Indian Penal Code, 1860 – Sections 468 and 471 – forgery and falsification of records – misappropriated the government money – disbursement of loans – forged the loan documents – forging signatures and thumb impressions on the applications and acknowledgement receipts – documents were forged to avail the loan and the loan amount and subsidy amount were misappropriated – Government scheme for providing loans at the cheaper interest rates to poor persons living below the poverty line to enable them to purchase sheeps, buffalos, horses and for running small businesses and for development of land etc. – Upon recommendation of the Block Development Officer (BDO), the bank disbursed these loans to the beneficiaries – accused was a Gram Sewak – Held, the occurrence was of the year 1983-1986 – the authority of the Executive Magistrate to take specimen signatures during the course of investigation cannot be disputed – In any event, even dehors opinion evidence of handwriting expert, there is clear oral evidence denying their signatures in the loan application and other documents – Affirming the evidence the High Court has rightly reversed the judgment of acquittal and found the accused guilty of the offences – accused is more than 75 years of age and is suffering from severe ailments; he has prayed for reduction of sentence of imprisonment. Considering the facts and circumstances of the case and that the innocence of the villagers has been misused to siphon the public money, not inclined to reduce the sentence of imprisonment of the accused.
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
(V.GOPALA GOWDA) AND (R. BANUMATHI) JJ.
July 25, 2016
CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 224 OF 2012
SUKH RAM ..Appellant
STATE OF HIMACHAL PRADESH ..Respondent
CRIMINAL APPEALS NO. 2290-2291 of 2014 & 2292-2293 of 2014
J U D G M E N T
R. BANUMATHI, J.
Present batch of appeals arise out of three separate judgments of the High Court of Himachal Pradesh passed in Criminal Appeals No. 418 of 2007, 419 of 2007 and 420 of 2007 in and by which the High Court reversed the acquittal of the appellant and convicted him for the offences punishable under
Sections 468 and 471 of the Indian Penal Code
and imposed six months imprisonment.
2. Common facts arising out of these criminal appeals are as follows:-
During the relevant point of time i.e. 1983-1986, there was a government scheme for providing loans at the cheaper interest rates to poor persons living below the poverty line to enable them to purchase sheeps, buffalos, horses and for running small businesses and for development of land etc. Upon recommendation of the Block Development Officer (BDO), the bank disbursed these loans to the beneficiaries. Appellant-Sukh Ram was a Gram Sewak, Navgaon under Arki Sub-Division during said period, 1983 to 1986.
3. It is the case of the prosecution that appellant-Sukh Ram, Gram Sewak, while submitting applications on behalf of the villagers for these loans, was involved in misappropriation of loan amounts by forging their signatures and thumb impressions on the applications and acknowledgement receipts. All three appeals have been heard together as the offences committed by the same accused persons appellant-Sukh Ram and others as also the modus operandi of committing the forgery and falsification of records being the same. Criminal Appeal No.224 of 2012 is taken as the lead case.
4. On the basis of the preliminary enquiry, it came to light that PW-5 Nathu Ram, PW-7 Kirpu and PW-8 Garja Ram had loans disbursed to them despite not having applied for the loans. Consequently, a case was registered against the appellant–Sukh Ram, Balbir Singh-Block Development Officer and Arun Kumar Sood, Branch Manager, UCO Bank Darlaghat. During enquiry, it further came to light that disbursement of loans was not actually made to the beneficiaries. An FIR was registered and on completion of the investigation and after obtaining sanction from the government, chargesheet was filed against the appellant–Sukh Ram Gram Sewak, Balbir Singh-Block Development Officer and Arun Kumar Sood, Branch Manager, UCO Bank Darlaghat. Charges were framed against the appellant and the said accused under Sections 409, 467, 468, 471, 120-B and 420 IPC and under Section 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act. During the course of investigation, PW-5 and PW-7 gave their specimen signatures in the presence of the executive magistrate and the same were sent to the handwriting expert for comparison with their disputed signatures in the loan application and other documents. Handwriting expert opined that the signatures in the loan application and other documents did not match the signatures of Nathu Ram, Kirpu and others but only matched the signature of appellant-Sukh Ram.
5. To substantiate the charges, in the trial court, prosecution examined 22 witnesses. The trial court discarded the testimony and opinion of handwriting expert (Ex.PW20/C-1 to Ex.PW20/C-5) on the ground that the handwritten specimen given by PW-5 and PW-7 were taken before the executive magistrate who did not have the authority to enquire into or try the offence. Trial court came to this conclusion that charge against the accused was not proved by placing reliance on the decision of this Court in
Sukhvinder Singh & Ors. vs. State of Punjab, (1994) 5 SCC 152
Trial court held that the appellant–Sukh Ram’s (Gram Sewak) task was to take the applications for loan as well as subsidy and accused Balbir Singh’s (BDO) task was to sanction the loan and subsidy and issue letters to the bank and Arun Kumar Sood’s (Branch Manager, UCO Bank) task was to release the loan and subsidy after securing the requisite documents to that effect. Trial court held that in the absence of legal evidence that appellant and others have forged the loan documents, it cannot be concluded that the accused had entered into conspiracy of committing forgery and cheating etc. and on those findings, the trial court acquitted appellant-Sukh Ram and others.
6. Aggrieved by the judgment of acquittal, State of Himachal Pradesh preferred appeal before the High Court assailing the correctness of the decision of the trial court. The High Court differentiated the cases relied upon by the trial court from the case at hand on facts as also on law. The High Court pointed out that even though the executive magistrate before whom the specimen signatures were given did not have the authority to enquire into or try the case; however, PW-5 and PW-7 gave specimen signatures voluntarily during the course of investigation and differentiated the cases relied on by the trial court. High Court relied on the decision of this Court in