The Anna Hazare movement may be floundering and Baba Ramdev's campaign may have temporarily run out of steam, but the Supreme Court has ensured through three recent judgements that the long arm of the law catches up with scamsters and citizens retain their faith in the rule of law. 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". The judge said by delaying sanction of prosecution of the corrupt, the sanctioning authority "stultifies judicial scrutiny" and thus ' the legitimacy of judicial institutions is eroded". Therefore, he directed that henceforth if a petitioner did not hear from the sanctioning authority within the stipulated time, it would be presumed that sanction has been granted.
These judgements of the court dealing with the legality of the 2G licences, the locus standi of citizens to prosecute corrupt ministers and the empowerment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner have done much to pep up the sagging morale of the citizenry.
The most spectacular of these three cases is the one filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, Dr. Subramanian Swamy and several other public-spirited citizens versus the Union of India and others in regard to the allotment of 2G licences. In a historic judgement, Justices G.S. Singhvi and Asok Kumar Ganguly cancelled the 122 licences granted by the government and even imposed fines on several of the companies. While doing so, they saluted non-governmental organizations and citizens who approached the court. The judges said "but for the vigilance of some enlightened citizens .... and Non Governmental Organisations who have been constantly fighting for clean governance and accountability of the constitutional institutions, unsuspecting citizens and the Nation would never have known how the scarce natural resource spared by Army has been grabbed by those who enjoy money power and who have been able to manipulate the system".
In Dr.Subramanian Swamy vs. Dr.Manmohan Singh and another, Dr.Swamy asserted his right to prosecute a minister and drew the court's attention to the non-response of the Prime Minister to his request for sanction to prosecute Mr.Raja, the former Telecom Minister in regard to the 2 G Licence Scandal. The issue before the court was whether a citizen could file a complaint to prosecute a public servant for an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (P C Act) and whether the competent authority is required to take an appropriate decision within a specified time. The other question was one of locus standi of a citizen to lodge such a complaint.
Here again, a Bench comprising Justices G.S.Singhvi and A.K.Ganguly upheld Dr.Swamy's contention. The court rejected the Attorney General's argument and said there was no bar on a citizen to file a complaint to prosecute a public servant, either in the Prevention of Corruption Act or the Criminal Procedure Code. It said a similar argument (like that advanced by the Attorney General) had been negated by a Constitution Bench of the court in the Antulay Case. That Bench had held that "Punishment of the offender in the interest of the society being one of the objects behind penal statutes enacted for larger good of the society, right to initiate proceedings cannot be whittled down, circumscribed or fettered by putting it into a straitjacket formula of locus standi unknown to criminal jurisprudence, save and except specific statutory exception. To hold that such an exception exists that a private complaint for offences of corruption committed by public servant is not maintainable".
The court also cited the judgement of a three-judge bench of the court in Vineet Narain's Case, which settled the issue of a citizen's locus standi and also stipulated a time limit for the competent authority to take a decision. In that case, the court had said: Any deviation from the path of rectitude by holders of public office "amounts to a breach of trust and must be severely dealt with ..". If the conduct amounts to an offence, "it must be promptly investigated and the offender against whom a prima facie case is made out should be prosecuted expeditiously". Finally, the court laid down a time limit of three months for grant of sanction for prosecution and said this "must be strictly adhered to". However, additional time of one month may be allowed where consultation is required with the Attorney General (AG) or any other law officer in the AG's office."
The judges held that "in view of this judgment of the Constitution Bench, Dr.Swamy had the right to file a complaint for prosecution of Mr.Raja.
The story however does not end here because all this revolved around the conduct of the Prime Minister and the response of the PMO to the several letters written by Dr.Swamy. Though the Supreme Court has said that a decision must be taken within four months, this was not acted upon by the Prime Minister's Office. Dr.Swamy moved the Supreme Court because his petition was rejected by the High Court. The Supreme Court said the High Court had proceeded "under a wholly erroneous assumption" that the Prime Minister had directed investigation by the CBI into the allegations. Actually, following a representation on May 4, 2009, the Central Vigilance Commissioner got an inquiry conducted and forwarded a copy of the report to the Director, CBI for making an investigation into the matter to establish the criminal conspiracy in the allocation of 2G spectrum. Thereupon, the CBI registered an FIR. For about a year after this, "the matter remained dormant and the CBI took steps for vigorous investigation only when this Court intervened in the matter. The court said material placed on record does not show that the CBI had registered a case or started investigation at the instance of the Prime Minister. Dr.Swamy submitted representation to the Prime Minister almost one year to the registration of the FIR by the CBI and continuously followed it up.
The affidavit filed by a PMO official showed that the matter was placed before the Prime Minister on December 1, 2008 and he directed the concerned officer to examine and apprise him with the facts of the case. Surprisingly, instead of complying with the direction, the officer sent the representation to the Department of Telecom, which was headed By A.Raja, the very person against whom Dr.Swamy had made serious allegations. These officials did not apprise the Prime Minister of the seriousness of the allegations and the Supreme Court direction that such petitions be disposed off within four months.
While agreeing with Justice Singhvi, Justice Ganguly said "Today, corruption in our country not only poses a grave danger to the concept of constitutional governance, it also threatens the very foundation of Indian democracy and the Rule of Law".
In the third and final case referred to above, the court turned down the plea of independent monitoring of the probe into the 2G Scam but directed that in future, copies of the reports of the investigation conducted by the CBI and other agencies shall be made available to the Central Vigilance Commissioner in sealed envelopes and within one week the Central Vigilance Commissioner and the Senior Vigilance Commissioner shall examine the reports and send their observations / suggestions to the Court in sealed envelopes.
Needless to say, these judgements have done wonders to rejuvenate public morale and the peoples' faith in rule of law.
The Anna Hazare movement may be floundering and Baba Ramdev's campaign may have temporarily run out of steam, but the Supreme Court has ensured through three recent judgements that the long arm of the law catches up with scamsters and citizens retain their faith in the rule of law.
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". The judge said by delaying sanction of prosecution of the corrupt, the sanctioning authority "stultifies judicial scrutiny" and thus ' the legitimacy of judicial institutions is eroded". Therefore, he directed that henceforth if a petitioner did not hear from the sanctioning authority within the stipulated time, it would be presumed that sanction has been granted.