The Supreme Court while dealing with an appeal has held that once cognizance has been taken by the Special Judge and the charge is framed, the trial cannot stay or scuttle in the midst under Section 19(3) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (PCA).

The two-Judge Bench comprising Justice Aniruddha Bose and Justice Bela M. Trivedi observed, “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.”

The Bench was deciding a case wherein the State of Karnataka Lokayukta Police challenged the judgment of the High Court whereby it allowed a petition by discharging the respondent/accused from the offences charged under Section 13(1)(e) read with Section 13(2) of the PCA on the ground that the sanction accorded to prosecute the accused by the Government was illegal and without jurisdiction.

Advocate Shubhranshu Padhi appeared on behalf of the appellant while Senior Advocate H.N. Shashidhara and Advocate Balaji Srinivasan appeared on behalf of the respondent.

Brief Facts -

The respondent was working as an Executive Engineer in the Karnataka Urban Water Supply and Drainage Board, Mandya Division, Mandya during the period 1983 to 2007. Based on a Source Report submitted by the then Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), a case came to be registered against the respondent under Section 13 of the PCA. It was alleged that he amassed wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income during his office tenure.

The respondent filed an application seeking his discharge from the aforesaid case contending that neither the contents of the said report nor the other documents constituted any offence as alleged and that the sanction was issued by the Government without any application of mind. The said application was dismissed by the trial court and being aggrieved by the same, the respondent preferred a criminal revision petition before the High Court which directed the trial court to consider the documents of the respondent while framing the charge without being influenced.

The Supreme Court in the above regard noted, “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.”

The Court added that 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.

“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”, said the Court.

Accordingly, the Apex Court allowed the appeal, set aside the order of the High Court, and directed the Special Judge to proceed with the trial from the stage it had stopped in accordance with the law as expeditiously as possible.

Cause Title- State of Karnataka Lokayukta Police v. S. Subbegowda (Neutral Citation: 2023 INSC 669)

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