SC: Appointing Authority Must Take Decision on Request for Sanctions Within Four-Month Window

Supreme Court Law Insider

Khushi Bajpai

Published on: October 12, 2022 at 20:06 IST

The Supreme Court ruled that the Appointing Authority must make a decision on a request for sanctions within the three-month window (which may be extended by an additional month for legal consultation) provided by Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The bench of Justices BR Gavai and PS Narasimha clarified that the criminal proceeding will not be quashed as a result of failure to comply with this mandatory requirement.

The aggrieved party, whether the complainant, accused, or victim, would be entitled to approach the concerned writ court and seek appropriate remedies, including directions for action on the request for sanction and for the corrective measure on accountability that the sanctioning authority bears, after the three months and the additional one-month period had passed.

In this instance, the Madras High Court granted a criminal revision petition brought by the State in opposition to an order of the Trial Court discharging the accused on the basis that the order of sanction under Section 19 of the PC Act was tainted by the sanctioning authority’s failure to exercise due care.

The following points were presented in the appeal before the Apex Court:

(1) Whether the decision of sanction is unlawful because the DoPT acted in accordance with CVC’s directives without exercising due care.

(2) If the criminal proceedings could be terminated due to the sanction order’s roughly two-year delay in being issued.

In response to the first concern, the bench stated that it is not unlawful for the DoPT, the organization responsible for hiring public employees, to request, refer, and take into consideration the Central Vigilance Commission’s opinion prior to making a final determination regarding the request for sanctions for the prosecution of a public employee.

In this context, the bench noted:

“The five pieces of legislation—the CrPC., the DSPE Act, the PC Act, the CVC Act, and the Lokpal Act—must be viewed collectively in order for the authorities to carry out the goals and purposes that are shared by all five.”

“The Central Vigilance Commission, established under the CVC Act, has been given a specific mandate and responsibility to offer qualified recommendations on the matter.”

“Before making a judgment regarding the request for sanction for prosecution, the appointing authority may need to call for and obtain the CVC’s opinion. The statutory provision that allowed the appointing authority to request, seek, and take into account the CVC’s advice cannot be characterized as mandating action or as an inconsequential consideration.”

“The CVC’s viewpoint is merely advisory. Nevertheless, it contributes significantly to the appointing authority’s decision-making process. The appointing authority must make its ultimate choice on its own, using independent judgment.”

Regarding the second point, the bench observed that the proviso to Section 19 the Prevention of Corruption Act requirement that the competent authority make every effort to communicate the judgment regarding the proposal for sanction within three months can only be read and understood as a “legally binding obligation.”

A combined interpretation of Section 19’s first proviso, which employs the word “endeavor” with the following clauses, reveals the Parliament’s objective.

The third proviso stipulates that the additional time may only be provided for a month once justifications are documented in writing. No additional extension are available.

In this context, it’s also important to observe the fourth proviso, which gives the Central Government the authority to set the appropriate rules for upholding the mandate.

Thus, it may be said that the Parliament intended for the sanction-granting process to be completed within four months, which includes the added month.

The bench then looked at the consequences of violating the required period and made the following observations:

“To sum up, we hold that the aggrieved party, whether the complainant, accused, or victim, would be able to approach the pertinent writ court after the three months and the additional one-month time had passed.”

“They have the right to pursue appropriate remedies, such as instructions on how to proceed with a punishment request and a remedial action about the accountability of the sanctioning body.”

“This is especially important if a genuine case of corruption is suppressed as a result of the non-grant of a sanction being withheld without cause. In addition, the CVC must investigate the situation in accordance with Section 8(1)(e) and (f) of the CVC Act and take any necessary corrective action.”

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