The Supreme Court set aside the discharge of the accused by the HC on the basis of invalid sanction of the government under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

In Criminal Appeal No. 1598 of 2023, the State of Karnataka Lokayukta Police appealed against the High Court of Karnataka’s judgment in Criminal Petition No. 4463 of 2018. The High Court had discharged the respondent, S. Subbegowda, from the offences charged under Section 131e read with Section 132 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The discharge was based on the ground that the sanction accorded by the Government to prosecute the respondent was illegal and without jurisdiction.

S. Subbegowda, an Executive Engineer in the Karnataka Urban Water Supply and Drainage Board, Mandya, was accused of amassing wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income during his tenure from 1983 to 2007. The Karnataka Lokayukta Police registered a case against him under Section 131e read with Section 132 of the Prevention of Corruption Act based on a Source Report submitted in 2007. The State Government provided the necessary sanction to prosecute the accused.

The respondent filed multiple applications seeking discharge from the case, challenging the validity of the sanction. After the trial court framed charges and examined 17 witnesses, the respondent submitted a memo stating that he would not press his application for discharge. Despite this, the respondent filed another application seeking discharge, which the trial court rejected. The respondent then approached the High Court under Section 482 of CrPC, which allowed the petition and discharged the accused.

Legal Issues:

  1. Could the High Court discharge the respondent from the charges despite him not pressing his application for discharge earlier and the trial having progressed with witnesses’ examination?
  2. Could the High Court reverse the findings of the Special Court regarding the validity of sanction, considering the provisions of Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act?

Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act requires previous sanction from the competent authority to prosecute a public servant for certain offences. The law prohibits revising or altering a finding based on the absence of, or any error, omission, or irregularity in, the sanction, unless it resulted in a failure of justice. The court should consider whether the objection to sanction could and should have been raised at an earlier stage in the proceedings.

Based on the provisions of Section 19 and related legal principles, the High Court’s decision to discharge the respondent and reverse the findings of the Special Court regarding the sanction validity is questionable. The issues raised in the appeal require careful examination.

“In the instant case, the Special Judge proceeded with the trial, on
the second application for discharge filed by the respondent having
not been pressed for by him. The Special Judge, while dismissing
the third application filed by the respondent seeking discharge after
examination of 17 witnesses by the prosecution, specifically held
that the sanction accorded by the government which was a superior
authority to the Karnataka Water Supply Board, of which the
respondent was an employee, was proper and valid. Such findings
recorded by the Special Judge could not have been and should not
have been reversed or altered by the High Court in the petition filed
by the respondent challenging the said order of the Special Judge,
in view of the specific bar contained in sub-section (3) of Section 19,
and that too without recording any opinion as to how a failure of
justice had in fact been occasioned to the respondent-accused as
contemplated in the said sub-section (3). As a matter of fact, neither
the respondent had pleaded nor the High Court opined whether any
failure of justice had occasioned to the respondent, on account of
error if any, occurred in granting the sanction by the authority.

As a matter of fact, such an interlocutory application seeking
discharge in the midst of trial would also not be maintainable. Once
the cognizance was taken by the Special Judge and the charge was
framed against the accused, the trial could neither have been stayed
nor scuttled in the midst of it in view of Section 19(3) of the said Act.
In the instant case, though the issue of validity of sanction was
raised at the earlier point of time, the same was not pressed for.

The only stage open to the respondent-accused in that situation was to
raise the said issue at the final arguments in the trial in accordance
with law.In that view of the matter, the impugned order passed by the High
Court is set aside. It will be open for the respondent to raise the
issue of validity of sanction if he desires to do so, in accordance with
law at the final stage of arguments in the trial. Special Judge is
directed to proceed with the trial from the stage it had stopped, in
accordance with the law and as expeditiously as possible.”

STATE OF KARNATAKA LOKAYUKTA POLICE …..APPELLANT
VERSUS
S. SUBBEGOWDA ….RESPONDENT
…decided by the Supreme Court of India on 3.08.23

By aor.sanjivnarang@gmail.com

Sanjiv Narang Adv. is an Advocate on Record in the Supreme Court of India. His qualifications include an LLB from University of Delhi and a Masters degree in Personnel Management from Panjab University,Chandigarh.In his more than 3 decades of experience, he has practiced law at the District, High Court and Supreme Court levels.He also has more than a decade of experience in the field of Management. He is the author of two books namely Laws for Women in India and Innovation, Why What and How.