|Big blow in anti-graft war|
|Wednesday, 01 February 2012 00:00|
Government can’t prevent prosecution in Raja-type cases
Tuesday’s judgment by the Supreme Court insisting the government stick to the 3-month deadline (given in the Vineet Narain judgment of 1998) to grant sanction to prosecute officials—ministers or bureaucrats—is an important blow in the war against graft even though events have overtaken the actual case before the Court. The case related to Subramanian Swamy asking the Prime Minister for permission to prosecute the then telecom minister A Raja for giving away licences at bargain basement prices. While Swamy asked for this on November 29, 2008, and kept following up, there was no reply until March 19, 2010, when the department of personnel wrote back to say the request was premature since CBI was still investigating the matter. Given CBI took 14 months to even question Raja after registering an FIR against ‘unknown officials of the DoT’ (the FIR itself was lodged on October 21, 2009, nearly a year after Swamy’s petition) and only after the Court gave CBI an earful, Judges GS Singhvi and Asok Kumar Ganguly ruled on Tuesday that the government “cannot undertake a detailed inquiry whether or not the allegations made against the public servant are true”—it just has to give permission to prosecute or give valid reasons for why permission is being denied. The Court has, in fact, come down heavily on officials in the PMO for not acting on the request early enough, for sending Swamy’s petition to, if you please, Raja’s ministry for its comments and for not letting the PM know about the 3-month deadline imposed by the Narain judgment.
Striking at the protection given by the government by delaying sanction to prosecute—of 319 requests, 126 cases are still pending – is critical since it is this that allows corrupt bureaucrats/ministers to get away. There cannot be a more powerful incentive to be corrupt than knowing, for a bureaucrat, that his minister will ensure no permission to prosecute is ever given—under Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, this is mandatory—or for a minister who knows coalition politics will ensure no one can prosecute him. From the government’s point of view, the optics are unfortunate. While it looks as if the Supreme Court is driving it, as early as August 2011, the government’s version of the Lokpal Bill had dropped the need for sanction to prosecute officials and ministers—but since the Lokpal Bill never got passed, this never got translated into law. Either way, the SC ruling represents a step forward in the battle to get after corrupt bureaucrats and ministers.