“Sting has lost the venom, this is how the present case can be described.” These were the first remarks made by a Delhi court while discharging 32 officials of the Sales Tax department facing corruption charges due to a sting operation.
The court discharged all the accused under sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act, where the prosecution was relying on secondary evidence, that is audio/video CD containing the alleged sting operation. The court further observed that it is the chip or the memory card that should only be considered as “primary evidence” in such cases.
“The legal position emerges that the chip or the memory card which originally contain the recording is primary evidence and the CD of the same would only be secondary evidence. In the present case, primary evidence is not available and secondary evidence has been rejected,” special judge Narottam Kaushal observed.
The discharge order comes in a case where the sting operation was carried out by a correspondent and cameraperson of Aaj Tak news channel, in a programme titled Ghoos Mehel — they conducted the audio/video recording of the assessing authorities and officials of the Sales Tax department, allegedly accepting bribe. During the telecast of the programme, it had been informed that 82 officials were seen in the alleged sting operation accepting bribe. However, the CDs that were seized by the probe agency did not contain details of 82 officials. Another CD was then given by the correspondent, as secondary evidence, for which the forensic experts said the video-recording was not “camera original”.
“Government officials seen on TV accepting money in unexplained circumstances, is ordinarily evidence sufficient to commence trial and take it to its logical end. However, in the present era of advancement in science & technology, the chances of audio/video footage having been morphed or manipulated cannot be ruled out,” the court said.
Senior advocate Ramesh Gupta, defence counsel in the case, had argued that use of sting operations had not gone well with the superior courts, that the secondary evidence in the case was hit by the provisions of Section 65/B of the Indian Evidence Act. He had argued that certificate under the given section of Evidence Act, submitted along the “with the supplementary chargesheet cannot be used by the prosecution for admissibility of otherwise inadmissible electronic record.”