Terming the Prevention of Corruption (PC) Act a “pre-liberalisation law”, finance minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday stressed the “urgent need” to expedite its review as it fails to distinguish “between corrupt and erroneous decisions”.
“Erroneous decisions, which cause loss to the government, are with the wisdom of hindsight, brought within the purview of the Act. This dissuades civil servants from taking correct and bold decisions in the interest of the economy. Defence purchases, commercial decision making, dis-investment and privatisation are examples of decisions which have suffered on this count,” Jaitley said, while delivering the Intelligence Bureau centenary endowment lecture on ‘Economic and criminal offences and evolution of jurisprudence in India’.
“There is, thus, an urgent need to expedite, review and amend the Prevention of Corruption Act to bring it in tune with the requirements of the liberalised economy,” he added. The minister finished his lecture underlining the need to protect bureaucrats, taking questions from gathering that included former Intelligence Bureau special director Rajinder Kumar, who was once chargesheeted by the CBI in the 2004 Ishrat Jahan encounter counter case. But the court could not take cognisance of the chargesheet as the then-NDA government declined sanction to prosecute him.
Kumar asked Jaitley whether the government should refrain from targeting officers who take bonafide decision while performing their duty. In reply, Jaitley said the principle that “some institutions and their functioning has to be protected”, applies across the board for all politicians, irrespective of whether they are in power or in opposition. He added that the officers performing their duties should not become an instrument of political slugfest.
“And if I put it in one sentence, ingratitude is a political sin,” he said.
Citing court rulings that demonstrate both the “potential and pitfalls of the evolving judicial role in economic offences”, Jaitley, who also holds the corporate affairs portfolio, said that such a role carries great promise of ensuring probity and establishes high standards for rectitude in public life, but “it comes at the cost of the judiciary straying into areas that are beyond their legitimacy thereby leading to several unintended consequences,” taking the example of a Subramaniam Swamy case, which he felt failed to take into account “the protection from prosecution necessary for senior officials as envisaged in the Act.”
The minister drew a parallel with protection granted in judiciary where sanction of the chief justice of a high court concerned is required before probing a magistrate or munsif judge.
Jaitley also appeared to take a jibe at AAP and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, saying that the political discourse in the country has become more vulgar, though he refrained from mentioning names.
“Though extremely popular to say, the anti-corruption law must be made more and more stringent and more and more unreasonable. That is the more popular way these days in politics, particularly when political discourse also tends to become more vulgar,” he said.