A step towards fighting corruption – The latest Supreme Court judgment on corruption | 10th January 2023 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about the recent Supreme Court judgement, Neeraj Dutta v. State (Govt. of the NCT of Delhi), on corruption.


  • GS2: Important Aspects of Governance, Transparency and Accountability; Role of Civil Services in a Democracy;
  • GS4: Probity in Governance, Challenges of Corruption;
  • Essay Paper


  • In a recent judgement on corruption, the SC lowered the bar for the quantum of evidence required to convict persons charged with corruption.
  • The Constitution Bench held that public officials can be prosecuted and convicted for accepting bribes under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (PCA Act) on the basis of circumstantial evidence.
  • This is evidence that supports the relevant fact or issue but does not directly provide proof.
  • This verdict was hailed by those who desire probity in public administration and demand deterrent penalties for criminal activities.
  • But in spite of its unequivocal stand, the extent of corruption in public life remains undiminished.


  • Through its ruling, the Supreme Court debunks the myth that absolute proof of guilt alone can help convict an offender.
  • The court has now laid down that even if prosecution witnesses turn hostile, a conviction would be in order if all the circumstantial evidence marshalled by the prosecution and produced before the court points unmistakably to the guilt of the accused.
  • This is a great step towards ensuring integrity in public services, especially in the ‘superior’ services such as the Indian Administrative Service and Indian Police Service.

Why is this judgement a step forward in our fight against corruption?

  • There are two aspects to the fight against corruption:
    • the severity of the law and its application; and
    • the strength of public opinion that would help carry forward the campaign for a clean public life.
  • There is often a demand for making our laws more stringent so that the wrongdoer is punished.
    But we should understand that the deterrence works only up to a point.
  • However, this need for stricter rules actually slows down the judicial process because the amount of evidence needed to convince a court of guilt will increase as punishments for criminal behaviour are increased.
  • This hard reality persuaded the Constitutional Bench to lower the bar for the quantum of evidence required to convict persons charged with corruption.
  • In effect, the Supreme Court has set the standard of ‘preponderance of probability’.

The Doctrine of Preponderance of Probabilities:

  • This doctrine is mostly applicable to civil cases. Criminal cases require evidence ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ to prove facts and hold someone guilty.
  • Normally, courts require direct evidence of the case in order to render a decision.But in some cases, getting direct evidence is not possible. In such cases, this doctrine is used.
  • The preponderance of probability implies that, even in the absence of direct evidence, there was a greater likelihood of crime occurring than that it would not occur.
  • Thus, if the court accepts that there was a higher probability of a crime happening, it punishes the guilty, even in the absence of direct evidence.
  • Three key principles of this doctrine are:
    • There is more likely for the event(s) to happen than not to happen. (Probability of one event being more true than the other, i.e. more than 50%)
    • Should satisfy: prudent man test. (ie fact finding and coming to conclusion from the perspective of a reasonable man)
    • Principles of Natural Justice has to be followed

Will this judgement alter the face of corruption?

  • The nexus between offender and victim has become a part of our ethos.
  • It is undeniable that the misdeeds of public servants are partly attributable to political corruption.
  • Thus to actually end corruption, we need strong political will, collective public efforts along with this verdict.

Way Forward:

  • The latest Supreme Court judgement may not deter people from corruption. However, that is no reason for us to give up the fight. It is here that we need enlightened opinion leaders who are not scared of taking on powerful elements in politics or in administration.

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