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Monday, May 29, 2023

Mohali court order may help to speed up cases against corrupt IAS officers

An order passed by a Mohali court could have a direct bearing on the fate of tainted bureaucrats who, in order to ward off police action, try to take shelter under Section 17-A of the Prevention of Corruption (PC) Act, by interpreting it in a manner that suits them.

The court of Additional District and Sessions Judge (AD & SJ), Mohali, has refused to accept the contention of the Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer, conservator Vishal Chauhan, that the Vigilance Bureau (VB) had no powers to arrest him in a case of corruption. It was mandatory for the VB to take prior sanction from the Union Government as required under Section 17-A of the PC Act, which it did not take. Hence, he is entitled to regular bail.

The AD & SJ Parminder Singh Grewal rejected the contention and dismissed the bail application of the IFS officer under arrest from July 7, 2022, to date. The judge wrote in his order that since the investigation was incomplete, the benefit of bail could not be granted to Chauhan.

The public prosecutor appearing for VB argued that Section 17-A of the PC Act is only for the benefit of a civil servant who in the bonafide discharge of his official duties, makes an error of judgment. This Section does not provide protection to those who demand a bribe and knowingly allow an illegal act.

This case is related to the bungling worth crores of rupees done by the former minister (forests) Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, a district forest officer (DFO), a journalist, and a contractor. All were arrested in June. The bail applications of the minister and the DFO were dismissed by the same court earlier.

Paras Talwar, counsel for Chauhan argued that the VB was required to take permission from the appointing authority i.e. the Union Government before arresting his client. A departmental inquiry was also mandatory that was not conducted. Chauhan was not heard either, before his arrest though he had joined investigations.

Interestingly, even the present chief secretary, V.K. Janjua, in a separate case, had taken the same plea citing Section 17-A of PC Act, when he was arrested redhanded by the VB accepting a bribe of Rs 2 lakh during his posting in the industries department. But the VB went ahead with presenting a challan in the trial court.

Similarly, 3 IAS officers (all now retired), Sarvesh Kaushal, KBS Sidhu, and Kahan Singh Pannu, allegedly involved in the infamous Rs 1000 crore irrigation department scandal are trying to take shelter under Section 17-A. While opposing VB’s request to the Punjab government to allow it to launch an investigation against them, they argue that sanction from appointing authority is mandatory. The matter is pending with chief minister Bhagwant Mann.

Advocate Paras Talwar maintains that the mere disclosure made by an accused DFO against the conservator of forests can not be taken as evidence to arrest him.

Chauhan’s name did not appear in the FIR registered on June 2, 2022, as the complainant, Davinder Sandhu did not allege anything against him. The DFO had told VB that he accepted Rs 2 lakh on behalf of Chauhan for allowing illegal felling of trees, leveling of hillocks, and construction on the forest land in village ‘Masol’, near Chandigarh.

(The story has been published via a syndicated feed.)

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