SC addresses question regarding applicability of Section 17A PC Act and posts Chandrababu’s plea to quash FIR to October 09

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Today, the Supreme Court (SC) of India posted the petition filed by former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu seeking to quash FIR in connection with the skill development scam case to next Monday, October 09, 2023. The matter was heard by a two-judge bench including Justice Bela M. Trivedi and Justice Aniruddha Bose. The bench was hearing a special leave petition against the Andhra Pradesh HC’s order declining to quash the FIR in connection with the skill development scam case. The SLP reads, “The petitioner was suddenly named in the FIR registered 21 months ago, arrested in an illegal manner, and deprived of his liberty, motivated only by political reasons. Even though there is no material against him, the petitioner is being made to suffer an illegal and motivated investigation in clear violation of his fundamental rights.” Chandrababu Naidu has been in custody since September 09, arrested by the Crime Investigation Department of the state. 

During the SC proceedings, questions regarding the applicability of Section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act were raised before the Supreme Court bench. Senior Advocate Harish Salve, who appeared for Naidu, argued that Section 17A of the PC Act was wrongly interpreted by the HC. He said, “Learned HC judge says Section 17A cannot be applied to offences committed before July 2018. That is simply not correct.” He added, “This is pure procedure. You have to obtain a sanction. It has nothing to do with the date of the offence, it has to do with the date of the inquiry. This is the protection we have brought in and the protection must kick in.” SA Salve further asked, “Could this injury be held without the Governor’s approval as per Section 17A?” Justice Bose replied, “According to you the date when the investigation starts is the relevant date.” To this, SA responded, “Yes. This is done to prevent the abuse of the process of law. I don’t say so. The people who introduced the law say so.”

Other Senior Advocates, SA Abhishek Manu Singhvi, and SA Sidharth Luthra also appeared for Naidu. SA Singhvi referred to the Supreme Court judgment which held that Section 17A of the Act mandates prior approval for investigation. Further, SA Luthra said “As per the remand report, the transactions spread from 2015 to 2019. So at least for one year, there is an overlap (with 2018, when 17A was introduced). This is as per their remand report. So it is not a clean cut.” He added, “If a benefit is given to the accused by the law, then it must be interpreted in a way to ensure that it is given.” After hearing Luthra’s arguments, Justice Trivedi said “The question is whether it is applicable to offences under the Indian Penal Code or just the PC Act.” SA Singhvi and Salve highlighted that the words ‘any offence’ are used in Section 17A and does not make the distinction between IPC and PC Act offences.

Furthermore, SA Mukul Rohatgi appearing for the state of AP argued that “17A came in July 2018. Though the FIR is of 2021, the injury arose prior to the insertion of 17A.” The SC asked him to show that the inquiry was initiated before 2018, to which, SA Rohatgi agreed. As soon as the SC initiated to adjourn the matter, SA Luthra seeking for nearer date for hearing said “The man is in custody, that is the difficulty. They are also seeking police custody. After 15 days, police custody can’t be claimed. Tomorrow the bail is listed.” The SC bench ordered “List the matter next Monday. On that date, the caveator State shall fine the entire compilation of documents which were there before the High Court.”