The Supreme Court on Monday issued notices to the Centre, states and union territories on a public interest petition challenging the constitutional validity of section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 that required prior sanction of "competent authority" to prosecute politicians and bureaucrats on corruption charges.
A vacation bench headed by Justice Arijit Pasayat asked them to respond to the petition by advocate Manzoor Ali Khan, who wanted the court to direct the Centre, states and union territories to pursue all criminal cases under the PC Act against MLAs, MPs and bureaucrats irrespective of the sanction requirement and complete the trial within a specified period.
Khan's counsel DK Garg pointed out that the corruption cases against former union ministers Captain Satish Sharma and Sheila Kaul could not proceed for want of sanction despite sufficient evidence being there. He submitted that the provision mandating prior sanction for prosecuting public servants should be dispensed with.
Garg also requested the court to direct the Uttar Pradesh government to furnish the details of Governor TV Rajeswar's decision declining sanction to prosecute Chief Minister Mayawati and some others in the Taj Corridor case but the court did not oblige him.
In his petition, Khan said the rationale behind Section 19 was to prevent malicious prosecution of public servants, but it was being misused by vested interests to obtain immunity from prosecution for their "corrupt" actions.
He contended that the requirement of prior sanction to public servants was violative of Article 14 (right to equality) and Article 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Constitution as it conferred "unguided" and "arbitrary" power on the Centre and state governments to grant or not to grant sanction to prosecute corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.
"Therefore, existence of Section 19 per se becomes unreasonable and runs counter to the object of the Act since it could be a tool in the hands of the influential officials to defeat the object of the Act," the petitioner submitted.
Alleging that successive governments misused Section 19, he submitted, "If the corrupt politicians and officials are not prosecuted and punished, the very edifice of democracy will collapse."
Khan said: "The right to have a corruption free government and the executive is the fundamental right of every citizen as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution…If corrupt persons are not prosecuted by the law enforcing agencies on technical reasons, that itself would be violative of Article 14."