Centre says amended anti-corruption law will rein in graft, but bureaucrats and activists claim legal provisions weakened
The Centre is seeking to project the passage of the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act as a major step in its fight against corruption.
The Narendra Modi government is seeking to project the passage of the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act, 2018 in both Houses of Parliament as a major step in its fight against corruption. The government claims that this law will serve as a strong deterrent against corruption. Through this legislation, some existing provisions have been amended and some new ones have also been brought in.
Key aspects of the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment Act), 2018
The Act has increased the punishment for those found guilty of offering a bribe. Earlier, the law had a provision for punishment ranging from six months to three years' imprisonment, whereas now it is up to seven years' imprisonment. The punishment for repeat offenders has also been made more stringent: those found guilty can be handed a prison sentence between five and ten years.
The amended law also has provisions to deal with bribes by corporate entities, and government employees possessing disproportionate assets. The process of investigation and trial of any government employee is to be completed within two years, and this period can be extended up to a maximum of four years.
Before an investigation is conducted on any government employee, permission will be required from the concerned department or the government. This provision is in place for serving and retired government employees. A decision on such a permission has to be taken within three to four months.
Both the givers and receivers of bribes are covered under the provisions of the Act. However, no punitive action will be taken in cases where people are compelled to pay a bribe, and they inform the law enforcement authorities about it within seven days.
An IAS officer working with the central government said, “Initially, there was a provision for seeking prior approval of the concerned authority for initiating action against erring officials at the joint secretary level and above. This was removed on the pretext of Article 14 of the Constitution (equality before law). Because of this, in one case, an official was convicted, although no proof of bribery could be found against him. This happened because a certain party benefitted from a decision that he took. It is akin to a decision of a judge, through which one of the parties contesting a case is bound to benefit. If things like this happen, why will an officer take a tough decision?"
In the amended law, Section 13(1)(d) — which deals with criminal misconduct and abuse of position by a public servant — has been removed.
Another former IPS officer, Sachin Sridhar, said, “The world is changing fast, and we need quick decision-making. However, our officers are in constant fear of various agencies such the Central Bureau of Investigation, Comptroller and Auditor General and Central Vigilance Commission. It is no secret that on several occasions, grave injustice has been done to officers."
Criticism of the Act
The legislation is also facing opposition from several quarters. Several IPS and IRS officers, in a lighter vein, have referred to it as a 'Protection of Corruption' Act.
A government official says, "Articles 311 and 312 of the Constitution safeguard officers against any unfair action. While the new law will ensure that some honest people will not get into trouble, it will also ensure that a large number of corrupt people will have a field day."
A senior IPS officer working in the central government says, "This Act will enable some honest people to take decisions in a holistic manner. However, it will also help corrupt elements."
In a similar vein, a director-general rank officer said, "It is true that there were chances of Section 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act being misused. However, the number of officials who have been charged and convicted under this provision can be counted on one's fingers. With the introduction of Section 17A, it will become difficult to initiate an inquiry against corrupt officials."
Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan said, "How can a crime be proved without an investigation? Evidence can only be gathered through a probe. But as per the new law, proof must first be given, after which the government may allow the investigation. This will promote corruption instead of preventing it. We will challenge this Act in court”.
He added, “This is the third time that the government is making such an attempt, which is in direct contradiction to the decision of a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court”.
Questions are also being raised over prosecuting the bribe giver as well as the bribe seeker. In the past, bribe givers used to become witnesses for the prosecution, and would help agencies in their case.
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