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The Supreme Court on Friday held that it is not mandatory for the CBI to launch a preliminary enquiry (PE) in all cases of corruption or other offences, and instead it can register a regular case upon the satisfaction of a cognizable offence.

A bench, headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and comprising Justices Vikram Nath and B.V. Nagarathna, said: "We hold that in case the information received by the CBI, through a complaint or a 'source information', discloses the commission of a cognisable offence, it can directly register a regular case instead of conducting a preliminary enquiry, where the officer is satisfied that the information discloses the commission of a cognizable offence."

The top court, however, added this does not take away from the value of conducting a preliminary enquiry in an appropriate case, and conducting a preliminary enquiry would not take away from the ultimate goal of prosecuting accused persons in a timely manner. "However, we once again clarify that if the CBI chooses not to hold a preliminary enquiry, the accused cannot demand it as a matter of right," it added.

The bench added that precedents of the top court and the provisions of the CBI manual make it abundantly clear that a preliminary enquiry is not mandatory in all cases which involve allegations of corruption. "The decision of the Constitution Bench in Lalita Kumari case holds that if the information received discloses the commission of a cognisable offence at the outset, no preliminary enquiry would be required," it added, in its 64-page judgment.

The bench said since the institution of a preliminary enquiry in cases of corruption is not made mandatory before the registration of an FIR under the CrPC, the Prevention of Corruption Act, or even the CBI manual, for it to issue such a direction "will be tantamount to stepping into the legislative domain".

The bench also pointed out that registration of a regular case can have disastrous consequences for the career of an officer, if the allegations were proved to be wrong.

The top court set aside a Telangana High Court judgement, which quashed a 2017 FIR against civil servant-turned-politician, state Education Minister Audimulapu Suresh and his IRS officer wife, T.N. Vijayalakshmi, in a case of possessing assets disproportionate to their known sources of income.

"The Single Judge of the Telangana High Court has acted completely beyond the settled parameters which govern the power to quash an FIR. The Single Judge has donned the role of a chartered accountant. The Single Judge has completely ignored that the Court was not at the stage of trial or considering an appeal against a verdict in a trial," it said.

The bench added that reasons provided by the single judge for entering into the merits of the dispute while quashing the FIR are specious, especially so considering our finding that the CBI need not hold a preliminary enquiry mandatorily.

On February 11, 2020, the high court had said, among other reasons, the CBI should have conducted a preliminary enquiry into the matter in accordance with its manual, before registering an FIR. The CBI moved the top court challenged the high court saying the court has breached the domain of its jurisdiction, and virtually conducted a trial in an effort to absolve the accused.

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