Attorney general Goolam E. Vahanvati defended Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the Supreme Court over delays in giving his view on the prosecution of former telecom minister A. Raja.
The question of granting sanction to prosecute Raja did not arise as the petitioner Subramanian Swamy had not first filed the complaint with a lower court, Vahanvati said. Singh, therefore, could not consider giving his assent to formally charge the former telecom minister.
“Till date, the petitioner has not even filed a complaint in the competent court, and in such circumstances, the question of sanction cannot, and does not arise,” he contended.
Swamy softened his stance against the Prime Minister, saying Singh had “no intention to block” the case.
But he remained critical of officials in the Prime Minister’s Office, saying they should have briefed Singh properly and not asked the law ministry, the department of telecommunications or the department of personnel and training to respond on the PM’s behalf as it was not permitted under law.
“No one seems to have told him (the Prime Minister) what the law is and he was not in a position to act. There is no intention to block my sanction. He did not know how to go about it,” said Swamy.
Swamy’s main grievance in the case was settled after Raja resigned on 14 November over allegations of wrongdoing in the allocation of 2G (second-generation) mobile spectrum.
Swamy can now approach a lower court to file a complaint against Raja, who previously enjoyed immunity from prosecution as he was a Union cabinet minister.
The Supreme Court, however, is examining the larger issue that has emerged and may decide to frame guidelines so that such delays for the grant or decline of sanction do not arise in the future.
“Please direct and make guidelines so that it is crystal clear on how to deal with corruption,” Swamy asked the bench, comprising justices G.S. Singhvi and Ashok Kumar Ganguly.
The key question may be whether a private citizen (as opposed to an agency such as the Central Bureau of Investigation) can directly approach an authority such as the Prime Minister for sanction to prosecute a high public official.
The attorney general holds that citizens must first approach a lower court with a complaint, and if this court says there is merit in the corruption allegations, it should then recommend that the citizen approach the right authority for sanction.
The government’s senior-most law officer said the request “made by Swamy in his letter dated 29 November 2008 was entirely misconceived. He sought sanction for prosecution even without filing a complaint before the competent court”.
The other issue before the apex court is how long an authority can take to respond to a request for sanction.
This was the crux of the court’s criticism of the Prime Minister last week, after it learnt that the response to Swamy’s letters took 16 months.
The bench showed interest in the issue after Swamy submitted: “There is a concept of reasonableness. They cannot take forever, especially when there is a gigantic case of corruption.”
The attorney general submitted that it should be a maximum of six months in the case of complaints from private citizens.
The court also asked the attorney general to submit records from the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) on how many cases were pending in court as a result of sanctions not having been granted.
This was a result of lawyer Prashant Bhushan objecting to the attorney general’s submission that citizens must first approach a lower court, instead of going directly to a sanctioning authority.
He said there were many such cases in court as a result of authorities not granting sanction. He further argued that this would become an extra step in the process in the immunity afforded to high public officials under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
On Wednesday, the apex court will continue to hear the matters—on sanctioning authorities and court monitoring of the CBI investigation into the 2G spectrum case.
PTI contributed to this story.