The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Public servant tag on bankers

New Delhi, Oct. 16: The Supreme Court has ruled that even a bank employee and employees of a registered cooperative society engaged in banking activities are public servants and are covered under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The court said the aim of the Act was to “purify public administration” and a wider interpretation was needed to the expression “public servant”.

The judges said it would be “appropriate not to limit” the definition of public servant when the legislature has used a “comprehensive definition” for the purpose of punishing and curbing growing corruption in government and semi-government departments.

The apex court set aside a verdict of Andhra Pradesh High Court, which had quashed bribery charges against a supervisor of the Nellore district cooperative bank. The high court had said the definition of “public servant” did not apply to a cooperative bank employee of supervisor category.

The apex court said the high court had erred in interpreting the definition of “public servant”. The Act with “much wider definition of ‘public servant’ was brought in force to purify public administration”, it noted while directing trial proceedings against the accused.

The verdict assumes significance as ruling parties from time to time promulgate Ordinances and directives on the subject. P. Chidambaram, as Union finance minister, had brought in a “single directive” so that prior permission for prosecution was necessary to initiate action against even a branch manager of a bank. The “single directive” was nullified by a bench of Chief Justice J.S. Varma during the Jain hawala case hearing. But the debate as to who is a public servant continued.

The court has now cited several decided cases to hold that “the definition of public servant deserves a wide construction” and “public servant does include employee of a banking cooperative society controlled or aided by the government”.

The court also pointed to the “Objects and Reasons” for enacting the Prevention of Corruption Act which stated that it “envisages widening the scope of the definition of the expression public servant” and “enhancement of penalties” for offences committed by public servants.

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