Government officials and politicians facing bribery charges can continue to keep their ill-gotten wealth.
The Union cabinet on Thursday junked a proposal to cut the red-tape to let investigators directly approach courts to attach properties of corrupt public servants without seeking permission from the government.
The proposal mooted two years ago at the instance of anti-corruption sleuths across the country was aimed at ensuring that officials charged with corruption were not able to enjoy the fruits of the slush funds till a decision of conviction or acquittal by the court.
The graft fighters wanted clearance from the Union cabinet to amend the Prevention of Corruption Act so that the procedure stipulated in the 1944 Criminal Law Ordinance could be simplified.
Two years ago, the cabinet referred the amendment to a Group of Ministers. “We wanted the investigating officer to be empowered to move the special court for attachment of the suspected properties,” said a CBI officer. As a safeguard against misuse, the initial amendment had suggested that investigators would need permission from an Inspector General of Police level officer before approaching courts.
Anti-corruption sleuths have argued that the existing procedure — which requires them to take permission from the government — was so cumbersome that even investigating agencies like the CBI avoided exercising this option.
A former CBI officer said it did not help confiscating a property after conviction because the quality of investigation by an over-burdened system was already low, resulting in a low conviction rate.
Only three out of 10 people charged with corruption across India get convicted. The conviction rate is believed to be lower for cases of corrupt officials amassing assets disproportionate to their known sources of income. “I think even for an agency like the CBI, the conviction rate for disproportionate assets cases is not higher than 10-20 per cent,” said a retired officer.
The amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act cleared by the cabinet on Thursday also make it compulsory to secure sanction before prosecuting retired government servants to protect them from harassment.
“A lot of government servants are harassed and many of them after retirement do not have means to defend themselves,” Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal said when asked about the purpose behind the move.