Supreme Court Urges Swift Resolution on Prior Sanction for Complaints Against Public Servants

Supreme Court urges quick ruling on need for prior sanction in complaints vs. public servants under Sec 156(3) CrPC, citing Manju Surana case, emphasizing its relevance.

A recent development in the legal sphere has drawn attention to the necessity of determining whether prior sanction is mandatory for a Magistrate to forward a complaint against a public servant for investigation, as outlined in Section 156(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). This issue, initially raised in 2018 during the case of Manju Surana v. Sunil Arora, has now prompted a call for expedited adjudication by a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court.

In the ongoing matter, presided over by Justices CT Ravikumar and Rajesh Bindal, the bench emphasized the widespread relevance of the issue, which has been recurring in various legal contexts. The bench noted, "an earlier decision on the question referred is solicited," highlighting the urgency of resolving the matter.

The judges pointed out that the issue had been referred to a larger bench in 2018, following the precedent set by the Manju Surana case. They underscored the significance of the matter, given its frequent occurrence in legal proceedings, and directed the Registry to bring the issue to the attention of the Chief Justice of India for appropriate action.

Furthermore, the bench expressed a preliminary opinion that, prima facie, a Magistrate does not take cognizance of a complaint when forwarding it for police investigation under Section 156(3) of the CrPC. They indicated that a closer examination of relevant provisions within the CrPC suggests that the Magistrate's action does not amount to taking cognizance.

However, the bench refrained from delving deeper into the matter due to its pending reference before a larger bench. The current appeal was consequently consolidated with the Manju Surana case for further consideration.

The origin of this legal debate can be traced back to the case of Manju Surana, wherein a two-judge bench comprising Justices J Chelameswar and SK Kaul raised doubts regarding a previous judgment in the case of Anil Kumar v. M K Aiyappa from 2013. The Anil Kumar judgment asserted that prior sanction from the Government was necessary for a Magistrate to order an investigation based on a complaint against a public servant.

While acknowledging that Magistrates and Special Judges under the Prevention of Corruption Act do not take cognizance of a complaint when issuing orders under Section 156(3) of the CrPC, the Court in Anil Kumar held that such sanction was indeed required for exercising power under the said provision.

The Manju Surana case further scrutinized whether the scope of inquiry under Section 156(3) of the CrPC, concerning allegations of corruption against public servants, necessitated prior sanction as mandated by Section 19(1) of the Prevention of Corruption Act. Recognizing the need for a definitive ruling on the matter, the case was referred to a larger bench with the specific question:

"Whether prior sanction for prosecution regarding allegations of corruption against public servants is required before initiating the investigative process under Section 156(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973."