Politicians from the lowest rung of administration, state ministers and government officials from talathis to IAS officers in Maharashtra will now be shielded from a direct police investigation ordered by magistrates based on complaints against them, unless their superiors give their approval for such a probe.
The state government on Tuesday published an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, after it got an assent from the President. Maharashtra is the first state to amend section 156 and section 190 of CrPc, which pertains to powers given to magistrates to order investigation.
In case of public servants, magistrates cannot initiate filing of a first information report (FIR) or take cognisance of any offence until a sanction for investigation is taken from his superiors. The sanctioning authority has been given 90 days to take a decision on such a proposal by the magistrate.
The amendment was cleared by the cabinet and the state legislature last year and has been critiqued for protecting public servants even in the light of ongoing scam and corruption allegations against so many of them.
The state government has defended the amendment as a bid to protect public servants, who are often subject to frivolous and mala fide complaints, while discharging his or her duty.
“The context of this amendment dates back to 2011-12, when we came across several cases of bureaucrats being harassed by filing of police complaints against them in courts. Most of these were pertaining to cases handled by officials while hearing appeals, discharging their duties in official capacity. This amendment only seeks to protect public servant from harassment. The magistrate can go ahead with the investigations even if the officer’s superiors don’t give sanction to prosecute after 90 days, if he or she is convinced about the case,” said additional chief secretary KP Bakshi.
Legal experts had panned the amendment as being discriminatory on two levels. The first being it creates a special class of public servants against whom even an investigation cannot be initiated without a sanction. Secondly, it dilutes the powers of a magistrate to order an investigation or filing of an FIR but not against police officers, if a criminal complaint is filed at a police station.
“If challenged, the amendment will not stand legal scrutiny. There are safeguards before filing a charge sheet. This amendment has clearly been moved by bureaucrats, who are not well-versed with the law,’’ said YP Singh, lawyer.