The Supreme Court on Tuesday held as invalid and unconstitutional the legal provision which makes sanction of competent authority mandatory for CBI to probe a corruption case against an officer of joint secretary-rank or above, saying it has the propensity of shielding the corrupt.
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice R M Lodha delivered the judgement after examining Section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act (DSPEA), which protects top bureaucrats from being investigated in corruption cases without prior approval.
"We hold Section 6A of the Act, which requires Central Government's approval for the offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) to make inquiry against officer of the rank of joint secretary and above, as invalid and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution," the bench, also comprising justices A K Patnaik, S J Mukhopadhaya, Dipak Misra and F M I Kalifulla, said on Tuesday.
It said there cannot be any classification of officers for the purpose of inquiry of offence under the PCA.
"The corrupt public servants, higher or lower in rank, are the birds of same feather and have to be dealt with equally," the court observed.
Maintaining that corruption is an enemy of nation, the bench said that it is difficult to make classification of officers in graft cases as it is against the mandate of the PCA.
It said that the prior approval under Section 6A would result, indirectly, in halting the investigation and if the CBI is not allowed to carry on the preliminary inquiry how the investigation can proceed.
"We are of the view that there can be no distinction between certain class of officials for inquiry of the offences under the PCA.
"How can the status of officials be of any relevance in the offence under PCA and any distinction by way of Section 6A of the DSPEA makes it violative of Article 14," the bench said, adding that the protection as provided in Section 6A has the propensity of shielding the corrupt.
The court said there cannot be any exemption from equal treatment and any official facing allegations of corruption has to be treated with the same process of inquiry.
The bench had earlier said that it was mainly concerned with the constitutional validity of Section 6A and if at all the question of arbitrariness arises, it has to be determined by a larger bench of seven judges.
Additional Solicitor General K V Vishwanath had submitted that the government does not want to protect any corrupt public official and the provision is only to ensure that senior bureaucrats are not quizzed without adequate safeguards as they are involved in policy making.
The ASG had said that lodging an FIR against a top bureaucrat would harm not only his reputation but also that of the department and that is the reason why the government decided to check the nature of the complaint before permitting inquiry.
The issue of protection from inquiry against senior bureaucrats had come under the scrutiny of the apex court 17 years ago when the Centre's argument was trashed that being policy makers, they needed protection from frivolous complaints.
The first petition in this regard was filed in 1997 by Subramanian Swamy and later in 2004 by NGO, Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL).
They had contended that movement of criminal law gets affected due to the presence of Section 6A in the statute.
The bench had reserved its order on 21st April on Roy's petition challenging its decision to send him to jail for not complying with its order to deposit over Rs 20,000 crore of investors' money with SEBI.
The apex court had earlier imposed a condition that Roy, who is in jail since 4th March, will be freed on bail only if he pays Rs 10,000 crore out of which Rs 5,000 crore has to be in bank guarantee and rest Rs 5,000 crore in cash.
Roy and the other two directors of the Group have been in jail for two months for not abiding by the apex court's order for depositing investors' money with SEBI.
The Group has Monday placed details of property owned by it before the court.
The Sahara Group has submitted that Roy be released forthwith to facilitate negotiations with people for the purpose of raising money to comply with the court's order.
It also pleaded that its bank accounts frozen by the court on 21st November last year be defreezed.
Roy had earlier submitted that the apex court's order detaining him for not depositing the investors' money was illegal and unconstitutional and sought its quashing.
Cambridge Analytica: BJP Accuses Congress of “Misuse of Social Media”
BJP today charged Congress with taking help of tainted Cambridge Analytica for 2019 elections and asksed Rahul Gandhi if he wants to win elections by manipulating and stealing data.
The fallout of the Facebook data leak expose and its misuse by an election consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica in the 2016 US Presidential elections allegedly in the favour of Donald Trump has reached Indian shores.
The day saw the BJP accuse the Congress party of having ties with Cambridge Analytica while the Congress did its own finger pointing back at the BJP.
Even Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg has been put on notice by the govt if the personal data of over 200 million Indian Facebook users has been similarly misused.
Party leader Ravi Shankar Prasad cited media reports on opposition’s plan to use the firm’s services for next Lok Sabha elections.
He even wondered if Rahul Gandhi’s Twitter followers increased due to Cambridge Analytica. He said Misuse of social media for political gains will not be tolerated.
Law Minister even warned Facebook of stringent legal action against any misuse of data of more than 200 million Indians on its platform.
Though Congress has denied all allegations.
Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are in midst of controversy over the harvesting and use of 5 crore users’ personal data. Two newspapers reported that the company harvested personal data of Facebook users beginning in 2014.
Firm had been credited with helping Donald Trump to presidential victory. Data was allegedly utilized to direct messages for political campaigns.
Following this Cambridge Analytica’s CEO Alexander Nix, has since been suspended, while Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been summoned by the chairman of a parliamentary committee in U.K & in the U.S. He has been asked to testify before Congress about how Facebook will protect users.
Moreover, Facebook’s shares also declined following this controversy, though both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have denied any wrongdoing. But they still have lot to explain.
It’s a Four; Lalu Yadav Convicted in Yet Another Case
Judge Shiv Pal Singh pronounced Yadav and 18 other accused in the case guilty and acquitted 12 accused.
A special CBI court in Ranchi on Monday convicted RJD chief and former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav in the fourth case of fodder scam in which he figured as an accused.
Former Bihar CM Jagannath Mishra was acquitted by the court, which will pronounce the sentences on Wednesday.
The verdict in the Dumka treasury case of Bihar’s Rs 1,000-crore fodder scam came as a jolt to RJD, Bihar’s main Opposition party that has the largest number of MLAs in the state Assembly.
Before this, Yadav, 69, has been convicted in three other cases of the scam that was unearthed in the mid-1990s when he was chief minister and had forced him to step down in 1997.
Judge Shiv Pal Singh pronounced Yadav and 18 other accused in the case guilty and acquitted 12 accused.
The case (RC 38A/96) pertains to fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 3.76 crore from the government treasury in Dumka, presently in Jharkhand, even though the withdrawal limit was fixed at just Rs 1.50 lakh.
Officials of the state animal husbandry department, some bureaucrats of the then undivided Bihar government and suppliers of animal food had colluded with politicians to withdraw the funds from the treasury through 96 fake vouchers between December 1995 and January 1996.
Yadav was the chief minister of Bihar at the time.
Special CBI courts in Ranchi have earlier held Yadav guilty in three other cases of the scam.
He was handed a five-year jail term in the Chaibasa treasury case in September 2013; a jail term for three years and a half in the Deoghar treasury case in December 2017; and a jail term for five years in another case linked to the Chaibasa treasury in January last.
Not Yet Over for Raja, Kanimozhi in the 2G Case; ED Moves Delhi HC
ED, in its charge sheet, had alleged that Rs 200 crore was paid by Swan Telecom (P) Ltd (STPL) promoters to DMK-run Kalaignar TV.
The Enforcement Directorate on March 19 moved the Delhi High Court challenging a special court order acquitting former telecom minister A Raja, DMK MP Kanimozhi and others in the money laundering case arising out of the 2G scam.
Besides Raja and Kanimozhi, the special court had on December 21 last year acquitted 17 others, including DMK supremo M Karunanidhi’s wife Dayalu Ammal, Shahid Balwa and Vinod Goenka of STPL, Asif Balwa and Rajiv Aggarwal of Kusegaon Fruits and Vegetables Pvt Ltd, film producer Karim Morani, P Amirtham and Sharad Kumar, Director of Kalaignar TV.
The ED, in its charge sheet, had alleged that Rs 200 crore was paid by Swan Telecom (P) Ltd (STPL) promoters to DMK-run Kalaignar TV.
On the same day, the trial court had acquitted Raja, Kanimozhi and 15 others, including former Telecom Secretary Siddharth Behura, Raja’s erstwhile private secretary R K Chandolia, Swan Telecom promoters Shahid Usman Balwa and Vinod Goenka, Unitech Ltd MD Sanjay Chandra and three top executives of Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (RADAG) — Gautam Doshi, Surendra Pipara and Hari Nair, in the CBI’s 2G case.
The CBI had alleged that there was a loss of Rs 30,984 crore to the exchequer in allocation of licences for the 2G spectrum which were scrapped by the top court on February 2, 2012.
Special Judge O P Saini, however, had then held that the prosecution had “miserably failed” to prove the charges.
The special court, which was set up on March 14, 2011, for hearing 2G cases exclusively, had also acquitted Essar Group promoters Ravi Kant Ruia and Anshuman Ruia and six others in a separate case arising out of the 2G scam probe.
The first case, prosecuted by CBI, had 17 accused, while the second matter, pursued by ED, had 19 undertrials. The third one had eight accused including Essar promoters.
In the CBI case, Raja, Kanimozhi and 15 others were tried under provisions of the IPC and the Prevention of Corruption Act dealing with offences of criminal conspiracy, cheating, forgery, using as genuine fake documents, abusing official position, criminal misconduct by public servant and taking a bribe.
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