The Supreme Court has ruled that public officials charged under Section 48 of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act are not entitled to sanction protection under Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
In V.C. Chinnappa Goudar v. Karnataka State Pollution Control Board and Karnataka State Pollution Control Board vs. B. Heera Naik, the bench of Justices Uday Umesh Lalit and Ajay Rastogi stated:
- If a Department violated the Water Act’s restrictions, “the Head of the Department” would be judged guilty, subject to meeting the conditions of Section 48 of the Water Act. Anyway, he’d have to prove whether the crime was committed without his knowledge or whether he did everything he could to avoid it.
- The protection provided by Section 197 of the Code would be invalid due to the deeming of fiction under Section 48 of the Water Act, and the matter should be deemed de hors such protection.
- If the public worker in question is the Chief Officer or Commissioner of a Municipal Council or Town Panchayat, he cannot be referred to as “the Head of the Government Department.” As a result, Section 48 of the Water Act would not apply to the situation. However, the situation would fall under Section 47 of the Water Act. Even in such instances, the deeming fiction provided by Section 47 of the Water Act would render the public worker ineligible for the protection provided by Section 197 of the Code.
- The matter of Section 197 protection would not arise if the perpetrators were not public workers or if the major offenders were private-sector corporations.
Sandur Gram Panchayat, Sandur, District Bellary, Karnataka, and its Chief Officer were convicted of violating Sections 43 and 44 of the Water Act. The officer was found guilty of these charges by the Judicial Magistrate and sentenced. Allowing the appeal, the Sessions Judge ruled that he was entitled to protection under Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code, and that his prosecution was illegal in the absence of the required sanction. While allowing the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board’s appeal, the High Court noted that Section 197 of the Code protection would not be accessible.
The bench noted that the High Court had adhered to the decision in V.C. in the accused’s appeal. In the Chinnappa Goudar case, it was held that, under the deeming provision, “the Head of the Department” would be judged guilty and, as a result, the protection provided by Section 197 of the Code would be void.