The Supreme Court on Tuesday held as invalid the legal provision that makes prior sanction mandatory for the Central Bureau of Investigation to conduct a probe against senior bureaucrats in corruption cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

A Constitution Bench comprising Chief Justice R.M. Lodha and Justices A.K. Patnaik, S.J. Mukhopadhaya, Dipak Misra and Ibrahim Kalifulla, while allowing the petitions filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy and the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, held that Section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, which granted protection to joint secretary and above officers from facing even a preliminary inquiry by the CBI in corruption cases, was violative of Article 14. Welcoming the court order, CBI Director Ranjit Sinha told The Hindu: “It is a landmark judgment that will empower the agency in the investigations into several cases pending due to the provision that has now been struck down by the Constitution Bench. We had for long been of the view that inquiry against senior officials need not require any prior permission.”

Writing the judgment, the CJI said, “Corruption is an enemy of [the] nation and tracking down a corrupt public servant, howsoever high he may be, and punishing such person is a necessary mandate under the PC Act, 1988. The status or position of a public servant does not qualify the person from exemption from equal treatment. The decision-making power does not segregate corrupt officers into two classes as they are common crime doers and have to be tracked down by the same process of inquiry and investigation.”

The Bench said, “Section 6A of the DSPE Act [granting protection to one set of officers] is directly destructive and runs counter to the object and reason of the PC Act, 1988. It also undermines the object of detecting and punishing high-level corruption. How can two public servants against whom there are allegations of corruption or graft or bribe taking or criminal misconduct under the PC Act, 1988, be made to be treated differently because one happens to be a junior officer and the other a senior decision maker?”

“The provision in Section 6A impedes tracking down the corrupt senior bureaucrats as without previous approval of the Central government, the CBI cannot even hold preliminary inquiry much less an investigation into the allegations. The protection under Section 6A has propensity of shielding the corrupt,” the Bench added.

Observing that there could not be any protection to corrupt public servants, the Bench said, “The aim and object of investigation is ultimately to search for truth and any law that impedes that object may not stand the test of Article 14. Breach of rule of law, in our opinion, amounts to negation of equality under Article 14. Section 6-A fails in the context of these facets of Article 14.”

(With additional reporting by Devesh K. Pandey)

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