STOP Parliament from making fatal amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act

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As we know, our country is already one of the most corrupt in the world. We do not have a stringent system to curb corruption or to handle the corrupt with proper penalty. Our systems provide enough loopholes to the corrupt to escape all sorts of inquiries and judgments already. At present, the only hope available for an Indian citizen to bring corrupt to light is the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), 1988.

However, the Parliament is considering an amendment to the Prevention of Corruption Act which would only end up helping the corrupt. Bill serves to dilute and defeat the whole point of anti-corruption legislation in more ways than one. It narrows down the existing definition of corruption, increases the burden of proof necessary for punishing the corrupt, makes things more difficult for the whistle-blower, and strengthens the shield available to officials accused of corruption. 

A Brief Preview of the Amendments proposed:

1.  The proposed amendment narrows down the definition of corruption, as demanded by the powerful lobby of civil servants. Section 13(1)(d) of the existing PCA covers various indirect forms of corruption including the obtaining of “any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage” by illegal gratification or by “abusing his position as a public servant”. The present Bill removes this section and replaces it with a truncated definition of criminal misconduct by a public servant. Under this new definition, any benefit that is not economic, that is indirect or that cannot be proven to be intentional fraud will not be punished as corruption. 

2. The Bill makes it more difficult to hold someone guilty of disproportionate assets as it raises the threshold of proof. Under the existing law, the possession of monetary resources or property disproportionate to the public servant’s known sources of income is enough to prove corruption. Now the prosecutor will also have to prove that this disproportionate asset was acquired with the intention of the public servant to enrich himself illicitly. 

Besides this, currently, “known sources of income” are limited only to those receipts which had been “intimated in accordance with the provisions of any law, rules or orders for the time being applicable to a public servant”. This provision was made in 1988 in order to cover an earlier loophole, whereby many accused persons would cite fresh sources of income at the stage of trial, resulting in acquittal in a large number of disproportionate assets cases. Strangely, the bill proposes to delete this requirement.

3. The proposed amendment makes it more risky for a bribe-giver to give evidence against a bribe-taker. Under the existing law, if a person makes a statement during a corruption trial that he gave a bribe, it would not be used to prosecute him for the offence of abetment of corruption. The current Bill omits this provision and proposes that bribe-taking and bribe-giving will be equally punishable. This would obviously deter bribe-givers from appearing as witnesses in cases against public officials.

4. The fourth change reduces the chances of prosecution of the corrupt. The existing PCA requires the government’s or higher officials’ sanction before any serving public servants can be prosecuted under the Act. The basic idea is to protect honest public officials from harassment, persecution and frivolous litigation. The proposed amendment extends this protection to retired public servants, if the case pertains to the period when they were in office. It also adds another unnecessary and pointless condition. If a private person approaches the government for sanction to prosecute a public servant for corruption, he would now need a court order to this effect. This additional layer of protection for the accused would discourage victims of corruption and anti-corruption activists from prosecuting corrupt public servants. Clearly, the government is concerned more about shielding government officials than prosecuting the corrupt.

5.  Finally, the most deadly and diabolic provision that the government has quietly slipped in without much public scrutiny. It proposes to insert a new Section 17A that would bar investigating agencies from even beginning an inquiry or investigating the offences under this Act without prior approval. The power to give this sanction will be vested to an “authority competent to remove” the person from office. This means that the political masters will decide whether they wish to allow a corruption inquiry against any government employee or not.

Surely, if there is no inquiry, there is no credible evidence. On what basis then would the anybody give or refuse to give the sanction? Or, how would anyone produce evidence to secure this sanction without an inquiry in the first place? Even if the sanction is granted, would it not alert the corrupt official about the impending inquiry and give him time to hide evidence? 

Dear fellow citizens, a Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha, comprising members across the political establishment, has already approved these changes and so has the Cabinet. 

Let us raise our voice against the bill. Let us tell our law makers to stop making laws for personal gains. Let us demand our Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers and all our MPs to stop making changes to the already weak Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), 1988, into a law that can only be described as Protection of the Corrupt Act.

 

Inspired from an article published in Hindu. Please view the complete article on http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/Time-to-blow-the-whistle/article16793830.ece 



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