Informers take enormous risks and the government’s approach should not discourage them from coming forward with information, the Bombay High Court said recently, directing the Centre to pay reward to the widow of a man who had tipped Customs officials about smuggled diamonds worth nearly Rs 90 lakh in 1991.
A division bench of Justice Nitin Jamdar and Justice Abhay Ahuja in its order of January 5, which was made available later, noted that the objective behind offering a reward to informers is to aid the department in taking measures to safeguard the exchequer.
The bench was hearing a petition filed by one Jayashree Dhavre, widow of Chandrakant Dhavre, seeking reward given to informers as per government policy.
In 1991, the petition had claimed, the Customs department seized smuggled diamonds based on information shared by Chandrakant. The informer was paid an advance of Rs 3 lakh over the next few years but the final amount was never disbursed despite several reminders.
The department told the court that it needed to first verify if Chandrakant was the real informer, but the bench rejected the contention noting that it had earlier released two advance payments to him.
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The HC noted that though there is no legal right to demand a reward, as per the policy, the rejection must not be arbitrary.
The approach should not be such that it discourages the informers from coming forward. Ultimately, the objective of offering a reward to the informer is to aid the department in taking measures to safeguard the public exchequer, the court said.
“The informers take enormous risks in providing information. Unfortunately, in this case, the respondents (Union government) have taken a rigid stand… the correct approach would have been to go by broad probabilities of the case, the peculiar circumstances of the case and the hardship of the petitioner and should have handled this case with sensitivity,” the HC said.
The judges noted that the petitioner’s claim was meritorious and non-intervention by the court would amount to a failure of justice.
The bench directed the Union government to treat Jayashree Dhavre’s claim as eligible for the grant of final reward and determine the amount to be paid to her within 12 weeks.
As per the petition filed in 2021, Chandrakant had in March 1991 provided specific inputs to the office of the Marine and Preventive wing of the Mumbai Commissionerate of Customs about smuggled diamonds.
Later, Customs department searched the premises of some jewellers and recovered rough diamonds worth Rs 3.21 lakh and polished diamonds worth Rs 84.47 lakh.
Chandrakant was paid Rs 1 lakh in April 1993 and Rs 2 lakh in 1999 as advances for the reward.
Seeking final payment
In 2006 and 2007, Chandrakant sent several representations to the Customs department for the release of the final reward as per policy. He died in August 2010, prompting his wife to send requests for the release of the final amount.
When she failed to receive any satisfactory reply from the department, Jayashree approached the high court.
(With Agency inputs)