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The law of injustice: Who is guilty in HC Gupta’s case?

By Newsd
Updated on :

A wave of anger came from bureaucrats when former coal secretary HC Gupta, who is facing the charges of corruption in coal allocation, declared that he will not hire a lawyer since he cannot pay the legal fees.

HC Gupta who is seen as ‘the most honest officer’ is facing trials on various corruption charges in a specially designated CBI court, now getting backed by the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) fraternity. About 60 IAS officers -serving and retired decided that the IAS Association would meet Prime Minister to communicate the duress officers are under if honest decisions are construed as mala fide.

Former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quaraishi took Twitter to express and said that it is painful that the person who lived like a ‘sadhu’ is being treated like this. Anil Swarup, Secretary in the Ministry of Coal tweeted against the government’s investigating agency. Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said that he believes there is no corruption or criminal intent involved in Gupta’s case.

So is the bureaucracy trying to save one of their own or is this a case of injustice? In Gupta’s case bureaucratic fraternity is unanimous that Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 (PC Act) is a draconian one and continuing with it will only paralyse the bureaucratic procedure of decision making.

A specific section in PC Act, Section 13 (1)(d)(iii) is seen as a troublesome section which works against bureaucrats. There have been debates over the ambiguity of the provisions of Section 13(1) (d) (iii) and the absurdity of its application in cases involving economic decision-making.

As per Section 13(1)(d)(iii), a public servant is said to have committed the offence of criminal misconduct, if he, “while holding office as a public servant, obtains for any person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage without any public interest”. The most controversial thing in this section is that it is not necessary for the public servant to have had criminal intent and have personally benefitted from the decision.

Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant has said that errors in commercial decision making should be de-criminalised and termed Gupta’s case as a “real travesty of justice. Sad and tragic”

Top bureaucrats are now claiming that continuation of this section would demoralise the current crop of decision makers and discourage them from taking any decision.

The committee that examined the Prevention of Corruption Bill has suggested that anti-corruption agencies should take prior sanction from the government to initiate a bribery probe. But that would deteriorate the situation since bureaucrats and the ministers work together and if the power is given to the government then they will protect wrongdoings of bureaucrats.

The middle way to this dilemma is that the government should amend the P C Act as the basic concept of our jurisprudence is that the 100 culprits may let go free but no innocent should be punished.