Jayalalithaa's b’day gifts not a lawful source of income: SC

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Can Rs 1.5 crore received from party cadres as gifts on birthdays be said to be a lawful source of income, Karnataka had asked while arguing the Jayalalithaa disproportionate assets case in the Supreme Court. Arguing for Karnataka, senior counsel Dushyanth Dave contended that if gifts are made as legal, then it would open the doors for all politicians to escape criminal liability.

Jayalalithaa

The Supreme Court agreed with the contentions advanced by Karnataka and said that the accused persons who are under the definition of a public servant cannot claim that gifts offered on a birthday is a lawful source of income.

The fact that the practice of offering such gifts had been discontinued after 1992 and the possibility of such offerings not being made if A1 (Jayalalithaa) was not in office, was pondered over. The trial court discarded the evidence of the party workers and rejected the A1's claim of income from the gifts from a lawful source. The trial court had relied on a 1988 verdict which had emphasised the need to keep a public servant free from corruption and to ensure purity in public life.

The court, thus, rejected the alleged gifts, said to have been received by A1 to constitute a lawful source of income. The high court however quantified the amount of gifts to be Rs 1.5 crore principally referring to the income tax returns and the orders of the authorities passed thereon. It did notice that there had been a delay in the submission of the income tax returns but accepted the plea of the defence acting on the orders of the income tax authorities.

It seems to have been convinced as well by the contention that there was a practice of offering gifts to political leaders on their birthdays in the State. Not only is the ultimate conclusion of the high court, de hors any independent assessment of the evidence to overturn the categorical finding of the Trial Court to the contrary, no convincing or persuasive reason is also forthcoming, the Supreme Court observed.

The SC said, "If the same is allowed, it would facilitate circumvention of the prohibition of acceptance of bribe in the shape of present/gift."

It was elaborated that the difference between the acceptance of bribe made punishable under Sections 161 and 165 of the Indian Penal Code was that under the former section, the present is taken as a motive or reward for abuse of office but under the latter, the question of motive or reward is wholly immaterial and the acceptance of a valuable thing without consideration or with inadequate consideration from a person who has or is likely to have any business to be transacted, is forbidden because though not taken as a motive or reward for showing any official favour, it is likely to influence the public servant to show official favour to a person giving such valuable thing.

It was underlined that Sections 161 and 165 IPC as well as Section 5 of the PC Act are intended to keep the public servant free from corruption and thus ultimately to ensure purity in public life.

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