Supreme Court Refers Chandrababu Naidu’s Petition to Quash FIR to Larger Bench

A double bench of Justice Aniruddha Bose and Bela M Trivedi passed the order referring the matter to a larger bench as the two of them had dissenting views.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday referred to a larger bench the plea of former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu for quashing a First information report (FIR) against him in the skill development scam case.

A double bench of Justice Aniruddha Bose and Bela M Trivedi passed the order referring the matter to a larger bench as the two of them had dissenting views.

The bench of Justices Bose and Trivedi, who heard Naidu’s special leave petition that argued the police could not have made him (Naidu) an accused in the case without obtaining sanction under Section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act, delivered two separate judgments with differing views.

Justice Bose said that given the split in the bench’s interpretation of Section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act, the matter will now be referred to a larger bench. “As we have taken different opinions on the interpretation of this section, we refer the matter to the Chief Justice of India for appropriate directions,” Justice Bose added.

Naidu filed an SLP in the Supreme Court challenging the September 22 order passed by the high court declining to quash a first information report (FIR) that arraigned the ex-chief minister as one of the accused in the scam even as no prior sanction was obtained under Section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988. According to Naidu. obtaining the sanction is a mandatory provision before filing a case against a public servant.

The top court reserved its judgment on October 17 last year. Naidu was represented by senior advocates Harish Salve and Siddharth Luthra. The State, represented by Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, argued that since the offence occurred before the insertion of Section 17A in the PC Act through the 2018 amendment, the mandate of prior sanction was not applicable in the case.

In his judgement, Justice Bose held even if an alleged offence happened before the passing of the amendment, for proceeding with such cases after the amended law became operational prior sanction has to be sought under the said section of the PC Act. Otherwise, an inquiry shall be illegal.

Accordingly, he held that Naidu could not have been proceeded against for offences under Section 13(1) (c), 13(1) (d), and 13(2) of the 1988 PC Act on grounds of non-procurement of prior approval from the authority concerned. However, the state could now apply and obtain the approval order, he clarified. He also ruled that the trial court had jurisdiction to pass the remand order and refused to quash it. “A lack of approval would not make the entire remand order non-est,” Justice Bose said.

Justice Trivedi disagreed with her colleague on the interpretation of Section 17A. She held that this provision could not be made applicable retrospectively as Section 17A, being substantive, would only apply to new offences under the PC Act. The prior sanction requirement under Section 17A would apply only to the new offenses and not to the offenses existing before the 2018 amendment.

She also pointed to the legislative intent behind the provision.”It cannot be the objective of Section 17A to give any benefit to dishonest public servants. If it is applied retrospectively, it will frustrate many pending inquiries and investigations.”

Naidu was arrested in connection with the case on September 9 by the State Criminal Investigation Department (CID). He was in custody till he was granted interim medical bail by the Andhra Pradesh High Court in October last year. Later, he was granted bail by the single-judge bench.

Chandrababu Naidu, Telugu Desam Party president and erstwhile Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, has been arrested in connection with a skill development scam in the state, with the state CID claiming to have prime facie evidence of the former chief minister’s key role in the alleged embezzlement of around Rs 371 crore from the Andhra Pradesh Skill Development Corporation through fictitious companies during the TDP’s rule between 2014 and 2019. He is the 37th accused in a 2021 FIR related to the multi-crore rupe scam involving the state skill development corporation.

The opposition Telugu Desam Party leader was arrested by the Andhra Pradesh CID on September 9 and has remained in custody since. 

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