CBI can probe top bureaucrats without government nod, rules SC

Giving more teeth to the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that the central investigating agency can probe top bureaucrats without the government's sanction.

The apex court struck down Section 6A of the Delhi Police Act, which governs the CBI and says the agency needs prior sanction from the government before investigating a senior bureaucrat accused of corruption. The bench apex court struck down the provision, saying it was unconstitutional.

"Corruption is the enemy of the nation. You cannot discriminate between a senior and a junior level officer. A corrupt servant is a corrupt servant. You cannot protect one set," the court said.

"... classification which is made in Section 6A on the basis of status in government service is not permissible under Article 14 of the Constitution as it defeats the purpose of finding prima facie truth into the allegations of graft, which amount to an offence under the PC Act, 1988."

"Can there be sound differentiation between corrupt public servants based on their status? Surely not, because irrespective of their status or position, corrupt public servants are corrupters of public power," a five-judge bench asked.

"Corrupt public servants, whether high or low, are birds of the same feather and must be confronted with the process of investigation and inquiry equally. Based on the position or status in service, no distinction can be made between public servants against whom there are allegations amounting to an offence under the PC Act, 1988."

In 2003, rules requiring the government's permission to investigate top officers were brought in by an administrative order, which the court had then called unconstitutional. The measure was again brought in by an amendment to the CBI Act, which was struck down.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy had petitioned the court against the 2003 rule arguing that it discriminates senior and junior officers.

CBI chief Ranjit Sinha welcomed the move, saying, "The responsibility on us is to see that no innocent civil servant is harassed. There are a number of pending cases, which will now be expedited."
 
Supreme Court lawyer and AAP member Prashant Bhushan said the apex court's decision was historic.  "The Supreme Court has in a historic judgement struck down the single directive which had been introduced in 2003 in the CBI Act and the CVC Act by which the CBI was required to take the permission of the government for even investigating officers of the level of joint secretary and above.

"This is a dishonest provision had been introduced by the government after the hawala judgement," Bhushan said