The Supreme Court held that Deemed Universities will be covered under the purview of the definition of “University” under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PC Act). The question raised whether a trustee of a trust that runs a Deemed University is a “public servant” as under Section 2(c) of the PC Act in relation to being prosecuted under the Act on charges of bribery. This also raised the larger question of whether Deemed Universities are covered under the provisions of the PC Act.
Justice NV Ramana and Justice Mohan M Shantanagoudar penned majority of opinions in the case . Justice Ajay Rastogi expressed a separate concurring opinion.
It was pointed out that the term “University”, as defined under the PC Act, leaves room for ambiguity as regards the inclusion of Deemed Universities under it. For assessing the same, the Court delved into the rules of interpretation and the object and purpose of the PC Act. The Court also made pertinent observations regarding small-scale corruption.
The court remarked,
“Corrupt societies often spring from the examples set at the highest levels of government, but smallscale corruption can be equally insidious. In this regard, the PC Act was formulated to bring about transparency and honesty in public life, as indicated by its objects and reasons.”
the Gujarat High Court had ruled, among other things, that “University” as defined under Section 2(c)(xi) of the PC Act would not cover an institution “deemed to be a University”. A Deemed University and a university are treated differently and the University Grants Commission Act (UGC Act) makes the distinction in all aspects barring funding, the High Court had held.
ASG Aman Lekhi represented the State of Gujarat, while Senior Advocates Mukul Rohtagi represented the respondent.
The Supreme Court had considered an appeal against the judgment and observed Citing the precedent laid down in Bangalore Turf Club Ltd. v. Regional Director, ESI Corporation, that when the scope and object of enactments is different, the meaning accorded to a term in one statute cannot be used in strict sense for cases under another statute. The Court concluded that definitions for the same cannot be borrowed from the UGC Act while deciding a case under the PC Act.
The Court noted that the term “public servant” as under Section 2(c) of the PC Act does not give an exhaustive list of the posts to be covered under this umbrella. Rather, it gives a general meaning to the nature of the public duty performed. This aided the Court in deciding on the meaning of the term “University”. The court concluded,
“…it cannot be stated that a “Deemed University” and the officials therein, perform any less or any different a public duty, than those performed by a University simpliciter, and the officials therein.”
The High Court was incorrect in excluding Deemed Universities from the meaning of “University” under the PC Act, the court mentioned.
Through The definition of “public servant” under Section 2(c) of the PC Act and word “public duty” under Section 2(b) of the Act and various precedents of the Court. An Emphasis was laid on the second explanation to Section 2.
“The second explanation further expands the ambit to include every person who de facto discharges the functions of a public servant, and that he should not be prevented from being brought under the ambit of public servant due to any legal infirmities or technicalities.”
However, the Supreme Court noted that the lower courts failed to analyse the connection between the trust and the Deemed University. It thus observed,
“Prima facie, a grave suspicion is made out that the respondent was rendering his service by dealing with the students and the examination aspect of the University.”
The respondent in the case was accused of asking for a bribe of Rs. 20 lakh to allow an MBBS student to write her examination. He argued in his defence that since he was only a trustee of a charitable trust, he had no role to play in the Deemed University.
The Court while not expressing any views on the merits of the case, ruled that this was not a fit case for it to discharge the respondent from the case using its powers under Section 227 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
Read the Judgment here: