NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional validity of two laws of Bihar and Odisha which allow confiscation of properties of the accused in corruption cases, including those occupying high public or political office, saying a "social calamity" like graft has become a "national economic terror".
A bench comprising justices Dipak Misra and A R Dave upheld the validity of Orissa Special Courts Act, 2006 and Bihar Special Courts Act, 2009, passed by the two state assemblies, which allow setting up of special courts and confiscation of properties, saying the laws do not violate constitutional provisions.
"In a way, corruption becomes a national economic terror. This social calamity warrants a different control and hence, the legislature comes up with special legislation with stringent provisions," the bench said. It said that establishment of Special Courts under these Acts were "not violative of Article 247 of the Constitution".
The bench observed this in its verdict passed on a bunch of pleas, challenging the provisions of confiscation of properties even before conviction on the ground that these violated constitutional provisions. "The Chapter III of the both the Acts providing for confiscation of property or money or both, neither violates Article 14 nor Article 20(1) nor Article 21 of the Constitution," the bench said.
It also rejected the submission of petitioners that confiscation of properties before conviction was a pre-trial punishment. "It is basically a confiscation which is interim in nature. Therefore, it is not a punishment as envisaged in law and hence, it is difficult to accept the submission that it is a pre-trial punishment and, accordingly, we repel the said submission," the bench said.
It further said the provisions target the persons who have assets disproportionate to their known sources of income, which is conceptually a period offence and not incident specific where proof of corruption is required. "This conceptually is a period offence, for it is not incident specific as such. It does not require proof of corruption in specific acts, but has reference to assets accumulated and known sources of income in a particular period," it said. The bench also rejected the contention that a special class was being created to try them which is violative of Article 14 of the constitution.
"In the context of the present Orissa Act, it is associated with high public office or with political office which are occupied by people who control the essential dynamics of power which can be a useful weapon to amass wealth adopting illegal means. "In such a situation, the argument that they being put in a different class and tried in a separate special court solely because the alleged offence, if nothing else, is a self- defeating one.
"The submission that there is a sub-classification does not remotely touch the boundaries of Article 14; and certainly does not encroach thereon to invite its wrath of the equality clause," the bench said.
It said the state legislature, keeping in view accumulation of extensive properties disproportionate to the known sources of income by persons who had held or are holding high political and public offices, thought it appropriate to provide special courts for speedy trial for certain class of offences and confiscation of the properties involved.
Referring to the verdicts passed earlier by the apex court, the bench said, "Immoral acquisition of wealth destroys the energy of the people believing in honesty, and history records with agony how they have suffered; and the only redeeming fact is that collective sensibility respects such suffering as it is in consonance with the constitutional morality".