Amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act – 1988 passed

 

Relevancy

  • GS Mains Paper-2
  • Government Policies and Interventions

Why in news?

  • Recently the parliament passed the crucial amendments to the “Prevention of Corruption Act – 1988”, to give more teeth to the anti-graft law.

How did the amendment come up?

  • The Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013 was sent to a Parliamentary Standing Committee for discussions.
  • The committee gave its report in 2014, the Law Commission subsequently came up with an extensive report on the same in 2015.
  • A Select Committee of Rajya Sabha studied the amendments and finalised its recommendations in August 2016, and then a new bill was drafted.
  • The current bill i.e, “Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2018” was passed by both houses of the parliament recently.

What are the important aspects of the new bill?

  • The new bill describes bribe as an “undue advantage”, on the lines of “United Nations Convention against Corruption”, which India ratified in 2011.
  • Any “gratification” other than legal remuneration mostly official salaries and perks received by a public servant can be construed as an undue advantage.
  • Notably, “Gratification” was stated to include things that can’t be measured in terms of money, as well as “gifts”.
  • As the scope for investigating agencies to misuse the vast provisions to harass public servants is high, the need for precautions was stressed.
  • The new law seeks to punish collusive bribe givers too with up to 7 years in jail and further fined accordingly.
  • Further, the Select Committee wanted courts to decide the minimum punishment for bribe givers on the merits of the specific case.
  • In contrast to collusive bribe givers, the bill states that ones who are forced to bribe (coerced bribe givers) to access services shall not be prosecuted.
  • Coerced bribe givers are required to inform the officials of the same within a week’s time since the bribe was given to gain the exemption.
  • As the situation might not be favourable for all coerced bribe givers to intimate officials within a week, some MPs voiced that the time needs to be extended.
  • Further, activists have warned that the government officials might delay providing services till 7 days from the receipt of bribe to escape being reported.

What are the other aspects?

  • Earlier, the punishment for corruption was “a minimum of 6 years, which was extendable up to 3 years fine”.
  • This has been enhanced to a minimum of 3 years, which is extendable up to 7 years with fine, which can go up to 10 years for a repeat offender”.
  • Under the new bill, public servants processing assets disproportionate to his/her legal sources of income will be deemed to have committed a crime.
  • Further, law enforcers have been empowered to immediately attach such property of a public servant, until a proper explanation is received.

What are the issues?

  • While it is desirable for corruption cases to be concluded between two and four years from the date of filing the case, it usually gets very delayed.
  • The new law mandates pre-certification by a “competent authority” for prosecuting government functionaries at all levels, in order to avoid misuse.
  • As this immunity was earlier available only to officials of the level of Joint Secretary and above, this is likely to slow down prosecution.
  • Nonetheless, as a maximum of 3 months time has been set for approval/denial of permission for prosecution, the government claims it won’t slow cases.

 

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