Ex-VIDC officials discharged in irri scam cases due to ACB’s faux paus

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 06 Nov 2018 09:59:05


Staff Reporter,

Six senior officers including two ex-Executive Directors discharged due to lack of pre-trial sanction

ACB has option to seek fresh sanction and prosecute the ex-officers

A special court has discharged retired officers of Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) from two irrigation scam cases due to failure of Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to obtain prior sanction of State Government before prosecuting these officers including two former Executive Directors of VIDC.

The court found to its dismay, absence of prior approval of the State Government in these cases under recently amended section 17-A Prevention of Corruption Act by which such sanction was made legally binding before chargesheeting any serving or retired public servant indicted for misuse of his or her official position. Therefore, it was not legally possible to take cognisance of chargesheet qua accused VIDC officials, the court observed while permitting the investigating officer to move the competent authority and obtain sanction before prosecuting these public servants.

This is a major setback to ACB which is under fire for tardy investigation in Rs 70,000 crore irrigation scam. The High Court has directed the special court to complete the trial within three months and conduct day-to-day hearings.
Interestingly, the two chargesheets were filed by ACB on July 27 while the amendment to Prevention of Corruption Act received Presidential Assent and brought into force on July 26, 2018. The aim of this amendment was to stop undue harassment of honest retired public servant for the bonafide decisions taken by them in discharge of their official functions or duty and hence prior-approval clause was included. The protection was available to only serving officers prior to amendment. Now, the competent authority has to take a decision in three months.

Discharge applications moved by contractors were turned down but in these two cases, the retired officers including ex-Executive Directors Devendra Shirke, Rohidas Landge, ex-Chief Engineer S R Suryawanshi, ex-Superintending Engineer Sanjay Kholapurkar, Umashankar Parvate, Accounts Officer Chandan Jibhkate and engineers Gurudas Mandaokar and Dilip Pohekar, got the benefit of this one-day delay in filing chargesheet.

These officers were named as accused in Gosikhurd related cases by the ACB for misusing their officials position to help private contractors, tweaking rules, bypassing processes to cause loss to state exchequer. The ACB had registered offences against them for the alleged offences under sections 13(1)(c)(d) read with 13(1)(b) of Prevention of Corruption Act. The accused while stoutly denying all allegations claimed that they did not receive any undue advantage or abused their official position and entire edifice of criminal prosecution was based on recommendations made and decisions taken in discharge of their official functions.

The Special Court while allowing their discharge plea, made it clear that it would not close the doors of the investigating agency from prosecuting these officers. But, they would be required to obtain prior sanction from the competent authority for launching prosecution against the accused persons for the alleged offences. The competent authority may grant or refuse permission to ACB as per rules and prevailing law. If the permission is granted, the ACB will be at liberty to file fresh chargesheet, the court stated while making it clear that matters have not been dealt on merit and all the contentions of the parties in such context are kept totally open.

Interestingly, the ACB in its affidavit filed by High Court on September 5 had clearly anticipated such a setback in view of amendment to Prevention of Corruption Act. The ACB had informed that it had already sent revised proposals for prosecution sanction in two cases in which the chargesheets were submitted as per the then prevailing provisions.

 Don’t spare tainted retired officers’

The High Court while hearing PILs pertaining to irrigation scam had adopted quite tough approach towards tainted officers- retired, serving or those on the verge of retirement, but found involved in irrigation scam. In fact, the High Court directed the Government to amend service rules if necessary to punish the officers without whose connivance, scam could not take place. The High Court had directed that if State finds officers guilty, those cases could be referred to ex-judge led panel named to oversee graft related cases.