Weeks after activist Anna Hazare's fast for a stronger anti-graft law grabbed national attention, the government Wednesday unveiled a host of steps to curb corruption that included setting up of 71 fast-track special CBI courts, fixing a limit of three months to grant sanction for prosecution and abolishing discretionary powers enjoyed by ministers.
Announcing that the government has accepted the recommendations of a Group of Ministers on corruption, Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid and Minister of State for Personnel V. Narayanasamy said ministers will no longer have discretionary powers in the allotment of land, telephone and petrol pumps.
"These powers have been removed", barring in cases of compensation to victims of Maoist violence by the home ministry and to war widows by the defence ministry, said Narayanasamy.
The GoM also decided to bring a new policy and a bill on public procurement in the winter session of Parliament to tackle corruption and make the procedure more transparent.
"The first report of the GoM has been submitted to the government and the prime minister has approved many of the recommendations," Narayanasamy said.
The Group of Ministers (GoM), set up by the government to curb corruption and improve transparency in governance, was headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
Among the proposed measures are: Mere retirement would not be a ground for dropping proceedings against corrupt government servants who will now face a 10 percent cut in pension in case of minor penalty, for a period not exceeding five years.
The major penalty of compulsory retirement with full benefits would be changed hereafter with a cut of 20 percent in pension.
Further, the permission to initiate legal action against corrupt officials will be given in a maximum period of three months.
In the event of refusal of sanction to prosecute, the competent authority would have to submit its order, including the reasons for refusal, to the next higher authority for information within seven days, Narayanasamy said.
Wherever the minister in-charge of the department is the competent authority and he decides to deny permission for prosecution, it would be incumbent on the minister to report it to the prime minister within seven days.
Narayanasamy also announced that 71 fast-track CBI courts will try corruption cases, out of which 44 are already in place.
When asked about the fast-tracking of almost 10,000 pending CBI cases, he said a committee, headed by a sitting Supreme Court judge, would be set up for studying cases which have been pending trial for more than ten years and make recommendations for their speedy disposal or withdrawal.
The committee, which would look at cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act, would include retired CVC, CBI Director and another person of impeccable repute from civil society, he said.
The government announced that the prime minister will hold consultations with all political parties on the issue of electoral reforms, a key issue raised by Team Anna. Contentious issues like the Right to recall and measures to keep those with criminal records away from electoral process will be part of the discussions.
The government will bring in a national-level Citizen's Charter bill to ensure timely delivery of public services.
On tackling corruption in judiciary, Khurshid said the government will look into setting up of a Judicial Commission for appointment of judges.
Narayanasamy said he was hopeful that the Lokpal Bill would be studied by the Standing Committee and tabled in parliament in the upcoming session.
On amendment to Art 311 of the Constitution to provide for summary proceedings in cases of grave misdemeanour or acts of blatant corruption by public servants, it was felt that there was need to strike a balance between fundamental rights of individuals and administrative agencies.
"Yes Article 311 will remain untouched," Narayansamy said.
The GoM has also suggested making the departments and ministries to primarily use serving officers as inquiry and presenting officers in one of the steps towards speeding up the inquiry proceedings.
"The committee has recommended that the vigilance officers especially the investigating officer should not be by name but by designation so that the other officer, who is appointed can continue the inquiry in any case," Narayanasamy said, adding that delay in many a cases occurred due to change of investigating officers.
In important cases, the officers may request the Central Vigilance Commission to appoint their Commissioner of Direct Inquiries as Investigating Officer.
The GoM also decided to dispense with the practice of seeking second stage advise of the CVC in corruption cases.