Delays in Prosecuting Corrupt breeds a culture of impunity and leads to Systemic Resignation to existence of Corruption in Public Life: Supreme Court  

Delays in Prosecuting Corrupt breeds a culture of impunity and leads to Systemic Resignation to existence of Corruption in Public Life: Supreme Court  

The Supreme Court ruled that delays in Prosecuting a Corrupt breeds a culture of impunity and leads to Systemic Resignation to existence of Corruption in Public Life.

Background 

The Appellant is an official of the Central Secretarial Service, Government of India. During the period between 01.01.2005 to 31.10.2012, when his official postings were in New Delhi and Bangalore, he is alleged to have acquired assets that were disproportionate to his known sources of income. He and his relatives were found to be in possession of disproportionate assets.

Issues for Consideration of Court 

Whether the order of sanction is illegal due to non-application of mind by the DoPT for acting as per dictation of Central Vigilance Commission.

Whether the criminal proceedings could be quashed for the delay of about two years in the issuance of the sanction order.

Arguments 

Senior Advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, appearing for the appellant, contended that the grant of sanction by DoPT is without application of an independent mind. 

He argued that the sanction for prosecution was hit by non-application of mind as DoPT had acted on dictation by the CVC, and for this purpose, the said sanction order must be set aside.

S.V. Raju, Additional Solicitor General for India, submitted that the DoPT, while granting sanction for prosecution, merely called for and considered the report of the CVC and had, in fact, applied its independent mind.

He contended that this issue was never raised at any point. For that matter, even the Special Leave Petition does not contain any ground to this effect. However, as the Court heard submissions on the ground of delay, he clarified that the time period is merely directory and not mandatory.   

He further submitted that the consequence of non-grant of sanction within three months would only be deemed sanction, rather than quashing the criminal proceedings. 

Court Observations

The division bench of Justice B.R. Gavai and Justice Pamidighantam Sri Narasimha observed that the decision in Mansukhlal Vithaldas Chauhan v. State of Gujarat was rendered in 1997, when the legislative changes to the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, were not made. Further, the decision was prior to the enactment of the CVC Act and also the amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The court said that Sanction for prosecution of an employee of the Union under the PC Act would involve invocation of specific provisions of the Cr.P.C., the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, the PC Act, and the CVC Act, all of which constitute a unified scheme.

The bench stated that the position of law and the legal regime obtained by virtue of the five legislations on the subject of corruption, operates as an integrated scheme. 

“The five legislations being the Cr.P.C, DSPE Act, PC Act, CVC Act, and Lokpal Act, must be read together to enable the authorities to sub-serve the common purpose and objectives underlying these legislations” the court added.

The bench further stated that the opinion of the CVC is only advisory. It is nevertheless a valuable input in the decision-making process of the appointing authority. 

It was held by the court that there is no illegality in the action of the appointing authority, the DoPT, if it calls for, refers, and considers the opinion of the Central Vigilance Commission before it takes its final decision on the request for sanction for prosecuting a public servant.

“The public policy behind providing immunity from prosecution without the sanction of the State is to insulate the public servant against harassment and malicious prosecution. It is for this very reason that good faith clauses are incorporated in statutes extending protection to officers exercising statutory duties in good faith. This protection is only to ensure that a public servant serves the State with courage, confidence, and conviction” the court said.

The bench observed that the Statutory provisions requiring sanction before prosecution either under Section 197 Cr.P.C. or under Section 97 of the PC Act also intend to serve the very same purpose of protecting a public servant. 

The court added that the new proviso to Section 19 mandating that the competent authority shall endeavour to convey the decision on the proposal for sanction within a period of three months can only be read and understood as a compelling statutory obligation.

It was stated that the consistent effort made by all branches of the State, the Judiciary, the Legislative, and the Executive, to ensure early decision-making by the competent authority cannot be watered down by lexical interpretation of the expression endeavour in the proviso.

The court said that the sanctioning authority must bear in mind that public confidence in the maintenance of the Rule of Law, which is fundamental in the administration of justice, is at stake here. 

“By causing delay in considering the request for sanction, the sanctioning authority stultifies judicial scrutiny, thereby vitiating the process of determination of the allegations against the corrupt official” , the court added.

It was held by the court that the duty to take an early decision inheres in the power vested in the appointing authority to grant or not to grant sanction.

“In the first place, non-compliance with a mandatory period cannot and should not automatically lead to the quashing of criminal proceedings because the prosecution of a public servant for corruption has an element of public interest having a direct bearing on the rule of law” the bench observed. 

The court said that the complainant or victim has no other remedy available for judicial redressal if the criminal proceedings stand automatically quashed. At the same time, a decision to grant deemed sanction may cause prejudice to the rights of the accused as there would also be non-application of mind in such cases. 

The bench added that accountability in itself is an essential principle of administrative law. Judicial review of administrative action will be effective and meaningful by ensuring accountability of the officer or authority in charge. 

The court while elaborating on accountability stated that Accountability, as a principle of administrative law, when applied to the issue that we are dealing with, translates in this manner. Responsibility for grant of sanction for prosecution of a public servant under Section 19 of the PC Act is always vested in the appointing authority. Identification of appointing authority is always clear and straightforward.

The court held that upon expiry of the three months and the additional one-month period, the aggrieved party, be it the complainant, accused or victim, would be entitled to approach the concerned writ court. They are entitled to seek appropriate remedies, including directions for action on the request for sanction and for the corrective measure on accountability that the sanctioning authority bears.

The court further ordered that the CVC shall enquire into the matter in the exercise of its powers under Section 8(1)(e) and (f) and take such corrective action as it is empowered under the CVC Act. 

While answering the second issue the bench held that the period of three months, extended by one more month for legal consultation, is mandatory. The consequence of non-compliance with this mandatory requirement shall not be quashing the criminal proceeding for that very reason. The competent authority shall be Accountable for the delay and be subject to judicial review and administrative action by the CVC under Section 8(1)(f) of the CVC Act. 

The bench dismissed the Criminal Appeal and permitted the petitioner to raise and seek such remedies as are permissible in law on the basis of principles laid down by it.

Case title: Vijay Rajmohan v/s State, Tamil Nadu

Citation: SLP (CRL) NO. 1568 OF 2022  

Click here to read the Order/Judgment 

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