SC: “University” includes “deemed to be university” for S.2(c)(xi) of PC Act

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, on 27th April 2020, in the matter of State of Gujarat v. Mansukhbhai Kanjibhai Shah pronounced that no distinction could be carved out between the university and deemed to be university so far it relates to the term ‘public servant’ as defined under Section 2(c) (xi) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.

Question before the Hon’ble Supreme Court:

Whether ‘Deemed University’ is covered under the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 ?

Hon’ble Supreme Court’s observations:

Corruption is the malignant manifestation of a malady menacing the morality of men. There is a common perception that corruption in India has spread to all corners of public life and is currently choking the constitutional aspirations enshrined in the Preamble. (Para 1)

Who is a Vice­Chancellor, any member of any governing body, professor, reader, lecturer, any other teacher or employee, by whatever designation called, of any University, is said to be a public servant. Further, the definition inter alia, covers any person whose services have been availed of by a University, or any other public authority in connection with holding or conducting examinations. (Para 20)

There is no gainsaying that nations are built upon trust. It is inevitable that in a democracy one needs to rely on those with power and influence and to trust them of being transparent and fair. There is no doubt that any action which is driven by the self­ interest of these powerful individuals, rather than the public interest, destroys that trust. Where this becomes the norm, democracy, the economy and the rule of law, all take a beating, ultimately putting the whole nation at risk. Corrupt societies often spring from the examples set at the highest levels of government, but small­scale corruption can be equally insidious. In this regard, the PC Act was formulated to bring about transparency and honesty in public life, as indicated by its objects and reasons. (Para 22)

The golden rule of interpretation for any penal legislation is to interpret the same strictly, unless any constitutional considerations are involved, and in cases of ambiguity, the benefit of the same should enure in favour of the accused. (Para 24)

There is no dispute that corruption in India is pervasive. Its impact on the nation is more pronounced, due to the fact that India is still a developing economy. Presently, it can be stated that corruption in India has become an issue which affects all walks of life. In this context, we must state that although anti­corruption laws are fairly stringent in India, the percolation and enforcement of the same are sometimes criticized as being ineffective. Due to this, the constitutional aspirations of economic and social justice are sacrificed on a daily basis. (Para 25)

Technical definitions under one statute should not be imported to another statute which is not in pari materia with the first. (Para 31)

Evidently, the language of Section 2(b) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 indicates that any duty discharged wherein State, the public or community at large has any interest is called a public duty. The first explanation to Section 2 further clarifies that any person who falls in any of the categories stated under Section 2 is a public servant whether or not appointed by the government. The second explanation further expands the ambit to include every person who de facto discharges the functions of a public servant, and that he should not be prevented from being brought under the ambit of public servant due to any legal infirmities or technicalities. (Para 50)

Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, with regards to Section 227 of CrPC, is limited and should not be excercised by conducting roving enquiries on the aspect of factual inferences. (Para 54)

Zero tolerance towards corruption should be the top­notch priority for ensuring system based and policy driven, transparent and responsive governance. 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 long­term policy for nation building to accomplish corruption free society. (Para 3 of the judgement by Hon’ble Justice Ajay Rastogi)

No distinction could be carved out between the university and deemed to be university so far it relates to the term ‘public servant’ as defined under Section 2(c ) (xi) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. (Para 11 of the judgement by Hon’ble Justice Ajay Rastogi)

Copy of judgement: Judgement_27-Apr-2020

-Adv. Tushar Kaushik

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