Updated: October 16, 2021 7:44:51 pm
Gujarat Assembly speaker Nima Acharya, former BJP MLA Kantilal Amrutiya and Patidar quota stir leader Manoj Panara got relief in a case of bribing voters at an election meeting in Morbi town during the 2009 Lok Sabha election as the district and sessions court of Morbi on Saturday set aside a trial court verdict which had pronounced them guilty in the case.
The court of additional sessions judge MK Upadhyay on Saturday allowed separate appeals filed by Acharya, Amrutiya and Panara against their conviction by a trial court in Morbi on February 12, 2018.
“The court concurred with our submission that the prosecution had erred in interpreting the law and therefore, the trial court’s verdict convicting the accused was illegal, perverse and untenable in the eye of law and hence allowed our appeal,” Anil Desai, Acharya’s advocate Anil Desai told The Indian Express.
Acharya and Amrutiya, then sitting BJP MLAs from Anjar and Morbi Assembly constituencies respectively and Panara, then a BJP worker, were booked under IPC Sections 171-B (bribing voters), 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by a public servant) and 114 (abettor present when offence is committed) on March 25, 2009. The case was registered on the basis of a complaint filed by Arvind Patel, the assistant returning officer (ARO) for election to Kutch Lok Sabha seat in the 2009 general Parliamentary election.
The ARO had alleged in his complaint that at a meeting held in Modern Hall in Morbi town on March 18, 2009, Acharya had promised BJP workers that Member of Parliament would allot Rs5 lakh grant to polling booth which records highest voting in favour of the party candidate. In his complaint, the ARO had further alleged that Acharya had further promised that the party MP, if elected, would allot Rs2 lakh and Rs1.51 lakh respectively in second and third-placed booths. On the other hand, Amrutiya, as per the complaint, had promised that BJP MLAs in Kutch Parliamentary seat would allot Rs1.51 lakh to ‘organisation’ of the area in each Assembly from where the party candidate for LS poll gets the highest lead. The complaint alleged that Panara had applied for permission for the event but the event had gone on much beyond the time permitted officially.
A trial court in Morbi had pronounced Acharya, Amrutiya and Panara guilty of violating IPC Sections 171-B and 114 in year 2018 and had sentenced them to one year of simple imprisonment and fined Rs 1000 each while acquitting them of the charge under IPC Section 188. However, the trial court had allowed the convicts’ plea for stayed operation of its judgement for 30 days so that they can approach sessions court. Acharya had moved the Morbi district and sessions court on February 22, 2018 challenging the trial court’s judgement. Amrutiya and Panara too had moved preferred separate appeals against the trial court’s guilty verdict. The sessions court had subsequently stayed operation of the trial court’s judgement till pendency of the appeals.
On Saturday, Acharya thanked the sessions court for ‘doing justice’ to her and added that she always had faith in the judiciary. “I was not even MLA from Morbi which would have allowed me to allot my (MLA Local Area Development Fund) grant in Morbi. Nor had we promised anyone money or had made any attempt to lure voters. All that we had done is to tell our workers to encourage people to vote in large numbers. But no one is above the law and one has to go through the procedure. However, I always had faith in the judiciary all this while and I thank the court for finally doing justice to me,” Acharya told The Indian Express, adding, “The judgement has strengthened my faith in the judiciary.”
Incidentally, Acharya was protem speaker of Gujarat Assembly when she was convicted in February, 2018. She was elected Speaker last month after incumbent speaker Rajendra Trivedi resigned.
During the hearing of the appeals, Desai and advocates of Amrutiya and Panara contented that Acharya and Amrutiya had not addressed any “individuals” but “party booth workers of the constituency. “Even those words do not fall within the ambit of Section 171-B of the IPC so as to attract the punishment U/S. 171-E of the IPC for the offence of Bribery,” the sessions court notes the appellants as having argued.
“Not only that, the prosecution never produced the VCD (video city disc) containing recording of the said event in trial court despite having been given ample time even as the prosecution maintained all along that the event was videographed and that a VCD was prepared of the recording. In absence of material evidence, the prosecution’s case rested on oral testimonies of seven witnesses. But we contented that all the seven witnesses examined by the prosecution were government servants and that there was no independent witness supporting the case hence the prosecution had failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt,” Desai further said.
In his judgement, judge MK Upadhyay also underlined that the alleged VCD of the said event was a vital piece of evidence but the prosecution failed to produce it. “In such a case the question arises as to why the Court should not draw an adverse inference against the Prosecution that if at all the said electronic evidence would have been produced before the Court, it would have definitely gone against the Prosecution Case, as the exact time and the contents of the speeches of the said function would have been clearly known from the VCD. And hence inference can definitely be drawn against the Prosecution U/S. 114 of the Evidence Act,” the judgement notes.
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