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SC Ruling on DSPE Act- What has it said about Section 6A?

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On a recent occasion, a Constitution Bench made a groundbreaking determination related to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and its investigative permissions.

This topic of “SC Ruling on DSPE Act- What has it said about Section 6A?” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

Background

  • Judgment and its Implications
    • In 2014, a Supreme Court judgment declared a provision, which required the CBI to take prior permission before investigating corruption cases against senior government officials, as invalid.
    • The recent verdict by a five-judge Bench, headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, asserted that this judgment has a retrospective effect.

Provisions in Focus

  • Section 6A of DSPE Act
    • Governed by the DSPE Act, Section 6A was incepted on September 11, 2003.
    • It necessitated the CBI to acquire prior permission before delving into corruption cases involving senior officials.
    • However, the recent 106-page judgment declared this section violated fundamental rights. Thus, it was “void ab initio”, rendering it invalid from the inception.
    • Implication: Senior officials embroiled in corruption cases, even before the 2014 judgment, can’t seek protection from the prior sanction clause.
  • Historical Perspective
    • The Section 6A was introduced to restore the Centre’s ‘Single Directive’—a guide for the CBI on inquiry modalities.
    • However, the Vineet Narain case (1997) saw the apex court invalidating this directive.
    • Despite that, Section 6A was incorporated in 2003 to re-establish the prior approval requisite, but it was struck down in 2014 for breaching the equality norm.

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Salient Observations from the 2014 Judgment

  • Equality in Face of Corruption
    • The 2014 verdict emphasized that corruption is a formidable adversary of the nation.
    • No public servant, irrespective of rank, should be immune from accountability.
    • The judgment discerned that Section 6A’s dichotomy, which protected a particular officer class, was detrimental and in opposition to the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988’s objectives.

Way Forward

  • While the latest verdict is pivotal, its applicability remains limited, influencing only the allegations from 2003-2014.
  • The current law, post the 2018 amendment to the Prevention of Corruption Act, introduced Section 17A. It necessitates the government’s prior approval before any probe against a public servant.
  • For maintaining integrity in governance, there’s a pressing need to strike a balance. Provisions safeguarding bona fide decisions by officials should exist, but they mustn’t transform into a refuge for the corrupt.

Conclusion

The recent judgment, solidifying the retrospective effect of the 2014 verdict, is a testament to the judiciary’s commitment to transparency and accountability. It further emphasizes that post-Constitution laws, if inconsistent with the Constitution, are invalid from the outset. As the nation moves forward, the emphasis should remain on ensuring that the legislative framework safeguards genuine public servants while holding the corrupt accountable.

Practice Question for Mains

Explain the provisions and the significance of Section 6A of the DSPE Act. What is the Supreme Court’s stance on this matter? (260 words)

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