WHAT IS THE PROBATIVE VALUE OF ENTRIES OF A DOCUMENT ADMISSIBLE UNDER SEC.35 OF THE EVIDENCE ACT?
The entries made in public documents are a relevant fact and thus admissible in a court of law subject to the following three conditions:
1. That the entry must be one in any public or official book, register or record;
2. It must be an entry relating to a fact in issue or relevant fact;
3. It must be made by a public servant in the discharge of his official duty specifically enjoined by law.
As no definition is given in the Act, for expressions 'public' or 'official book', reference can be given to Sec.74 of the Act, which states, what are public documents. Birth and death registers, marriage register, school registers, electoral roll, record of rights, revenue records, mutation entries, gazetteer, F.I.R. and case diary, charge sheet, etc are examples for public documents, register/records. A document admissible in evidence under this provision would automatically not be credible simply because it had been admitted as evidence. Such document would be considered subject to relevancy and by assessing the evidence as a whole and not in isolation.
Now the moot question is what is the probative value of entries made in public documents? It has to be clearly understood that the probative value of a document is different from its admissibility. In fact, the courts, while testing the veracity of entries made in public documents, must find out its probative value also. For example, an entry regarding date of birth made in the school register is relevant and admissible under Sec.35 of the Evidence Act. But it would have probative value only when it is made on the information given by parents or some one having special knowledge of the fact. Truly speaking, it will have no evidentiary value unless the person who made the entry or who had given the information about the date of birth is examined. The failure to rebut the entries made in public documents cannot increase the evidentiary value of those entries.
The legal position in this regard is being settled by a Division Bench decision of Supreme Court in Birad Mal Singhvi v. Anand Purohit, 1988 (Supp) SCC 606 para 14 (E.S.Venkataramiah and K.N.Singh, JJ). The Court observed:
"....The entries regarding dates of birth contained in the Scholar's register and the secondary school examination certificate have no probative value, if no person on whose information the date of birth of the candidate was mentioned in the school record is examined. The entry contained in the admission form or in the scholar's register must be shown to be made on the basis of information given by parents or a person having special knowledge about the date of birth of the person concerned. If the entry is made on the basis of information given by a stranger or by someone else who had no special means of knowledge of the date of birth, such entry will have no evidentiary value....".
The principle enunciated through this decision is being followed in a catena decisions of the Apex Court. A few of such decisions are Desh Raj v. Bodh Raj (2008) 2 SCC 186 Para 25and 26, State of Punjab v. Mohinder Singh, (2005) 3 SCC 702, Maduri Patil v. Addl.Commr.Tribal Development, (1994)6 SCC 241. Moreover, evidentiary value of entries in public documents will not be presumed to be correct if they are shown to be not correct by the evidence produced.
The point law in this aspect is discussed by Apex Court in Sita Ram Bhau Patil v. Ramchandra Nago Patil, AIR 1977 SC 1712, para 20, (A.N.Ray, M.H.Beg and P.S.Kailasam JJ). The Court observed: " ....There is no abstract principle that whatever will appear in the record of rights will be presumed to be correct when it is shown by evidence that the entries are not correct...."
This section reinforces the confidence of law in the public officers and their accuracy while making entries in public documents. Amidst the widespread corruption among bureaucrats, the courts are duty bound to shoulder a huge responsibility in finding out the probative value of entries made in public documents.