A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court of India ruled that the legal provision which mandates sanction of competent authority for CBI to probe corruption cases against senior public officers is invalid and unconstitutional.
The five-judge Bench delivered the ruling after examining Section 6-A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act (DSPEA), which protects top bureaucrats (joint secretary-rank or above) from being investigated in corruption cases without prior approval from Central Government.
Terming that the provision is discriminatory under Article 14 of the Constitution of India as it divides the bureaucracy into two sets of officers, the Court said, “All government officials have to be treated equally and have to face the same process of inquiry in graft cases.”
“Corruption is an enemy of the nation and tracking down corrupt public servants and punishing such persons is a necessary mandate of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. It is difficult to justify the classification which has been made in Section 6-A because the goal of law in the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 is to meet corruption cases with a very strong hand and all public servants are warned through such a legislative measure that corrupt public servants have to face very serious consequences,” The Court said.
“It seems to us that classification which is made in Section 6-A on the basis of status in the Government service is not permissible under Article 14 as it defeats the purpose of finding prima facie truth into the allegations of graft, which amount to an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Can there be sound differentiation between corrupt public servants based on their status? Surely not, because irrespective of their status or position, corrupt public servants are corrupters of public power. The corrupt public servants, whether high or low, are birds of the same feather and must be confronted with the process of investigation and inquiry equally. Based on the position or status in service, no distinction can be made between public servants against whom there are allegations amounting to an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988,” the Court added.
The Bench further said that the protection in Section 6-A has propensity of shielding the corrupt. The object of Section 6-A, that senior public servants of the level of Joint Secretary and above who take policy decision must not be put to any harassment, side-tracks the fundamental objective of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 to deal with corruption and act against senior public servants.