By Shailaja Chandra
The Supreme Court has quashed Section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, which required prior sanction of the government before investigating corruption cases involving senior officers working under the Central government. It would be foolhardy for a former civil servant to join issue with the judgment. While humbly accepting the court’s logic, it is also important to foresee what is likely to happen because of the verdict.
Mainly, the constitutional bench found the prior sanction provisions in the impugned enactment to be discriminatory. It divided the bureaucracy into two sets of officers — senior and working under the Central government’s control and relatively junior officers working both under the Central and state governments. It notes: “All government officials have to be treated equally and have to face the same process of inquiry in graft cases… The status or position of a public servant does not qualify such public servant to be exempt from equal treatment. The decision making power does not segregate corrupt officers into two classes as they are common crime doers and have to be tracked down by the same process of inquiry and investigation.”
With that, the judgment annuls the protective provisions that had been passed by Parliament, not once but twice — not counting an ordinance which had lapsed mid-way. But how far can one expect corruption to diminish as the result of the removal of a discriminatory barrier, even if one accepts that it treated public servants unequally? For that, one has to consider the magnitude of the problem as highlighted by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), a top corruption watchdog to which the Supreme Court itself was instrumental in according statutory status. The latest annual report available on the CVC’s website refers to over 37,000 complaints received in 2012 (including “carry forward” cases from earlier years). Of these, a fifth needed to be closed because they were “anonymous”, “pseudonymous”, “vague” or “unverifiable”. This demonstrates how a large number of complaints get generated but every complaint does not necessarily merit investigation. Until now, the complaints were being scrutinised by the three-man commission. But now that the need for prosecution sanction has been removed, it would be possible for the CBI to start investigating any complaint considered serious. Past experience belies the hope that this police organisation would be as clinical in its approach as the CVC.
In the same report, the CVC refers to cases where criminal proceedings were recommended at the first stage of giving advice. The CVC supported investigation in less than a third of the cases where the CBI had submitted reports. Surprisingly, and contrary to popular perception, the CVC finally recommended criminal action in just 2.6 per cent of the cases received continued…