The country's notorious short arm of the law may have just got a bit longer with the Centre issuing new guidelines to seize assets of allegedly corrupt government officials even after they retire. In consultation with the ministry of law, a 'competent authority' can, according to the new norms, authorise the central government to take such action against retired public servants who have pending chargesheets or charges under the Prevention of Corruption Act in their names. A law, of course, is as good as its implementation. The fact that the Centre, embroiled pretty much the whole of last year in the pulls and pushes of enacting an all-encompassing statutory anti-corruption mechanism in the form of the Lokpal Bill, has in the interregnum gone ahead with these guidelines is welcome. Till now, investigative bodies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation had found retired public servants with charges of corruption against them to be beyond the pale, when it came to taking action. At best, the authorities would have been able to remove the tainted bureaucrat at the time when the alleged offence took place. But ironically, action in terms of seizure of assets became impossible once such a removal took place, or the alleged offender retired.
One prime reason why corruption has thrived in this country is because of the lack of any real disincentive. Without the fear of being punished - or with the high possibility of a case of corruption 'never' coming to a closure - the benefits accrued by having the proverbial open palm outweighs the liabilities of punishment upon getting caught with one's hand in the jar. Government officials are especially susceptible to such a cost-benefit line of thinking. Added to this is the fact of public servants covering each other's backs while their bosses - either senior bureaucrats or politicians - prefer to look away silently citing the 'tradition' of allowing beaks to be wetted.
In such a scenario, it isn't incorrect to state that it is harder to be an honest government official than it is to be a crooked one. With the move of being able to pursue charges and mete out punishment in the form of asset seizure against alleged corrupt bureaucrats even after they retire, a small but important step has been taken to reverse this trend. This central model is also going to be applicable at the state level, which is where a majority of statutory graft takes place. With nodal bodies taking on the responsibility to pursue cases of bureaucratic misdemeanours even after a public official's tenure has been served, the usual political pulls and pressures that allow offenders to go undetected, and thereby unpunished, should stop. Now it is up to the 'competent authority' charged with the duty to implement the new guidelines to do his or her job and make government officials planning to make a quick buck while on duty and hoping to retire with some 'extra benefits' think twice about breaking the law.