed that at that time, the accused demanded Rs. 1700/- towards fees for treating his wife. In the cross-examination, the complainant admitted that when his wife and sister-in-law visited the hospital, the complainant had not accompanied.
14. Prosecution witness No. 2-Najuben Mahamadali Mithani-shadow panch deposed that she was serving as Junior Assistant in the Gujarat Electricity Board, Amreli and was requisitioned by the official of Anti Corruption Bureau. She deposed that at the time of trap, she accompanied the complainant at the Primary Health Center at Chalala, Amreli. She further deposed that when she reached to the hospital, wife of the complainant and his sister-in-law were present in the hospital and the accused was not present and therefore, the accused was called by sister-in-law of the complainant from his quarter and thereafter, the accused came and asked as to whether he had brought the fees as agreed or not and thereafter, the complainant handed over the said amount which the accused accepted and put into his pocket.
15. In addition to above, two police officials were also examined who carried out the trap as well as investigation, however their evidence is not necessary to be brought on record.
16. Over and above oral evidence on record, the complaint came to be lodged by the complainant on 29.07.2000 before prosecution witness No. 3-Police Inspector inter alia stating that as his wife was having back pain, she visited the Primary Health Center at Chalala along with his sister-in-law and the accused who was serving as Medical Officer at the said hospital, opined for carrying out curative operation and also advised to admit her. Therefore, the wife of the complainant was admitted in the hospital in the morning and thereafter, the complainant had visited the hospital at noon hours as he had gone along with tiffin. At that time, the accused was treating his wife and asked for Rs. 1700/- towards fees for carrying out curative operation to which the complainant told that he having no money, would give the money in the evening hours. As the complainant was not willing to pay the said amount, he lodged the complaint before the office of Anti Corruption Bureau and a trap was arranged.
17. In view of the aforesaid nature of evidence, the important question arises for determination of this Court, as to whether the prosecution has established the three vital ingredients i.e., demand, acceptance and recovery of illegal gratification or not?
18. In the backdrop of the aforesaid factual position, this Court has minutely gone through the impugned judgment and order as well as the depositions of the witnesses in light of the rival submissions made by the learned advocates for both the sides. In corruption cases, as laid down in series of judgments delivered by the Hon'ble Apex Court as well as by this Court, three vital ingredients i.e., demand, acceptance and recovery are required to be established by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt in order to prove the offence as alleged. On overall evaluation of aforesaid evidence on record, indisputably, the accused was serving as Medical Officer with the Primary Health Center at Chalala, Amreli. Indisputably, he was receiving non-practicing allowance, so he was prohibited from carrying out private practice, but so far as that element is concerned, the prosecution has not produced any such circular or rules on record to prove that he was prohibited to carry out any such private practice.
19. It is pertinent to note here that in case of Kanwarjit Singh Kakkar (supra), the Hon'ble Supreme Court has inter alia observed as under:—
“(15) But the most important and vital check before a public servant can be booked under the Prevention of Corruption Act, the ingredients of offence will have to be deduced from the facts and circumstances obtained in the particular case. Judging the case of the appellants on this anvil, it is not difficult to notice that in the case at hand, the amount that is alleged to have been accepted even as per the allegation of the complainant/informant was not by way of gratification for doing any favour to the accused, but admittedly by way of professional fee for examining and treating the patients. However, no presumption can be drawn that it was accepted as motive or reward for doing or forbearing any official act so as to treat the receipt of professional fee as gratification much less illegal gratification. The professional fee even as per the case of the complainant/informant was that this act on the part of the accused appellants was, contrary to the Government circular and the circular itself had a rider in it which stated that the Government doctor could do private practice also, provided he sought permission from the Government in this regard. Thus the conduct of the appellants who are alleged to have indulged in private practice while holding the office of Government doctor and hence public servant at the most, could be proceeded with for Departmental proceedings under the Service Rules but in so far as making out of an offence either under the Prevention of Corruption Act or under the IPC, would be difficult to sustain as we have already observed that examination of patients by doctor and thereby charging professional fee, by itself, would not be an offence but as per the complaint, since the same was contrary to the Government circular much instructed that private practice may be conducted by the Government doctors in the State of Punjab provided permission was sought from the Government in this regard, the appellants were fit to be prosecuted. Thus, the appellants even as per the FIR as it stands, can be held to have violated only the Government instructions which itself has not termed private practice as ‘corruption’ under the Prevention of Corruption Act merely on account of charging fee as the same in any event was a professional fee which could not have been charged since the same was contrary to the Government instructions. Thus, if a particular professional discharges the duty of a doctor, that by itself is not an offence but becomes an offence by virtue of the fact that it contravenes a bar imposed by a circular or instruction of the Government. In that event, the said act clearly would fall within the ambit of misconduct to be dealt with under the Service Rules but would not constitute criminal offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
(16) However, the question still remains whether the indulgence in private practice would amount to indulgence in ‘trade’ while holding the post of a Government doctor and hence an offence under Section 168 of the IPC, so as to hold that it constitutes a criminal offence in which case that FIR could be held to have made out a prima facie case against the appellants under Section 168 of the IPC on the ground that the appellants who are public servants unlawfully engaged in trade. In our view, offence under Section 168 of the IPC cannot be held to have been made out against the appellants even under this Section as the treatment of patients by a doctor cannot by itself be held to be engagement in a trade as the ‘doctors’ duty to treat patients as in the discharge of his professional duty which cannot be held to be ‘trade’ so as to make out or constitute an offence under Section 168 of the IPC. As already stated, there may be cases of doctors indulging in cases of medical negligence, demand or accept amount in order to incur favour on the patients which would amount to illegal gratification land hence ‘corruption’, and in such cases offence can most certainly be held to have been made out under the Prevention of Corruption Act also. Cases of unlawful engagement in trade by public servants can also be held to be made out under Section 168 of the IPC if the facts of a particular case indicate that besides professional discharge of duty by the doctor, he is indulging in trading activities of innumerable nature which is not expected of a medical professional as was the fact in the case referred to herein before. But if the medical professional has acted in a manner which is contrary only to the Government instructions dehors any criminal activity or criminal negligence, the same would not constitute an offence either under the IPC or a case of corruption under the Prevention of Corruption Act. In our considered view, the allegation even as per the FIR as it stands in the instant case, do not constitute an offence either under the Prevention of Corruption Act or under Section 168 of the IPC.”
20. So far as the demand and acceptance of Rs. 1700/- for carrying out curative operation of the wife of the complainant is concerned, this case is clearly covered by the aforesaid judgment of Hon'ble Apex Court in the case of Kanwarjit Singh Kakkar (supra). In view of the above facts and circumstances of the case, it can safely be said that and no case is made out so as to make it punishable under the provisions of the Act. Consequently, therefore the judgment of conviction recorded by learned Special Judge is not sustainable at law.
21. This Court has also minutely gone through the recitals emerging out from the complaint at Exh. 9, however nothing is emerging out from the complaint that the accused had ever demanded any amount of illegal gratification so as to constitute the offence as envisaged under the provisions of the Act. The recitals emerged out clearly depict that the accused had demanded Rs. 1700/- towards fees for carrying out curative operation of the wife of the complainant. Even if that fact is accepted in toto including the complaint and charge, this Court could not notice from the record and proceedings that the accused was debarred from carrying out private practice, even though he was holding license to carry medical profession. The prosecution has neither produced any circular nor produced any prohibitory order so far as the accused is concerned not to carry any private medical practice and not to accept any fees for carrying such medical practice as such. In absence of any documentary evidence that the accused was debarred from carrying out any medical practice, it would be very difficult to believe that he was debarred from carrying out any private practice. Even otherwise also, as per the decision of the Hon'ble Supreme Court, since the accused had accepted the fees for carrying out his practice privately and it may be termed to be a breach of conditions of his service, if so such condition is laid down upon his employment, it may be dealt with departmentally for alleged misconduct, but by no stretch of imagination, he can be booked for commission of offence as envisaged under the provisions of the Act.
22. In the result, the present Criminal Appeal filed by the appellant-accused is allowed and judgment dated 25.02.2004 passed by learned Special Judge, Amreli in Special Case No. 13 of 2001 is quashed and set aside. The appellant-accused is acquitted of the charges levelled against him. Fine, if any, paid by him be refunded to him. Records & proceedings, if any, be sent back to the trial Court concerned forthwith.
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