Dr Subramanian Swamy v. Director, CBI & Anr
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This article has been written by Oishika Banerji, an undergraduate law student of Amity Law School, Amity University Kolkata. This is an exhaustive article explaining the recent judgment of the Supreme Court which quashed the concept of a single directive.


It was on 6th May 2014, the Supreme Court of India passed a judgment ruling out the provision which was meant to govern the working of the Central Bureau of Investigation, an Indian agency that is anti-corruption by nature relating to the method adopted by the agency to carry out the procedure of investigation of an accusation of corruption made against the civil servants who acquire the rank of or higher than that of Joint secretary. This judgment was passed for the case of Dr Subramanian Swamy v. Director, CBI & Anr that indeed changed the destiny of the Indian Investigating Agency familiarly known as the Central Bureau of Investigation or the CBI. 

The term “Single Directive” signified the necessary approval that the Central Bureau of Investigation was subjected to take from the Centre before moving forward with inquiry proceedings in cases of civil servants possessing a rank of Joint Secretary or above. The arguments of the case in concern were held on the ground that the concept of the single directive was unreasonable and whimsical by nature along with being in contravention with the provision laid down in the Indian Constitution. The judgment of this case came out to be successful guidance for the plaintiffs which helped in keeping the essence of the Constitution intact, which is the rule of law. 

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Background facts

The Central Government of India with its sagacity tightened the independence of the Central Bureau of Investigation by making it obligatory to take antecedent permission of the government for carrying out inspection even at primary levels of any civil servant of significant rank. With the functioning of the Central Bureau of investigation in stake, a three-judge bench of the apex court erased such a blockage in the functioning of the investigating agency upholding that such a provision was ultra vires in nature for it invalidates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.

The same concept of the single directive was reintroduced by the Central Government through the means of the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003 thereby providing legal status to the Central Vigilance Commission to carry out the previous provision without any further obstacle. The government provided reasons which said that the free functioning of the senior civil servants was counted as necessary without any thought of getting prosecuted. This very reason cannot be treated to be fair enough to do away with the role of the investing agency. Further, an amendment along with the introduction of the commission was brought about in Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 by the means of Section 6-A which provides the central government with the authority to approve to the special force of Delhi Police in the absence of which no conducting of inquiry at any level can take place.

In the present case, two writ petitions were filed by the petitioner by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL).

  1. One under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution thereby challenging the constitutional validity of Section 6-A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946. 
  2. The other was challenging the validity of Section 26(c) of the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003. 

The former petition was made taking into concern the latter petition also for Section 6-A of Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 was inserted by Section 26(c) of Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003 itself.

Main Issues

The main issues involved in the case of Dr Subramanian Swamy v. Director, CBI & Anr which the apex court took into consideration are as follows :

  • Whether the provision in question can be held liable for the violation of rule of law for the provision provided with special status to certain groups of dignitaries thereby discriminating against the others? 

Concerning this, the court held that whatever the case may be, the law is always above man and therefore no provision can exist which contravenes the rule of law. This is because the base on which any legal provision in India is outlined is the rule of law. The essence of the Constitution lies in the rule of law and equality before the law. therefore the provision will be liable for creating discrimination. Therefore a rank cannot be the basis of the determination of treatment offered. 

  • The second issue that was raised in front of the court of law was whether the writ petition filed by the petitioner maintainable in the court of law or not?

The court held that the writ petitions filed are maintainable for they are based on reasonable grounds only. The writ petitions were made questioning the validity of the provisions of two acts which were reasoned out to be in contravention with the constitutional provision. This is the reason the court found it correct to compensate the petitioner using striking down those provisions.

  • Whether the provisions hampered the independence of the investigating agency?

The solution to the third issue can be inferred from the above two issues itself. The executive has delegated its powers to different levels of dignitaries. When one tries to overpower the other, the role assigned to both of them is not able to be successfully carried out. In this case, the petitioners claimed that the provisions in concern were infringing Article 14 restricting them from equal treatment along with that it was detrimental for the swift execution of their function because supremacy was involved in the same.


Arguments were raised from both the side of the plaintiff as well as the defendant. The council on behalf of the plaintiff argued on the following grounds:

  1. Section 6-A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 was contravening the right to equality and equal treatment among all as laid down by Article 14 of the Constitution. Therefore the provision was to be eliminated for the proper functioning of the investigating agency as the plaintiff suggested as it acted as a hindrance for combating corruption.
  2. Violation of Article 14 of the Constitution was directly in breach of the rule of law. The rule of law understanding cannot be eliminated because it is the essence of the Constitution and therefore to keep the same intact, striking down the sections as necessary.
  3. The basic structure of the Constitution cannot be mingled with.

The arguments that were provided by the counsel of the defendant are as follows :

  1. Section 6-A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 provides meaning to the functioning of the Central Vigilance Commission. Certain classes of officers who have been assigned the task of taking necessary decisions are supposed to be protected from being grounded often. Therefore the section cannot be done away with. Removal of such sections will increase the filing of several complaints that can be unnecessary at times.
  2. It was also argued that section 6-A does not provide a complete restriction to the hands of the investigating agency. It is just a symbol of checking certain activities of the agency and are restricted to the same only.
  3. The council as well as provided that as far as the problem of corruption is concerned, the government also has a certain amount of responsibility towards it. Therefore the government has formed a committee to look after the same. Striking down of the section will erase the formation of such a committee and the role of the government will be eliminated. 
  4. The counsel argued that grounds of unreasonably and whimsicality are not strong enough to remove legislation for whenever legislation comes to effect the court itself uses arbitrariness to lay grounds which will be aligned with the provisions of Article 14. Hence this cannot be the ground of deciding about the legislation in concern.
  5. The counsel argued that the rule of law could not be treated above the very Constitution and therefore, discretionary powers provided to the government is not contrary to the concept of the rule of law.

Thus, both sides laid down their arguments based on the facts of the case and the issues raised.



In the ruling of this case, the case of Vineet Narain & Others vs Union Of India & Another acted as an important precedent. In this former case, the court refused to agree with the arguments presented which said that the ambit of the single directive includes a certain class of designated officers eliminating the others for the motive of investigating for any offence they are held to have committed. The court also viewed that monitoring of investigation is supposed to take place for checking malice involved in the same. Nevertheless, the apex court in light of the facts present, issues raised and arguments advanced by both the petitioner and the defendant of the present case in hand came to inference and issued a judgment which included the points as provided below:

  1. The writ petitions filed by the petitioner by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) were held to be valid and the decision was made taking into consideration the matters present in the petition. The court further observed that the grounds laid down in the petitioner were enough to challenge the provision of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. 
  2. The doctrine of Rule of Law cannot be compromised on any grounds for breach of rule of law directly infringes the constitutional provision as laid down in Article 14.
  3. Section 6-A(1) which provides authority in the hands of the Central Government to permit investigation by the special force of Delhi police for any wrong committed under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 was held to be invalid by nature and was also considered to be contrary to Article 14 of the Constitution. As Section 26(c) of the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003 is parallel to the former provision, it was also declared to be invalid to that extent. 
  4. Section 6-A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 does not satisfy reasonable grounds with context to that of Article 14 and therefore is not capable of maintaining the provision laid down in Section 13(1)(d)(ii) and (iii) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 as argued by the counsel of the defendant.
  5. Certain provisions of the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003 were in contravention with the Constitution of India. Those are to be removed. 
  6. Whenever there will be a classification made between or among particular groups of individuals the two grounds which are required to be proved are:
  • The classification made should be aligned to the rule of intelligible differentia. 
  • The differentia mentioned above should and must have a coherence with the object that has been aimed to be achieved.

Through these verdicts by the court, the investigating agencies were provided with some amount of relief and trust as to the execution of their role for the country. It was ruled out that a single directive is one of the sources of political influence that gives birth to corruption.


India in the current scenario faces corruption in all spheres. It not only amounts to grave distress for constitutional governance but is detrimental for a democratic country like India where the establishment of the Constitution is based on the principles of the rule of law. Although in this case, the court ruled that the functioning of the inquiry agency would not be sublime to any kind of authority, it gave relaxation to certain groups as well. When it comes to the inquiry for any corrupted act by the judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Court, without earlier approval from the Chief Justice of concerned High Court or the Chief Justice of India such inquiry cannot be carried out. This, as the apex court held, was essential to safeguard the integrity and independence of the judiciary. Thus what can be noticed is corruption is indeed difficult to be eliminated from the country for it is oriented in every other level of executive, legislative as well as judiciary wing of the government. 


  • http://acbmaharashtra.gov.in/files/judgment1.pdf
  • https://www.governancenow.com/news/blogs/single-directive-struck-down
  • http://www.rtifoundationofindia.com/analysis-supreme-court-judgment-regarding-initiati#.XrznN0QzZ0y

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