The Allahabad High Court ruled that a telephone conversation between two defendants cannot be excluded from evidence on the basis that it was unlawfully obtained. [Mahant Prasad Ram Tripathi @ M.P.R. Tripathi vs. State of Uttar Pradesh through CBI/A.C.B., Lucknow and Others]
Justice Subhash Vidyarthi made the remark while affirming a lower court’s decision not to release an accused in a bribery case who was implicated in the case based on a recorded phone conversation.
The defendant had challenged the admissibility of the phone conversation on the grounds that it had been unlawfully obtained. However, the court denied his appeal.
“Whether the telephone conversation between the two defendants was intercepted or not, and whether it was done legally or illegally, would have no bearing on the admissibility of the recorded conversation as evidence against the applicant,” the court noted.
The court ruled that contrary decisions by the Delhi High Court in Sanjay Pandey v. Directorate of Enforcement and the Andhra Pradesh High Court in Rayala M. Bhuvaneswari v. Nagaphanender Rayala cannot be relied upon.
In the case of Sanjay Pandey, the Delhi High Court ruled that tapping phone lines or recording conversations without consent constitutes a violation of privacy.
In a similar vein, the Andhra Pradesh High Court ruled that a husband’s act of recording his wife’s conversation was illegal and inadmissible as evidence.
However, the Allahabad High Court reasoned that these decisions did not take into account the law established by the Supreme Court in State (NCT of Delhi) v. Navjot Sandhu (the 2001 Parliamentary attack case).
Justice Vidyarthi went on to observe that in India, the sole admissibility standard applicable to evidence is the relevance standard.
The judge ruled, “The law is clear that the Court cannot refuse to admit any evidence on the grounds that it was obtained illegally.”
Mahant Prasad Ram Tripathi, the former chief executive officer of the Cantonment Board, was accused of corruption. The bench was reviewing a criminal revision appeal trial court order denying his discharge.
Tripathi was accused of demanding a bribe of 1,65 lakh through board member Shashi Mohan.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) recorded a telephone conversation between the two defendants using a digital voice recorder after one of the defendants used speakerphone. During this conversation, the co-defendant allegedly disclosed to Tripathi that 6% of the total sum had been paid.
According to the CBI, Tripathi responded affirmatively, and when Mohan attempted to continue the conversation, Tripathi forbade him from discussing the matter and instructed him to do so in the office.
Tripathi argued that the telephone conversation was inadmissible as evidence in this corruption case.
His attorney argued that Section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act permits interception of communications only under certain circumstances and with government authorization.
In this instance, the Court determined that the recorded phone conversation did not constitute an interception.
“It appears that the communication made by one accused person to the other reached him, and that it was subsequently recorded on a digital voice recorder.” Can it be said that the communication between the two accused parties was ‘intercepted’ under these conditions? … According to the plain definition of the term ‘intercept,’ it appears that the communication was not ‘intercepted,’ the court stated.
The Court then upheld the trial court’s order and denied the motion for reconsideration, noting that the phone conversation recording was not the only evidence presented against the defendant.
Advocate for Mahant Prasad Ram Tripathi was represented by Prateek Tewari.
Shiv P. Shukla represented the CBI in court.