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New Anti-Corruption Legislation Dilutes the Original Law

The law has added a hurdle for the investigative agencies which are now required to get prior sanction from competent authorities in order to initiate a probe in case of the public servants.
Prevention of Corruption (Amendments) Bill, 2018

In the ongoing monsoon session 2018 of the Parliament, both houses passed the Prevention of Corruption (Amendments) Bill, 2018. While this move brings in numerous changes in the way corruption is tackled and governed, experts argue that the amendments have diluted the older corruption law.

On July 19, Rajya Sabha passed the Bill making amendments in the various provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Following this, the lower house passed the Bill through a voice vote on July 24.

Also Read: Controversial Bills in the Monsoon Session

The BJP-led government made several changes in the Bill which was originally proposed during 2013 by the previous UPA government. Replacing the existing Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, the law has added a hurdle for the investigative agencies which are now required to get prior sanction from competent authorities in order to initiate a probe on the action of public servants. Earlier, this provision applied only to government officials above the joint secretary level. That is, the amendments added the ‘test of intention’ such that prosecuting agencies are mandated to prove conspiracy of corrupt actions before taking any action.

Why Lokpal not implemented?

Although the Lokpal act has been in force since 2013, the BJP government did not implement the act, and as a consequence, while the new legislation mandates assent from competent authority in issuing orders of investigation against actions of public servants, the whole process of initiating inquiry is now under question, as Lokpal is legitimate competent authority.

The 1988 act defined a corrupt public official as any person who, “while holding office as a public servant, obtains for any person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage without any public interest”, whereas the new law states that any person with an “undue advantage with the intention to perform or cause performance of public duty improperly or dishonestly” as a corrupt public official. The provision is being criticised that the definition of corrupt official has narrowed down, diluting the older law.

Also, the latest law now only covers two types of offences – fraudulent misappropriation of property and illicit enrichment (amassing of assets disproportionate to one’s known sources of income) of the public servants. The older law allowed an investigating officer to prove violation of legal provisions, rules, guidelines or procedures and resultant undue pecuniary advantage accrued to anyone, including a third party, to proceed with the probe.

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The legislation also contains provision to criminalise bribe giver. It says ‘giving a bribe’ as a direct offence, however, the person who is compelled to give bribe will not be charged with the offence if he reports the matter to concerned authorities within a period of seven days. During the debate in Lok Sabha over the Bill, several opposition leaders cautioned the government over this provision, as the older law does not consider the bribe givers as accused except on charges of abetment to corruption. While the punishment for those convicted for bribe taking will be imprisonment from three to seven years, besides fine and for those convicted for bribe giving, the punishment will be imprisonment up to seven years, fine or both.

During the debate, minister of state for personnel, public grievances and pensions Jitendra Singh said that the amendments are brought so that “honest performing officer does not get intimidated or his initiatives get killed”. He added that “for any corruption case, we will bring guidelines for decision to be ordinarily given in two years.”

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