The Modi government wants to protect the honest but it might end up giving the corrupt a longer leash.
Public servants – officers, MPs and ministers alike – will now have to be given an opportunity to present their side before the Lokpal can allow anti-corruption agencies to register a case against them for bribery, according to amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act (PC Act) to be moved in the Rajya Sabha this week.
The amendments also propose to strip anti-corruption agencies, including the CBI, from probing any corruption case on their own. Instead, the investigators will have to refer any information of corruption received by them to the Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayukta at the states.
Anti-corruption agencies registered nearly 4,350 bribery cases in 2013, an average of 11 daily.
It goes on to say the Lokpal has to follow the procedure laid for handling complaints from the public, which mandates the Lokpal to give the public servant an opportunity to be heard before ordering a preliminary inquiry. Under the law, the Lokpal can take up to 60 days to decide if an FIR should be registered.
The amendments, which have been accessed by HT, were cleared by the Union cabinet on April 29.
This will give the public servant enough time to destroy the evidence, said former vigilance commissioner R Sri Kumar, calling the proposed legislation “a retrograde step”.
Jay Prakash Narayan, who quit the IAS to become a social activist before launching the Lok Satta Party, agreed. Incidentally, he has been a key votary of the need to amend the PC Act to protect honest officials. “It will logjam the entire Lokpal system,” Narayan told HT, suggesting that this was not the kind of law needed by a country where the perception is that corruption is rampant.
“If all complaints have to go to the Lokpal, it will not only lead to its collapse but also curb the power of the investigating agency at the investigation stage and cause needless delays. Obviously, the corrupt will get away,” he said.
A police officer, who had served at the CBI earlier, called the amendment “an unfortunate paradigm shift”. “It is one thing to protect the honest but this amendment goes overboard to the extent of protecting all bureaucrats, corrupt or honest,” he said.
The IPS officer added that it also was not clear who would wield the power given to the Lokayukta in a dozen-odd states that did not have the ombudsman.