THESE DAYS Vigilance Bureau, Punjab is hitting the headlines in the media as it has initiated many enquiries against political leaders and government officials.
But an interesting question arises here that the Vigilance Bureau is functioning under which legal mandate and following the rules of which Act of Law?
Are rules for appointment/postings in Punjab Vigilance Bureau are being followed in letter and spirit? If not, then what will be the legal standing of actions taken by the officials of the Punjab Vigilance Bureau in the eyes of law?
It is pertinent to mention here that Capt Amarinder Singh led Congress government enacted THE PUNJAB STATE VIGILANCE COMMISSION ACT, 2020 (PSVC Act, 2020). After receiving the assent of Punjab Governor the PSVC Act, 2020 was notified on Nov. 13, 2020.
This Act was enacted to provide for the constitution of the Punjab State Vigilance Commission to inquire or cause inquiries to be conducted into offences alleged to have been committed under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, by certain categories of public servants of the State Government, bodies corporate established by or under any State Act, Government companies, Public Sector Undertakings, Commissions, Tribunals, Cooperative Apex Bodies, Universities, Autonomous and Semi Autonomous Bodies, Societies, local bodies owned, managed or controlled by the State Government and for matter connected therewith or incidental thereto.
As per Section 3(1) of PSVC Act, 2020, the Commission shall consist of State Chief Vigilance Commissioner (SCVC) as Chairperson as well as two Vigilance Commissioners (VCs).
Accordingly, the Punjab government appointed Justice Mehtab Singh Gill (Retd.) as State Chief Vigilance Commissioner on April 7, 2021.
As per this act, Chief Director of Vigilance Bureau for the State shall be appointed by the government on the recommendation of the three members Committee consisting of the State Chief Vigilance Commissioner as Chairperson, the Chief Secretary Punjab and the Administrative Secretary, Department of Home Affairs and Justice Punjab as members.
Moreover this Act mandates that officers of the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police and above, shall be appointed in the Vigilance Bureau on the recommendation of a three members Committee consisting of the State Chief Vigilance Commissioner as Chairperson, the Chief Secretary Punjab and the Chief Director, Vigilance Bureau as members.
But after Bhagwant Mann led AAP took over the reins of the state, a Bill titled Punjab State Vigilance Commission- PSVC (Repeal) Bill, 2022 was unanimously passed by the House of Punjab Legislative Assembly on September 30, 2022.
An Advocate at Punjab and Haryana High Court, Hemant Kumar says, Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann while tabling the Punjab State Vigilance Commission (Repeal) Bill, 2022 in the house, said the main function of the commission was to inquire or initiate inquires into complaints against public servants under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988, and Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act, 2018, however, it had failed to serve any useful objective except being a burden on the state exchequer.
There are multiple agencies in the state, including the state vigilance department, to deal with corruption cases. Therefore, to avoid overlapping, contradictory findings, resultant delays and gaps in communication, it has become necessary to repeal the Punjab State Vigilance Commission Act 2020 (Punjab Act No 20 of 2020), the CM announced in the House, adding that the decision was taken in larger public interest.
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Mann further said, the PSVC Act 2020, which was supposed to be enacted on the lines of the Central Vigilance Commission Act 2003, suffers from serious deviations. The Vigilance Commission to be constituted under this Act is, therefore, not likely to serve any useful objectives except being a burden on the State exchequer as there are multiple agencies in the State to deal with the same set of stakeholders including full-fledged Vigilance Department. Therefore to avoid overlapping, contradictory findings, resultant delays and gaps in communication, It has become necessary to repeal the PSVC Act, 2020.
Hemant further says, it has now been five and half months since the Bill titled Punjab State Vigilance Commission- PSVC (Repeal) Bill, 2022 was unanimously passed by the House of Punjab Legislative Assembly. However, till date it is yet to become a duly enacted Act of Punjab Legislature since State Governor Banwarilal Purohit has still not granted his assent to the same for reasons best known to him.
Meanwhile, Hemant asserts that as per the Constitution of India, after a Bill being passed by the State Legislature (Assembly) is sent to the Governor for his assent, he has four options:
Now what has actually happened to PSVC (Repeal) Bill, 2022, as passed by Punjab Assembly in Sep 2022, is anybody’s guess since there has been no official word either from the Punjab Raj Bhawan or from Chief Minister’s Officer about its current status till date.
Be that as it may, since the PSVC (Repeal) Bill, 2022 is yet to receive assent of Punjab Governor till date, so legally speaking PSVC is not yet abolished and it continues to exist even today.
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Notably, as per Section 24 of PSVC Act, 2020, the State Government shall appoint the Chief Director of Vigilance for the State on the recommendation of the Committee consisting of the SCVC as Chairperson while State Chief Secretary and Administrative Secretary, Department of Home Affairs and Justice as Members.
Pertinent that incumbent Chief Director of Punjab Vigilance Bureau, Varinder Kumar, 1993 batch IPS, who is now in the rank of Special DGP, was appointed (read posted) as such on 31 May 2022.
Also, as per Act, officers of the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police and above, shall be appointed by the Vigilance Bureau on the recommendations of a Committee consisting of SCVC as Chairperson while State Chief Secretary and Chief Director, Vigilance Bureau as Members.
Now if the above two legal provisions are being followed in letter and spirit remains to be seen. If not, then what will be the legal standing of actions being taken by Punjab Vigilance Bureau in the eyes of law?
The Advocate further said that the passage of the aforementioned Bill i.e. for abolishment of Punjab State Vigilance Commission (PSVC) by Punjab Assembly on 30 September, 2022 was a sort of Deja Vu as it was second time in the history of State since the past fifteen and a half years.
Hemant said that the law for constituting PSVC has till date been enacted by the State Assembly not once by twice, firstly during October, 2006 and then in November, 2020 and interestingly on both occasions it got enacted during the tenure of Captain Amarinder Singh led Congress governments in the State.
Pertinent than the PSVC Act, 2006 as enacted during the tenure of 12th Punjab Vidhan Sabha (2002-2007) as Punjab Act No. 20 of 2006 was got repealed immediately on constitution of 13th Punjab Vidhan Sabha in March, 2007 after Parkash Singh Badal led SAD-BJP Government assumed reins of power in the State. A Bill was passed in the State Assembly to repeal the ibid PSVC Act, 2006 itself.
Before such abolition, in October, 2006 however the Amarinder Singh Government had already appointed a former Judge of Punjab and Haryana High Court, Justice Amar Dutt (Retired) as State Chief Vigilance Commissioner (SCVC) who was administered Oath by then Punjab Governor, General SF Rodrigues (Retd). Although as per the PSVC Act, 2006, the tenure of SCVC was for a period of six years or 65 years of age, whichever is earlier.
But since the PSVC Act, 2006 itself was repealed by the Badal Government, the tenure of Justice Amar Dutt (Retd) as SCVC also abruptly came to an end with the abolition of PSVC. His tenure otherwise was till August, 2009.
Be that as it may, Hemant asserts that the prevalent PSVC Act, 2020 was enacted by Captain Amarinder Singh led second Congress dispensation in the State during the tenure of 15th Punjab Vidhan Sabha (2017-2020) in November 2020.
Thereafter, in March, 2021 a former Judge and also ex Acting Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court, Justice Mehtab Singh Gill (Retd) was appointed as SCVC. He was administered Oath by then Punjab Governor, VPS Badnore on April 7, 2021. As per PSVC Act, 2020, the tenure of SCVC is for a period of five years. There is no age bar, hence Justice Gill’s current tenure is till April 6, 2026.
Meanwhile Hemant says that as per provisions of PSVC Act, 2020, the Salary and Allowances of SCVC are same as those of a Judge of the High Court. Also it is provided in the Act that the salary, allowances and pension payable to and the other conditions of service of the SCVC or any State Vigilance Commissioner (SVC) shall not be varied to his disadvantage after his appointment.
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Hence, a significant legal point is also that in case the law itself, means PSVC Act, 2020, is repealed after governor’s assent, then in that scenario, would Justice Gill (Retd) be able to claim compensation in the form of Salary and Allowances etc. for his unexpired tenure?
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