JUSTICE B.S. Chauhan, JUSTICE Swatanter Kumar of The Supreme Court of India in the case of General Officer Commanding vs Cbi & Anr. Decided on 1 May, 2012

WHEN SANCTION REQUIRED:-The protection given under Section 197 Cr.P.C. is to protect responsible public servants against the institution of possibly vexatious criminal proceedings for offences alleged to have been committed by them while they are acting or purporting to act as public servants. The policy of the legislature is to afford adequate protection to public servants to ensure that they are not prosecuted for anything done by them in the discharge of their official duties without reasonable cause, and if sanction is granted, to confer on the Government, if they choose to exercise it, complete control of the prosecution. This protection has certain limits and is available only when the alleged act done by the public servant is reasonably connected with the discharge of his official duty and is not merely a cloak for doing the objectionable act. Use of the expression “official duty” implies that the act or omission must have been done by the public servant in the course of his service and that it should have been done in discharge of his duty. The section does not extend its protective cover to every act or omission done by a public servant in service but restricts its scope of operation to only those acts or omissions which are done by a public servant in discharge of official duty.


If on facts, therefore, it is prima facie found that the act or omission for which the accused was charged had reasonable connection with discharge of his duty, then it must be held to be official to which applicability of Section 197 Cr.P.C. cannot be disputed. (See: R. Balakrishna Pillai v. State of Kerala & Anr., AIR 1996 SC 901; S.K. Zutshi & Anr. v. Bimal Debnath & Anr., AIR 2004 SC 4174; Center for Public Interest Litigation & Anr. v. Union of India & Anr., AIR 2005 SC 4413; Rakesh Kumar Mishra v. State of Bihar & Ors., AIR 2006 SC 820; Anjani Kumar v. State of Bihar & Ors., AIR 2008 SC 1992; and State of Madhya Pradesh v. Sheetla Sahai & Ors., (2009) 8 SCC 617).

WHEN SANCTION NOT REQUIRED:- The question to examine as to whether the sanction is required or not under a statute has to be considered at the time of taking cognizance of the offence and not during enquiry or investigation. There is a marked distinction in the stage of investigation and prosecution. The prosecution starts when the cognizance of offence is taken. It is also to be kept in mind that the cognizance is taken of the offence and not of the offender. The sanction of the appropriate authority is necessary to protect a public servant from unnecessary harassment or prosecution. Such a protection is necessary as an assurance to an honest and sincere officer to perform his public duty honestly and to the best of his ability. The threat of prosecution demoralises the honest officer. However, performance of public duty under colour of duty cannot be camouflaged to commit a crime. The public duty may provide such a public servant an opportunity to commit crime and such issue is required to be examined by the sanctioning authority or by the court. It is quite possible that the official capacity may enable the pubic servant to fabricate the record or mis- appropriate public funds etc. Such activities definitely cannot be integrally connected or inseparably inter-linked with the crime committed in the course of the same transaction.


Thus, all acts done by a public servant in the purported discharge of his official duties cannot as a matter of course be brought under the protective umbrella of requirement of sanction. (Vide: Bhanuprasad Hariprasad Dave & Anr. v. The State of Gujarat, AIR 1968 SC 1323; Hareram Satpathy v. Tikaram Agarwala & Ors., AIR 1978 SC 1568; State of Maharashtra v. Dr. Budhikota Subbarao, (1993) 3 SCC 339; Anil Saran v. State of Bihar & Anr., AIR 1996 SC 204; Shambhoo Nath Misra v State of U.P. & Ors., AIR 1997 SC 2102; and Choudhury Parveen Sultana v. State of West Bengal & Anr., AIR 2009 SC 1404).


In fact, the issue of sanction becomes a question of paramount importance when a public servant is alleged to have acted beyond his authority or his acts complained of are in dereliction of the duty. In such an eventuality, if the offence is alleged to have been committed by him while acting or purporting to act in discharge of his official duty, grant of prior sanction becomes imperative. It is so, for the reason that the power of the State is performed by an executive authority authorised in this behalf in terms of the Rules of Executive Business framed under Article 166 of the Constitution of India insofar as such a power has to be exercised in terms of Article 162 thereof. (See : State of Punjab & Anr. v. Mohammed Iqbal Bhatti, (2009) 17 SCC 92).

In Satyavir Singh Rathi, ((2011) 6 SCC 1.), supreme Court considered the provisions of Section 140 of the Delhi Police Act 1978 which bars the suit and prosecution in any alleged offence by a police officer in respect of the act done under colour of duty or authority in exercise of any such duty or authority without the sanction and the same shall not be entertained if it is instituted more than 3 months after the date of the act complained of. A complaint may be entertained in this regard by the court if instituted with the previous sanction of the administrator within one year from the date of the offence. This Court after considering its earlier judgments including Jamuna Singh (AIR 1964 SC 1541); The State of Andhra Pradesh v. N. Venugopal & Ors., AIR 1964 SC 33; State of Maharashtra v. Narhar Rao, AIR 1966 SC 1783; State of Maharashtra v. Atma Ram & Ors., AIR 1966 SC 1786; and Prof. Sumer Chand v. Union of India & Ors., (1994) 1 SCC 64, came to the conclusion that the prosecution has been initiated on the basis of the FIR and it was the duty of the police officer to investigate the matter and to file a chargesheet, if necessary. If there is a discernible connection between the act complained of by the accused and his powers and duties as police officer, the act complained of may fall within the description of colour of duty. However, in a case where the act complained of does not fall within the description of colour of duty, the provisions of Section 140 of the Delhi Police Act 1978 would not be attracted.

This Court in State of Orissa & Ors. v. Ganesh Chandra Jew, AIR 2004 SC 2179, while dealing with the issue held as under: “….. It is the quality of the act which is important and the protection of this section is available if the act falls within the scope and range of his official duty. There cannot be any universal rule to determine whether there is a reasonable connection between the act done and the official duty, nor is it possible to lay down any such rule. One safe and sure test in this regard would be to consider if the omission or neglect on the part of the public servant to commit the act complained of could have made him answerable for a charge of dereliction of his official duty. If the answer to this question is in the affirmative, it may be said that such act was committed by the public servant while acting in the discharge of his official duty and there was every connection with the act complained of and the official duty of the public servant.” See also: P. Arulswami v. State of Madras, AIR 1967 SC 776

This Court in Suresh Kumar Bhikamchand Jain v. Pandey Ajay Bhushan & Ors., AIR 1998 SC 1524, held as under: “……The legislative mandate engrafted in sub-section (1) of Section 197 debarring a Court from taking cognizance of an offence except with a previous sanction of the concerned Government in a case where the acts complained of are alleged to have been committed by public servant in discharge of his official duty or purporting to be in the discharge of his official duty and such public servant is not removable from his office save by or with the sanction of the Government touches the jurisdiction of the Court itself. It is a prohibition imposed by the statute from taking cognizance, the accused after appearing before the Court on process being issued, by an application indicating that Section 197(1) is attracted merely assists the Court to rectify its error where jurisdiction has been exercised which it does not possess. In such a case there should not be any bar for the accused producing the relevant documents and materials which will be ipso facto admissible, for adjudication of the question as to whether in fact Section 197 has any application in the case in hand. It is no longer in dispute and has been indicated by this Court in several cases that the question of sanction can be considered at any stage of the proceedings.”

In Matajog Dobey v. H.C. Bhari, AIR 1956 SC 44, the Constitution Bench of this Court held that requirement of sanction may arise at any stage of the proceedings as the complaint may not disclose all the facts to decide the question of immunity, but facts subsequently coming either to notice of the police or in judicial inquiry or even in the course of prosecution evidence may establish the necessity for sanction. The necessity for sanction may surface during the course of trial and it would be open to the accused to place the material on record for showing what his duty was and also the acts complained of were so inter-related or inseparably connected with his official duty so as to attract the protection accorded by law. The court further observed that difference between “acting or purporting to act” in the discharge of his official duty is merely of a language and not of substance. On the issue as to whether the court or the competent authority under the statute has to decide the requirement of sanction, the court held: “Whether sanction is to be accorded or not is a matter for the government to consider. The absolute power to accord or withhold sanction conferred on the government is irrelevant and foreign to the duty cast on the Court, which is the ascertainment of the true nature of the act……There must be a reasonable connection between the act and the official duty. It does not matter even if the act exceeds what is strictly necessary for the discharge of the duty, as this question will arise only at a later stage when the trial proceeds on the merits. What we must find out is whether the act and the official duty are so inter- related that one can postulate reasonably that it was done by the accused in the performance of the official duty, though possibly in excess of the needs and requirements of the situation.”

In Sankaran Moitra v. Sadhna Das & Anr., AIR 2006 SC 1599, this Court held as under “The High Court has stated that killing of a person by use of excessive force could never be performance of duty. It may be correct so far as it goes. But the question is whether that act was done in the performance of duty or in purported performance of duty. If it was done in performance of duty or purported performance of duty, Section 197(1) of the Code cannot be bypassed by reasoning that killing a man could never be done in an official capacity and consequently Section 197(1) of the Code could not be attracted.” See also: Rizwan Ahmed Javed Shaikh & Ors. v. Jammal Patel & Ors., AIR 2001 SC 2198

In S.B. Saha & Ors. v. M.S. Kochar, AIR 1979 SC 1841, this Court dealt with the issue elaborately and explained the meaning of “official” as contained in the provisions of Section 197 Cr.P.C., observing: In considering the question whether sanction for prosecution was or was not necessary, these criminal acts attributed to the accused are to be taken as alleged…….. The words 'any offence alleged to have been committed by him while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official duty' employed in Section 197(1) of the Code, are capable of a narrow as well as a wide interpretation. If these words are construed too narrowly, the section will be rendered altogether sterile, for, 'it is no part of an official duty to commit an offence, and never can be'. In the wider sense, these words will take under their umbrella every act constituting an offence, committed in the course of the same transaction in which the official duty is performed or purports to be performed. The right approach to the import of these words lies between two extremes. While on the one hand, it is not every offence committed by a public servant while engaged in the performance of his official duty, which is entitled to the protection of Section 197 (1), an act constituting an offence, directly and reasonably connected with his official duty will require sanction for prosecution under the said provision.”

In Parkash Singh Badal & Anr. v. State of Punjab & Ors., AIR 2007 SC 1274, this Court reiterated the same view while interpreting the phrase “official duty”, as under: “…Official duty therefore implies that the act or omission must have been done by the public servant in course of his service and such act or omission must have been performed as part of duty which further must have been official in nature. The Section has, thus, to be construed strictly, while determining its applicability to any act or omission in course of service. Its operation has to be limited to those duties which are discharged in course of duty. But once any act or omission has been found to have been committed by a public servant in discharge of his duty then it must be given liberal and wide construction so far its official nature is concerned……”

In P.K. Choudhury v. Commander, 48 BRTF (GREF), (2008) 13 SCC 229, this Court dealt with the issue wherein an Army officer had allegedly indulged in the offence punishable under Section 166 IPC - public servant disobeying law, with intent to cause injury to any person and Section 167 IPC - public servant framing incorrect document with intention to cause injury, and as to whether in such an eventuality sanction under Section 197 Cr.P.C. was required. The Court held as under: “As the offences under Sections 166 and 167 of the Penal Code have a direct nexus with commission of a criminal misconduct on the part of a public servant, indisputably an order of sanction was prerequisite before the learned Judicial Magistrate could issue summons upon the appellant.”

This Court in Nagraj v. State of Mysore, AIR 1964 SC 269, held that: “ The last question to consider is that if the Court comes at any stage to the conclusion that the prosecution could not have been instituted without the sanction of the Government, what should be the procedure to be followed by it, i e., whether the Court should discharge the accused or acquit him of the charge if framed against him or just drop the proceedings and pass no formal order of discharge or acquittal as contemplated in the case of a prosecution under the Code. The High Court has said that when the Sessions Judge be satisfied that the facts proved bring the case within the mischief of S. 132 of the Code then he is at liberty to reject the complaint holding that it is barred by that section. We consider this to be the right order to be passed in those circumstances. It is not essential that the Court must pass a formal order discharging or acquitting the accused. In fact no such order can be passed. If S. 132 applies, the complaint could not have been instituted without the sanction of the Government and the proceedings on a complaint so instituted would be void, the Court having no jurisdiction to take those proceedings. When the proceedings be void, the Court is not competent to pass any order except an order that the proceedings be dropped and the complaint is rejected.”

In Naga People’s Movement of Human Rights v. Union of India, AIR 1998 SC 431, the Constitution Bench of this Court while dealing with the issue involved herein under the provisions of Section 6 of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, held as under: “Under Section 6 protection has been given to the persons acting under the Central Act and it has been prescribed that no prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by the said Act except with the previous sanction of the Central Government. The conferment of such a protection has been assailed on the ground that it virtually provides immunity to persons exercising the powers conferred under Section 4 inasmuch as it extends the protection also to “anything purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act”. It has been submitted that adequate protection for members of armed forces from arrest and prosecution is contained in Sections 45 and 197 CrPC and that a separate provision giving further protection is not called for. It has also been submitted that even if sanction for prosecution is granted, the person in question would be able to plead a statutory defence in criminal proceedings under Sections 76 and 79 of the Indian Penal Code. The protection given under Section 6 cannot, in our opinion, be regarded as conferment of an immunity on the persons exercising the powers under the Central Act. Section 6 only gives protection in the form of previous sanction of the Central Government before a criminal prosecution or a suit or other civil proceeding is instituted against such person. Insofar as such protection against prosecution is concerned, the provision is similar to that contained in Section 197 CrPC which covers an offence alleged to have been committed by a public servant “while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official duty”. Section 6 only extends this protection in the matter of institution of a suit or other legal proceeding. In order that the people may feel assured that there is an effective check against misuse or abuse of powers by the members of the armed forces it is necessary that a complaint containing an allegation about misuse or abuse of the powers conferred under the Central Act should be thoroughly inquired into and, if it is found that there is substance in the allegation, the victim should be suitably compensated by the State and the requisite sanction under Section 6 of the Central Act should be granted for institution of prosecution and/or a civil suit or other proceedings against the person/persons responsible for such violation.”

In State of H.P. v. M.P. Gupta, (2004) 2 SCC 349, this Court while dealing with the issue held as under: “Use of the words “no” and “shall” makes it abundantly clear that the bar on the exercise of power of the court to take cognizance of any offence is absolute and complete. The very cognizance is barred. That is, the complaint cannot be taken notice of.”

In Dr. Subramanian Swamy v. Dr. Manmohan Singh & Anr., AIR 2012 SC 1185, this Court dealt with the issue elaborately and explained the meaning of the word ‘cognizance’ as under: “In legal parlance cognizance is ‘taking judicial notice by the court of law’, possessing jurisdiction, on a cause or matter presented before it so as to decide whether there is any basis for initiating proceedings and determination of the cause or matter judicially.” See also: Bhushan Kumar v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2012) 4 SCALE 191

In State of Uttar Pradesh v. Paras Nath Singh, (2009) 6 SCC 372, this Court explained the meaning of the term ‘the very cognizance is barred’ as that the complaint cannot be taken notice of or jurisdiction or exercise of jurisdiction or power to try and determine causes. In common parlance, it means taking notice of. The court, therefore, is precluded from entertaining a complaint or exercising jurisdiction if it is in respect of a public servant who is accused of an offence alleged to have been committed during discharge of his official duty.

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