Public servants, including ministers and MPs, found guilty of corruption may have to reimburse the money lost by the government due to their unethical acts.
Anxious to lift the government's credibility dented by Team Anna campaign that accused the UPA of doing too little too late, the government has revived a proposal to fix liability of corrupt public servants and asked the Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee to consider new legal provisions.
The GoM will now take a final view on the recommendation to determine the liability of corrupt public servants to pay damages.
All those who are paid money from the treasury for their services or mandated to carry out public functions are public servants under 's anti-corruption law, right from ministers and legislators to the bureaucracy and public sector employees.
The nine-member GoM was constituted by the Prime Minister in January this year to suggest effective measures to tackle corruption after the government was besieged by a series of scams.
Social activist Anna Hazare's team had also included this provision in its jan lokpal bill, but the government had shot it down in June, suggesting it was difficult to implement. The Prevention of Corruption Act only has a provision for a penalty, which has nothing to do with the loss caused to the exchequer.
"It is doable," said Jarnail Singh, the former Manipur chief secretary who pushed for a similar law in Manipur in 2006.
"Once we started the process to recover money from five-six officials, other people fell in line," Singh — now chief executive officer of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee — recalled.
Bihar too has shown the demonstrative effect of such legislations recently when it seized a bungalow built by a corrupt officer and converted it into a school.
The second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) headed by union minister M Veerappa Moily had recommended a similar mechanism, insisting that "public servants who cause loss to the state or citizens by their corrupt acts be made liable for the loss caused."
The department of personnel and training (DoPT) - mandated with formulation of laws and policy relating to manpower management and anti-corruption - opposed the proposal, stating it would not be possible to precisely determine the loss caused in commercial decisions.
“For example, if a public servant is calculated to have caused a loss of R50 crore, which is much beyond his resources, how will the issue be resolved?" the DoPT asked the Core Group on Administrative Reforms, a panel of senior bureaucrats headed by the cabinet secretary, in 2008.
This was one of the six questions it posed before the core group that was inclined to clear the proposal. The core group initially responded that public servants would be liable to pay damages only in cases where involvement in corrupt acts was proven, but later decided to play along and put away the proposal.
The GoM, which was considering the pending issues related to the ARC reports, had in March this year recommended that this issue be referred to the newly constituted group of ministers to tackle corruption.