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Status of Punjab state vigilance commission (Repeal) bill, 2022 hangs in balance, governor yet to grant assent

PUNJAB NEWS EXPRESS | March 16, 2023 10:30 AM

CHANDIGARH: It has now been five and half months since a Bill titled Punjab State Vigilance Commission- PSVC (Repeal) Bill, 2022 was unanimously passed by the House of Punjab Legislative Assembly on 30 Sep 2022.

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.

An Advocate at Punjab and Haryana High Court, Hemant Kumar says that the Statement of Objects and Reasons of PSVC (Repeal) Bill, 2020, which was tabled in the House by Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann himself, stipulate that PSVC is to enquire or cause enquires into complaints alleging commission of offences by a public servant under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988, Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act, 2018 and to exercise superintendence and control over the functioning of the Vigilance Bureau and Police establishment in so far it relates to corruption cases. 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 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.

Meanwhile, Hemant further 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. He can straightway accord his assent or else withhold the same. Further, he can even return the Bill to the Legislature for reconsideration including suggestion of some sort of amendment(s) therein. Lastly, he can reserve the Bill for the consideration of the President of India in which case it is the President which can either grant or withhold his assent.

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 neither from the Punjab Raj Bhawan nor 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.

Hemant further says that as per Section 3(1) of PSVC Act, 2020 shall consist of State Chief Vigilance Commissioner (SCVC) as Chairperson as well as two Vigilance Commissioners (VCs). However, the moot but significant point is that the two VCs have not been appointed hitherto neither by then Captain Amarinder Singh and Charanjeet Channi led Cong Govts nor by Bhagwant Mann led AAP dispensation till date. It also remains to be examined judicially if without appointment of both or even sole VC, if Punjab State Vigilance Commission can indeed function legally.

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 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.

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 Sep 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 Oct, 2006 and then in Nov, 2020 and interestingly on both occasions it got enacted during the tenure of Captain Amarinder Singh led Cong Govt in the State. Captain, who left Cong in the year 2021 to form his own regional political outfit Punjab Lok Cong (PLC) however in the year 2022 joined BJP by merging his PLC into the saffron party.

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 Mar, 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 Oct, 2006 however the Amarinder Singh Govt 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 got repealed by the Badal Government from the State Assembly, hence tenure of Justice Amar Dutt (Retd) as SCVC also abruptly came to an end with the abolition of PSVC. His tenure otherwise was till Aug, 2009.

Be that as it may, Hemant asserts that the prevalent PSVC Act, 2020 was enacted by Captain Amarinder Singh led second Cong dispensation in the State during the tenure of 15th Punjab Vidhan Sabha (2017-2020) in Nov, 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 (Rtd) current tenure is however till Apr 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. Hence significant legal point is also that in case the law itself means PSVC Act, 2020 is got repealed by Punjab Assembly, then if 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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