2003 ALL SCR (Cri) 422
SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

S. RAJENDRA BABU J.P. VENKATARAMA REDDI J.

R. Sai Bharathi Vs. J. Jayalalitha & Ors.

Appeal (Crl.) 115120 of 2002Appeal (Crl.) 121127 of 2002Special Leave Petition (Crl.) 477 of 2002

24th November 2003

Petitioner Counsel:
Respondent Counsel:

Accused Agreement Building Companies Complaint Contract Cooperative Societies Deed Development Examination Fee Government Government Land Magistrate Motive Partnership Partnership Firm Plaint Procedure Public Prosecutor Registration Sentence Special Leave Petition Stamp Act Stamp Duty State State Government Tender Tender Process Transfer Valuation Report Women Writ Petition Execution Adoption Interest Lease Prohibition Public Sector Undertaking Public Servant Reference Sale Sale Deed Sale of Land Statement Criminal Breach of Trust Damages Executive Order Executive Power Fraud Full Bench Government Order Punishment Ownership Parliament Public Property Public Sector Undertaking Railway Railway Property Sanction Transfer of Property

Cases Cited :

Paras 33, 41: Vidadala Harinadhababu & etc. Vs. N.T. Ramarao, Chief Minister, State of Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad & Ors. (AIR 1990 AP 20)
Para 33: (Seth) Kanhaya Lal, since deceased (Now represented by Seth Hanuman Prasad & Ors.) Vs. National Bank of India Ltd. New Delhi (AIR 1923 PC 114)
Para 38: Narayan Vs. Emperor (11 Cr.L.J. Reports 613)

JUDGEMENT


RAJENDRA BABU, J.:- These two sets of criminal appeals arise out of two criminal cases filed against respondents nos. 1 to 6 and the fall out thereof unfolding against currents and cross currents of political vicissitudes. Facts leading to these appeals are as under:
The government of Tamil Nadu formed a Tamil Nadu Small Industries Corporation Limited (for short ‘TANSI’). It was registered under the Companies Act, 1956 as a government compnay. The entire shares, namely, 100% of the shares of the said Corporation, were held by the government. In the Memorandum of Association it is stated that the said company is formed ‘to take over from the government of Tamil Nadu any of their production and/or servicing units with the rights and liabilities of the government of Tamil Nadu so far as they relate to such units’. Article 72 of Articles of Association empowers the government to appoint all the Directors with the power to remove any Director from time to time. Article 79 empowers the government to appoint and remove the Managing Director. Similarly government can also appoint a Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Board. The Chairman can reserve for the approval of the government any proposals or decisions of the Board in respect of any of the matters regarding (a) increase or reduction of the capital of the compnay; (b) loan granted by the compnay or giving of a guarantee or any other financial assistance to any person or concern; (c) winding up of the compnay; and (d) any other matter which in the opinion of the Chairman be of such importance as to be reserved for the approval of the government. In respect of any proposal or decision of the Board reserved for the approval of the government no action shall be taken by the compnay until approval to the same has been obtained. The government also exercises the power to issue directives or instructions as it may deem fit in regard to finances and the conduct of the business and affairs of the compnay and the Directors shall duly comply with and give effect to such directives or instructions. TANSI has 10 Directors and all of them were the nominees of the government of Tamil Nadu, including the Chairman-cum-Managing Director who was an IAS officer.
Article 77-a(4) provides that the Board shall not dispose of the land transferred to the compnay by the government other than to Tamil Nadu government Departments/Undertakings/Boards or government of India Departments/Undertakings/Board without the previous written approval of the government. A Code of Conduct for Ministers was brought into force by G.O.Ms. Nos. 1350 on June 16, 1968 which was revised from time to time and clause 2(b) thereto provides that ‘a Minister shall refrain from buying from, or selling to, the government any immovable property except where such property is compulsorily acquired by the government in the usual course and refrain from starting, or joining, any business’. After the formation of TANSI Corporation and transfer of government Industrial Units to it, some of the units started incurring losses. Therefore a report was sent by TANSI to the government to the effect that some of the industrial units are consistently incurring losses. On 30th September, 1985 the government decided that eight units mentioned in the G.O.Ms. 832 can never be made viable whatever measures to be adopted to achieve the objects for which they were set up in the public sector and therefore their continuance will cause a drain on the finance of TANSI. TANSI Enamelled Wires, Guindy and TANSI Foundry, Guindy, situate in Thiru.vi.ka.Industrial Estate were two of the units among the eight identified as the units incurring losses mentioned in the said G.O. Therefore, the government decided that TANSI should close down the 8 units and explore the possibility of disposing the properties by inviting offers through advertisements in newspapers.
In pursuance of the G.O., exhibit P-21, TANSI Foundry Unit was officially closed as per exhibit P.-33. Out of the total extent of 5.535 acres of land and 3267 sq.mts. of buildings in TANSI Foundry, an extent of 0.545 acres of land and 569 sq.mts. of building were transferred to Tamil Nadu Corporation for Development of Women on 15.5.1987 by TANSI after collecting Rs. 12.21 lacs. Advertisements were issued on 31.8.1988 for disposal of the remaining extent of land and building and four offers were received. The offers of Ashwini Plastic and ENCOFED were recommended to the government after the approval of the Board, but the government did not give approval on the ground that it will be more advantageous to TANSI to call for fresh tenders after parcelling out the land into industrial plots in accordance with the Madras Metropolitan Development Authority Rules and Regulations. On 30.4.1990 Jaya Publications, an unregistered partnership firm in which J.Jayalalitha, accused no. 1, and Sasikala, accused no. 2, were partners, purchased land adjacent to the TANSI property in dispute from Hitex Equipment company vide sale deed, exhibit P.-57, at the assessed market value of Rs. 6 lacs per ground which is at par with the guideline value of Registration Department. In the general elections held on 13.5.1991 for the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly AIADMK party came to power and J.Jayalalitha, accused no. 1, became the Chief Minister. On 29.9.1991 Jaya Publications again purchased another adjacent land from Idhayam Publications vide sale deed (exhibit P-8) at the assessed market value of Rs. 7.32 lacs per ground (270 sq. yards). On 10.10.1991 an advertisement was published for disposal of TANSI Enamelled Wire Units adjacent to the TANSI Foundry in the Thiru.vi.ka. Industrial Estate. Pursuant to this advertisement R.R. Industries and two other companies submitted tenders for purchase. Exhibit P-22 is the quotation given by R.R. Industries. The price of one square meter of land had been mentioned in that quotation as Rs. 1850, which works out to Rs. 4.12 lacs per ground.
On 14.10.1991 a meeting was held under the chairmanship of the Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha for the review of the performance of the TANSI and A-4 Minister for Rural Industries, A-3 Chairman-cum-Managing Director of TANSI, P.W. 11 Chief Secretary, P.W. 14 Secretary Industries Department and P.W. 16 Secretary, Finance Department attended the said meeting and several decisions were taken for the revival of TANSI. One of the decisions taken at the meeting is that TANSI may sell the properties of its unit which are defunct and TANSI Foundry Unit was identified as a defunct unit and the estimated sale price was fixed at Rs. 1.5 crore, but without any land valuation report on record. It was also decided that TANSI must identify more such properties for sale and can send a proposal to the government along with all details and topography sketches recommending the sale and that the vacant sites available for the running units can be plotted out into industrial lots for selling them at market value with a view to raise some resources. On 6.11.1991 government directed all public sector undertakings to obtain prior approval of the government in respect of all tenders for works, equipment, etc and all purchases whether by open tender or by limited tender enquiries etc. where the value of the contract exceeds Rs. 1 crore. It also directed that the proposals should be sent with the recommendation of the Board to the Administrative Department concerned and that Administrative Department may follow circuit procedures to circulate the file to concerned Minister, Minister for Finance and Chief Minister.
The Board of Directors of TANSI resolved to constitute a sub-committee consisting of the Directors for evaluating the offers received in respect of TANSI Enamelled Wires pursuant to the advertisement issued on 10.10.1991 and to make recommendations for the disposal of the assets of the closed units of TANSI. The members of the sub-committee appointed by the Board were Chairman-cum-Managing Director of TANSI, who is also the Director of TANSI, Abdul Hasan, the Director of TANSI and Joint Secretary, Industries Department, and C.Madakkannu, Chief Engineer (Buildings),PWD, who is also the Director of TANSI. Advertisements were caused to be published in leading newspapers on 21.11.1991 calling for offers through tenders for the purchase of the property of TANSI Foundry. A letter was addressed by the Managing Director (A-3) to the Sub-Registrar, Adayar (P.W. 1) intimating that they want to dispose of land in Thiru.vi.ka.Industrial Estate and requesting to furnish the guidelines price of the lands situate in block no. 5 at Alandur. Sub-Registrar, Adayar replied (exhibit D-39) that there was no guideline value for survey numbers 86, 87, 88, 90, 91 part, 92 part and 93 part, in block no. 5 of Adayar village which are the properties in dispute. He further stated that in the adjoining property in block no. 6 of Thiru.vi.ka.Industrial Estate, the value of one sq.feet was Rs. 305/-, which worked out to Rs. 7.32 lacs per ground. It is important to note that block nos. 1 to 6 of Adayar village are situated in Thiru.vi.ka.Industrial Estate. The sub-committee of TANSI met on 25.11.1991 (sic) to consider the offers for the disposal of TANSI Enamelled Wires Unit for which an advertisement was published on 10.10.1991. The tender given by R.R. Industries and other two tenders given by other companies were placed before the sub-committee and it passed a resolution calling for a report regarding the guideline price of the land and a report from the Public Works Department regarding the value of the buildings. After consideration of all the offers the sub-committee decided that TANSI may try again for better offer by giving advertisements. Again advertisements were published on 21.11.1991 and 22.11.1991 calling for tenders for purchase of the property of TANSI Foundry, four tenders were received at the TANSI office and they were opened in the presence of all the tenderers on the same day. Exhibit P-29 is the offer of Jaya Publications in which J. Jayalalitha, A-1 and Sasikala, A-2 are partners. Exhibit P-13 is the offer of Aban Constructions and exhibit D-15 is the offer of ENCOFED. Tamil Nadu Small Industries Development Corporation (SIDCO) also submitted a tender. Jaya Publications offered to purchase the entire land at the rate of Rs. 3.01 lacs per ground. Aban Constructions offered to purchase the landed property at the rate of Rs. 1,77,325/- per ground, but it offered to purchase only 1.72 acres and not the entire property. ENCOFED offered to purchase 2000 sq.mts of land at rate of Rs. 1,33,333 per ground while SIDCO offered to purchase the land at Rs. 502/- per sq.mt.
All the offers were placed before the sub-committee for consideration and it decided that A-3 who is the Chairman-cum-Managing Director, TANSI, should negotiate with Jaya Publications since the offer of Jaya Publications was Rs. 1,82,13,150/- which is the highest of all the four bids and they should take up the matter with the Board by a note in circulation for a decision regarding the disposal of the property. Exhibit P-30 are the Minutes of the meeting of the sub-committee and the same were initiated by P.W. 8 and A-3. The Board considered the matter and it was noticed that the value offered for the land by the highest bidder was Rs. 1,62,93,150 which worked out to Rs. 3.01 lacs and that though it was much lower than Rs. 7.30 lacs which was the guideline value for block no. 6 of Thiru.vi.ka.Industrial Estate, it was marginally higher than the value fixed by the Collector under exhibit D-20 as the Collector had fixed the price per ground for the property at Rs. 3 lacs. The note further indicated that TANSI had already decided to sell 2.52 acres of land of the same unit to Tamil Nadu Sugar Federation at Rs. 3 lacs per ground and, therefore, the price of Rs. 3.01 lacs offered by Jaya Publications could be considered reasonable. It was also taken into consideration that Rs. 19.20 lacs was offered by the highest bidder for the building and that heavy structures available at TANSI Foundry may be useful for a heavy engineering workshop and for a buyer who does not intend to put up a heavy engineering workshop, the value is only notional and at best is only a scrap value. Therefore, members of the Board recommended to the government selling a portion of the land of about 2.98 acres at the rate of Rs. 1,350/- per sq.mt., that is, Rs. 3.01 lacs per ground, and that the exact extent of the land to be sold could be measured at the time of handing over and the exact amount could be collected and the building measuring 2698 sq. mts. could be sold at a cost of Rs. 19.20,200/-. The resolution was unanimously adopted and signed by the Managing Director and other seven Directors. A proposal was sent to the government on 30.12.1991 and the proposal of TANSI was examined by the government. There were certain notings made therein that the rate of 3 lacs per ground was much lower than the guideline value of Rs. 7.30 lacs per ground as mentioned by Registration Department. Further, the file was marked to ‘Minister (Rural Industries)’, ‘Minister for Finance’ and ‘Chief Minister’. It is stated that the markings to other Ministers were cancelled by the Minister (Rural Industries). The Minister for Finance approved the proposal on 14.1.1992. By G.O. Ms. No. 18 issued on 20.1.1992 the government approved the sale of TANSI Foundry property to Jaya Publications. Jaya Publications, in turn, was informed of the decision of the government by exhibit P-36 with which a draft sale agreement for getting N.O.C. from the Income Tax Department, was enclosed. An agreement for sale was entered into between TANSI and Jaya Publications on 4.3.1992 and the said document was registered conditionally because the value of the land and building was less than the market value and guideline value. Board of Directors of TANSI took note of the fact that the actual extent of land sold was 3.0786 acres when it was measured.
Under section 47-A of the Indian Stamp Act (as in force in Tamil Nadu), Sub-Registrar, Adayar, P.W.1, referred to the Special Deputy Collector (Stamps) – A-5 – for fixing the market value of the TANSI Foundry land by his proceedings exhibit P-3 as the value was less. By proceedings dated 7.12.1992, exhibit P.-6, he fixed Rs. 3.00 lacs per ground as the market value for the TANSI Foundry land. In writ petition no. 472 of 1993 in the High Court of Madras relief is sought for setting aside the sale deeds executed in favour of Jaya Publications and Sasi Enterprises on the ground that the sale deeds are invalid documents and for resumption of land by the government. We are not concerned with this writ petition in these proceedings.
A private complaint was lodged before the IX Metropolitan Magistrate Court, Saidapet, seeking to punish J. Jayalalitha, respondent no. 1 herein, for offence under section 169 IPC for having purchased government land in violation of Code of Conduct for Ministers. In view of several complaints and on the basis of media reports, the government referred the matter to C.B.C.I.D. on which a crime came to be registered in crime no. 17 of 1996 exhibit P-75 is the First Information Report in the said crime. Investigation was taken up by P.W.27 and two cases were registered as Special C.C. No. 4 of 1997 and Special C.C. No. 13 of 1997 against the respondents.
A-1 was charged under section 120-B IPC, section 13(2) read with section 13(1)(c) & 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, and sections 409, 169 and 420 read with section 34 IPC. A-2 was charged under section 120-B IPC, sections 13(2) read with section 13(1)(c) and (d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act read with section 109 IPC, under sections 409 read with 109 IPC, 169 read with 109 IPC and 420 read with 34 IPC. A-3 was charged under section 120-B IPC, section 13(2) read with 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, section 119 IPC read with section 13(2) read with 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, and under sections 169 read with 109, 420 and 409 IPC. A- 4 and A-5 were charged under section 120-B IPC, under section 13(2) read with 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, under section 119 IPC read with section 13(2) read with 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, and under section 169 read with section 109 IPC. A-6 was charged under section 120-B IPC, under section 119 read with 13(2) read with 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act and under section 13(2) read with 13(1)(d) read with 109 IPC.
The trial judge convicted A-1 under section 120-B read with 13(2) read with 13(1)(c) and (d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act. He also convicted A-1 under sections 13(2) read with 13(1)C ) and 13(2) read with 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act and under section 409 IPC and for each charge, A-1 was directed to suffer rigorous imprisonment for a period of three years and to pay a fine of Rs. 10,000/- with the direction that in default of payment of fine, A-1 will suffer simple imprisonment for three months. Similarly, the trial judge convicted A-2 under sections 120-B IPC read with 13(2) read with 13(1)(c ) and (d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, under sections 13(2) read with 13(1)(c ) of the Prevention of Corruption Act read with 109 IPC, under sections 13(2) read with 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act read with 109 IPC and under section 409 read with 109 IPC. A-3 to A-5 were convicted under sections 120-B IPC read with 13(2) read with 13(1)(c ) and (d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act and under sections 13(2) read with section 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption act and each of them was sentenced to suffer rigorous imprisonment for a period of three years and to pay a fine of Rs. 10,000/- in default of which each of them was directed to suffer simple imprisonment for three months for each charge. A-6 was convicted under sections 120-B IPC read with 13(2) read with 13(1)(c ) and (d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act and he was sentenced to suffer rigorous imprisonment for three years and to pay a fine of Rs. 10,000/- with a default sentence of simple imprisonment for three months. The learned trial judge further directed that the sentences imposed upon the accused will run concurrently. A-1 was acquitted of the charge framed under section 420 IPC and also the charge under section 169 IPC. A-2 was acquitted of the charges framed under section 169 read with 109 IPC and 420 read with 34 IPC. A-3 was acquitted under sections 119 IPC read with 13(2) read with 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act and under sections 169 read with 109 IPC, 420 IPC and 409 IPC. A-4 and A-5 were acquitted of the charges framed under sections 119 IPC read with 13(2) read with 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act and sections 169 read with 109 IPC. A-4 is stated to have died subsequent to the disposal of the appeal in the High Court and before these proceedings were filed in this Court. A-6 was acquitted of the charges under sections 119 IPC read with 13(2) read with 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act and under sections 13(2) read with 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act and 109 IPC. The charge under section 420 IPC was dropped in view of the concession made on behalf of the State of Tamil Nadu in criminal appeal nos. 395-397 of 2000 decided by this Court on 25.4.2002 and reported in 2000(4) SCC 444.
The accused preferred Crl. Appeal Nos. 972, 973, 974, 977, 981 and 987 of 2000 before the High Court. The High Court by a judgment pronounced on 4.12.2001 allowed criminal appeals by acquitting all the accused and dismissing the State appeal.
2. Summary of the Findings of the High Court are as follows:
There is no evidence to indicate that the guideline value had been fixed in respect of the property in question. In fact, the witnesses admitted that there was no guideline value for this property.
The charge framed by the trial court is based on the guideline value and it is not permissible to proceed on the basis of market value as the two concepts are different and, therefore, the procedure adopted by the trial court prejudices the accused. Prosecution has not established that market value of the land sold to firms of respondents nos. 1 and 2 is Rs. 7.32 lacs or more than the price fetched.
The properties were sold by tender process after due publicity in newspapers and the highest bid has been accepted. Hence the price offered and accepted cannot result in wrongful loss to one party and gain to another party in the absence of any vitiating circumstances.
The guideline value not having been established acceptance of Rs.3 lacs per ground is reasonable on the basis of the evidence on record, particularly in view of the offer accepted pursuant to the tender process. Thus there is no wrongful loss to one party or gain to another party.
Price paid for small extents of land or additional stamp duty claimed on that basis are paid without demur cannot form a test for fixing the market value of the land in question.
The value mentioned in exhibit P.5 for the building or the super-structure ought to have been taken into consideration by the trial court as the same contained the necessary details and though it is stated that exhibits P.58 and P.59 were prepared after ascertaining relevant details, no material was placed in support of the same before the court and, therefore, it could not be said that the properties had been purchased at a lesser value than what is just.
The sale effected by TANSI Enamelled Wires to M/s Sasi Enterprises is not vitiated. The sub-committee rejected the offer of M/s R.R.Industries of Rs.4.12 lacs on the basis of guideline value. It is only much later the sub-committee realised from exhibit D-39, letter of the Sub-Registrar, that the subject matter of sale therein is only of an extent of 240 sq. feet and is in respect of a small shed. There are other reasons also to reject the offer of R.R.Industries.
The charge of conspiracy could not be established as the properties in question were not purchased at a price lower than the guideline or market value nor is there any independent material to conclude that there is any conspiracy to commit offences charged herein.
There is no link established to show that there is a conspiracy to sell the properties at a lesser price so as to cause wrongful loss and wrongful gain to enable A-1 and A-2 to obtain the same.
In view of the finding recorded that there was no guideline value and by reason of the properties sold at Rs.3 lacs per ground there was no pecuniary advantage to M/s Jaya Publications, the charges under section 13(2) read with sections 13(1)(c) and 13(1)(d) of the PA Act were not established.
In regard to A-3, the High Court held that the decision to offer the land in question was that of the Board and not his individual decision and he followed the decision of the sub-committee and, therefore, in view of the collective decision taken by the Board or the sub-committee he cannot be held to be guilty of any charge.
In regard to charge against A-4, none of the persons who endorsed the file had been attributed with corrupt motive and, therefore, there was no evidence worthy of consideration.
A-5, who was the Special Deputy Collector (Stamps), was only performing his statutory duty and fixed the value of the properties in question at Rs.3 lacs per ground after notice to the concerned parties. Hence he cannot be held to be guilty of any charge. Moreover, since A-5 was an appellate authority under the statute, he cannot be held to conspire to fix the value at Rs.3 lacs per ground, though it may fetch much higher value in the market.
3. Against the decision of the High Court in the said appeals, the State government not having filed any petitions or appeals, a private party is permitted to file these appeals by special leave. Dr. Subramaniam Swamy with permission has filed a separate special leave petition and no leave is granted to him but he has been allowed to address arguments only. We have not separately noticed his arguments but considered the same in the course of our discussion.
4. The foundation of various charges is that the property in question was deliberately sold for less value with a view to confer pecuniary advantage to the firm consisting of A1 and A2 which resulted in wrongful loss to the government compnay and wrongful gain to A1 and A2.
5. Examination of the evidence on record would indicate that the witnesses had admitted that the properties in question had no guideline value and hence the charge framed that the properties were purchased below the guideline value is defective. Though charge was not based on market value, the learned trial judge proceeded to consider the prosecution version by taking Rs. 7.32 lacs as the ‘market value’ per ground and held that TANSI suffered loss; the High Court, however, having examined as to what exactly was the market value of the properties in question, held in effect that the trial court took into account irrelevant materials and overlooked relevant evidence. As observed by the High Court, the property was sold by tender process and the bidders quoted their offers and the highest offer was that of firms of respondents nos. 1 and 2 and under the circumstances, unless the tender process was shown to be vitiated, the price quoted by the highest bidder had to be normally taken as the market value. Market value being a variable factor and if a price was quoted and if it was not shown that the tender was vitiated, then the price quoted by the highest bidder had to be taken as the market value. It is the admitted case of the prosecution that Jaya Publications offered Rs. 3.01 lacs per ground for the entire land and it offered to purchase the superstructure and machinery at Rs. 19.20 lacs and other bidders quoted less. On an earlier occasion when TANSI Foundry Unit wanted to sell 3.26 acres of land to Tamil Nadu Co-operative Sugar Federation, the value of a ground was fixed at Rs. 3 lacs by the Collector, Madras. It could be seen from exhibit D-20 which is a letter written by the Collector to the Commissioner of Land Administration to the effect that the maximum sale value in the village in block no. 5 of Thiru.vi.ka.Industrial Estate was Rs. 3,12,613 per ground based on the sale of a vacant land in S.No. 16/7 of Alandur village. He recommended that the rate of Rs. 3 lacs per ground could be fixed as the value for the TANSI Foundry land. That assessment of the Collector was accepted by the Commissioner of Land Administration as per exhibit P-61 who also fixed Rs. 3 lacs as value per ground for the TANSI Foundry land. The trial Judge rejected the value of land indicated in exhibit D-20 and exhibit P-61 on the ground that TANSI agreed to sell the land to Tamil Nadu Co-operative Sugar Federation at that price in view of the condition that the Sugar Federation will put up 15000 sq.ft. of superstructure which would be sold to TANSI at the cost of construction, without paying any amount for the land on which the superstructure was to be put up. Therefore, he held that exhibit D-20, which was accepted by the Commissioner of Land Administration under exhibit P-61, could not be correct basis to say that Rs. 3 lacs per ground was the market value of the property of TANSI Foundry. However, Tamil Nadu Co-operative Sugar Federation purchased the entire property without putting up a superstructure at the rate of Rs. 3 lacs per ground. It cannot also be said that Sugar Federation is a government organisation and, therefore, the land was sold to it by TANSI at a commercial rate. It was a federation formed by several co-operative societies which were registered under the Tamil Nadu Co-operative Societies Act and it could not be treated as a government organisation. Therefore, sale of 2.52 acres of land of TANSI Foundry to the Sugar Federation was a sale to a private party and the price of Rs. 3 lacs per ground offered by the Sugar Federation could be taken into consideration for reflecting the market value of the property in question. Exhibit D-20 and exhibit P-61 in connection with that sale indicating that the value of Rs. 3 lacs per ground fixed by the Collector, Madras and Commissioner of Land Administration could be relied upon.
6. While on this point the High Court referred to the fact that in exhibit D.20, the Collector stated that the market value of the land in block no.4 works out to Rs.1,68,649 per ground and the disputed property which is situate in block no.5 is only 180 meters from that land. The Collector, however, took into account the sale under exhibit P.60, according to which the sale price per ground is Rs.3,12,613. The High Court then adverted to the argument of the learned public prosecutor that exhibit P.60 should be eschewed from consideration on the ground that it lies within the jurisdiction of a different revenue district and observed that if exhibit P.60 is to be ignored, the market value of the disputed property would only be Rs.1,68,649 and not even Rs.3,00,000.
7. In view of the failure of the prosecution to show that the guideline value is Rs. 7.32 lacs per ground and in view of the positive evidence as brought out through exhibit D-20 and P-61 that the value of the land of TANSI Foundry Unit could be about Rs. 3 lacs per ground particularly when the sale was by way of open tender, it cannot be said beyond reasonable doubt that the property in question had been under-sold and thus there was loss to TANSI. The view taken by the High Court appears to us to be a reasonably possible view.
8. Now we shall examine whether exhibit P-8, P-57, P-70 and P-71could be considered to assess the market value of the disputed property as Rs. 7.32 lacs per ground. Each of these documents was accompanied by Form 1-A wherein the parties acquiesced in the claim for payment of excess stamp duty. The land comprised in exhibits P-70 and P-71 are small in extent and they could not be taken into consideration to be safe guide to find value of the land sold by TANSI to Jaya Publications because it will be 53 times higher than the extent of land conveyed under those documents. In fact, PW.1 admitted that they are not comparable sales. The sale deed executed on 22.9.1991 (exhibit P.8) by Idayam Publications in favour of Jaya Publications had shown the value of the land at Rs. 4,78,488/- per ground. It was in respect of a small extent situate in block no.6 of Adyar village. The said sale deed did not show that the value was Rs. 7.32 lacs per ground and when the Sub-Registrar wanted to collect additional stamp duty, it was paid without any demur and from this fact, it could not be inferred that the value of TANSI Foundry land was Rs. 7.32 lacs per ground. Therefore, there is no justification in taking the sale consideration mentioned in exhibit P-8 which was only Rs. 4 lacs and odd per ground and putting it against the accused by stating that the market value of the property in question is Rs. 7.32 lacs per ground. exhibit P-8 cannot offer a true index to assess the market value of TANSI Foundry land at Rs. 7.32 lacs per ground. As regards P.57, which was a sale deed in favour of Jaya Publications in respect of 5658 sq.ft. situate in block no.6 of Adyar village, the sale price mentioned therein is Rs.76,344/- only per ground. But, the Sub-Registrar fixed the value for the purpose of stamp duty at Rs.6 lacs and the stamp duty was paid accordingly. Hence, it stands on the same footing as exhibit P-8.
9. It is strongly contended that the recommendation of Rs.3 lacs per ground in respect of a transaction to be entered into with Tamil Nadu Sugar Cooperative Federation is stated not to offer a good guide for fixing the value of the properties in the present case. The High Court took note of the fact that Tamil Nadu Sugar Cooperative Federation is not a governmental organisation to which a concession has been shown on that basis. It is to be noticed that the trial court relied upon four documents, viz., exhibits P-8, P-57, P-70 and P-71, to show that the market value of the land in question is Rs.7.32 lacs per ground. Each of these documents was accompanied by form no.1A wherein the parties acquiesced in the claim for the payment of excess stamp duty. It is correctly assessed by the High Court that the price ranged between Rs.76,344 to Rs.4,78,484/- per ground. Indeed, exhibits P-70 and P-71 indicated that Rs. 8 lacs per ground would be the value but those documents involve transfer of a running business. The High Court also gave importance to the history of the efforts on the part of TANSI to bring the properties to sale and its failure to obtain the reasonable price at the earlier floated tenders. The properties, therefore, became a dead investment and interest was being paid by TANSI on loans borrowed from the banks. At the time of the present transaction, the borrowings extended to Rs.1.87 crores and had to pay Rs.18 lacs of interest per annum and, therefore, it was not possible to contend that bringing the properties in question for sale was imprudent nor it could be demonstrated that the advertisement did not give sufficient particulars or that the tender forms were not made freely available or that anyone of the bidders was pressurized into not bidding or bidding for a lower amount or that a cartel had been formed or that the bidding in open tender was vitiated in any manner whatsoever. In such cases the courts have always held that the best price obtained through open tender is an index of the market value of the property. The Collector of Madras and the Commissioner of Land Reforms looked into the matter and held that an amount of Rs.3 lacs per ground is the market value of the land in question. Contrary to what is stated by the prosecution, the valuation in exhibit D-20 was not made on the basis of sale being to a government corporation but on the basis of the independent data relating to sales of land in the neighbouring blocks. The effort of the prosecution to show that the actual sale when made to the Tamil Nadu Sugar Cooperative Federation was at a far higher price than Rs.3 lacs per ground since 15000 sq. ft of built area was to be given at a cost to TANSI without the plinth area being valued. This exclusion of the plinth area has not been established and, on the other hand, the TANSI Board had passed a resolution not to go in for office space due to financial constraints but the price per ground was not altered in any manner. The High Court has gone into this aspect in detail, citing the relevant documents. Therefore, the price offered by the respondents and accepted by TANSI cannot be termed to be not a fair price in regard to the properties in question going by the state of evidence on record. If the value of the properties is determined, as stated above, the view taken by the High Court in respect of the various charges under sections 13(1)(c), (d), 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act and under sections 409 and 120-B IPC would stand to reason.
10. The argument of Sri Andhyarujina and Shri Natarajan is that officers had proceeded initially on the basis that the land in question had a guideline value of Rs.7.32 lacs per ground and hence the same constituted a benchmark. The High Court has gone on to examine the case as if it is a valuation court and did not examine the matter in the perspective in which charges are framed against the accused. This argument ignores that the gist of the charge is causing wrongful loss or gain in the sale of the land which could be only on the basis of its market value and not on assumed figures or notional value. Thus, the finding of the High Court that the prosecution has not succeeded in establishing that the market value of TANSI Foundry land sold to Jaya Publications as Rs. 7.32 lacs per ground cannot at all be said to be a perverse finding.
11. We may now proceed to consider the valuation of superstructure. Exhibit P-5 showed that the building was worth Rs.18,22,654/- which is less than the value offered by M/s Jaya Publications. This amount of Rs.18,22,654/- was assessed by one Sivaraman at the instance of PW-1 after the sale was effected. The assessment of Sivaraman under exhibit P-5 was not impeached. On the contrary, the prosecution placed reliance upon the same and adverting to the evidence of PW-19, the Design Engineer, and exhibit P-59 approved by the Chief Engineer wanted to contend that the value of the building is Rs.53,12,354/-. PW-19, the Design Engineer, assessed it at Rs.4,64,75,036/- as could be seen from exhibit P-58. Subsequently, the same was modified by the Chief Engineer by bringing it down to Rs.53,12,354/-. There is a big difference of amount of more than 4 crores between the value assessed by the PW-19, the Design Engineer and the value fixed by the Chief Engineer. They did not contain any details as to how the value had been finally arrived at Rs.53,12,354/- of the building. In exhibit P-58, the value of the structural columns were shown at Rs.54,32,130/- but in exhibit P-59, it was shown as 39 lacs, and no evidence was adduced before the Court to show that how these figures were arrived at, although, it is stated that the witnesses had taken about 40-50 pages of note. If that was so, the same should have been produced by the prosecution and in the absence of production of those notes, forming part of evidence is difficult to accept that the value mentioned in exhibits P-58 and P-59 was the correct value for the building. Exhibit P.5 shows calculation and indicated that as to how the value for the building was arrived at which is a document offered by the prosecution in evidence.
12. The guideline value has relevance only in the context of section 47-A of the Indian Stamp Act (as amended by TN Act 24 of 1967) which provides for dealing with instruments of conveyance which are undervalued. The guideline value is a rate fixed by authorities under the Stamp Act for purposes of determining the true market value of the property disclosed in an instrument requiring payment of stamp duty. Thus the guideline value fixed is not final but only a prima facie rate prevailing in an area. It is open to the registering authority as well as the person seeking registration to prove the actual market value of property. The authorities cannot regard the guideline valuation as the last word on the subject of market value. This position is made clear in the explanation to Rule 3 of Prevention of Undervaluation of Instruments Rules. The said explanation reads as follows :-
“Explanation.-the “Guidelines Register” supplied to the officers is intended merely to assist them to ascertain prima facie, whether the market value has been truly set forth in the instruments. The entries made therein regarding the value of properties cannot be a substitute for market price. Such entries will not foreclose the enquiry of the Collector under section 47-A of the Act or fetter the discretion of the authorities concerned to satisfy themselves on the reasonableness or otherwise of the value expressed in the documents.”
13. This explanation also will have to be read in conjunction with explanation to section 47-A of the Indian Stamp Act (as amended by TN Act 24 of 1967) which reads :-
“Explanation.- For the purpose of this Act, market value of any property shall be estimated to be the price which, in the opinion of the Collector or the Chief Controlling Revenue Authority or the High Court, as the case may be, such property would have fetched or would fetch, if sold in the open market on the date of execution of the instrument of conveyance, exchange gift, release of benami right or settlement.”
14. This scheme of the enactment and rules contemplate that guideline value will only afford a prima facie basis to ascertain the true or correct market value undue emphasis on the guideline value without reference to the setting in which it is to be viewed will obscure the issue for consideration. It is clear, therefore, that guideline value is not sacrosanct as urged on behalf of the appellants, but only a factor to be taken note of if at all available in respect of an area in which the property transferred lies. In any event, therefore, if for the purpose of Stamp Act guideline value alone is not a factor to determine the value of property, its worth will not be any higher in the context of assessing the true market value of properties in question to ascertain whether the transaction has resulted in any offence so as to give a pecuniary advantage to one party or the other.
15. In ascertaining the true value, the High Court has taken note of several features. Firstly, the price has been offered by the firm of A-1 and A-2 in a tender process pursuant to an advertisement issued in a newspaper. A tender process by the TANSI not being shown to be or demonstrated to be vitiated is a transparent and good piece of evidence to indicate the real price of the properties in question. That line adopted by the High Court cannot be faulted with at all. Secondly, the adoption of Rs.7.32 lacs per ground as guideline value will have to be in terms of Tamil Nadu Stamp Act and not de hors the same. In the view we have expressed as to the nature of guideline value the finding recorded by the High Court that no guideline value has been fixed in respect of the properties in question need not be further examined. The next basis upon which the High Court proceeded to fix market value is the price of Rs. 3 lacs per ground in respect of land sold to Tamil Nadu Sugar Corporation Federation. The said land forms part of the land out of which a portion is sold to the firms of respondents. The contention of the prosecution that this is not a comparable transaction has been rejected by the High Court for valid reasons. The approach of the High Court cannot be said to be irrelevant or perverse.
16. Argument regarding the extent of land that was sold to the firms of respondents nos. 1 and 2 is raised. It was pointed out that an extra piece of land of 9 cents or so (about 1/10th of an acre) over and above the approximate extent mentioned in the advertisement was sold to the firm of respondents. We do not think that this aspect assumes any significance especially in view of the fact that one of the terms in the advertisement itself stipulates that the actual area to be sold will be according to measurement. Thus the view taken by the High Court in this regard is perfectly in order and calls for no interference.
17. The contention that there was enough material on record to show that A-1 had knowledge of the purchase of the TANSI Foundry land and A-1 had signed several documents in relation thereto need not be examined because even proceeding on the basis on which the learned counsel contended would not carry the matter any further. The stand of respondents nos. 1 and 2 is not that the firms of which they are partners have not purchased the properties in question, but only that respondent no. 1 has not signed