Kerala High Court reduces prison sentence for teacher convicted of corruption

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The High Court of Kerala Wednesday lowered the jail term for a government teacher from two years to one year. The teacher had been convicted in a corruption case and had challenged the sentencing order and the sentence handed down against her by the court of first instance.

The court said: “A teacher should be a role model, not only for students but also for society. However, the appellant, who was a teacher and principal, did not prove to be such. It is unfortunate that she has shown a deviation from the path of honesty and integrity.

The appellant is the only accused in the court file of the investigating commissioner and special judge, Kottayam. She is found guilty and sentenced by this court for having committed the offenses punishable under Articles 13 (1) (c) and 13 (1) (d) read with 13 (2) of the Law on the Prevention of Corruption, 1988.

The gist of the charge is that the accused was the principal of the Kombukuthy Government Tribal Higher Primary School during the period 01.06.2006 to 19.03.2008. On 16.10.2006, the accused, dishonestly and fraudulently, by abusing her official position as a civil servant, withdrew 24,960 rupees each from the General Provident Fund (GPF) account of Joice Rose Thomas and Radhamaniamma, without their knowledge and a embezzled that money.

The trial court sentenced the defendants to rigorous imprisonment for a period of two years each and to pay a fine of Rs 10,000 each and in default of payment of a fine, to suffer a simple prison sentence for a period of three months each for the offenses referred to in Articles 13 (1) (c) and 13 (1) (d) read with 13 (2) of the Act and ordered that the substantial sentences of imprisonment be carried out simultaneously . The appellant then applied to the High Court to challenge the sentencing order and the sentence imposed on her by the court of first instance.

A single judge of Judge R. Narayana Pisharadi, while considering the appeal, observed that there is a procedure to be followed to sanction the GPF loan and the collection and disbursement of the loan amount to the persons concerned. The teacher concerned must make a request, with the necessary details, for a sanction loan from the GPF. The request must be in the prescribed form. The manager would check if the amount is credited to the GPF account of the applicant. The loan could be sanctioned by the principal within the limit prescribed by the Government. The payment invoice as well as the sanction order would then be presented to the treasury concerned. The treasury would pass the bill and issue a paycheck that could be cashed by a bank. After receipt of the amount, the detail would be entered in the cash book kept at the school then the amount would be paid to the teacher concerned after having obtained the teacher’s signature on the fiscal stamp affixed to the receipt roll. Counsel for the appellant did not raise any argument contesting the existence or regularity of the above procedure.

In addition, the signature of the accused in the treasury bill book was identified by the witness. The signature of the accused on the back of the paycheck was identified by other witnesses who are people who had the opportunity to work with the accused at the same school and who were familiar with the signature of the accused, the Court further observed.

The Court took into account that the evidence given by the school principal in court that no request for a GPF loan sanction made by Joice Rose Thomas and Radhamaniamma was seen in the files kept at the school is admissible in evidence. There is no reason not to believe his testimony in this regard. She testified in cross-examination that she checked all GPF files kept at the school.

Counsel for the appellant argued that the FIR was not registered until 12.01.2010 and that there was an undue delay in registering the FIR which remains unexplained and that, therefore, the record of the accusation is not credible. The Court found no basis for this assertion.

In order to attract the offense under section 13 (1) (c) of the law, the misappropriation or conversion of property for its own use, if it is entrusted to an official or who is under the control control of an official, is necessary. In the case, when the accused cashed a payment order check and received the amount of Rs 49,920 from the bank, the money that belonged to Joice Rose Thomas and Radhamaniamma was in his control. She did not pay them the amount and therefore embezzled it. The accused also abused her official position as the principal of the school and obtained a pecuniary advantage by illegal means, the court ruled.

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Counsel for the appellant further argued that since the accused subsequently paid the sum to Joice Rose Thomas and Radhamaniamma, the offense, if any, that he committed was quashed. The Court rejected this argument while observing that “the fact that the accused reimbursed the amount when the act of forgery was discovered does not absolve her from the offenses she committed (Vishwa Nath v. State: AIR 1983 SC 174) ”.

The Court allowed the appeal in part, noting that the appellant / accused is now approximately 65 years of age. She paid the falsified amount to Joice Rose Thomas and Radhamaniamma, albeit late.

“In view of these aspects, I consider that the prison sentence imposed on the accused by the court of first instance can be reduced to the minimum prescribed for the offenses, that is to say a prison sentence of ‘a year. There is no sufficient reason to reduce the fine imposed on the accused by the court of first instance, ”says the order.

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