A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court of India delivered three landmark judgments. Starting with its verdict on Vodafone, a few days later, the court delivered a ruling that a complaint under the Prevention of Corruption Act is a citizen’s constitutional right and the competent authority must take a decision within three months on whether or not to grant sanction for prosecution. Two days later, the court held the allocation of 2G licences as arbitrary and illegal and, consequently, cancelled all 122 licences granted. Say what one may, but all these judgments reinstate the supremacy of the rule of law and affirm one’s belief in the independent and effective functioning of the Indian judiciary. Given that in all these judgments the government is a contesting party and since the ramifications of these verdicts are far beyond the cases in which they were delivered, the government is now looking to seek a judicial review in all these matters.
Before we assume that by filing a review, the government is questioning judicial authority or jump to conclusions that some of the certainty these judgments had delivered may get undone, let us examine the legal framework regarding seeking review of judgments of the court. The Constitution provides that the court has the power to review any judgment made by it. It further provides that the court may make any rules for regulating its practice and procedure or set down conditions, subject to which a judgment passed by it may be reviewed.
Additionally, the Supreme Court rules stipulate that an application for review must be filed by way of a petition within a period of 30 days from the original judgment and is normally heard in chambers, by the same Bench that heard the original case. It is expected that such petition will clearly set out the grounds on which the review is sought and such grounds must be in keeping with the requirements prescribed in the Code of Civil Procedure.
Notably, the code provides very limited grounds either on account of discovery of new/important evidence that was not available at the time when the dispute was originally heard or on account of some mistake or ‘error apparent’ on the face of the record. Applying the above stated principles, the court has held that the power of review is to be exercised with extreme care, caution and circumspection. Additionally, a review should be entertained only in very exceptional cases where the court has overlooked a material statutory provision or if a manifest wrong has been done, which must be corrected.
Distinguishing statutory provisions from facts, the court has also held that where a question is raised in a review petition, which was open to be raised in the original petition, but had not been raised, then the court will not permit such question to be advanced in a review. A review is not a rehearing and cannot be used to re-agitate issues previously argued. While the issue of error has been addressed, what happens if a judicial decision is passed questioning a policy issue or matters falling exclusively within executive domain? Is the decision of the court the final word and authority? Simply stated, the answer is: yes!
Courts have accepted the philosophy of human fallibility and, hence, provided for review, but generally speaking, the courts don’t look favourably at review petitions. This is because review literally, and even judicially, means re-examination or reconsideration and the courts believe that in the realm of law, the courts and even the statutes lean strongly in favour of finality of decisions legally and properly made.
Hence, while a review will be entertained to remove an error, it is almost never exercised to disturb finality achieved through a judicial process, unless such interference is to prevent grave injustice.Consequently, the only check on the judiciary’s exercise of powers is the self-imposed discipline of self-restraint. The court has itself ruled that the judiciary must exercise judicial restraint and the judges must not try to run the government. But let us accept that, at times, it is difficult to exercise restraint when the executive and legislature are falling short of performing their duties or where administrative action is blatantly arbitrary and biased, as had been noted in the 2G scam case.
But even then, the court has acknowledged that while conducting judicial review of administrative action, the court cannot act as the appellate authority and substitute its views for the views of the decision-making authority. The role of the court is limited to ensure that the decision was passed in keeping with well-established principles of transparency, fairness and natural justice. And when acting as the appellate authority, the court needs to examine only questions of law and ensure that subordinate courts correctly appreciated facts and appropriately interpreted the law.
In conclusion, as regards review petitions that have been or may be filed, it is difficult to comment with any authority without studying the grounds on which the review is sought. Equally, it would be improper to speculate or even comment on their outcome given they are sub-judice. But based on precedence, it is hard to comprehend the court re-examining issues that were most likely examined during the initial hearing and on which the court applied its time and attention before delivering detailed judgments. But it’s a different matter if some material brought to the attention of the court has not been considered while deciding the case.
Hence, in the Vodafone case, depending on the outcome of the review, if the department is worried about the purported loss of revenue and bad precedence getting established, it would most likely seek to provide for taxation of Vodafone-type transactions in the Direct Taxes Code or by bringing about amendments in the Income-Tax Act. It’s true, no one likes Parliament enacting laws only to overcome judicial rulings. Then again, to survive in this era of coalition politics, sometimes the government is compelled to take decisions that can’t please everyone.
Let us first deal with a minor issue canvassed by Mr. Raval, learned ASG. It is submitted that this Court has refused to entertain the Special Leave Petition filed by one of the co-accused [Sharad Kumar Vs. CBI (supra)] and, therefore, there is no reason or change in the circumstance to take a different view in the case of the appellants who are also charge- sheeted for the same offence. We are not impressed by this argument. In the aforesaid petition, the petitioner was before this Court before framing of charges by the Trial Court. Now the charges are framed and the trial has commenced. We cannot compare the earlier and the present proceedings and conclude that there are no changed circumstances and reject these petitions.
The appellants are facing trial in respect of the offences under Sections 420-B, 468, 471 and 109 of Indian Penal Code and Section 13(2) read 2 with 13(i)(d) of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Bail has been refused first by the Special Judge, CBI, New Delhi and subsequently, by the High Court. Both the courts have listed the factors, on which they think, are relevant for refusing the Bail applications filed by the applicants as seriousness of the charge; the nature of the evidence in support of the charge; the likely sentence to be imposed upon conviction; the possibility of interference with witnesses; the objection of the prosecuting authorities; possibility of absconding from justice.
In bail applications, generally, it has been laid down from the earliest times that the object of bail is to secure the appearance of the accused person at his trial by reasonable amount of bail. The object of bail is neither punitive nor preventative. Deprivation of liberty must be considered a punishment, unless it can be required to ensure that an accused person will stand his trial when called upon. The courts owe more than verbal respect to the principle that punishment begins after conviction, and that every man is deemed to be innocent until duly tried and duly found guilty. From the earliest times, it was appreciated that detention in custody pending completion of trial could be a cause of great hardship. From time to time, necessity demands that some un-convicted persons should be held in custody pending trial to secure their attendance at the trial but in such cases, `necessity’ is the operative test. In this country, it would be quite contrary to the concept of personal liberty enshrined in the Constitution that any person should be punished in respect of any matter, upon which, he has not been convicted or that in any circumstances, he should be deprived of his liberty upon only the belief that he will tamper with the witnesses if left at liberty, save in the most extraordinary circumstances. Apart from the question of prevention being the object of a refusal of bail, one must not lose sight of the fact that any imprisonment before conviction has a substantial punitive content and it would be improper for any Court to refuse bail as a mark of disapproval of former conduct whether the accused has been convicted for it or not or to refuse bail to an un-convicted person for the purpose of giving him a taste of imprisonment as a lesson.
In the instant case, as we have already noticed that the pointing finger of accusation against the appellants is `the seriousness of the charge’. The offences alleged are economic offences which have resulted in loss to the State exchequer. Though, they contend that there is possibility of the appellants tampering witnesses, they have not placed any material in support of the allegation. In our view, seriousness of the charge is, no doubt, one of the relevant considerations while considering bail applications but that is not the only test or the factor : The other factor that also requires to be taken note of is the punishment that could be imposed after trial and conviction, both under the Indian Penal Code and Prevention of Corruption Act. Otherwise, if the former is the only test, we would not be balancing the Constitutional Rights but rather recalibration of the scales of justice. The provisions of Cr.P.C. confer discretionary jurisdiction on Criminal Courts to grant bail to accused pending trial or in appeal against convictions, since the jurisdiction is discretionary, it has to be exercised with great care and caution by balancing valuable right of liberty of an individual and the interest of the society in general. In our view, the reasoning adopted by the learned District Judge, which is affirmed by the High Court, in our opinion, a denial of the whole basis of our system of law and normal rule of bail system. It transcends respect for the requirement that a man shall be considered innocent until he is found guilty. If such power is recognized, then it may lead to chaotic situation and would jeopardize the personal liberty of an individual.
This Court, in Kalyan Chandra Sarkar Vs. Rajesh Ranjan– (2005) 2 SCC 42, observed that under the criminal laws of this country, a person accused of offences which are non-bailable, is liable to be detained in custody during the pendency of trial unless he is enlarged on bail in accordance with law. Such detention cannot be questioned as being violative of Article 21 of the Constitution, since the same is authorized by law. But even persons accused of non- bailable offences are entitled to bail if the Court concerned comes to the conclusion that the prosecution has failed to establish a prima facie case against him and/or if the Court is satisfied by reasons to be recorded that in spite of the existence of prima facie case, there is need to release such accused on bail, where fact situations require it to do so.
This Court, time and again, has stated that bail is the rule and committal to jail an exception. It is also observed that refusal of bail is a restriction on the personal liberty of the individual guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. In the case of State of Rajasthan v. Balchand, (1977) 4 SCC 308, this Court opined:
The basic rule may perhaps be tersely put as bail, not jail, except where there are circumstances suggestive of fleeing from justice or thwarting the course of justice or creating other troubles in the shape of repeating offences or intimidating witnesses and the like, by the petitioner who seeks enlargement on bail from the Court. We do not intend to be exhaustive but only illustrative.
It is true that the gravity of the offence involved is likely to induce the petitioner to avoid the course of justice and must weigh with us when considering the question of jail. So also the heinousness of the crime. Even so, the record of the petitioner in this case is that, while he has been on bail throughout in the trial court and he was released after the judgment of the High Court, there is nothing to suggest that he has abused the trust placed in him by the court; his social circumstances also are not so unfavourable in the sense of his being a desperate character or unsocial element who is likely to betray the confidence that the court may place in him to turn up to take justice at the hands of the court. He is stated to be a young man of 27 years with a family to maintain. The circumstances and the social milieu do not militate against the petitioner being granted bail at this stage. At the same time any possibility of the absconsion or evasion or other abuse can be taken care of by a direction that the petitioner will report himself before the police station at Baren once every fortnight (17) In the case of Gudikanti Narasimhulu v. Public Prosecutor, (1978) 1 SCC 240, V.R. Krishna Iyer, J., sitting as Chamber Judge, enunciated the principles of bail thus: What, then, is judicial discretion in this bail context? In the elegant words of Benjamin Cardozo:
The Judge, even when he is free, is still not wholly free. He is not to innovate at pleasure. He is not a knight-errant roaming at will in pursuit of his own ideal of beauty or of goodness. He is to draw his inspiration from consecrated principles. He is not to yield to spasmodic sentiment, to vague and unregulated benevolence. He is to exercise a discretion informed by tradition, methodized by analogy, disciplined by system, and subordinated to the primordial necessity of order in the social life. Wide enough in all conscience is the field of discretion that remains Even so it is useful to notice the tart terms of Lord Camden that the discretion of a Judge is the law of tyrants: it is always unknown, it is different in different men; it is casual, and depends upon constitution, temper and passion. In the best, it is oftentimes caprice; in the worst, it is every vice, folly and passion to which human nature is liable Perhaps, this is an overly simplistic statement and we must remember the constitutional focus in Articles 21 and 19 before following diffuse observations and practices in the English system. Even in England there is a growing awareness that the working of the bail system requires a second look from the point of view of correct legal criteria and sound principles, as has been pointed out by Dr Bottomley. Let us have a glance at the pros and cons and the true principle around which other relevant factors must revolve. When the case is finally disposed of and a person is sentenced to incarceration, things stand on a different footing. We are concerned with the penultimate stage and the principal rule to guide release on bail should be to secure the presence of the applicant who seeks to be liberated, to take judgment and serve sentence in the event of the Court punishing him with imprisonment. In this perspective, relevance of considerations is regulated by their nexus with the likely absence of the applicant for fear of a severe sentence, if such be plausible in the case. As Erle. J. indicated, when the crime charged (of which a conviction has been sustained) is of the highest magnitude and the punishment of it assigned by law is of extreme severity, the Court may reasonably presume, some evidence warranting, that no amount of bail would secure the presence of the convict at the stage of judgment, should he be enlarged. Lord Campbell, C.J. concurred in this approach in that case and Coleridge J. set down the order of priorities as follows:
I do not think that an accused party is detained in custody because of his guilt, but because there are sufficient probable grounds for the charge against him as to make it proper that he should be tried, and because the detention is necessary to ensure his appearance at trial …. It is a very important element in considering whether the party, if admitted to bail, would appear to take his trial; and I think that in coming to a determination on that point three elements will generally be found the most important: the charge, the nature of the evidence by which it is supported, and the punishment to which the party would be liable if convicted. In the present case, the charge is that of wilful murder; the evidence contains an admission by the prisoners of the truth of the charge, and the punishment of the offence is, by law, death
It is thus obvious that the nature of the charge is the vital factor and the nature of the evidence also is pertinent. The punishment to which the party may be liable, if convicted or conviction is confirmed, also bears upon the issue. Another relevant factor is as to whether the course of justice would be thwarted by him who seeks the benignant jurisdiction of the Court to be freed for the time being. Thus the legal principles and practice validate the Court considering the likelihood of the applicant interfering with witnesses for the prosecution or otherwise polluting the process of justice. It is not only traditional but rational, in this context, to enquire into the antecedents of a man who is applying for bail to find whether he has a bad record – particularly a record which suggests that he is likely to commit serious offences while on bail. In regard to habitual, it is part of criminological history that a thoughtless bail order has enabled the bailee to exploit the opportunity to inflict further crimes on the members of society. Bail discretion, on the basis of evidence about the criminal record of a defendant is therefore not an exercise in irrelevance.
Viewed from this perspective, we gain a better insight into the rules of the game. When a person, charged with a grave offence, has been acquitted at a stage, has the intermediate acquittal pertinence to a bail plea when the appeal before this Court pends? Yes, it has. The panic which might prompt the accused to jump the gauntlet of justice is less, having enjoyed the confidence of the Court’s verdict once. Concurrent holdings of guilt have the opposite effect. Again, the ground for denial of provisional release becomes weaker when the fact stares us in the face that a fair finding — if that be so — of innocence has been recorded by one Court. It may not be conclusive, for the judgment of acquittal may be ex facie wrong, the likelihood of desperate reprisal, if enlarged, may be a deterrent and his own safety may be more in prison than in the vengeful village where feuds have provoked the violent offence. It depends. Antecedents of the man and socio- geographical circumstances have a bearing only from this angle. Police exaggerations of prospective misconduct of the accused, if enlarged, must be soberly sized up lest danger of excesses and injustice creep subtly into the discretionary curial technique. Bad record and police prediction of criminal prospects to invalidate the bail plea are admissible in principle but shall not stampede the Court into a complacent refusal. In Gurcharan Singh v. State (Delhi Admn.), (1978) 1 SCC 118, this Court took the view:. In other non-bailable cases the Court will exercise its judicial discretion in favour of granting bail subject to sub- section (3) of Section 437 CrPC if it deems necessary to act under it. Unless exceptional circumstances are brought to the notice of the Court which may defeat proper investigation and a fair trial, the Court will not decline to grant bail to a person who is not accused of an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life. It is also clear that when an accused is brought before the Court of a Magistrate with the allegation against him of an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life, he has ordinarily no option in the matter but to refuse bail subject, however, to the first proviso to Section 437(1) CrPC and in a case where the Magistrate entertains a reasonable belief on the materials that the accused has not been guilty of such an offence. This will, however, be an extraordinary occasion since there will be some materials at the stage of initial arrest, for the accusation or for strong suspicion of commission by the person of such an offence.
Section 439(1) CrPC of the new Code, on the other hand, confers special powers on the High Court or the Court of Session in respect of bail. Unlike under Section 437(1) there is no ban imposed under Section 439(1), CrPC against granting of bail by the High Court or the Court of Session to persons accused of an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life. It is, however, legitimate to suppose that the High Court or the Court of Session will be approached by an accused only after he has failed before the Magistrate and after the investigation has progressed throwing light on the evidence and circumstances implicating the accused. Even so, the High Court or the Court of Session will have to exercise its judicial discretion in considering the question of granting of bail under Section 439(1) CrPC of the new Code. The overriding considerations in granting bail to which we adverted to earlier and which are common both in the case of Section 437(1) and Section 439(1) CrPC of the new Code are the nature and gravity of the circumstances in which the offence is committed; the position and the status of the accused with reference to the victim and the witnesses; the likelihood, of the accused fleeing from justice; of repeating the offence; of jeopardising his own life being faced with a grim prospect of possible conviction in the case; of tampering with witnesses; the history of the case as well as of its investigation and other relevant grounds which, in view of so many valuable factors, cannot be exhaustively set out
In Babu Singh v. State of U.P., (1978) 1 SCC 579, this Court opined: The Code is cryptic on this topic and the Court prefers to be tacit, be the order custodial or not. And yet, the issue is one of liberty, justice, public safety and burden on the public treasury, all of which insist that a developed jurisprudence of bail is integral to a socially sensitized judicial process. As Chamber Judge in this summit Court I had to deal with this uncanalised case-flow, ad hoc response to the docket being the flickering candle light. So it is desirable that the subject is disposed of on basic principle, not improvised brevity draped as discretion. Personal liberty, deprived when bail is refused, is too precious a value of our constitutional system recognised under Article 21 that the curial power to negate it is a great trust exercisable, not casually but judicially, with lively concern for the cost to the individual and the community. To glamorise impressionistic orders as discretionary may, on occasions, make a litigative gamble decisive of a fundamental right. After all, personal liberty of an accused or convict is fundamental, suffering lawful eclipse only in terms of procedure established by law. The last four words of Article 21 are the life of that human right. …
Thus the legal principle and practice validate the Court considering the likelihood of the applicant interfering with witnesses for the prosecution or otherwise polluting the process of justice. It is not only traditional but rational, in this context, to enquire into the antecedents of a man who is applying for bail to find whether he has a bad record–particularly a record which suggests that he is likely to commit serious offences while on bail. In regard to habituals, it is part of criminological history that a thoughtless bail order has enabled the bailee to exploit the opportunity to inflict further crimes on the members of society. Bail discretion, on the basis of evidence about the criminal record of a defendant, is therefore not an exercise in irrelevance.
The significance and sweep of Article 21 make the deprivation of liberty a matter of grave concern and permissible only when the law authorising it is reasonable, even-handed and geared to the goals of community good and State necessity spelt out in Article 19. Indeed, the considerations I have set out as criteria are germane to the constitutional proposition I have deduced. Reasonableness postulates intelligent care and predicates that deprivation of freedom by refusal of bail is not for punitive purpose but for the bi-focal interests of justice–to the individual involved and society affected.
We must weigh the contrary factors to answer the test of reasonableness, subject to the need for securing the presence of the bail applicant. It makes sense to assume that a man on bail has a better chance to prepare or present his case than one remanded in custody. And if public justice is to be promoted, mechanical detention should be demoted. In the United States, which has a constitutional perspective close to ours, the function of bail is limited, community roots of the applicant are stressed and, after the Vera Foundation’s Manhattan Bail Project, monetary suretyship is losing ground. The considerable public expense in keeping in custody where no danger of disappearance or disturbance can arise, is not a negligible consideration. Equally important is the deplorable condition, verging on the inhuman, of our sub-jails, that the unrewarding cruelty and expensive custody of avoidable incarceration makes refusal of bail unreasonable and a policy favouring release justly sensible.
Viewed from this perspective, we gain a better insight into the rules of the game. When a person, charged with a grave offence, has been acquitted at a stage, has the intermediate acquittal pertinence to a bail plea when the appeal before this Court pends? Yes, it has. The panic which might prompt the accused to jump the gauntlet of justice is less, having enjoyed the confidence of the Court’s verdict once. Concurrent holdings of guilt have the opposite effect. Again, the ground for denial of provisional release becomes weaker when the fact stares us in the face that a fair finding — if that be so — of innocence has been recorded by one Court. It may be conclusive, for the judgment of acquittal may be ex facie wrong, the likelihood of desperate reprisal, it enlarged, may be a deterrent and his own safety may be more in prison than in the vengeful village where feuds have provoked the violent offence. It depends. Antecedents of the man and socio-geographical circumstances have a bearing only from this angle. Police exaggerations of prospective misconduct of the accused, if enlarged, must be soberly sized up lest danger of excesses and injustice creep subtly into the discretionary curial technique. Bad record and police prediction of criminal prospects to invalidate the bail plea are admissible in principle but shall not stampede the Court into a complacent refusal
In Moti Ram v. State of M.P., (1978) 4 SCC 47, this Court, while discussing pre-trial detention, held: The consequences of pre-trial detention are grave. Defendants presumed innocent arc subjected to the psychological and physical deprivations of jail life, usually under more onerous conditions than are imposed on convicted defendants. The jailed defendant loses his job if he has one and is prevented from contributing to the preparation of his defence. Equally important, the burden of his detention frequently falls heavily on the innocent members of his family.
The concept and philosophy of bail was discussed by this Court in Vaman Narain Ghiya v. State of Rajasthan, (2009) 2 SCC 281, thus: Bail remains an undefined term in CrPC. Nowhere else has the term been statutorily defined. Conceptually, it continues to be understood as a right for assertion of freedom against the State imposing restraints. Since the UN Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, to which India is a signatory, the concept of bail has found a place within the scope of human rights. The dictionary meaning of the expression bail denotes a security for appearance of a prisoner for his release. Etymologically, the word is derived from an old French verb bailer; which means to give or to deliver, although another view is that its derivation is from the Latin term baiul are, meaning to bear a burden;. Bail is a conditional liberty. Stroud’s Judicial Dictionary (4th Edn., 1971) spells out certain other details. It states: when a man is taken or arrested for felony, suspicion of felony, indicted of felony, or any such case, so that he is restrained of his liberty. And, being by law bailable, offereth surety to those which have authority to bail him, which sureties are bound for him to the King’s use in a certain sums of money, or body for body, that he shall appear before the justices of goal delivery at the next sessions, etc. Then upon the bonds of these sureties, as is aforesaid, he is bailed–that is to say, set at liberty until the day appointed for his appearance Bail may thus be regarded as a mechanism whereby the State devolutes upon the community the function of securing the presence of the prisoners, and at the same time involves participation of the community in administration of justice.
Personal liberty is fundamental and can be circumscribed only by some process sanctioned by law. Liberty of a citizen is undoubtedly important but this is to balance with the security of the community. A balance is required to be maintained between the personal liberty of the accused and the investigational right of the police. It must result in minimum interference with the personal liberty of the accused and the right of the police to investigate the case. It has to dovetail two conflicting demands, namely, on the one hand the requirements of the society for being shielded from the hazards of being exposed to the misadventures of a person alleged to have committed a crime; and on the other, the fundamental canon of criminal jurisprudence viz. the presumption of innocence of an accused till he is found guilty. Liberty exists in proportion to wholesome restraint, the more restraint on others to keep off from us, the more liberty we have. (See A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras)
The law of bail, like any other branch of law, has its own philosophy, and occupies an important place in the administration of justice and the concept of bail emerges from the conflict between the police power to restrict liberty of a man who is alleged to have committed a crime, and presumption of innocence in favour of the alleged criminal. An accused is not detained in custody with the object of punishing him on the assumption of his guilt.
More recently, in the case of Siddharam Satlingappa Mhetre v. State of Maharashtra, (2011) 1 SCC 694, this Court observed that just as liberty is precious to an individual, so is the society’s interest in maintenance of peace, law and order. Both are equally important This Court further observed : Personal liberty is a very precious fundamental right and it should be curtailed only when it becomes imperative according to the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case This Court has taken the view that when there is a delay in the trial, bail should be granted to the accused [See Babba v. State of Maharashtra, (2005) 11 SCC 569, Vivek Kumar v. State of U.P., (2000) 9 SCC 443, Mahesh Kumar Bhawsinghka v. State of Delhi, (2000) 9 SCC 383].
The principles, which the Court must consider while granting or declining bail, have been culled out by this Court in the case of Prahlad Singh Bhati v. NCT, Delhi, (2001) 4 SCC 280, thus: The jurisdiction to grant bail has to be exercised on the basis of well-settled principles having regard to the circumstances of each case and not in an arbitrary manner. While granting the bail, the court has to keep in mind the nature of accusations, the nature of the evidence in support thereof, the severity of the punishment which conviction will entail, the character, behaviour, means and standing of the accused, circumstances which are peculiar to the accused, reasonable possibility of securing the presence of the accused at the trial, reasonable apprehension of the witnesses being tampered with, the larger interests of the public or State and similar other considerations. It has also to be kept in mind that for the purposes of granting the bail the legislature has used the words reasonable grounds for believing instead of the evidence which means the court dealing with the grant of bail can only satisfy it (sic itself) as to whether there is a genuine case against the accused and that the prosecution will be able to produce prima facie evidence in support of the charge. It is not expected, at this stage, to have the evidence establishing the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt
In State of U.P. v. Amarmani Tripathi, (2005) 8 SCC 21, this Court held as under: "18. It is well settled that the matters to be considered in an application for bail are (i) whether there is any prima facie or reasonable ground to believe that the accused had committed the offence; (ii) nature and gravity of the charge; (iii) severity of the punishment in the event of conviction; (iv) danger of the accused absconding or fleeing, if released on bail; (v) character, behaviour, means, position and standing of the accused; (vi) likelihood of the offence being repeated; (vii) reasonable apprehension of the witnesses being tampered with; and (viii) danger, of course, of justice being thwarted by grant of bail [see Prahlad Singh Bhati v. NCT, Delhi and Gurcharan Singh v. State (Delhi Admn.)]. While a vague allegation that the accused may tamper with the evidence or witnesses may not be a ground to refuse bail, if the accused is of such character that his mere presence at large would intimidate the witnesses or if there is material to show that he will use his liberty to subvert justice or tamper with the evidence, then bail will be refused. We may also refer to the following principles relating to grant or refusal of bail Kalyan Chandra Sarkar v. Rajesh Ranjan: (SCC pp. 535-36, para 11) The law in regard to grant or refusal of bail is very well settled. The court granting bail should exercise its discretion in a judicious manner and not as a matter of course. Though at the stage of granting bail a detailed examination of evidence and elaborate documentation of the merit of the case need not be undertaken, there is a need to indicate in such orders reasons for prima facie concluding why bail was being granted particularly where the accused is charged of having committed a serious offence. Any order devoid of such reasons would suffer from non-application of mind. It is also necessary for the court granting bail to consider among other circumstances, the following factors also before granting bail; they are:
(a) The nature of accusation and the severity of punishment in case of conviction and the nature of supporting evidence.
(b) Reasonable apprehension of tampering with the witness or apprehension of threat to the complainant.
While a detailed examination of the evidence is to be avoided while considering the question of bail, to ensure that there is no prejudging and no prejudice, a brief examination to be satisfied about the existence or otherwise of a prima facie case is necessary) Coming back to the facts of the present case, both the Courts have refused the request for grant of bail on two grounds :- The primary ground is that offence alleged against the accused persons is very serious involving deep rooted planning in which, huge financial loss is caused to the State exchequer ; the secondary ground is that the possibility of the accused persons tempering with the witnesses. In the present case, the charge is that of cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property, forgery for the purpose of cheating using as genuine a forged document. The punishment of the offence is punishment for a term which may extend to seven years. It is, no doubt, true that the nature of the charge may be relevant, but at the same time, the punishment to which the party may be liable, if convicted, also bears upon the issue. Therefore, in determining whether to grant bail, both the seriousness of the charge and the severity of the punishment should be taken into consideration. The grant or refusal to grant bail lies within the discretion of the Court. The grant or denial is regulated, to a large extent, by the facts and circumstances of each particular case. But at the same time, right to bail is not to be denied merely because of the sentiments of the community against the accused.
The primary purposes of bail in a criminal case are to relieve the accused of imprisonment, to relieve the State of the burden of keeping him, pending the trial, and at the same time, to keep the accused constructively in the custody of the Court, whether before or after conviction, to assure that he will submit to the jurisdiction of the Court and be in attendance thereon whenever his presence is required. This Court in Gurcharan Singh and Ors. Vs. State AIR 1978 SC 179 observed that two paramount considerations, while considering petition for grant of bail in non-bailable offence, apart from the seriousness of the offence, are the likelihood of the accused fleeing from justice and his tampering with the prosecution witnesses. Both of them relate to ensure of the fair trial of the case. Though, this aspect is dealt by the High Court in its impugned order, in our view, the same is not convincing.
When the undertrial prisoners are detained in jail custody to an indefinite period, Article 21 of the Constitution is violated. Every person, detained or arrested, is entitled to speedy trial, the question is : whether the same is possible in the present case. There are seventeen accused persons. Statement of the witnesses runs to several hundred pages and the documents on which reliance is placed by the prosecution, is voluminous. The trial may take considerable time and it looks to us that the appellants, who are in jail, have to remain in jail longer than the period of detention, had they been convicted. It is not in the interest of justice that accused should be in jail for an indefinite period. No doubt, the offence alleged against the appellants is a serious one in terms of alleged huge loss to the State exchequer, that, by itself, should not deter us from enlarging the appellants on bail when there is no serious contention of the respondent that the accused, if released on bail, would interfere with the trial or tamper with evidence. We do not see any good reason to detain the accused in custody, that too, after the completion of the investigation and filing of the charge-sheet. This Court, in the case of State of Kerala Vs. Raneef (2011) 1 SCC 784, has stated: In deciding bail applications an important factor which should certainly be taken into consideration by the court is the delay in concluding the trial. Often this takes several years, and if the accused is denied bail but is ultimately acquitted, who will restore so many years of his life spent in custody? Is Article 21 of the Constitution, which is the most basic of all the fundamental rights in our Constitution, not violated in such a case? Of course this is not the only factor, but it is certainly one of the important factors in deciding whether to grant bail. In the present case the respondent has already spent 66 days in custody (as stated in Para 2 of his counter-affidavit), and we see no reason why he should be denied bail. A doctor incarcerated for a long period may end up like Dr. Manette in Charles Dicken’s novel A Tale of Two Cities, who forgot his profession and even his name in the Bastille
In `Bihar Fodder Scam’, this Court, taking into consideration the seriousness of the charges alleged and the maximum sentence of imprisonment that could be imposed including the fact that the appellants were in jail for a period more than six months as on the date of passing of the order, was of the view that the further detention of the appellants as pre-trial prisoners would not serve any purpose.
The Anna Hazare-led civil society movement cannot be faulted for having come up with its version of the Lokpal Bill, because otherwise it would have been accused of campaigning for something essentially negative – the withdrawal of the flawed government version without putting forward an alternative. Frustration with everyday corruption – as well as the spectacular kind that explodes in the public sphere ever so often ( Commonwealth Games, 2G, Adarsh, illegal mining in Bellary district etc) – explains the widespread popular support received by the anti-corruption movement.
The depth of this support, coming from every corner of the country, should tell the government something. While the value of the movement lies in having highlighted the critically important issue of corruption – which has not been dealt with seriously by successive governments – the Jan Lokpal Bill put forward by Team Anna too is flawed in some of its specifics.
If the government Bill is minimalist, setting up a toothless ombudsman with limited powers, the Jan Lokpal is too overarching in its design and could topple under its own weight. It is somewhat contradictory in its approach, in that it envisions a superior layer of bureaucracy to fix bureaucratic corruption. If the government version of the Lokpal Bill can be likened to a cop with a lathi confronting an AK-47 wielding terrorist, the Jan Lokpal could be the equivalent of the trigger-happy supercop mowing down innocent citizens in his rage to establish order.
A third version of the Lokpal Bill, formulated by Aruna Roy and the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI), is superior to both the government version and the Jan Lokpal Bill. We are in sympathy with its broad philosophy, which is to have a series of interlocking bodies which will act as a check on each other rather than a centralised, overarching Lokpal which supervises everything. The way to check corruption is through an architecture of mutually supportive legislation, rather than through a single Bill which is required to deliver a magic bullet. This vision is best embodied in the NCPRI design.
The biggest flaw in the government version is that it excludes many categories of public servants from its ambit – anyone below grade A in the central government, state-level civil servants, the judiciary, the PM while he is in office. Moreover the dice is loaded in favour of the accused, which would make it extremely difficult to bring powerful people to justice and therefore defeat the purpose of the Bill.
For example, while there is no provision to protect whistleblowers, the Bill provides for all incriminating evidence to be made available to the accused even before the registration of an FIR. Moreover, the tough punishment provided for the subjectively determined ‘frivolous’ or ‘vexatious’ complaint (two to five years imprisonment) would deter most victims of corruption from lodging a complaint.
The Jan Lokpal Bill corrects for flaws in the government version by including everybody under the ambit of the Lokpal. Besides corruption cases, the Lokpal is asked to look into grievance redressal as well. This leaves it with the unenviable task of policing some four million employees of the central government alone, among many other categories.
Like our present court system, the Jan Lokpal could simply get buried under a backlog of cases. Moreover, too much power would be concentrated in the Jan Lokpal. Complaints against it may be lodged in the courts. But since the judiciary itself will be under the Jan Lokpal, that would have a chilling effect on any judgments against it.
For anti-corruption laws to work, the remit of anti-corruption bodies must be specific and focussed. To have a manageable task on its hands, the Lokpal should focus on corruption cases involving MPs, ministers and senior officers in the central government. If corrupt officers at grade A level are punished, the message is bound to percolate downwards. Besides, there can be other agencies to check corruption at other levels (more about this soon).
For the same reasons the Lokpal should confine itself to cases where public servants are involved, and not stray into cases of NGO or corporate fraud. The government Lokpal envisages harsh penalties for NGOs, the Jan Lokpal and NCPRI versions do the same for corporates. But the job of public servants is to regulate the working of civil society institutions. If public servants were honest and only some corporates and NGOs were corrupt, we wouldn’t have so much of a problem as the government can throw the book at the latter using a whole gamut of legal instruments: the Companies Act, the Prevention of Corruption Act, IPC provisions which deal with bribery and corruption, income tax laws, the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act and so on.
The real problem arises when the regulators themselves, ie public servants, are corrupt. Anti-corruption laws will work if we keep the architecture simple, without diversionary red herrings – the government polices civil society, Lokpal polices the government.
Who polices the Lokpal? It could be the Supreme Court, which would entail keeping the higher judiciary outside the purview of the Lokpal. The NCPRI suggests strengthening the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill as a check on judicial corruption. But a superior solution is to have a National Judicial Commission (NJC), which would look at judicial appointments as well.
If the quality of judges in the Supreme Court and high courts could be regulated at entry, that would be a more holistic way of dealing with corruption. To widen the scope of discussion on judicial practices, the NJC should incorporate a balanced mix of non-judicial members as well (the relevant authority in the current Judicial Bill can induct only judges and members of the legal profession). It may require a constitutional amendment to set up the NJC, but the government could commit to bring in such an amendment within a year.
As for dealing with corruption at other tiers of public service, the NCPRI makes sound suggestions. A strengthened Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) can look at corruption among civil servants below grade A level. State Lokayuktas should be appointed to rein in corruption at the state level.
While a serving prime minister should be under the aegis of the Lokpal, strong safeguards are needed to ensure he is not unduly harassed in conducting the work of government. A full bench of the Supreme Court should be convinced there is a prima facie case and clear the investigation, vicarious liability (due to misconduct of other ministers) shouldn’t be considered, national security matters should be kept outside the purview of the Lokpal.
There is need for a strong Bill to protect whistleblowers. Another one should set up a grie-vance redressal commission, to look into redress of grievances not amounting to corruption. Finally, it’s important to remember that corruption cannot be controlled through punitive steps alone. Side by side, we need to reform the system to reduce incentives for corruption. For that we need to look carefully at policies and processes through which scarce resources such as land, spectrum and minerals are allocated. We also need to look at how elections are funded. High stamp duties, for example, incentivise the undervaluing of property and therefore the setting up of a black economy. Heavily distorted land markets make the rise of a land mafia inevitable. Rs 40 lakh as the legally designated upper limit for electoral spending by a Lok Sabha candidate is ridiculously low and impractical, inviting evasion by successful candidates.
Perhaps, instead of a mechanical cap on spending we need to put in place a full disclosure requirement, whereby every candidate is obliged to place on record all campaign contributions received beyond a prescribed minimum level. For insights into how reforming the system (as opposed to punitive measures alone) could reduce incentives for corruption, watch this space tomorrow for an article on the subject by Arvind Panagariya.
Tackling graft: The many drafts
Whom should the Lokpal cover?
GoI Lokpal draft: Includes NGOs in the Lokpal’s ambit
Jan Lokpal draft : Includes corporates in its purview
NCPRI draft: Includes corporates within its radar
Times View: The Lokpal must focus on graft in government. Existing laws should be strongly applied to corrupt practices in civil society but the Lokpal must focus on corruption within government.
The higher judiciary
GoI Lokpal draft: Excludes the higher judiciary from the Lokpal’s purview
Jan Lokpal draft: Includes the higher judiciary within the Lokpal’s purview
NCPRI draft: Excludes the higher judiciary from the Lokpal’s ambit – it instead proposes a stronger Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill for tackling issues of corruption in the judiciary
Times View: The judiciary must be free to survey the Lokpal itself. The judiciary can be managed via a National Judicial Commission – that’s better than just a Judicial Accountability Bill as it surveys graft and legal appointments and is open to non-legal members too
Covering the PM
GoI Lokpal draft: The PM is under the Lokpal’s purview – but only after leaving office
Jan Lokpal draft: The PM is fully included while in office
NCPRI draft: The PM is included during office – with proper safeguards
Times View: The PM should be included – with due checks. The NCPRI draft provides good safeguards (due process, no vicarious liability and confidentiality on matters of national interest)
GoI Lokpal draft: Only includes Group A officers under the Lokpal’s purview
Jan Lokpal draft: Includes all government servants
NCPRI draft: Envisions all government officers outside Group A to be surveyed by a stronger CVC’s office
Times View: The Lokpal must focus on corruption in high places. Putting all government officials under it is over-burdening it. A stronger CVC and state-level Lokayuktas should oversee all officers outside senior level
Public grievance redressal
GoI Lokpal draft: Makes no provisions for public grievances or their redressal
Jan Lokpal draft: Includes public grievances and redressal at all levels under the Lokpal
NCPRI draft: Envisions a separate commission specifically to hear public grievances and manage redressal
Times View: The Lokpal is a unique institution designed to weed out corruption in government. As the NCPRI draft suggests, public grievances over a range of issues should be routed to another body that can make enquiries at diverse levels and make effective, hard-hitting changes where needed
All that the government’s Lokpal bill would do is to create an illusion that it has acceded to the public demand for an independent anti-corruption agency.
The Union Cabinet announced on July 28 that in order to honour the commitment it had given to Anna Hazare and the nation at large, it would table a Lokpal bill during the monsoon session of Parliament beginning on August 1. Though the exact contents of the bill as approved by the Cabinet is not known, its basic features as announced by various Ministers show that such a Lokpal as envisaged in the government’s bill will not be able to tackle any significant case of corruption and will in fact be a cruel joke on the nation.
Looking at the major scams that have erupted in recent times, we find that the government’s Lokpal, apart from being sarkari in the sense that it will be selected by a committee dominated by people from the government, would not be able to investigate them. Thus, it would not be able to investigate the Commonwealth Games scam, the Bellary mining scam or the Adarsh Society scam, since it would have no jurisdiction over State government officials. Similarly, it would not be able to investigate the Public Distribution System scam or the scams in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, because it would have no jurisdiction over officials below Group A. For the same reason it would not be able to take up any of the corruption cases that plague the common people. It would not even be able to investigate the cash-for-votes scam, since that involves the acts of MPs in Parliament. It would also not be able to properly investigate the 2G spectrum scam, since it cannot call for papers from the Prime Minister’s Office, which are relevant for a proper investigation.
Quite apart from the severely restricted nature of the sarkari Lokpal’s mandate, the distinction drawn by the government’s bill between the level of the officers to be investigated (with lower-level officials to be investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that is under the government, and higher-level officials by the Lokpal) would create enormous confusion about jurisdiction. Since one often does not know in advance the level of the officers who may be involved in a scam, and usually officials of all levels are involved, one would not know whether to lodge the complaint with the government’s CBI or the sarkari Lokpal. If the CBI started an investigation into the Public Distribution System scam on the basis of the assumption that it involved junior officials, and then found that the money trail goes right up to the top, would the investigation then be transferred to the Lokpal? That would lead to duplication of investigation, apart from the very real possibility of the CBI having already ruined the investigation. That is why different investigative agencies are not designated to investigate offences depending on the identity of the culprits. Thus, normally there is one agency to investigate offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act irrespective of the status of the person involved. There may be a different agency to investigate separate offences under other laws, such as the Enforcement Directorate for offences under the Foreign Exchange Management Act, or the Income Tax Department for offences coming under the Income Tax Act. And will we allow corruption by junior officials to be dealt with by the same agencies that are today sleeping over it?
On UNCAC lines
The Jan Lokpal bill had been framed on the lines suggested by the U.N. Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), which requires all countries to establish independent anti-corruption agencies which would have the jurisdiction to investigate all public officials. The civil society group has therefore tried to set up a comprehensive, independent, empowered but fully accountable Jan Lokpal which would have an adequate investigative machinery under its control (the anti-corruption wing of the CBI to begin with, which would be brought under the administrative and supervisory control of the Jan Lokpal) and would be able to investigate all Central public servants for corruption. The Jan Lokpal bill also provided for Lokayuktas in the States that would be similarly empowered to investigate State public servants. Moreover, the Jan Lokpal would be selected by a broad-based selection committee that would be largely independent of the government, to avoid the kind of farce that has been witnessed in the selection of the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC).
What we have in the government’s bill is an agency that would be essentially selected by the government (five of the nine members of the selection committee would be government nominees), would have jurisdiction over less than half a per cent of the public servants, and would be additionally crippled by the fact of not being able to investigate the Prime Minister, judges or MPs for corruption connected with their acts in Parliament. They say that nine members of the Lokpal cannot handle complaints against 40 lakh Central public servants. But that would be done by the investigating machinery supervised by the Lokpal. It has been estimated that on a ratio of one Lokpal official for every 200 public servants, the Lokpal would have a total of about 20,000 officials working under it. That is a medium-sized department. The Delhi Police alone has 80,000 officials.
On the Prime Minister, judiciary
Some of the provisions of the government’s proposal, such as granting immunity from investigation to the Prime Minister, show illiteracy about the basic features of the Constitution. In 1975, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court unanimously struck down the Constitution (39th Amendment) Act that sought to put the election of the Prime Minister above challenge, on the ground that such a provision would violate the basic structure of the Constitution. A provision to grant immunity from investigation and prosecution to the Prime Minister would similarly fall foul of several basic features of the Constitution. In no civilised country is the head of the government immune from corruption investigation. Even in India he or she has not been immune. The CBI can, and occasionally under court directions has, investigated the Prime Minister (as in the case involving some leaders of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha). The problem is that the CBI is under the Prime Minister himself and therefore cannot conduct a credible investigation of the Prime Minister. That was the entire rationale for an independent Lokpal — to free the agency investigating corruption from the administrative control of the very people that it may seek to investigate. This is precisely what the UNCAC requires.
Similarly, the rationale for the government’s proposal to remove the judiciary from the Lokpal’s ambit suffers also from conceptual confusion. They say that bringing the judiciary within the investigative ambit of the Lokpal would compromise the independence of the judiciary. The judiciary needs to be independent of the government. Normally the police or the CBI can investigate judges for corruption. However, the Supreme Court in Veeraswami’s case directed that since the police are under the government, which can be used by the government to harass judges by way of investigation, the prior written permission of the Chief Justice of India would be required for such investigation. This, despite the fact there had been no instance of any judge being harassed in such a manner, since the judiciary can always use its power of judicial review to quash any mala fide investigation.
However, if the investigation of judges would be done by a Lokpal that would be independent of the government (with the further safeguard in the Jan Lokpal bill that a bench of seven members of the Lokpal would grant permission for investigation or prosecution of judges), the whole rationale for the permission of the Chief Justice disappears. We have seen that in the past such permissions have often been denied even in deserving cases for reasons of conflict of interest. Yet the government’s bill seeks to exempt judicial corruption from being investigated by an independent Lokpal, and seeks to retain the present system of investigation by a government-controlled agency after obtaining permission from the Chief Justice of India.
India is today plagued by corruption of such enormous breadth and depth and running across all public authorities that it is now at serious risk of becoming a banana republic and a mafia state. It was in recognition of this alarming reality, demanding a comprehensive, independent, empowered though accountable anti-corruption authority, that Anna Hazare went on an indefinite fast on April 5, 2011.
After seeing the extent of public support for this demand, the government agreed to a joint drafting committee for the Lokpal bill. Refusing to meet most of the demands of the civil society group in the Jan Lokpal bill, the government has now come out with its bill, which will not succeed in tackling even one per cent of India’s corruption.
All that the bill will do is to create an illusion that the government has acceded to the public demand for an independent anti-corruption agency. But the government will have to pay a heavy price for again having underestimated the ability of the people to see through such a charade. The long suffering people have had enough. Come August 16, they will get a glimpse of public anger.
(Prashant Bhushan is a Senior Advocate and member of the civil society team that drafted the Jan Lokpal Bill.)
When the basic structure of the Constitution denies the Prime Minister immunity from prosecution, how could it be argued that the office should not be brought under the scrutiny of the Lokpal?
The Indian citizenry is up in arms against corruption at the highest levels of government. Anna Hazare‘s movement has caught the people’s imagination. The former President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, has pitched in and called upon the youth to start a mass movement against corruption under the banner “What can I give?” (The Hindu, June 27, 2011).
According to a CRISIL report (The Hindu, June 29, 2011), inflation has caused the Indian public to be squeezed to the extent of Rs. 2.3 lakh crores. According to the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), the estimate of loss to the exchequer owing to the 2G spectrum scam is Rs. 1.22 lakh crores. That corruption is a disease consuming the body politic is a fear expressed by dignitaries in India over many years. As far back as 1979, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer observed in a judgment in his inimitable style: “Fearless investigation is a ‘sine qua non’ of exposure of delinquent ‘greats’ and if the investigative agencies tremble to probe or make public the felonies of high office, white-collar offenders in the peaks may be unruffled by the law. An independent investigative agency to be set in motion by any responsible citizen is a desideratum.”
Mark the words: fearless investigation by an independent investigative agency against delinquent ‘greats’. A good Lokpal bill has to be nothing less.
It is in this context that this article addresses the issue of whether the Prime Minister should be brought under the ambit of an Ombudsman (Lokpal) and be subject to its scrutiny. It is important to observe that in most of the Lokpal bills, including the 2010 government draft (except the 1985 version), the Prime Minister is within the ambit of the Lokpal.
Under the Indian Constitution there is no provision to give immunity to the Prime Minister, Chief Ministers or Ministers. Under Article 361, immunity from criminal proceedings is conferred on the President and the Governor (formerly the Rajpramukh) only “during his term of office.”
So what is the principle behind such immunity being given? The line is clearly drawn. Constitutional heads who do not directly exercise executive powers are given immunity as heads of state. Active politicians such as Ministers, who cannot remain aloof from the hurly-burly of electoral and party politics, ethical or unethical, honest or corrupt, are not given any immunity. They are subject to penal laws and criminal liability.
The basic structure of the Constitution clearly denies immunity to the Prime Minister.
During the period of the Internal Emergency (1975-77), Indira Gandhi enjoyed dictatorial powers. She detained without trial prominent Opposition leaders and was supported by a captive and rump Parliament.
The Constitution (Fortieth Amendment) Bill was moved in, and passed by, the Rajya Sabha in August 1975 and later it was to go before the Lok Sabha. The Bill was blacked out from the media and hence very few people knew about it. It never became law because it was not moved in the Lok Sabha.
The Bill sought to amend Article 361 by substituting sub-clause (2) thus: “(2) No criminal proceedings whatsoever, against or concerning a person who is or has been the President or the Prime Minister or the Governor of a State, shall lie in any court, or shall be instituted or continued in any court in respect of any act done by him, whether before he entered upon his office or during his term of office as President or Prime Minister or Governor of a State, as the case may be, and no process whatsoever including process for arrest or imprisonment shall issue from any court against such person in respect of any such act.”
The attempt to give life-time immunity from criminal proceedings for acts done during and even prior to assuming office, of the President, the Governor and additionally the Prime Minister, did not materialise.
In Japan, Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka (July 1972 to December 1974) was found guilty of bribery and sentenced. In Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was indicted in corruption scandals in August 2009. In Italy, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi enacted, through a pliant legislature, a law by which he shielded himself from prosecution. The Italian Constitutional Court recently invalidated crucial parts of that law, which may result in his trial being revived.
The following are some of the main arguments against bringing the Prime Minister under the Lokpal’s scrutiny. The first one runs thus: “The simple answer is, if the Prime Minister is covered under ordinary law (the Prevention of Corruption Act), you don’t need him covered under Lokpal.” This is a view that has been attributed to the former Chief Justice of India, J.S. Verma (Hindustan Times, June 27, 2011). Any misconduct by a Prime Minister can be investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation: this view is that of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa (The Hindu, June 28, 2011). This objection concedes the principle that the Prime Minister is not immune from criminal liability and can be investigated, but argues and assumes that the Prevention of Corruption Act and the CBI present effective existing alternative procedures. Nothing could be farther from the truth and the ground realities.
What is the ground reality? First, the CBI, the premier anti-corruption investigative agency, is under the Department of Personnel and Training, which is controlled by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). Secondly, the career prospects of CBI officers and other personnel are dependent on the political executive, and all officers are subject to transfer except the Director. Thus, the investigative arm is controlled by the ‘political suspects’ themselves. Thirdly, the Single Directive, a secret administrative directive that was invalidated by the Supreme Court in the Jain hawala case in 1997 (Vineet Narain v. Union of India) has been legislatively revived. Consequently, under Section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, the CBI is disabled from starting an inquiry or investigation against Joint Secretary or higher level bureaucrats without the Central government’s prior approval. Therefore, the Prevention of Corruption Act is a non-starter against Ministers and high-level bureaucrats who may act in concert. It is imperative that the CBI’s anti-corruption wing be brought under the Lokpal and not under the PMO. This alone would meet the test of an independent and fearless investigative agency as enunciated by Justice Krishna Iyer.
Secondly, it is argued that if the Prime Minister is within its ambit, the Lokpal could be used by foreign powers to destabilise the government. Today, the checks on the executive government are the higher judiciary, which has actively intervened in the 2G spectrum scam and other scams; the CAG, whose reports against the functioning of the telecommunications sector triggered investigations into scams; the Election Commission headed by the Chief Election Commissioner, which conducted elections in West Bengal in the most efficient and orderly fashion. All these authorities could be undermined by a foreign power. Why should the Lokpal alone be the target of a foreign power? Why not the intelligence and defence services? Why not leaks from Cabinet Ministers and their offices — bugged or not?
Thirdly, it is argued that bringing the Prime Minister under the Lokpal’s scrutiny would mean a parallel government being put in place. This objection is disingenuous. Do the Supreme Court and the higher judiciary constitute a parallel government? Is the CAG a parallel government? Is the CEC a parallel government? Is the CBI a parallel government? The answer is clear. These constitute checks and restraints on the political executive and the administration so that public funds are not misappropriated and constitutional democracy and citizen rights are not subverted. The Lokpal will be under the Constitution and subject to judicial review, and it is imperative that the anti-corruption wing of the CBI be brought under the Lokpal. There is no question of any parallel government. The Lokpal will be only a check on the corrupt activities of the Executive. If all checks and balances are to be regarded as the marks of a parallel government and therefore abolished, it will be a recipe for dictatorship.
William Shakespeare wrote: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.” There is a tide in the affairs of this country and there is a great opportunity to promote good governance through a powerful and independent Ombudsman. India’s economic reforms, for which the Prime Minister deserves approbation, should not be derailed at the altar of scams and corruption. Will his leadership ride on the tide of fortune and take the country forward to greater heights?
(Anil Divan is a Senior Advocate, and president of the Bar Association of India. E-mail: email@example.com)
Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, former Judge of the Supreme Court, writes in the context of the article by Anil Divan headlined ‘Lokpal bill and the Prime Minister,’ published on July 1:
Lord Acton, the great British jurist, rightly said: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The Prime Minister is the custodian of the considerable state power. He has to be under public scrutiny.
Therefore I have clearly expressed the view that if power is to be subject to public investigation and scrutiny, he has to be within the ambit of the Lokpal Bill and cannot be exempted from it. Likewise, our judiciary is the watchdog of the Executive. People look up to the judges to ensure that the Executive does not misbehave. The judiciary must be accessible to every citizen who has a grievance against the robed brethren. When Parliament resorts to misconduct and violates the Constitution, people appeal to the judges for a remedy. In this view, the judges are sublime and must have control over the Executive and the parliamentary process. Both these instruments are under the Lokpal’s proposed jurisdiction. There is no case of exemption of these authorities. I am sorry that some high Chief Justices have expressed a different view. I disagree. The greatest menace before India today is that the judiciary itself is corrupt and no action is being taken. There must be a militant, active nationwide movement against corruption. A powerful instrument must be set up for this if the confidence of the people is to be preserved.
The judiciary and the Prime Minister shall be under the Lokpal. The Lokpal itself must be of the highest order and should be plural in number. The Prime Minister and the judiciary shall be like Caesar’s wife: above suspicion.
Law Minister Veerappa Moily appears to be keen on judicial reforms. He has taken several initiatives, the latest being the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010, introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 1 amidst din and noise. The Bill seeks to provide for a mechanism to deal with complaints of the public against judges, give legal shape to the Reinstatement of Values of Judicial Life adopted by the Supreme Court in 1997, make it obligatory for judges to declare their assets and liabilities after assuming office and whenever new assets are acquired, and to replace the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968, without affecting the right of the members of Parliament to initiate action for the removal of judges on the ground of misbehaviour or incapacity.
The Bill contemplates constitution of a “complaints scrutiny panel” in the Supreme Court and in every High Court to scrutinise the complaints and refer such of them as need to be enquired into by the Oversight Committee consisting of a retired Chief Justice of India (Chairman), a judge of the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice of a High Court, the Attorney-General and an eminent person nominated by the President (Members). The Oversight Committee would constitute an investigation committee to go into the complaints and thereafter hold an enquiry against the judge concerned, giving him a reasonable opportunity to defend himself. If the charges proved do not warrant removal of the judge, the Oversight Committee may issue advisories or warnings. If it notices commission of any offence by a judge, prima facie, it may recommend his or her prosecution. If the charges proved are serious, warranting removal of the judge, it would make a request to the judge to voluntarily resign, failing which it would advise the President to make a reference to Parliament for the removal of the judge under Article. 124(4).
Removal of a judge can take place only after an address by each House of Parliament supported by a majority of the total membership of that House and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of the House present and voting.
The Bill is a step in the right direction. It has some welcome features such as providing for a transparent mechanism for scrutiny and an inquiry into complaints against judges, requiring declaration of assets and liabilities by them and for the exhibition of information on the website of the court concerned, enumerating judicial standards which every judge shall practice, including not permitting any member of his family to appear before him or to use his residence or other facilities provided to him for professional work, etc.
The definition of “misbehaviour” to include not only corruption or lack of integrity but also failure to furnish the declaration of assets and liabilities is significant. The question is: are these provisions enough to ensure accountability. The real problem is not about investigation of or an inquiry into charges of judicial misbehaviour by an impartial committee, but the uncertainty of impeachment by Parliament as it happened in the case of Justice V. Ramaswami, Judge, Supreme Court. His misbehaviour was established in an open and transparent inquiry conducted by a committee with a sitting judge of the Supreme Court as Chairman and Chief Justice of a High Court and a retired judge of the Supreme Court as members. It was expected that Parliament would show due deference to the findings given by such a high-powered committee and give effect to them.
Somnath Chatterjee’s autobiography, “Keeping the Faith”, narrates how the then ruling party aborted the motion of impeachment. Even the judges of the Supreme Court were not unanimous on his continuing to discharge judicial duties while the inquiry was going on. Chief Justice Sabyasachi Mukherjee pronounced an order in open court stating that he would not assign work to Justice Ramaswami till he was cleared of the charges in the inquiry. Justice Ranganath Misra, his successor, constituted a committee of three judges to consider whether the judge could be allowed to function, notwithstanding the inquiry. The committee opined that there was no provision of law in terms of which he could be prevented from discharing his judicial duties. As a result, the judge was allowed to resume work.
Shortly thereafter, Justice K.N. Singh became the Chief Justice of India (CJI). As President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, I requested him not to assign work to the judge. He said that his tenure was very brief (about 18 days) and I should approach his successor. When I approached Chief Justice M.H. Kania, after consulting a few senior advocates, he passed an order stating that if any lawyer appearing in a case raised objections, Justice V. Ramaswami would not hear his case.
The Sub-Committee on Judicial Accountability and the Supreme Court Bar Association filed writ petitions in the Supreme Court, inter alia, praying for a direction that no work should be assigned to Justice V. Ramaswami. A Constitution Bench rejected the prayer, observing that it was for the CJI to decide whether to assign work to the judge or not. The Constitution did not contemplate any such interim direction being given during the inquiry into the alleged misbehaviour of a judge. The Bench hoped that the learned judge would be guided by the advice of the CJI as a matter of convention unless he himself decided as an act of propriety to abstain from discharging judicial functions during the inquiry.
It is possible to suspend a judge facing an inquiry into charges of misbehaviour invoking Section 16 of the General Clauses Act 1897, read with Section 21. The President of India can suspend a judge facing such an inquiry in consultation with the CJI and the collegium. So far, no judge facing an inquiry under the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968, has been placed under suspension. It is advisable to insert a provision in the Bill for the suspension of a judge and payment of some subsistence allowance during the period of suspension.
It is high time to consider whether the removal of judges should depend on the vote in Parliament. The perception of corruption by a large number of members of Parliament is likely to be different from the perception of the chairman and members of the inquiry committee or the Oversight Committee. The MPs who notice large-scale corruption right under their nose may or may not appreciate that the misbehaviour of a judge found by the committee warrants his removal. In the prevailing circumstances, is Parliament best suited to take a final view on judges’ misbehaviour? In any event, so long as impeachment is uncertain, it cannot be a deterrent.
Irremovability tends to encourage corruption, indiscipline and irresponsibility. It is not easy to proceed against a judge under the Prevention of Corruption Act either. In K. Veeraswamy’s case, the Supreme Court declared that no criminal case could be registered against a judge unless the CJI was consulted in the matter. This is in addition to the requirement of sanction for prosecution in Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
There have been instances where Chief Justices declined to allow prosecution of judges alleged to be corrupt. It is, therefore, necessary to find another way out to get rid of the black sheep and save the judiciary from corruption. It is desirable to make a provision in the Constitution for premature retirement of judges of doubtful integrity at any time without prescribing any minimum qualifying service on the recommendation of the collegium. The problem of judicial accountability will be minimal if proper persons are appointed. To have persons of ability and integrity, the post of a judge should be made attractive to leading and deserving members of the Bar. This will help in ensuring justice of high quality. The Bill is good, but inadequate to solve the problems of judicial accountability.
The writer is a senior advocate, Supreme Court of India.
Santosh Hegde: “I will continue the investigation.”
JUSTICE N. Santosh Hegde, a former Supreme Court judge, was appointed the Lokayukta (ombudsman) for Karnataka in 2006. In a report presented to the State’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in 2008, he exposed major irregularities in iron ore mining in Bellary district. Hegde feels if the Lokayukta institution is “given some extra powers like prosecuting without sanction through very special courts, then it can deal with cases of corruption in six months’ time”. Excerpts from the interview he gave Frontline:
Has corruption increased?
Certainly. It has increased very much. Not only the number of corrupt people but also in the quantum demanded has gone up.
What do you attribute this rise in corruption to?
I feel it is the greed of the people who are involved in these practices. Today, hundreds of crores of rupees has no value. Take, for example, the siphoning off of money in the conduct of the Commonwealth Games. It is about Rs.70,000 crore. Take the 2G spectrum scam, the figure cited is Rs.1,76,000 crore. The amount involved in the Bofors scam was only Rs.63 crore. When we compare these figures and look at the few years in which corruption has grown, I feel not only the opportunity but also the demand for corruption has risen. Obviously, the people who bribe also have the capacity to give that much money. Consequently, they will have to suck it out of somebody. And ultimately, the [adverse] effect is on the common man.
What is the relevance of the Lokayukta in such a situation?
Maybe without the Lokayukta the quantum [of corruption] might have been more because it would have been unhindered. Anti-corruption bodies have been there for several decades but they have not been a deterrent. If the Lokayukta is given some extra powers, like the power to prosecute without sanction through very special courts (I’m placing an emphasis on ‘very’ because the special courts that we have now take seven to eight years to deal with cases), then it can deal with cases of corruption in six months’ time. The rate of corruption will come down immediately by about 35-40 per cent.
Have you sought such prosecuting powers?
I have not made any demand because if such powers are given, it should be through an all-India enactment. Changes should be made to procedural law.
After you withdrew your resignation earlier this year, some of your powers were enhanced.
Half of one. I had asked for many.
What were your demands?
I wanted power suo motu to inquire, without any complaint, against higher officers and politicians. They [the Karnataka government] gave me the power only to act against the higher officers but not against politicians. Some of my other demands, such as doing away with sanctions, were also not met.
Then why did you withdraw your resignation?
I was promised that my powers would be extended. The Chief Minister, in the presence of BJP president Nitin Gadkari and Law Minister Suresh Kumar, promised to meet my demands.
Do you feel cheated in some way?
I feel let down. I will not use the word cheated. Some people asked me why I didn’t resign again. I said it would look juvenile and people would lose faith in the kind of work I do.
When you resigned, there was a lot of public support for you. You are perceived to be the people’s guardian. What do you have to say about this role? Are you living up to people’s expectations?
I think I am going by the number of invitations I get to address students in schools and colleges and employees of information technology firms. I have addressed students of 187 schools and colleges on building a value-based society and on the true meaning of satisfaction and contentment. I receive invitations from almost all the Central government institutions during their annual Vigilance Week.
So, although your powers are curtailed your role is recognised by society.
Yes, I think I agree with that statement even if it sounds like self-praise. There is also the poorer class which admires my work and that is not because of our anti-corruption work. The object of this institution is to ensure good governance. Wherever people face bad governance or are denied justice, they come to us.
Moving on to a sore point, you were hurt by the actions of the government with regard to the illegal mining issue. Even after the publication of your report no action was taken against the illegal miners who operate freely within the government. In a way, they have openly challenged you. How do you feel about it?
It does not make me feel happy but I will not be cowed down. I must continue my fight. If I cannot reach them [the illegal mining barons], let me at least help those who are in trouble because of other issues. However, I am quite confident that we will reach them. I have got an inquiry going on. The last part of the report will be completed much before my retirement, and I’m sure we will be able to catch some big fish.
What are the salient points of the affidavit filed by the Janata Dal (Secular) with the Lokayukta on November 18?
It says the Chief Minister [B.S. Yeddyurappa] does not have the authority to denotify the lands and that he has not followed the rules. It also says the denotification was not done in good faith but with a corrupt intention, to help his kith and kin. That is their main concern. I have read the complaint and we have taken cognisance of the complaint. The judicial officer scrutinised the complaint on November 20 and I signed [approved] it today [November 23].
Now that the Chief Minister has ordered a judicial probe, can the Lokayukta still continue the investigation?
According to me, yes, because any pending matter, if it has to be transferred from one investigative agency to another under the Lokayukta Act, will need the prior concurrence of the Lokayukta.
And this has not been taken?
No, I was not taken into confidence. No one discussed this issue with me. I came to know through the media.
So you will continue with your investigation.
Yes, my investigation is going on – the legal aspect of it. Prima facie I don’t think they [the Chief Minister’s family] could have done that. But I will continue the investigation.
What is the status of the investigation into the alleged involvement of Minister Katta Subramanya Naidu in a land scam?
That case is almost ready and they [the accused] will be charge-sheeted in a week or 10 days. The charge sheet was ready for filing a few days ago but we discovered some relevant evidence connected with the investigation. We will file a comprehensive charge sheet as far as this part is concerned.
So there is clear evidence to demonstrate his culpability?
As an investigative agency, my police are clear that there was wrongdoing. Not only rules under the Prevention of Corruption Act were flouted but also offences under the Indian Penal Code, such as forgery, threat and bodily harm, were committed.
At this stage can you comment on the allegations against the Chief Minister?
No, no. I have not seen the orders of the denotification. These need to be studied in detail before I can comment.
Do you think the Central government is doing enough to check corruption?
No, I do not think so. We have had a Prevention of Corruption Act since 1947. A special law is enacted only when a particular crime cannot be handled by a regular law. Obviously, corruption was recognised as a crime serious enough to merit a special law. But what happened in December 2008 when the government tried to denude this law of some of its important sections that were helpful to the investigating agencies? Corruption has become an all-India phenomenon and is all-pervasive. I am reminded of a judgment of the Allahabad High Court by Justice A.N. Mulla, who said, “In a basket full of stinking fish, I can’t pick one and say this one stinks when the whole lot stinks.”