Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of AM Khanwilkar and BR Gavai, JJ has held that not obtaining prior consent of the State Government under Section 6 of the the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 (DPSE Act) would not vitiate the investigation unless the illegality in the investigation can be shown to have brought about miscarriage of justice or caused prejudice to the accused.


Background of the case


In the present case, a joint surprise raid was conducted by the CBI in factory premises of Fertico Marketing and Investment Private Limited and it was found that the coal purchased under the FSA was sold in the black market. It was further found by CBI that this was done in connivance with the unknown government officials which led to loss of Rs.36.28 crore to the Central Government. Hence, an FIR was registered by CBI for the offences punishable under Sections 120B and 420 of the IPC and Section 13 (2) read with Section 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (hereinafter referred to as ‘the PC Act’) against Anil Kumar Agarwal, Director of said company and unknown officials of the District Industries Centre (DIC), Chandauli.

During the course of investigation, it was found that two officers namely Ram Ji Singh, the then General Manager, DIC, Chandauli and Yogendra Nath Pandey, Assistant Manager, DIC, Chandauli were also part of the conspiracy. Investigation revealed that these two officials had abused their official positions and fraudulently and dishonestly sent false status reports regarding working conditions of the accused companies and thereby, dishonestly induced the Northern Coalfields Limited to supply coal on subsidized rates, for obtaining pecuniary advantage. Hence, a Post-Facto sanction was granted on 7th September 2018.


Arguments


Appellants

The appellants submitted that in the absence of the consent of the State Government under Section 6 of the DSPE Act, the DSPE (CBI) had no powers to conduct investigation in view of the provisions contained in Section 6 of the DSPE Act and that failure in obtaining the consent prior to registration of the FIR would go to the root of the matter and vitiate the entire investigation. It was submitted that an offence under Section 120B of the IPC read with Section 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act cannot stand unless there is a meeting of minds between public servant and the private individuals and as such, an FIR could not be registered. Hence, that investigation in a matter which concerns the conspiracy between the private individual and the public servant, the same would not be permitted unless there is a valid consent under Section 6 of the DSPE Act. Further, the Post-Facto sanction granted on 7th September 2018, would not cure the defect of obtaining the prior consent.

State

The State of Uttar Pradesh has accorded a general consent for extension of powers and jurisdiction of the Members of DSPE, in whole of the State of Uttar Pradesh for investigation of offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, with the rider that no such investigation shall be taken up in cases relating to the public servants, under the control of the State Government except with the prior permission of the State Government. As such, insofar as the private individuals are concerned, there is no embargo with regard to registration of FIR against them inasmuch as, no specific consent would be required under Section 6 of the DSPE Act.

Further, public servant under the control of the State Government, if not named in the First Information Report, but if, in the further investigation, is found to be involved in the said crime, the prior permission of the State Government would not be required for investigation and the Post-Facto consent was sufficient.


Analysis


The Court noticed that though Section 5 of DPSE Act enables the Central Government to extend the powers and jurisdiction of Members of the DSPE beyond the Union Territories to a State, the same is not permissible unless, a State grants its consent for such an extension within the area of State concerned under Section 6 of the DSPE Act.

Vide notification dated 15th June 1989, the State of Uttar Pradesh accorded a general consent thereby, enabling the Members of DSPE to exercise powers and jurisdiction in the entire State of Uttar Pradesh with regard to investigation of offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and also to all or any of the offence or offences committed in the course of the same transaction or arising out of the same facts.

On appeal filed by the private individuals

“As such, for registration of FIR against the private individuals for the offences punishable under the Prevention of Corruption Act and other offences under the IPC, committed in the course of the same transaction or arising out of the same facts, the Members of DSPE have all the powers and jurisdiction. As such, we find absolutely no merits in the appeals filed by the private individuals.”

On appeal filed by the public officers

“… there are no pleadings by the public servants with regard to the prejudice caused to them on account of non-obtaining of prior consent under Section 6 of the DSPE Act qua them specifically in addition to the general consent in force, nor with regard to miscarriage of justice.”

The Court, hence, found no reason to interfere with the finding of the High Court with regard to not obtaining prior consent of the State Government under Section 6 of the DSPE Act.

[Fertico Marketing and Investment Pvt. Ltd. v. Central Bureau of Investigation, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 938, decided on 17.11.2020]

Interviews

Dr. G. K. Goswami, IPS is a decorated officer currently serving as Inspector General of Police, State of Uttar Pradesh. He is a three-time recipient of the Police Medal for Gallantry, the highest national award for police. He is also a proud recipient of the Police Medal for Meritorious Service conferred by the President of India and the Gold Medal for Gallantry conferred by the Governor of Uttar Pradesh. He recently became the first Indian to be awarded the postdoctoral DSc degree from National Forensic Sciences University, Gandhi Nagar.

Having served as Joint Director, Central Bureau of Investigation for seven years, Dr. Goswami talks about the roles and functions of CBI and why it continues to be the preferred agency for investigation of sensitive cases in this interview with Prachi Bhardwaj.

1. Please tell our readers something about your academic and professional background

Well, I hail from rural part of Western Uttar Pradesh. My initial schooling was in Hindi medium from my village school. Later, I did Masters and PhD in Medicinal Chemistry. Meanwhile I got selected for Provincial Civil Service in my State. In 1997, I joined Indian Police Services and was allotted Uttar Pradesh Cadre. While in service, I completed LLB and LLM and secured several gold medals. My passion for learning motivated me to complete second PhD from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Recently, I have recently been awarded postdoctoral DSc degree from National Forensic Sciences University, Gandhi Nagar under the mentorship of Dr. JM Vyas, Vice Chancellor. My focus in research is mainly to explore the interface between Law and Science. I have been selected for Flex Award of the Fulbright-Nehru Academic and Professional Fellowship (2020-21) and plan to visit soon the Cornell University in the USA to learn about fine nuances of “Innocence Project” which pertains to correcting the injustice done to wrongly convicted innocent persons. National Law University, Delhi (NLUD), National Forensic Science University (NFSU, Gandhinagar and Rashtriya Raksha University (RRU), Gandhinagar in recognition of my academic contribution, have designated me as their Honorary Professor of Law.

After serving for more than seven years, on central deputation as Joint Director, Central Bureau of Investigation, India, I joined State of Uttar Pradesh as Inspector General of Police. I got opportunity to serve as District Police Chief (SSP) in various districts including Lucknow, Agra, Varanasi, NOIDA, Moradabad, Etawah, etc. I also rendered my expertise as Operational Chief while posted as SSP, Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) of Uttar Pradesh. Earlier, I also worked on foreign deputation as an expert on organised crimes in the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) and had the opportunity to visit many countries to share experience and views on wide spectrum of issues related to policing and law enforcement.

2. Almost everyone knows what CBI is but not many know that it was originally set up only to investigate bribery and corruption. Please enlighten our readers about how the CBI that we know today came into existence.

The origin of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) can be traced back to 1941 during Second World War, when the British Government in India, for specific purpose, initiated Special Police Establishment (SPE) with headquarter at Lahore, to investigate cases of alleged bribery and corruption in transactions with War and Supply Department of India. The Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 braces the legal sanctity for this organisation and widened its scope for investigation to entire country. The name CBI came into existence from 1 April 1963 having Padam Bhushan Sri DP Kohli as its founding director.

3. What is a CBI investigation and how is it different from a police investigation?

Well, legally speaking, CBI and State police draw investigating powers from same sources like the Indian Penal Code, Indian Evidence Act, 1872, Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. However, there may be very few procedural variations based on traditions. The major strength of CBI lies in its procedural probity and professionalism. The investigators in CBI, compared to local police are specialised and over the period of time have gained domain expertise. Further, CBI equally emphasises on follow up of cases during court proceedings. The local police have multi-tasking, having foremost priority for maintaining law and order; consequently, for them investigation and trial take the back seat in order of priority. On the other hand, CBI is devoted to investigation with scientific temper and rigorous multi-layered supervision by senior and experienced police officers. Senior police officers are selected from all over India for time bound deputation based on a rigorous process. These supervisory officers are the backbone of the Bureau since they have huge experience and repute and provide all India canvas to the organisation. Prosecutors also immensely contribute to CBI during investigation in addition to courtroom activities.

4. How is the CBI different from the National Investigation Agency?

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is mandated primarily to investigate and prosecute cases related to national sovereignty and security. Earlier this mandate was assigned to CBI but now NIA, under the NIA Act, 2008 is assigned this onerous task. Dealing with terrorism in tandem with the States is forte of NIA.

5. What kind of crimes can the CBI investigate?

The areas for crime investigation by CBI are assigned under Section 3 of the DSPE Act. At present, CBI investigates and prosecutes various domain of heinous and complex cases like conventional crimes (murder, rape, etc.), anti-corruption, banking and financial institutions’ frauds, economic offences, cybercrimes, etc. CBI has specialised branches, having territorial jurisdiction, spread all over India.

6. Can CBI suo-motu initiate investigation in a matter?

One must understand that crime control and maintenance of law and order are subject of State List as enshrined under the Seventh Schedule of Article 246 of the Indian Constitution, 1950. The DSPE Act enables CBI to register and investigate a criminal case against public servant (including private persons or company) serving in an office of the Central Government located anywhere in India. Legally speaking, CBI has inherent jurisdiction in Union Territories for offences described under Section 3 of the DSPE Act.

However, as convention for amicable relationship, cases related to other than office of Central Government are being investigated by CBI only after a notification (under Section 5 of the DSPE Act) of the Central Government on the request of transfer of investigation to CBI by Notification of the State Government (under Section 6 of the DSPE Act). The Central Government has discretion to accept or reject the notification of the State government for transfer of investigation. In case of offences, with certain exceptions, under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 read with PC (Amendment) Act, 2018 prior approval of the government under Section 17-A is needed prior to institute enquiry, inquiry or investigation. However, the constitutional courts (the Supreme Court for entire India and the high court within territorial jurisdiction) has inherent power to transfer the investigation of a criminal matter to CBI, PIL here plays significant role.

7. Some States have withdrawn “General Consent” to investigate – what does that mean and how does that function? Can the Supreme Court or High Courts still direct a CBI investigation in those States?

Section 3 of the DSPE Act, empowers the Central Government to specify the offences that may be investigated by CBI, in furtherance of which, State Governments extends written consent i.e. “general consent” that investigation may be carried out by CBI for such specified offences as far as the persons employed in the Central Government are concerned. Consent or no consent, CBI suo motu cannot initiate investigation against any State Government official or employee without specific notifications of the state and the central government.

The State also has the power to withdraw its consent, if so desired, but from a prospective effect. It cannot withdraw consent retrospectively after the case has been registered by CBI. The effect of the withdrawal of the consent would be that CBI cannot initiate investigation or enquiry against employees of the central government.

As far as the second part of the question is concerned, there is neither a written law that states that the Supreme Court and the High Courts can direct a CBI investigation in the States where general consent has been withdrawn, nor is there any bar on the higher judiciary to do so. However, as per precedents, the Supreme Court and High Courts can direct a CBI investigation anywhere in the country without the consent of the State.

8. How important is the role of State Police in CBI investigation? What kind of relationship do both share?

CBI, once assume a criminal case, per se, is completely independent to investigate and State Government has no direct role or control. However, it is expected from the State to cooperate CBI in order to facilitate fair investigation, and if needed, provides basic amenities and support like guest house, etc.

9. As we recently saw in the Sushant Singh Rajput’s death case, most often than not, by the time a case is handed over to the agency, much time has already lapsed since the date of occurrence of the event that is to be investigated. Would you walk us through the process of enquiry and collection of evidence in such cases?

It is a fact that CBI assumes cases after lapse of time which sometimes may extend to several years. By the time, the scene of crime generally got contaminated due to multiple visits by several persons including the local police. The casual approach of stakeholders, ruthlessly compromise the integrity of crime scene, posing great challenge to investigators for collection of physical and forensic evidence having evidentiary credence. Nevertheless, professional agency like CBI does its level best to collect the evidence with the help of forensic and other domain experts to reach to the bottom of truth behind a crime. Law enforcement agencies (LEA), in conventional crime like murder, constitutes a team of domain experts, which visit the crime scene, conduct detailed inspection of place of occurrence (PoO) and if needed, recreates the crime scene. For this purpose, dummies and other forensic tools are used to recreate the chain of events. Indeed, Criminalistics plays great aid for investigation in such situations. In cold or blind cases, LEAs take services of experts of deception detection techniques (DDTs or Truth machines) such as Polygraph (Lie Detector), Brain Mapping, Narco-analysis and psychological autopsy. However, the finding of these techniques, per se, has no evidentiary value until lead to some recovery under Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act. However, these techniques may be useful to get some clinching clues as ray of hope in blind landscape for advancing investigation. Narco-analysis has evident conflicts with the right against testimonial compulsion and hence banned in various developed nations. In India, Selvi v. State of Karnataka [(2010) 7 SCC 263] deals with this issue and allowed to conduct DDT with prior consent of the subject. However, in my view this issue needs detailed legal discourse.

10. High profile cases such as the Sushant Singh Rajput investigation or as we saw in Arushi-Hemraj case, investigation is under extreme media scrutiny, some would say, the media is being the investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury all in one,

(a) how difficult is it to investigate such?

(b) Investigation officers are after all human, can they be expected to not be influenced by the media reports?

Well, I feel that once a case is assigned to prestigious Bureau, people including media must have faith on the investigating agency and if anyone has any clue, it may be shared with the investigating team or the Bureau. Media widely influences public perception and hoi polloi wish to have same result of investigation as projected on TV screen, which may be sometimes otherwise based on final analysis of facts and evidence of a case. Normally, professional agency like CBI is used to face such adverse conditions, but independent witness of the case may suffer more with the line of media projection and may vacillate to come forward to assist during the course of investigation.

11. To sum up, despite criticism, why do you think CBI continues to be the preferred agency for investigation of sensitive case?

As discussed above, CBI is known for its professional approach which is recognised by everyone including judiciary and media. Neutrality and transparency in decision making including investigation, in general, are the essentials to earn public faith. Further, I strongly believe that State police have excellent officers at all ranks, but they are not specialised, and more so, overburdened with umpteen number of duties having priority over investigation and trial. In my humble opinion, if State police is strengthened in terms of the separation of law and order from criminal investigation, training of investigators and supervisory officers, facilitating culture of specialisation, augmenting forensic facilities, legal assistance at level of investigation, the faith of common men in investigation by the State police may be restored, which is need of the hour.


*Associate Editor, EBC Publishing Pvt. Ltd.