All officials equal, no govt sanction needed to probe: SC

Written by Rahul Tripathi | New Delhi | Updated: May 7 2014, 11:04am hrs
SCThe court said that ?the protection in Section 6A has propensity of shielding the corrupt?.
Checking corruption in high places, which was becoming difficult for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as bureaucrats managed to take cover under Section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act (DSPEA), might be easier now with the Supreme Court on Tuesday taking away that cover. 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 ruled on Tuesday, quashing a law that requires the agency to go to the government to seek approval for the investigation.

A five-judge constitution bench led by Chief Justice RM Lodha ruled that Section 6A of the DSPEA, which shackles investigations without sanctions, was discriminatory and impedes tracking down corrupt senior bureaucrats.

The court said that the protection in Section 6A has propensity of shielding the corrupt.

The provision suffers from the vice of classifying offenders differently for treatment thereunder for inquiry and investigation of offences, according to their status in life, it said.

Over the past year 15 cases had piled up, sources said but the CBI had been unable to pursue them. Cases that were awaiting the central governments approval include those of Parimal Rai, an IAS officer being investigated for his alleged role in the 2010 Commonwealth Games scam. The CBI had sought sanction from the ministry of home affairs (MHA) last year but so far no decision has been taken. Rai, considered close to former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, is posted in Goa.

The CBI, the Supreme Court added, could not be insulated from political and bureaucratic control and influence because the approval is to be taken from the central government, which would involve leaks and disclosures at every stage.

Office of public power cannot be the workshop of personal gain. 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 PC Act be made to be treated differently because one happens to be a junior officer and the other a senior decision maker the bench asked.

CBI director Ranjit Sinha told The Indian Express the judgment had given the CBI more responsibility. The CBI will now have to see to it that no innocent civil servant is harassed. The decision to examine any civil servant will be done with utmost due diligence and be taken only by an officer of the rank of joint director or above, he said.

In the coal block allocation cases, CBI permission to investigate HC Gupta, former coal secretary, was first declined in 2013, when he was a member of the Competition Commission of India. It was only after Gupta stepped down from the post that the agency was able to proceed with the case. CBI officials also point out that delayed permissions often results in the investigation suffering. In our submission to the SC, we had suggested that a panel consisting of the cabinet secretary, the secretary of the ministry concerned and the CBI director may be set up each time such a request is sent from the agency. However, no decision was taken, a senior CBI official explained. Another official, requesting anonymity, said the request to probe the role of six senior officials in the civil aviation ministry for their alleged role in irregularities in the Rs 8,000-crore Airbus deal for supply of 43 aircraft to the erstwhile Indian Airlines in 2005 is still pending.

The agency also expects that the number of cases of bureaucrats of the rank of joint secretary or above being probed to go up.

So far, many of the corruption cases used to end with the arrest and questioning of lower level officials as the investigators were asked too many questions whenever a senior officer was involved. Now there will be no hesitation on the part of the team to examine the senior official, said an official. A case in point here is the recent refusal by the ministry of finance to examine the role of director (finance) and director (marketing) in the multi-crore NSEL scam.