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Kerala High Court reduces prison term of teacher convicted for corruption

The accused was the headmistress of the Government Tribal Upper Primary School, Kombukuthy for nearly two years.

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The Kerala High Court on Wednesday lowered the period of imprisonment of a government teacher from two years to a year. The teacher had been convicted in a corruption case and had challenged the order of conviction and sentence passed against her by the trial court.

The court remarked, “A teacher shall be a role model, not only for the students but also for society. But, the appellant, who was a teacher and a headmistress, did not prove to be so. It is unfortunate that she had shown deviance from the path of honesty and integrity.”

The appellant is the sole accused in the file of the Court of the Inquiry Commissioner and Special Judge, Kottayam. She stands convicted and sentenced by that court for committing the offences punishable under Sections 13(1)(c) and 13(1)(d) read with 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.

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

The trial court sentenced the accused to undergo 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 fine, to undergo simple imprisonment for a period of three months each for the offences under Sections 13(1)(c) and 13(1)(d) read with 13(2) of the Act and directed that the substantive sentences of imprisonment shall run concurrently. The appellant then approached the High Court challenging the order of conviction and sentence passed against her by the trial court.

A single-judge bench of Justice R. Narayana Pisharadi, while considering the appeal observed that there is a procedure to be followed for sanctioning loan from the GPF and encashment and disbursement of the loan amount to the persons concerned. The teacher concerned should make an application, with necessary particulars, for sanctioning loan from the GPF. The application shall be in the prescribed form. The headmaster would verify whether the amount is in credit in the GPF account of the applicant. Loan could be sanctioned by the headmaster within the limit prescribed by the Government. The bill for payment along with the sanction order would be then presented in the treasury concerned. The treasury would pass the bill and issue a pay order cheque which could be encashed through a bank. After encashing the amount, the details would be entered in the cash book kept in the school and then the amount would be paid to the teacher concerned after getting the signature of the teacher on the revenue stamp affixed in the acquittance roll. Counsel for the appellant has not raised any contention disputing the existence of or the regularity of the above procedure.

Further, the signature of the accused in the treasury bill book was identified by the witness. The signature of the accused on the back of pay order cheque was identified by other witnesses who are persons who had occasion to work along with the accused in 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 headmistress of the school in the court that no application for sanction of loan from the GPF made by Joice Rose Thomas and Radhamaniamma was seen in the files kept in the school is admissible in evidence. There is no reason to disbelieve her evidence in that regard. She has stated on cross-examination that she had verified all the GPF files kept in the school.

Counsel for the appellant contended that FIR was registered only on 12.01.2010 and there was inordinate delay in the registration of the FIR which remains unexplained and therefore, the prosecution case is not believable.The Court found no merit in this contention.

In order to attract the offence under Section 13(1)(c) of the Act, misappropriation or conversion of property to his own use, if any entrusted with a public servant or which is under the control of a public servant is necessary. In the case, when the accused encashed pay order cheque and received the amount of Rs.49,920/- from the bank, the money which belonged to Joice Rose Thomas and Radhamaniamma, was under her control. She did not pay the amount to them and thus, misappropriated it. The accused also abused her official position as a headmistress of the school and by illegal means obtained pecuniary advantage, held the Court.

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Counsel for the appellant further contended that, since the accused paid the amount to Joice Rose Thomas and Radhamaniamma subsequently, the offence, if any, committed by her has been undone. The Court rejected this argument while observing, “The fact that the accused refunded the amount when the act of defalcation came to be discovered, does not absolve her of the offences committed by her(Vishwa Nath v. State: AIR 1983 SC 174)”.

The Court partly allowed the appeal, while noting that the appellant/accused is now aged about 65 years. She paid the defalcated amount to Joice Rose Thomas and Radhamaniamma, though at a belated point of time. 

“Considering these aspects, I find that the sentence of imprisonment imposed on the accused by the trial court can be reduced to the minimum prescribed for the offences, that is, imprisonment for a period of one year. There is no sufficient ground to reduce the sentence of fine imposed on the accused by the trial court,” the order reads.

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