By Shatakshi Vats ~ Amity Law School, Noida
Citation: 2018 SCC Online SC 310
Corruption has been plaguing the administration of affairs and policies in the nation for a long time. It is a known fact that corruption cases and charges of malpractices against corrupt officers take a long time to be proved before the court. The trial is extensive, tedious, and often takes decades to be adjudicated. The case in focus, was essential as it addressed some pertinent procedural questions of law, involving The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (hereinafter, CrPC).
An FIR was lodged by the Delhi Special Police Establishment under Section 120B, read with Sections 420, 467, 468, 471, 477A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (hereinafter, IPC) as well as Sections 13(2) read with Section 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act,1988 (hereinafter, Act, 1988). This FIR was filed at the instance of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (hereinafter, MCD) against the appellant in the case and some officers of the MCD.
The MCD alleged that it suffered from wrongful loss at the hands of the Appellant and others who produced fake invoices of oil companies concerning the transportation of Bitumen in the dense carpeting works of roads in Delhi.
After investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (hereinafter, CBI) in the matter, a charge sheet was filed before a Special Judge, CBI. The Appellant, thereafter, filed an application for discharge before the Special Judge. However, an order for framing charges was directed by the Special Judge after consideration of the materials and evidence produced. The order contemplated the existence of a prima facie case against the Appellant.
As a response to the order, the Appellant filed a Criminal Revision Petition (No. 321 of 2007) in the Delhi High Court, this petition was converted to a writ petition (Cri. No. 352 of 2010). The Single judge hearing the petition framed some questions of law that were forwarded to the Division Bench. The Division Bench reframed the issues for consideration that were finally determined by the Apex court.
There were some questions of law pertaining to procedural provisions, as under the Act, 1988 and the CrPC. the Hon’ble Single Judge observed that Section 482 of the CrPC, was not to be used when there is an express bar under the Act, 1988. Also, the order passed on charge by the Special Judge was an interlocutory order, therefore, the revision petition under Section 482, CrPC would not lie. The question encountered by the Judge was whether resort could be taken to the writ jurisdiction of the HC under Article 226 and Article 227 of the Indian Constitution, if the offenses were found in both the IPC and the Act, 1988.
The issues were reframed by the Division Bench, as follows:
- Whether the revisional power of the HC against the impugned interlocutory order, was barred by the provisions of Act, 1988?
- Can the language of Section 19 of the Act,1988 bar petitions under Section 482 of CrPC, for all purposes?
- Can the order for framing charges be assailed under the write jurisdiction of articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution?
The case was referred to a larger bench of the Apex court after adjudication by the lower benches, on the direction of the Chief justice of India. There were various criminal appeals, pending before the court due to the same questions of law. The adjudication upon them had become urgent for their disposal. The proceedings in the trial court have stayed in the present case.
The Hon’ble Court referred to several precedents that defined the meaning and nature of interlocutory orders and the non-obstante clause as in the Act,1988. One such judgment was the one delivered in Madhu Limaye v. State of Maharashtra, (hereinafter, Madhu Limaye judgment).The court relied on the natural meaning of ‘interlocutory orders’ in the judgment to conclude that inherent powers of the HC as envisaged in Articles 226 and 227 cannot lie in case of an express statutory bar to their application. This power was a rudiment of the basic structure of the doctrine; however, it could not be used in conflict with the legislative intent of Section 13(3)(c) of the Act, 1988. The court in Madhu Limaye judgment had expressed its desire that the legislature check the delay caused by the filing of revision petitions in matters of corruption by a remedial provision.
The Division Bench held in its judgment, the order for framing charges as an interlocutory order. The petitions under Section 482 CrPC and writ petitions under Articles 226 and 227 were held to be maintainable.
Answering the discrepancies that could arise in the impugned judgment of the Division Bench, the Apex court bench held after perusal of various precedents available on the matter that the writ jurisdiction of the HC was maintainable and available to the appellant. The jurisdiction of the HC could not be barred to the appellant by virtue of the label of the petition, as under Section 482 of CrPC. The order for framing charge was held to be neither an interlocutory nor a final one.
However, the court recommended the exercise of caution of the writ jurisdiction of the HC for expeditious disposal of cases, as made obvious by the legislative intent, the inherent power of the HC was one conferred by the Constitution and was part of the basic structure of the document. It had to be exercised with sparingly in rare circumstances that require the court’s action in the interests of justice. Where an order framing charges are adjudicated upon by the HC, it must be done rarely and the proceedings must not have stayed for more than 6 months unless a speaking order for pertinent reasons is passed. The legislative mandate is to dispose of cases under the Act, 1988 speedily since they have implications on the public and policies. The stay on such proceedings shall automatically lapse after 6 months.
In his concurring judgment, Hon’ble Judge RF Nariman, as he then was, compared corruption to “cancer” and how it was responsible for maladministration in the country. He referred to the Statement of Objects and Reasons in the Act,1988. The legislation intends to expand the meaning of corruption and malpractices to make the anti-corruption laws more effective. The law also envisages a speedy disposal of cases under the Act,1988. The judgment upheld that the inherent revisional power of the HC was one enshrined in the Constitution and not by any legislation. It could not be, even amended by the Parliament as it was part of the basic structure, as declared in L Chandra Kumar v. Union of India and Ors.. The judgment explained the utility of Section 482, CrPC as held in Madhu Limaye judgment and the principles laid down thereafter, concerning the application of the Section in light of Section 397(2). The inherent powers of the HC were to be sparingly exercised and resorted to, if there did not lay any specific provisions for the redressal. If Section 482, CrPC is expressly barred by legislation it cannot be used. The petitions under Articles 226 and 227 are a matter of right to the aggrieved person(s), hence could not be restricted on the side of the aggrieved, however exercise of the power had to be cautious and rare.