Coalgate case: Rules for judges should also apply to senior bureaucrats,govt tells SC

This is an apparent attempt to clinch powers to decide whether the CBI can question top officers.

Written by Utkarsh Anand | New Delhi | Published: September 6, 2013 1:56 am

In an apparent attempt to clinch powers to decide whether the CBI can question top officers in the coal blocks allocation case,the Centre on Thursday told the Supreme Court that the principle the apex court has in place to protect judges should apply to senior bureaucrats.

Reading out from a 1991-Supreme Court judgment,Attorney General G E Vahanvati asserted that the rule for prior approval from the Chief Justice of India for investigating a judge of the higher judiciary was to prevent “vexatious and malicious” actions.

“In this case,the Supreme Court said prevalent safeguards under law were not adequate and made prior sanction compulsory. The CBI accepted this condition then. When names of judges of the higher judiciary came up in the provident fund scam,consent was taken from the CJI. This is law now and the same principle should apply in case of officers above joint secretary,” the AG told a bench led by Justice R M Lodha.

The AG contended that Section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act,which mandates prior permission before proceeding against top bureaucrats,was necessary to ensure that bureaucrats are not subjected to harassment. Vahanvati,citing the apex court observation in the Veeraswami case on prior permission before registering an FIR and investigating,advocated it for senior officers of the bureaucracy.

“In the Veeraswami case,the court decided what was appropriate for judges. Applying the same principle,why not leave it to the appropriate authority in the government to decide matters of administration? We are committed to purity of the investigation,” said the AG.

Underlining that “no honest officer should be harassed”,the bench had pointed out a distinction between judges and administrative officers since the former are guardians of citizens’ rights. Vahanvati,accepting the court’s views on distinction between the two classes,maintained that the nature of the consideration,while according protection to judges,would be no different when it came to government officers.

Vahanvati claimed a “wrong impression” was sought to be given that sanction was not forthcoming from the government. He said no prior approval was required for the CBI to question bureaucrats against whom there were no direct accusations. The AG rebutted that the Central Vigilance Commission could have a say in sanctions to investigate. The court posted the matter for September 10 when the CBI and the PIL petitioners would respond to the Centre’s stand.

Investigation not bound by any constraint: SC

NEW DELHI: Responding to a contention against not questioning the Prime Minister,who held the coal portfolio between 2006 and 2009,the Supreme Court Thursday said the coal blocks allocation probe was not circumscribed by any constraint and that the CBI was free to investigate anyone. “Inquiry is not circumscribed by any constraint. They (CBI) are free to investigate anyone. But they will also have to follow the procedure. They have not concluded their investigation. It is ongoing,” said a Bench led by Justice R M Lodha.

The court’s observation came as M L Sharma,the PIL petitioner in the case,complained that although 15 FIRs had been registered by the CBI till date,it did not name the PM,who was holding the coal portfolio at the relevant time,nor any other former or current coal minister.

Claiming the CBI was confining its probe only to the private allottees,Sharma said the agency had not even questioned any of them. The Bench,however,refrained from entertaining his request at this stage,and said the CBI would do whatever is required under the law. As the arguments over a need for prior sanction in a court-monitored or court-directed investigation resumed,Attorney General G E Vahanvati said the apex court’s order in the 2G case could not be seen as a precedent.

ENS

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