The High Court of Chhattisgarh on Thursday directed the CBI to investigate into the allegations of large scale bungling and siphoning of public funds by certain high rank govt. officials of the state, which may run into hundreds or even more than thousand crores.
The issue relates to misappropriation of public money in the guise of running a Physical Referral Rehabilitation Centre (PRRC), a Government entity under the Department of Social Welfare, set up for the welfare of disabled and handicapped persons. As per the Petitioner, he and many others were shown to be employees of the PRRC and salary was withdrawn in their names through accounts maintained with the State Bank of India. However, they were not employees there and that he had recently acquired knowledge of this fraudulent activity
While the matter was initially instituted as a Criminal writ petition, it was later converted into a Public Interest Litigation, given the involvement of large amount of public money.
The bench of Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra and Justice Parth Prateem Sahu noted that since the matter involved high ranked officers, there was "apprehension" that the investigation may be influenced. Thus, an independent probe by the CBI has been directed.
Reliance was placed on Subramanian Swamy v. Director, Central Bureau of Investigation & Anr., (2014) 8 SCC 682, wherein it was held that "The Criminal justice system mandates that any investigation into the crime should be fair, in accordance with law and should not be tainted. It is equally important that interested or influential persons are not able to misdirect or highjack the investigation so as to throttle a fair investigation resulting in the offenders escaping the punitive course of law."
As per the Petitioner, the entire set up of PRRC was running only on papers without there being any visible tangible activity at any of its centers. There was no recruitment process through advertisement or otherwise nor any hospital for disabled had been established nor any employees were ever appointed, but such persons were shown to be employed and working with the PRRC only for showing payment of salary to them, the plea disclosed.
It was alleged that for the last 10 years, the total embezzled amount may cross Rs. 1,000 crores.
Striking at this situation, the court said,
"Public office cannot be a place for acquiring personal gain. Probity in public life is of great importance. Corruption is an enemy of nation and tracking down corrupt public servant, howsoever high he may be, and punishing such person is a necessary mandate under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and the Indian Penal Code."
The court further noted that even the memo of submission filed by the State partially admitted of certain financial irregularities. However, "no serious attempt has been made to unearth and find out as to who has siphoned the amount. Only some notices for departmental action have been issued without registering any offence for misuse of public funds of such enormous proportion."
In this regard the court said that State is "reluctant" to investigate the crime due to involvement of high ranked officers. However, "when startling and disturbing facts have been brought to our notice with, prima facie, proof, this Court cannot shun its constitutional duty and be a mute spectator to condone such lapses, if it is eventually find out in a fair and independent investigation," it said, while directing the CBI to register an FIR against the impugned activities within a period of one week. The court also asked the CBI to seize the relevant original records from the concerned department, organization and offices throughout the State within 15 days from the date of registration of FIR.
Reliance was placed on various precedents, including Vineet Narain & Ors. v. Union of India & Anr., (1998) 1 SCC 226, wherein the duty of public servants to act in utmost good faith and duty of the courts to enforce the rule of law and ensure smooth functioning of the entire system was recognized.
Case Title: Kundan Singh Thakur v. Union of India & Or.
Case No.: WP PIL No. 53/2018
Quorum: Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra and Justice Parth Prateem Sahu
Appearance: Advocate Devershi Thakur (for Petitioner); Assistant Solicitor General B. Gopa Kumar (for UoI); then Addl. Adv. General (presently Advocate General) S.C. Verma with Dy. Govt. Advocate Gagan Tiwari (for State); Advocate Vedant Belonde on behalf of Advocate PR Patankar (for SBI)
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