15 May 2023 9:29 AM GMT
The Himachal Pradesh High Court has ruled that Section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act mandates the need for prior government approval for any inquiry or investigation against a public servant in cases where the alleged offence is related to an official "decision".FIR registered after on spot recovery following investigation based on source report of public with general allegations...
The Himachal Pradesh High Court has ruled that Section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act mandates the need for prior government approval for any inquiry or investigation against a public servant in cases where the alleged offence is related to an official "decision".
FIR registered after on spot recovery following investigation based on source report of public with general allegations of illegal, improper exercise of powers in violation of prescribed procedure by taking bribes, does not require prior approval under Section 17A, Justice Joytsna Rewal Dua held.
"Investigation carried out by the respondent was not in relation to any specific decision or recommendation made by the petitioner of the nature contemplated under Section 17A of the Act. A source report of public with general allegations of illegal, improper exercise of powers, in violation of prescribed procedure, by taking bribes through touts by Motor Vehicle Inspectors deployed in District Mandi, was enquired into. The evidence that came to fore in this investigation was considered sufficient to lodge the FIR. In view of given facts of the case, prior approval under Section 17A of the Act was not required."
The bench was hearing a quashing plea filed by a Motor Vehicle Inspector (MVI), accused in FIR registered by the State Vigilance and Anti Corruption Bureau under Sections 7 and 7A of PCA
Senior Counsel for the petitioner argued that the petitioner, in his capacity as a MVI, was discharging his official duties on the day in question and was issuing fitness certificates and conducting driving tests according to the job profile outlined in the notification issued by the Department of Transport, and the source report received by the respondent was regarding the decisions taken by the petitioner in the discharge of his official duties, and therefore, the provisions of Section 17A of the Motor Vehicles Act became applicable.
Per contra, Additional Advocate General submitted that a report had been received by the Anti Corruption Bureau alleging that the MVI post in District Mandi was vacant, and the deputed MVI from another district was passing vehicles without following proper procedure and accepting bribes through touts. On personal search, a large amount of cash, files relating to vehicles, registration certificates, driving licenses, and a rubber stamp were recovered and the petitioner and co-accused persons could not provide satisfactory answers regarding the recovery. Thus, it was contended that in the given facts, prior sanction under Section 17A was not required.
After considering the rival contentions Justice Dua observed that the mandate under Section 17A of prior approval for conducting any enquiry or investigation against public servant is required only when the offence alleged is relatable to a decision taken or recommendation made by the public servant in discharge of his official functions or duties with the rider that no such approval shall be necessary for cases involving arrest of a person on the spot on the charge of accepting or attempting to accept any undue advantage for himself or for any other person. Section 17A of the Act has to be interpreted in a meaningful manner that bolsters the fight against corruption and at the same time protects honest officials, the bench underscored.
In the instant case, there was no specific complaint about any decision or recommendation made by MVI and the team visiting the spot found the petitioner had taken active assistance of some private persons, who were not government servants (co-accused persons).
"The modus operandi of the petitioner, the other accused persons and the evidence gathered by the team positively suggested that the petitioner was taking undue advantage in performing his public duties. It was not any recommendation or decision made by the petitioner that led to registration of the FIR", the bench highlighted.
The court added the evidence collected by the respondent during personal search of the petitioner and co-accused persons, the documents and other recoveries made from the vehicles used by accused persons also suggested demand of bribe by the petitioner.
In view of the said facts and circumstances the bench dismissed the plea and held that the investigation carried out by the respondent was not in relation to any specific decision or recommendation made by the petitioner of the nature contemplated under Section 17A of the Act and hence the prior approval was not required.
Case Title: Abhishek Sharma Vs State of Himachal Pradesh
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (HP) 36
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