Published on: 15th October, 2022 at 20:17 IST
The Delhi High Court struck down the three FIRs that the Anti Corruption Branch filed in 2012 and 2013 against a senior physician, noting that the chargesheet was still pending approval from the proper authorities and that there had been an unexplained delay of ten years in concluding the investigation.
The FIRs were filed in accordance with various sections of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.
The petitions for the quashing of the FIRs filed against Dr. Sarbesh Bhattacharjee, the former director of health services in Delhi, were accepted by Justice Jasmeet Singh. For 36 years, Bhattacharjee worked as a medical officer for the governments of Andhra Pradesh, Assam Rifles, and lastly the Central Government Health Service (CGHS).
The FIRs were a result of a 2009 investigation into a tender for the purchase of various medical devices.
In August 2009, Bhattacharjee was appointed Director of Health Services. He was appointed as the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital’s medical director in March 2011 and was scheduled to retire in January 2012. But three months before his retirement date, in November 2011, he was placed on administrative leave.
Four FIRs were subsequently filed against him, three by the CBI and one by the Anti Corruption Branch. While Justice Singh has now dismissed the three FIRs, Bhattacharjee was not charged in 2014 by the CBI because there was insufficient evidence to prove that he had committed the crime.
It was the petitioner’s contention that he had cooperated with the investigative agency in relation to the three FIRs after constantly being asked to take part in the investigation.
Bhattacharjee was given anticipatory bail in the other two FIRs in 2013, while he was given regular bail in one of the FIRs in 2012. Bhattacharjee’s attorney, Arundhati Katju, contended that the contested FIRs were a misuse of the legal system because they were filed in 2012, more than two years after the alleged offenses and six months after the agency received the allegations.
She added that although the investigation had been ongoing for ten years, it had been accelerated and completed as a result of Bhattacharjee’s High Court petition. Katju contended that this further “shows the malafide purpose of the respondents towards the petitioner.”
The prosecution, however, countered that while the charge sheet had been created and the investigation was over, it had not yet been submitted to the appropriate body for penalty.
The three FIRs were dismissed after the court noted an excessive delay of more than 10 years in submitting the chargesheet, which has yet to be filed due to lack of sanction.
As stated by the Supreme Court in Anand Kumar Mohatta v. State (NCT of Delhi) (2019), “even though filing of the chargesheet does not preclude this court from entertaining the present writ petitions,” Justice Singh said. “However, in the present matters, investigation was prolonged for over 10 long years and was immediately concluded after filing of the present writ petitions by the Petitioner.”
The court further noted that there had been “abuse of the legal system” in the cases brought against the doctor. Interestingly, the petitioner was suspended rather than subject to departmental charges and is currently collecting a provisional pension, the statement continued.
The court found that the prosecution was unable to explain the excessive delay in submitting the charge-sheet and wrapping up the investigation, noting that Bhattacharjee had a right to a prompt investigation and trial.
The judge stated, “The FIR in this case contains accusations from the years 2012 and 2013. The FIR was filed six months after the complaint, which was filed two years after the occurrence. The failure to file a FIR on time is fatal. Additionally, it took the respondent almost ten years to complete the charge sheet “.
It stated the following in reference to a Supreme Court ruling: “What can be inferred from the foregoing is that Article 21 recognizes the right to a quick trial. The respondent/prosecuting agency is required to explain the cause of the excessive delay. The petitioner’s actions should not be held responsible for the delay.”
The court went on to say that Bhattacharjee was not to blame for the investigation’s delay because he consistently complied with requests and joined it. “The chargesheet has not yet been sanctioned and has not even been filed as of October 6, 2022. The petitioner has had the sword hanging over his head without his fault,” the court ruled.
The Court continues that, “What weighs with me is not only the fact that the chargesheet is still awaiting sanction before the relevant authority, but also the excessive and unjustified delay in conducting the inquiry for 10 long years,”