State Of H.P v. Nishant Sareen
The question raised in this appeal, by special leave, is as regards the extent of power vested in the Government in reviewing its order granting or refusing sanction to prosecute the public servant in terms of Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (for short, `the 1988 Act').
Nishant Sareen--the respondent--was posted as Drug Inspector, Bilaspur (Himachal Pradesh) in 2005. One, Dr. Ramdhan Sharma, owner of Leelawati Hospital, Ghumarwin lodged a complaint against the respondent in the Vigilance Department of the State Government that the respondent had demanded Rs. 5,000/- from him as bribe to allow him to run the said hospital without checking by the Drug Inspector. Based on the said complaint, a first information report (being No. 1/2005) was registered under Sections 7 and 13 (2) of the 1988 Act at Police Station AC Zone, Bilaspur. Thereafter, a raiding party under the supervision of Deputy Superintendent of Police, AC Zone, Bilaspur was constituted and a trap was laid on May 12, 2005. The respondent is said to have been caught red-handed on that day accepting the bribe from the complainant. The respondent was arrested and produced before the Additional Sessions Judge, Ghumarwin and was remanded to judicial custody upto May 16, 2005. The respondent was released on bail later on. Upon completion of investigation, the Vigilance Department sought for sanction under Section 19 of the 1988 Act from the Government to prosecute the respondent. It is not in dispute that the Principal Secretary (Health), Government of Himachal Pradesh is the competent authority authorized under the Rules of Business for according sanction in the matter.
The Principal Secretary (Health), on the basis of the material placed before her and on examination of the case, found no justification in granting sanction to prosecute the respondent. In the order dated November 27, 2007 whereby sanction was refused. It appears that the Vigilance Department took up the matter again with the Principal Secretary (Health) for grant of sanction as in their opinion sufficient evidence existed to prosecute the respondent.
The competent authority, thus, reconsidered the matter and granted sanction to prosecute the respondent vide its order dated March 15, 2008. In the sanction order dated March 15, 2008.
It is true that the Government in the matter of grant or refusal to grant sanction exercises statutory power and that would not mean that power once exercised cannot be exercised again or at a subsequent stage in the absence of express power of review in no circumstance whatsoever. The power of review, however, is not unbridled or unrestricted. It seems to us sound principle to follow that once the statutory power under Section 19 of the 1988 Act or Section 197 of the Code has been exercised by the Government or the competent authority, as the case may be, it is not permissible for the sanctioning authority to review or reconsider the matter on the same materials again. It is so because unrestricted power of review may not bring finality to such exercise and on change of the Government or change of the person authorised to exercise power of sanction, the matter concerning sanction may be reopened by such authority for the reasons best known to it and a different order may be passed. The opinion on the same materials, thus, may keep on changing and there may not be any end to such statutory exercise. In our opinion, a change of opinion per se on the same materials cannot be a ground for reviewing or reconsidering the earlier order refusing to grant sanction. However, in a case where fresh materials have been collected by the investigating agency subsequent to the earlier order and placed before the sanctioning authority and on that basis, the matter is reconsidered by the sanctioning authority and in light of the fresh materials an opinion is formed that sanction to prosecute the public servant may be granted, there may not be any impediment to adopt such course. Insofar as the present case is concerned, it is not even the case of the appellant that fresh materials were collected by the investigating agency and placed before the sanctioning authority for reconsideration and/or for review of the earlier order refusing to grant sanction. As a matter of fact, from the perusal of the subsequent order dated March 15, 2008 it is clear that on the same materials, the sanctioning authority has changed its opinion and ordered sanction to prosecute the respondent which, in our opinion, is clearly impermissible. By way of foot-note, we may observe that the investigating agency might have had legitimate grievance about the order dated November 27, 2007 refusing to grant sanction, and if that were so and no fresh materials were necessary, it ought to have challenged the order of the sanctioning authority but that was not done. The power of the sanctioning authority being not of continuing character could have been exercised only once on the same materials.
There is no merit in this appeal and it is dismissed.