In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court has said that courts set up under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) cannot start prosecution without the go-ahead of a senior police officer.
The ruling makes the MCOCA courts completely dependent on a nod by police to prosecute not only erring police officers but even mobsters involved in crimes like extortion, gun-running, money-laundering, terrorism and insurgency.
In its ruling delivered May 6 but released afterwards, a bench of Justice Altmas Kabir and Justice Cyriac Joseph approved the restrictions imposed on special MCOCA courts while dealing with complaints about organised crime.
The bench noted that the complaint, made by a private party or police, needs to be duly sanctioned by a high ranking police official of the rank of additional director general of police. The court said it is a fair safeguard to prevent misuse of the stringent provisions of the act.
Under MCOCA the confessions made by an accused while in police custody can be used as evidence in the court, which is not applicable in criminal cases under other laws. The accused also cannot apply for bail for six months, as against the 90 days in other cases.
The apex court bench gave the ruling on a bunch of lawsuits challenging a MCOCA court order seeking prosecution of some officials of Mumbai Police's Anti-Corruption Bureau and some private individuals for their alleged involvement in organised crime.
The order was issued on a complaint by suspended police sub-inspector Nitindra Singh, one of whose associates was caught red-handed accepting a bribe of Rs.300,000 from some people in a trap laid by the Anti-Corruption Bureau.
The bench concluded that the police officials cannot be tried for their alleged crime unless the state's additional director general of police grants sanction to their prosecution under MCOCA.
The bench, in its 42-page ruling, emphasised the fine line of distinction between the powers of trial courts, set up under the normal penal laws like the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), and the ones under special laws like MCOCA.
It pointed out that trial courts can take cognisance of a serious crime on its own or on a complaint by a private individual and order police to probe it.
But a court set up under MCOCA, cannot take cognisance of a complaint unless sanctioned by a high-ranking official as stipulated under section 23(1) of the MCOCA, the bench ruled.
"In view of the stringent provisions of MCOCA, the legislature included certain safeguards for invoking the provisions thereof. The same is manifest from the provisions of Section 23 as a whole," it ruled.
Under normal circumstances, though the courts need special sanction of the appointing authorities to prosecute erring government officials, they do not need police approval.
But with this ruling, the MCOCA courts cannot move an inch without police nod.