Coalgate case: Rules for judges should also apply to senior bureaucrats, govt tells SC

SupremecourtAttorney General G E Vahanvati asserted that the rule for prior approval from the Chief Justice of India for investigating a judge of the higher judiciary was to prevent “vexatious and malicious” actions.

In an apparent attempt to clinch powers to decide whether the CBI can question top officers in the coal blocks allocation case, the Centre on Thursday told the Supreme Court that the principle the apex court has in place to protect judges should apply to senior bureaucrats.

Reading out from a 1991-Supreme Court judgment, Attorney General G E Vahanvati asserted that the rule for prior approval from the Chief Justice of India for investigating a judge of the higher judiciary was to prevent "vexatious and malicious" actions.

"In this case, the Supreme Court said prevalent safeguards under law were not adequate and made prior sanction compulsory. The CBI accepted this condition then. When names of judges of the higher judiciary came up in the provident fund scam, consent was taken from the CJI. This is law now and the same principle should apply in case of officers above joint secretary," the AG told a bench led by Justice R M Lodha.

The AG contended that Section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, which mandates prior permission before proceeding against top bureaucrats, was necessary to ensure that bureaucrats are not subjected to harassment. Vahanvati, citing the apex court observation in the Veeraswami case on prior permission before registering an FIR and investigating, advocated it for senior officers of the bureaucracy.

"In the Veeraswami case, the court decided what was appropriate for judges. Applying the same principle, why not leave it to the appropriate authority in the government to decide matters of administration? We are committed to purity of the investigation," said the AG.

Underlining that "no honest officer should be harassed", the bench had pointed out a distinction between judges and administrative officers since the former are guardians of citizens' rights. Vahanvati, accepting the court's views on distinction between the two classes, maintained that the nature of the consideration, while according protection to judges, would be no different when it came to government officers.

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