While giving more teeth to the existing anti-corruption law, the government has also ensured that innocent officers are not unnecessarily hounded, reports Sunita Moga
The long-awaited changes to the Prevention of Corruption Act, making the legislation more stringent, are expected to be taken up for clearance at Thursday’s meeting of the Union Cabinet.
According to UPA sources, it has been proposed that the Act be amended to provide for punishment in those bribery cases involving public servants where money and favours have been exchanged through intermediaries. Under the existing law, a government official could be punished if there was tangible proof that he or she had received
bribes personally. The amendment takes into account the new modus operandi being adopted in corruption cases.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had referred to this in his address at the 19th annual conference of CBI and state anti-corruption units last year when he had disclosed that the government proposed to amend the anti-corruption act. Stating that “newer modus operandi” are being adopted for corrupt practices as faster economic growth over the past two decades has led to “newer opportunities” associated with specialisation and expansion of an economy.”
It is also being proposed that in addition to accepting bribes, the act of giving bribes should also be punished which is not the case at present. The prime minister had pointed to this loophole in the same address at the CBI conference where he had noted that “it is
difficult to tackle consensual bribery and that the supplier of the bribe goes scot free by taking resort to provisions of the Act.”
The changes which will be placed before the Cabinet on Thursday also provide for the confiscation of properties which have been acquired by government officials with money received as bribes.
It is learnt that the amended law will make it mandatory for the competent authority to grant or deny sanction of prosecution of a government official within three months.
This follows a recommendation by a Group of Ministers set up in 2011 to consider measures to tackle corruption. The time frame was specified as experience has shown that guilty officials invariably got away as the sanction for their prosecution was kept in limbo for several years.
While giving his approval to this amendment, Attorney General GE Vahanvati had suggested an application seeking sanction to prosecute a public servant should be considered if the person has filed a police complaint.
The GOM, headed by then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, had also recommended that all officers of the Central government above the rank of joint secretary, the competent authority to approve initiation of inquiry or investigation under Section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act will be the minister incharge.
While giving more teeth to the existing anti-corruption law, the government has also ensured that innocent officers are not unnecessarily hounded. It has, therefore, been proposed that corruption charges against retired officers will also require a sanction from the competent authority. Here, too, the prime minister himself had held out an assurance that honest public servants would be adequately protected.
The UPA government had moved to amend the Prevention of Corruption Act following social activist Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption touched a chord with the people and resulted in angry protests on the streets. The government was also pulled up the Supreme Court for not sitting on an application seeking sanction for the prosecution of former telecom minister A Raja for sixteen months.
However, it is to be seen if the amended law will be passed by Parliament as several other anti-corruption legislations like the Lokpal Bill, the Public Procurement Bill and the Bill providing for time-bound delivery of goods and services are still awaiting approval.