In the words of Supreme Court Justice RF Nariman in Asian Resurfacing of Road Agency Pvt Ltd and Anr v Central Bureau of Investigation (28 March 2018): “The cancer of corruption has, as we all know, eaten into the vital organs of the state.” With the proliferation of white-collar crime, the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (PCA), has gained even greater importance.
The object of the PCA is to quickly and without any delay bring to book government functionaries. To that end section 19(3)(b) and (c) of the PCA limits the power of a court to “stay” proceedings. The PCA permits stay only in case of an irregularity in the “sanction” to commence prosecution and also limits the revisionary powers of courts in respect of interim orders. Nevertheless, notoriously, trials are stayed and culprits remain at large for long periods of time.
A balance needed to be struck between the interests of an individual wrongdoer and the interests of society at large. The issue therefore begging consideration was “whether the express limitations of the powers of a court in section 19 of the PCA would also curtail the otherwise boundless inherent powers of a high court”. The Supreme Court answered by adopting a purposive and “harmonious” approach.
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Karthik Somasundram is a partner and Sneha Jaisingh is a senior associate at Bharucha & Partners.
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