State Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau can investigate corruption cases against Central government employees: Kerala High Court

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The State’s Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) has the power to register crimes and investigate offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (PC Act) committed by employees of the Central Government, the Kerala High Court recently held. [State of Kerala v. Navaneeth Krishnan]
Justice Kauser Edappagath noted that there are no special provisions in the PC Act or the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 (DSPE Act) excluding the State police or special agencies of the State from investigating corruption cases against Central government employees.

The judge also noted that there are no provisions in these Acts authorising only the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or other Central government agencies to investigate matters relating to Central government employees.

“In the absence of a specific provision in the DSPE Act or PC Act divesting the power of the regular police authorities to investigate into the offences under any other competent law, it cannot be said that the power of the State police or a Special Agency of the State to register a crime and investigate into the offence allegedly committed by the Central Government employees in their State is taken away. For these reasons, I hold that the VACB, being a specially constituted body to investigate into the bribery, corruption and misconduct mainly under the P.C. Act is always clothed with the authority to investigate offences involving corruption that take place within the State, whether it is committed by a Central Government employee or a State Government employee,” the Court’s judgment stated.

The judgment was passed on a criminal revision petition moved by the State against the decision of the Enquiry Commissioner and Special Judge, Kottayam, discharging 3 employees of North Malabar Gramin Bank in a case registered against them.

The 3 employees (accused nos. 2, 3, 4) were accused of misappropriating ₹1.85 lakh and receiving undue pecuniary advantage in pursuance of a criminal conspiracy hatched by them to cheat the Thayolaparamba Grama Panchayat and the beneficiaries of one of its project.

A special judge allowed the discharge applications moved by these three accused, accepting their contention that being the employees of the North Malabar Gramin Bank which is a Central government institution, the VACB had no authority to register the crime or conduct investigation against them.

Before the High Court, the special public prosecutor appearing for the VACB, opposed the view taken by the special judge and argued that the decision of the High Court in Vijayan Kottari v State of Kerala that the special judge had relied on, was no longer good in law.

The High Court at the outset noted that the PC Act does not specifically envisage a separate procedure for conducting investigations.

“It is for convenience and to avoid duplication of work, the Central Bureau of Investigation – a specialised investigating agency under the Special Police Establishment – is entrusted with the task of investigation of the cases of corruption and bribery against the employees of Central Government and its Undertakings and the Anti – Corruption Bureau – a specialised investigating agency of the State – is entrusted with the task of investigation of the cases of corruption and bribery against the employees of State Government and its Undertakings,” the Court explained.

Noting that Section 156 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) authorises any any police officer in charge of a police station to investigate a cognizable offence without the order of the Magistrate, the Court held as follows:

“VACB is also a wing of State Police. The offences under the PC Act are also cognizable and can, therefore, be investigated by the State Police or VACB. The only rider is that the investigation can be done only by a police officer of the rank specified in Section 17 of the PC Act.”

Regarding the judgment relied on by the special judge, the Court noted that a single-judge of the High Court had taken the view that since the Central government alone has power and control over the North Malabar Gramin Bank, the investigation into the offences committed by the officers of the Bank under the PC Act can only be conducted by CBI or Central Vigilance Commission or any other Central Government Authority.

However, the High Court noted that the decision of the Supreme Court in Sharma AC v. Delhi Administration had not been brought to the notice or considered by the single-judge in Vijayan Kottari.

Justice Edappagath also noted that the provisions of Sections 156 (1), 4(2) of CrPC and Sections 17 and 22 of the PC Act had not been considered in Vijayan Kottari.

“Hence, the decision of the learned Single Judge in Vijayan Kottari (supra) is rendered per incuriam and need not be followed,” Justice Edappagath held.

The Court, therefore, proceeded to set aside the discharge order passed by the special judge and directed it to consider the discharge applications of the accused on merits and dispose of the same.

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