The Supreme Court on Friday said it is not mandatory for the CBI to conduct preliminary inquiry in corruption cases, and if the investigating officer is satisfied that the information reveals the commission of a cognizable offence, the agency can instead register a regular case.
A bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud ruled that “since … preliminary inquiry in corruption cases is not mandatory before registration of FIR under CrPC, PC. [Prevention of Corruption] Act or even the CBI manual, for this court to issue a direction to that effect would be tantamount to stepping into the legislative arena”.
Therefore, the court said, “We hold that if the information received by the CBI through a complaint or ‘information of source’ under Chapter 8 discloses the commission of a cognizable offence, it can directly register a regular case.” instead of a preliminary inquiry, where the officer is satisfied that the information discloses the commission of a cognizable offence”.
The bench, also comprising Justices Vikram Nath and BV Nagarathna, said this while setting aside the February 2020 order of the Telangana High Court, which had filed a complaint against a woman commissioner of income tax and his wife under the Prevention of Corruption Act by the Chennai unit of the CBI. FIR was quashed. For alleged possession of disproportionate assets amounting to Rs 1,10,81,692 between 1 April 2010 and 29 February 2016.
The court, however, said that it “does not take away from the value of conducting a preliminary inquiry into a suitable case”, as “registration of a routine case can have disastrous consequences for an officer’s career, if the charges are ultimately changed.” “To be a liar”.
It said, “If the CBI chooses not to conduct a preliminary inquiry, the accused cannot seek it as a matter of authority”.
The HC had quashed the FIR holding that the agency should have conducted a preliminary inquiry under the CBI (Crime) Rules, 2005. Appealing against this, Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the CBI, submitted that the CBI manual does not make it mandatory. To conduct a PE before filing an FIR, and its provisions are directory.