A public servant will be granted protection in cases where the alleged offence was in the discharge of his official duty: Supreme Court of India

Section 197 of the CrPC protects a public servant in cases where it can be established that the alleged offence was committed while he was discharging his official duty from a prima facie view. This was held in the judgement passed by the bench of the Supreme Court of India consisting of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Hemant Gupta in the case of Indra Devi v State of Rajasthan & Another [Criminal Appeal No. 593 of 2021] pronounced on 23rd July 2021.

The appellant, Indra Devi and her husband Bhanwar Lal purchased some small plots of land in Khasra No. 1179/03 located in Barmer, Rajasthan. One plot of land was sold to Megharam, who tampered with and fabricated parts of the agreement with the intention to defraud the appellant. It is alleged by the appellant that this fabrication was done with the help of the then executive officer of the municipality named Surender Kumar Mathur and the concerned clerk, Yogesh Acharya who is the respondent no.2 in this appeal. The appellant belongs to a scheduled caste community and her husband was diagnosed with cancer which is why the accused persons believed that they could easily get away with defrauding the appellant. Thus the FIR was filed not only under Sections 420, 467, 468, 471 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code, but also under sections 3(1)(4), 3(15) and 3(5) of the Scheduled Caste & Scheduled Tribe Act.

Respondent no.2 was not named in the FIR, however was referred to as “the concerned clerk” and was allegedly acting in collusion with the executive officer and Megharam. Respondent No.2 had moved an application under Section 197 of the CrPC stating that he was only acting in the line of his duty and obeying senior officials while executing the allotment lease to Megharam and hence he should be entitled to protection under the aforesaid provision. Respondent no.2 was held liable by the trial court as it was opined that his failure to do his job correctly was what lead to the fabricated agreement to be made. However the High Court of Rajasthan overturned the Trial Court’s judgement on grounds that sanction under Section 197 of the CrPC was required before filing an FIR against a public servant.

Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul held that “We have given our thought to the submissions of learned counsel for the parties. Section 197 of the CrPC seeks to protect an officer from unnecessary harassment, who is accused of an offence committed while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official duties and, thus, prohibits the court from taking cognisance of such offence except with the previous sanction of the competent authority. Public servants have been treated as a special category in order to protect them from malicious or vexatious prosecution.”

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