In 2015, the BJP-dominated Maharashtra cabinet made a controversial decision and proposed to amend a provision of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) for their state, which does not allow an FIR to be filed against any public representative from a complaint without the permission of an applicable authority, even if otherwise ruled by a court of law. This included amendments to Sections 156 (3) and 190, these amendments stating that FIRs cannot be filed against these people, the permission of the speaker is required to file against an MLA and the permission of the Chief Secretary to file against a bureaucrat.
This move comes from a government that has been ridden with allegations and proven incidents of corruption, and stands as an action taken to save their own, at the cost of going against their previous promises- Devendra Fadnavis, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, promised a zero-tolerance approach towards corruption right after he was elected into power. But now, by allowing these amendments, he has taken the easiest route the government can follow- curtailing the powers of other bodies and making the power to grant sanction exclusive.
The Maharashtra Government claims that this move was in line to protect public representatives from frivolous and politically motivated cases, as many cases filed were false and it only leads to a waste of resources and harassment of these officers. They also held that the amendment is in line with a Supreme Court ruling of 2013, Anil Das, where the two-judge bench ruled in favour of such a law; but this was later overruled in the Lalita Kumari case of November, 2013, which the government has conveniently chosen to ignore. In this case, the court has repeatedly emphasized that it is an important function of the police to register an FIR, and it is absolutely essential and mandatory that they do so. This ruling was not applicable only to registration of FIRs, but also required preliminary investigations into corruption cases.
But various officials have taken a stand against this amendment, claiming that this has been made in personal interest and blatantly against the Government’s agenda. Tiwari, who had to file a PIL to get his FIR registered against a former Congress Minister, was of the opinion that this action was clearly taken to shield both government servants as well as elected members, and to make it much easier to evade accountability for their acts.
This also goes against the basic tenets of the Constitution of India, the Right to Equality under Article 14 is clearly violated in this case. This article, a Fundamental Right, which says that the State cannot deny to any person equality before the law, is breached- an FIR will be immediately registered from a complaint against the common man, but not for a ‘public representative.’ If a statute goes against the Constitution, which has to be adhered to by any law formed in the country, it can even be declared invalid. Further, the Cabinet does not have the authority to make changes to a statute, which some even termed as illegal.
The Aam Aadmi Party slammed the decision of the cabinet, and raised the example of how permission of probe was denied in the disproportion assets case against the former MLA Kripashankar Singh, and now with a formal amendment in place, evading such accountability will only be easier for them. They also intended to challenge this decision in court, as the law is meant to provide justice and not immunity for those holding public offices.
On the other hand, for example, the AAP government in Delhi is putting in tremendous effort to help make public officials accountable, and so is the Delhi judiciary. Despite the lack of a statute for the same, a Delhi court has stated that people can seek damages for the inaction of public officials. The judge held that the person would be held liable in his personal capacity as his inaction can affect the aggrieved party in various ways- mentally, physically and financially, including other ways.
Apart from this, the AAP has also introduced and pass the Delhi (Right Of Citizen To Time Bound Delivery of Services) Amendment Bill, 2015, which automatically reduces the salaries of officials in case there is a delay in delivery of justice on their part. This bill also encourages government departments and local bodies adopt the e-governance platform to deliver their respective citizen related services in prescribed time period through electronic means aimed at bringing transparency. It has set aside a separate service performance fund as an incentive for people to work in a timely manner. This is seen as a brilliant start to put an end to lethargy in the house and prevent corruption and inefficiency.
Overall, this proposed amendment to the CrPC in Maharashtra is quite clearly against basic principles of equality, including those mentioned in the constitution, and is based on an overruled judgment and flimsy arguments of protecting public officials from harassment. It’s evident that it is to protect these officials from even a formal investigation, and can even be called as a tool to institutionalize corruption and other offences by those holding public office. It would only be fair if this amendment is not implemented, and the right of the common man to keep a check on the workings of those in public office is given utmost consideration.
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