In a first, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has reinterpreted provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act to hold that public servants, who can be removed by the subordinate authorities other than the government, are not entitled to protection of sanction.
It means that they can be proceeded against even without the grant of sanction for their prosecution. The significant judgment, expected to affect nothing less than 90 per cent of the corruption cases against the lower-level staff, came on a petition filed by a patwari in Punjab. He was facing criminal proceedings after being allegedly caught red handed while accepting Rs 2,000 as illegal gratification for carrying out a mutation.
For reaching the conclusion, Justice Mehinder Singh Sullar referred to Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 that deals with “previous sanction necessary for prosecution”. He held that only those public servants of the Central or state governments are entitled to the umbrella of protection under Article 19 of the Act, who are employed in connection with the affairs of the Union or the State and are removable by the respected governments, and not otherwise.
“Meaning thereby, public servants who are liable to be removed by the lower/subordinate authority other than the government indeed are, and would, not at all be entitled to such protection”.
Examining the section in depth, Justice Sullar added: “Section 19 (1) (a) of the Act regulates public servants, who are removable by the Central Government; and clause (b) deals with public servants, who are removable by the state government; whereas clause (c) is only applicable to other persons (public servants) employed with the affairs of variety of other financial institutions, banks, corporations and not public servants of the Centre or state governments.
Justice Sullar added that the intention of the legislature been to extend the protection of sanction under this Section to all categories of public servants, “it ought to have mentioned that all public servants are entitled to protection of sanction and only this one line would have served the purpose”.
Referring to the case in hand, Justice Sullar minced no words to say: “Since the petitioner was working as a patwari at the relevant time and place, and was removable by the district collector and not by the state government, no prior sanction was required to prosecute him”.
Prior to the judgment so many accused, who could be removed by subordinate authorities, would claim their case fell under clause (c). They would claim that sanction was necessary for their prosecution as well. But, the latest judgment has paved way for their trial.