CBI DOESN’T NEED GOVT. PERMISSION TO PROBE SENIOR BUREAUCRATS: SC

Dr. Subramanian Swamy, the main petitioner for this case, terms the apex court order a “landmark judgement”

New Delhi, May 7 – In a judgement that is an important milestone in the country’s fight against corruption, especially when seen in the background of the court’s effort to enhance the autonomy of the federal investigation agency and the anti-corruption law enacted by Parliament last year, the Supreme Court yesterday ruled that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) does not need the permission of the government to probe senior bureaucrats.

A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice R.M. Lodha, declared Section 6-A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act unconstitutional. Section 6-A said CBI needed government sanction for investigating officers at the level of Joint Secretary and above.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Dr. Subramanian Swamy, the main petitioner for this case, termed the court order a “landmark judgement” for which he has “worked hard for 20 years”. He also acknowledged the contribution of the amicus curiae (friend of the court) appointed by the court, Anil Divan.

Like almost any other judgement dealing with cases of corruption in high places, yesterday’s order is related to the Supreme Court’s December 1997 ruling in the Vineet Narain Vs Union of India case related to the Jain hawala scandal, involving payoffs to politicians by four Jain brothers who facilitated illegal foreign exchange transactions (termed hawala). That ruling, like Tuesday’s, sought to reduce the interference of the government in investigations of politicians and bureaucrats by CBI.

Yesterday’s judgement runs into 71 pages and contains an in-depth analysis of why Section 6-A does not fit in with the Constitutional mandate of Article 14 that promises “equality before law”. Indeed, amicus curiae Divan had argued that Section 6-A creates a special privileged class. The judgement noted delays in according government permission in 126 instances where CBI sought this.

The court also agreed with the petitioners who have always maintained that Section 6-A is against the tenets of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The Supreme Court, however, maintained its view from the Vineet Narain Vs Union of India case by saying that “However high you may be, the law is above you”.