Published on: 8 August 2023 at 12:40 IST
The Kerala High Court has established that the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) possesses the legal authority to initiate investigations and examine cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 that allege misconduct by Central Government employees.
Justice Kauser Edappagath, presiding over a Single Judge Bench, affirmed that neither the Prevention of Corruption Act nor the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 contains any provision that explicitly excludes or obstructs the State police or a Special State Agency from probing instances of corruption involving Central Government personnel.
The Court specified, “None of the provisions within the PC Act or DSPE Act grants sole authority to the CBI, Central Vigilance Commission, or any other Central Government Agency to exclusively investigate cases involving Central Government employees.
In the absence of a specific clause within the DSPE Act or PC Act that divests regular police authorities of their competence to investigate offenses as defined by other relevant laws, it cannot be assumed that the power of the State police or a Special State Agency to register a crime and conduct an inquiry into offenses allegedly perpetrated by Central Government employees within their jurisdiction is nullified.
For these reasons, the VACB, designed as a specialized body to scrutinize bribery, corruption, and misconduct, particularly under the PC Act, is always vested with the authority to probe corruption offenses occurring within the State, regardless of whether they involve a Central Government or State Government employee.”
The case in question concerned a crime registered against the Village Extension Officer and Implementing Officer of a Project in Thalayolaparamba (the first accused) and three officials from the North Malabar Gramin Bank, Thalayolaparamba Branch (accused numbers 2-4).
The prosecution alleged that these individuals conspired to deceive the Grama Panchayat and the beneficiaries of a designated Project.
The accused were charged with misappropriating an amount of Rs. 1,85,000/- as part of this conspiracy.
The bank employees accused in the case filed separate petitions, contending that the VACB, Kottayam had no authority to register the crime or initiate an investigation since they were employees of the Central Government. The Court below upheld this argument and discharged the accused. Subsequently, the State filed revision petitions challenging this decision.
The Special Public Prosecutor representing the VACB, A. Rajesh, argued that the PC Act does not preclude the State Police or a Special State Agency such as the VACB from investigating cases of corruption involving Central Government public servants. He contended that the Court below’s order was unsustainable.
In contrast, counsel for the accused-respondents asserted that Gramin Banks are governed by Central Government policies, implying that the authority and jurisdiction to investigate offenses committed by them under the PC Act lies exclusively with bodies like the CBI and the Central Vigilance Commission. Therefore, they argued that the impugned order was legally sound.
The High Court examined the provisions of the Regional Rural Banks Act, 1976, and determined that the North Malabar Gramin Bank is indeed governed by the Central Government. The Court further analyzed Section 156 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, which defines the powers of police officers to investigate cognizable offenses, and Section 4 of the Indian Penal Code, which concerns the trial of offenses under the IPC and other laws. It established that while special laws exist, the Cr.P.C. continues to govern the investigation, inquiry, and trial of cases unless a special law explicitly replaces it.
Taking into account Section 4(2) and Section 156 of the Cr.P.C., the Court concluded that the Cr.P.C. applies to the extent that it doesn’t conflict with the provisions of the PC Act. It determined that the PC Act does not introduce a separate procedure for investigations, and that both State and Central agencies can investigate offenses under the statute, provided the investigating officer holds a specified rank.
The Court ultimately held that the VACB, as a branch of the State Police, possesses the capacity to probe offenses under the PC Act, as long as the investigation is conducted by an officer of the rank prescribed in Section 17 of the Act.
Furthermore, the Court acknowledged that the accused had argued that even if all the allegations in the final report were true, they wouldn’t constitute offenses under the PC Act. The Court recognized that this aspect had not been considered by the Court below and directed it to assess the accused’s discharge application on its merits and make a decision in accordance with the law.
The accused-respondents were represented by Advocates Shameena Salahudheen, A. Arunkumar, Sachin George Aramban, and Heerakrishna T.H. Senior Public Prosecutor S. Rekha represented the State.
Case Title: State of Kerala v. Navaneeth Krishnan and other connected matters