Former Telecom Minister Sukhram in P V Narasimha Rao’s cabinet has been convicted for awarding a lucrative contract to a private telecom firm for supplying cables to the government at inflated rates after receiving a bribe of Rs 3 lakh 15 years back.
Special Judge R P Pandey, who convicted 84-year-old Sukhram also on charges of misusing his official position in awarding the contract and causing loss to the state exchequer, is likely to decide on quantum of sentence to him tomorrow.
The corruption case dates back to 1996, when the Telecom Ministry under Sukhram’s stewardship had awarded private firm Haryana Telecom Limited (HTL) a contract worth Rs 30 crore to supply 3.5 Lakh Conductor Kilometers (LCKM) of Polythene Insulated Jelly Filled (PIJF) cables to the telecom department.
Sukhram had been put on trial along with HTL chairman Devinder Singh Choudhary who had died during the trial.
“Sukhram also obtained (illegal) gratification other than legal remunerations from Choudhary as a motive or reward for showing the favour to the said firm (HTL),” the judge said.
The court convicted Sukhram, brushing aside his defence counsel argument that had he caused a huge pecuniary gain to HTL, he would not have taken a paltry sum of Rs 3 Lakh.
The court termed the argument as “devoid of merit.”
“It is not the prosecution case that Sukhram got only this much amount in this deal which runs into crores of rupees. The prosecution case is that the amount of Rs 3 lakh which was recovered from him was the bribe money”.
“It is a matter of common knowledge that it is virtually impossible to get any direct evidence where both i.e bribe giver and the person who takes the bribe, worked in joint concert,” ASJ Pandey said in his 188-page order
Convicting Sukhram, the judge said though there was no direct evidence to prove the existence of conspiracy between Sukhram and Choudhary, “it is a well-known fact that conspiracy is hatched in privacy and secrecy, for which direct evidence would be rarely available.”
“The facts and circumstances show that because of proximity of co-accused D S Choudhary (since expired) with Sukh Ram, M/s HTL was his most favoured vendor,” it said.
The court also refused to accept the argument of defence counsel that after the death of co-accused Choudhary, Sukhram cannot be convicted for conspiracy.
“His (Sukhram counsel’s) submission is without basis. It is suffice to say that death of an accused only abates the case against him which was pending but it does not mitigate the offence alleged to have been committed by him in concert with his co-accused,” the judge said.
The court noted that CBI had conducted search at the Himachal Pradesh residence of Sukhram from where it had recovered over Rs 1.16 crore.
The court said the note prepared by an official of the department on October 8, 1995 had mentioned the “precarious” position of HTL and another firm and it was proposed not to award it the contract to supply cables in excess of its ability.
But, despite that Sukhram had passed an order to give the contract to HTL for supplying additional cables, it added.