The Madras High Court recently observed that prior government approval for inquiring into corruption allegations against a public servant under Section 17(A) of the Prevention of Corruption Act is not necessary when the allegations concern possession of disproportionate assets (Dhandapani v. The Vigilance Commissioner, Tamil Nadu and ors).
Section 17(A) mandates that there should be prior approval from the concerned government before an inquiry can be initiated by the police against a public servant under the Prevention of Corruption Act when it comes to “offences relatable to recommendations made or decision taken by public servant in discharge of official functions or duties.“
In other words, the Court observed that Section 17(A) calls for previous approval where the offence alleged to have been committed by the public servant is relatable to the discharge of his official functions or duties.
In the case before the Court, however, the judge found that the public servant had not been charged with any offence relatable to a discharge of his official function or duties. Rather, the Court observed that an FIR came to be registered for allegedly acquiring assets disproportionate to his own source of income.
In holding that no prior sanction is required under Section 17(A) in such a case, Justice K Murali Shankar remarked that the provision is not applicable in disproportionate assets cases.
“I am of the view that prior approval under Section 17 (A) of Prevention of Corruption Act is not at all necessary and that the said provision is not applicable to the disproportionate assets cases,” Justice Shankar said.
He also expressed agreement with submissions that in the Delhi High Court’s judgment in Devender Kumar v. CBI and the Chhattisgarh High Court’s ruling in Sathish Pandey v. Union of India, it has been held that Section 17A would not be applicable where the allegedly offending act of the public servant “appears on the face of it lacking in good faith.”
It is clear that Section 17(A) has only been inserted to give protection to the honest officers, the Court added. On the other hand, it was observed that when the act of a public servant amounts to or constitutes an offence by itself, prior sanction or approval from the Government would not be necessary.
The Court was dealing with a case involving allegations against an Assistant Director in the Rural Development Department, Trichy of having purchased properties that had not been disclosed to the government and that not been accounted for.
The public servant had challenged the initiation of an inquiry over the same by the Director of Vigilance and Anti Corruption Wing, Chennai. He had contended that such enquiry could not have been initiated on a complaint without first obtaining approval for the same under Section 17(A) of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
In view of the above findings, the Court dismissed the writ petition holding that Section 17 (A) of Prevention of Corruption Act has no application to the case on hand.