PSU employees can be prosecuted under CrPC sans sanction: SC

New Delhi: While passing a judgment in a case involving state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) employees, the Supreme Court said that protection from criminal prosecution is not available to public sector undertaking (PSU) employees. The judgment was passed by a bench of Justices Navin Sinha and AS Bopanna.

They dismissed an appeal from BSNL employees against the High Court’s order which had held that protection of sanction under CrPC was not available to PSU employees even if they fall within the definition of ‘state’ under Article 12 of the Constitution.

The intricacies of the law

Under Section 197 of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), prior sanction from a competent officer is needed to prosecute a government servant charged for alleged criminal act done in discharge of his official duty and “no court shall take cognisance of such offence except with the previous sanction.”

What was the case about?

A criminal case was filed with a trial court by Pramod V Sawant in 2003. It alleged that BSNL and its officers had violated the Private Security Guards (Regulation of Employment and Welfare) Scheme, 1981 by engaging “unregistered” security guards. The trial court had then set the criminal law in motion by dismissing the pleas filed by BSNL and its officers.

The BSNL employees challenged the ruling on the ground that they were a cadre of Indian Telecommunication Service who were later shifted to the PSU.

What did the SC say in its judgment?

“At the very outset, we are of the opinion that the question for grant of sanction for prosecution under Section 197, CrPC on the ground of being a ‘public servant’ is not available to appellants nos. 3 and 4 (officers) on account of their ceasing to be employees of Indian Telecommunication Service after their absorption in the appellant corporation on October 01, 2000, prior to the complaint,” the SC said in its judgment.

“The fact that their past service may count for purposes of pension in case of removal or dismissal by Corporation or that administrative approval of the concerned ministry may be formally required before any punitive action will not confer on them the status of ‘public servant’ under CrPC,” the apex court said.