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Shield of Sec 197 CrPC cannot protect corrupt officers, provisions must be construed to advance the cause of honesty and justice: Supreme Court

The SC on July 23, 2021 {INDRA DEVI vs. STATE OF RAJASTHAN & ANR.} held that Section 197 of the CrPC seeks to protect an officer from unnecessary harassment, who is accused of an offence committed while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official duties and, thus, prohibits the court from taking cognisance of such offence except with the previous sanction of the competent authority. It was held that Public servants have been treated as a special category in order to protect them from malicious or vexatious prosecution. It was held that at the same time, the shield cannot protect corrupt officers and the provisions must be construed in such a manner as to advance the cause of honesty, justice and good governance [See Subramanian Swamy Vs. Manmohan Singh (2012) 3 SCC 64]. 

It was also held by the Bench, comprising of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Hemant Gupta, that the alleged indulgence of the officers in cheating, fabrication of records or misappropriation cannot be said to be in discharge of their official duty. It was however held, such sanction is necessary if the offence alleged against the public servant is committed by him “while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official duty” and in order to find out whether the alleged offence is committed “while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official duty”, the yardstick to be followed is to form a prima facie view whether the act of omission for which the accused was charged had a reasonable connection with the discharge of his duties [See State of Maharashtra Vs. Dr. Budhikota Subbarao (1993) 3 SCC 339].

In the present case before the SC, the question, therefore, was whether the act committed by the accused in question was directly concerned with the official duty. 

The SC held that in the present case the superior officers, who have dealt with the file, have been granted protection while the clerk, who did the paper work, i.e. Respondent No.2, has been denied similar protection by the trial court even though the allegation is of really conspiring with his superior officers. It was held that neither the State nor the complainant appealed against the protection granted under Section 197 of the CrPC qua these two other officers. The Court held that it is, thus, not able to appreciate why a similar protection ought not to be granted to Respondent No.2 as was done in the case of the other two officials by the Trial Court and High Court respectively. It was held that the sanction from competent authority would be required to take cognisance and no sanction had been obtained in respect of any of the officers. It was held that it is in view thereof that in respect of the other two officers, the proceedings were quashed and that is what the High Court has directed in the present case as well.

In view of the aforesaid, the appeals of State were dismissed by the SC leaving the parties to bear their own costs.

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