SC slams PMO for delay in Raja's trial

SC slams PMO for delay in Raja's trial

Sets 4-month limit to sanction prosecution of officials

SC slams PMO for delay in Raja's trial

In a serious setback to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the Supreme Court on Tuesday took the high office to task for delaying the grant of sanction to prosecute then telecom minister A Raja in the 2G case for more than a year.

A bench of justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly suggested fixing a maximum deadline of four months for the competent authority to grant sanction for prosecution of any public servant, as mandated under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.

The bench allowed the petition of Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy against the Delhi High Court’s order, which had refused to direct the PMO to grant sanction for prosecuting Raja.

The court, however, did not hold the prime minister himself responsible for the delay in initiating action against Raja and instead put the blame on the officials.

In a swift reaction, the PMO welcomed the judgement, and said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been vindicated. “We welcome the fact that both the learned Judges have completely vindicated the prime minister whilst appreciating the onerous duties of his office. The Government is examining their directions regarding the manner in which applications for sanctions are to be dealt with.”

In their 64-page order, the judges said: “Unfortunately, those who were expected to give proper advice to respondent No 1 (Prime Minister) and place full facts and legal position before him failed to do so. We have no doubt that if respondent No 1 had been apprised of the true factual and legal position regarding the representation made by the appellant, he would have surely taken appropriate decision and would not have allowed the matter to linger for a period of more than one year,” the court said.

The verdict

In the judgment, the bench noted how despite Swamy’s letter to the prime minister on November 29, 2008 alleging huge corruption and criminal conspiracy in the grant of 2G spectrum, the matter “remained dormant” and the CBI took steps only after the court’s intervention.

It rejected the contention of Attorney General questioning the locus standi of Swamy in pursuing a criminal complaint against Raja.

“There is no provision either in the 1988 Act or the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 which bars a citizen from filing a complaint for prosecution of a public servant who is alleged to have committed an offence,” the court said. It also held that the competent authority at the stage of grant of sanction to public servants could not conduct detailed inquiry whether the allegations were true or not.

Justice Ganguly, who wrote a separate but concurring judgment, suggested laying down of the deadlines in the Prevention of Corruption Act so that the issue of sanction for prosecution of public servants was in consonance of “reason, justice and fair play.” The bench fixed the deadline of three months for the authority to grant sanction for prosecution and extended it to four months in case opinion was sought in the matter from Attorney General, Solicitor General or Advocate General. “At the end of the extended period of time limit, if no decision is taken, sanction will be deemed to have been granted to the proposal for prosecution,” the court said. It also held that it was “bounden” duty of the authority to apply its mind on the sanction plea without being influenced by any extraneous consideration.

“It cannot be disputed that where corruption begins all rights end. Corruption devalues human rights, chokes development and undermines justice, liberty, equality, fraternity which are the core values in our preambular vision. Therefore, the duty of the Court is that any anti-corruption law has to be interpreted and worked out in such a fashion as to strengthen the fight against corruption,” Justice Ganguly said.

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox