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बेसिक इंग्लिश का दूसरा सत्र (कक्षा प्रारंभ : 22 अक्तूबर, शाम 3:30 से 5:30)
Supreme Court Gives CBI Free Hand to Investigate Top Officials
May 07, 2014

Status or position cannot shield an officer of the level of joint secretary and above from unconstrained probe by the CBI in cases of corruption, the Supreme Court quashed a law that requires the agency to go to the government to seek approval for the investigation.

A five-judge constitution bench headed by the Chief Justice of India has struck down the legal provision that makes prior sanction mandatory if the CBI wants to probe a corruption case against civil servants above the rank of joint secretary. While the Supreme Court has made the same point previously, Section 6A had been inserted into the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act in 2003 to make sure that the Central government’s permission was necessary to investigate senior officials. The court has now rendered this section invalid, saying it ended up shielding corrupt public servants, and that seniority should not be the basis of differential treatment.

The bench expressed the opinion that this provision in the DSPE Act defeated the objectives of the Prevention of Corruption Act, framed to deal with corruption and to act against senior public servants. The result of the impugned legislation is that the very group of persons, namely, high ranking bureaucrats whose misdeeds and illegalities may have to be inquired into, would decide whether the CBI should even start an inquiry or investigation against them or not. Office of public power cannot be the workshop of personal gain. The probity in public life is of great importance. How can two public servants against whom there are allegations of corruption or graft or bribe-taking or criminal misconduct under the Prevention of Corruption Act, be made to be treated differently because one happens to be a junior officer and the other a senior decision maker?”

Section 6A was inserted with effect from September 2003, when the NDA was in power. The then law minister had defended the provision in Parliament during a debate on the Central Vigilance Commission Bill. He said that those in decision-making positions, who must exercise discretion, and those who have to take vital decisions, needed to be protected against frivolous complaints.

This decision of the Apex court will certainly empower the CBI to pursue cases more effectively, and speed up investigations. So far, the prior sanction clause had meant that the government could withhold a decision, and the investigative agency often had to wait for officials to retire before they could be questioned. But instead of fixing a timeline for government decisions, after which the sanction would be assumed to have been given, the court has simply done away with that prerogative.

It will arguably be easier now to extract answers in open and shut cases of bribery. But there are some dangers, too, in the removal of this section, given that CBI functioning itself is far from perfect. While the court’s prod had pushed the government to begin reform and consider changes like splitting the agency’s investigation and prosecution wings, choosing the directors through a collegium etc, while keeping it accountable to the elected executive, these changes have not materialised yet.

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