Strengthened by Rajiv Gandhi in 1988, the Prevention of Corruption Act (PC Act) is set to be rendered toothless by the Manmohan Singh government. The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), headed by the PM, introduced an amended version of the Act in Parliament late last year.
If the amendments are passed, it may be impossible to investigate and prosecute cases similar to the 2G, Bofors and coal allocation scams.
The government has proposed deleting several key sections in the PC Act. This includes section 13 — introduced by the Rajiv Gandhi-government in 1988 — that lies at the heart of the law. Section 13 helped define criminal misconduct by public officials; its clauses and sub sections ensured that investigators had an array of powers to investigate all forms of corruption by government officials. Understandably, scores of police officials investigating corruption cases are anxious with this dilution of the anti-graft law.
One deletion is that of Section 24, which protects bribe givers who cooperate and help trap bribe takers. This means under the amended Act, those taking bribes cannot turn approvers.
A senior DoPT official justified the deletions, insisting it was done to bring the PC Act in line with the provisions of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) that India ratified in May 2011. However, Article 37 (3) of UNCAC clearly states that bribe givers cooperating with the law must be given special protection. By deleting section 24, the DoPT has ensured that the CBI will never be able to trap offenders.
Other major deletions include that of section 13(1)(d) that defines various acts that construe corruption. With the deletion of this clause, we will not be able to prosecute anyone for cases like the 2G and coal allocation scams,” said a senior CBI official on the condition of anonymity.
The new bill also amends section 13(1)(e) that concerns prosecution of officials with assets disproportionate to their known sources of income. Earlier, investigators just had to track whether officials had the income to justify their assets. But the amended Act has a new clause that asks investigators to prove that the disproportionate assets were the result of “intentional enrichment by a public servant in an illicit manner.” This means more work for investigating agencies like the CBI who will have to prove the disproportionate assets found were procured willingly and illegally.
The amended Bill neglects to deal with the problem of ‘sanction’, a prerequisite for investigation agencies before they can proceed against officers above the rank of joint secretary. Though the new bill gives a timeframe for sanction, it ignores section 6(A) of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act (DSPE) that allows the government to withhold permission to investigating agencies.
“This will ensure officials facing allegations of corruption will have ample time to wipe out evidence before we can even start investigating them,” a senior Central Vigilance Commission official told HT.