‘Zero tolerance towards corruption should be top notch priority’
Says Act of 1988 widened definition of ‘public servant’
JAMMU, Sept 26: In a judgment of far reaching consequences in the corruption matters, High Court of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh has held that Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 can be invoked against private person discharging ‘public duty’ on behalf of the Government or its agencies and stressed that zero tolerance towards the menace should be top notch priority for ensuring transparent and responsive governance.
The judgment has been delivered by Justice Wasim Sadiq Nargal while dismissing petition seeking quashment of FIR dated August 18, 2023 registered by Police Station Anti-Corruption Bureau Srinagar under Section 7 and 7A of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.
The petitioner’s go-down in Chandpora area of Budgam was taken over by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) pursuant to an agreement and FIR was registered against the petitioner on the ground that he demanded bribe for getting the FCI food-grains unloaded from the vehicle.
However, the FIR was challenged with the plea that since the petitioner is neither the public servant nor would fall under any of the category of discharging any functions as public authority as such under no circumstances, the petitioner can be brought within the ambit of the Prevention of Corruption Act of 1988.
After hearing Senior Advocate Syed Faisal Qadri with Advocate Salih Pirzada for the petitioner and Senior AAG Mohsin Qadri with Government Advocate Furqan Yaqub Sofi for the respondents, Justice Wasim Sadiq Nargal observed that from the bare perusal of the definition clause of the Act of 1988, it can be inferred that to designate a person as a ‘public servant’ and to thereby hold such person liable under the Prevention of Corruption Act, the thrust lies upon the nature of duty—- ‘public duty’ carried out by such person and not the position held by him or her.
Considering the purposive interpretation of the definition of ‘public servant’ having regard to the changes brought to the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 in contradistinction to the definition of ‘public servant’ under the provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947, High Court said that Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 is intended to make the anti corruption law more effective by widening its coverage and scope of the definition of ‘public servant’.
“A person who holds the office by virtue of which he/she is authorized or required to perform any public duty, is a public servant for the purposes of 1988 Act”, Justice Nargal said, adding that under Section 2(c) viii of PC Act, 1988, a person who holds the office by virtue of which he is authorized or required to perform any public duty is a ‘public servant’. Moreover, the definition of ‘public duty’ in Section 2(b) of the PC Act, indeed, is wide, which indicates the discharge of duties in which the State, the public or the community at large has an interest, has been brought within the ambit of the expression ‘public duty’.
Stating that Act of 1988 envisages widening of the scope of the definition of the expression “public servant”, which was brought in force to purify public administration, High Court said that the legislature in its wisdom has used a comprehensive definition of “public servant” to achieve the purpose of punishing and curbing corruption among public servants.
“While Section 7 and 7A are independent to each other but Section 7A has been inserted with sole object to reach aiders and abettors of the offence. It, therefore, extends all the persons whether they are or are not public servant”, Justice Nargal said, adding “where a person accepting bribe is a public servant, the Section for charging him is Section 7 of PC Act 1988, and for a private person, Section 7A would be applicable. Therefore, Section 7A gives wider power to the authorities to initiate action against a private individual, which means involvement of public servant is not a condition precedent for registering of FIR”.
“From a bare reading of the definition of word ‘public servant’ as defined in the PC Act, it is emphatically clear that a person who holds the office by virtue of which he is authorized or required to perform any public duty and any person or employee of any institution, receiving or having received any financial assistance from the Central Government or State Government or local or other public authority, shall be considered as public servant”, High Court said.
“Even if a person is not a public servant but by virtue of his office if he is discharging a public duty, i.e., the petitioner in the instant case who is performing duties on behalf of FCI on the strength of lease agreement/model agreement, then they are covered under the ambit of PC Act”, Justice Nargal said, adding “this court is of the firm view that a zero tolerance towards corruption should be the top notch priority for ensuring transparent and responsive governance”.
High Court further said, “corruption cannot be annihilated but strategically be dwindled by reducing monopoly and enabling transparency in decision making. However, fortification of social and moral fabric must be an integral component of long-term policy for nation building to accomplish corruption free society”.
High Court observed, “if the allegations in the FIR are taken at face value then it prima facie reveals that the ingredients of Sections 7 and 7A are fulfilled and the petitioner, who is held to be public servant performing public duty, can be proceeded in terms of the Act”.
With these observations, High Court dismissed the petition and directed the investigating agency to prove the matter as per the law without being influenced by the observations made in the judgment.