Former coal secretary PC Parakh has already run into trouble with the CBI. But other bureaucrats may soon not have to worry about being hounded for their decisions.
The government has moved Parliament to strike-out a provision in the Prevention of Corruption Act (PC Act) that lets the police book bureaucrats for decisions that benefit a private party “without any public interest”.
CBI invoked the same provision against Parakh in the latest case. It is for this reason that the CBI director Ranjit Sinha had made it clear that the agency wasn’t even accusing Parakh of making money in the coal allocation case.
The provision was introduced into the revamped PC Act in 1988 to deal with instances of bribery where anti-graft fighters were not able to find any direct evidence of corruption.
But as civil servants found themselves facing corruption cases for decisions that — with the benefit of hindsight — appeared wrong, the decision-making process slowed down. Over the past nine years, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh lost no opportunity to caution the CBI against going overboard. At a CBI function last December, he made the point again when he asked the agency to make “a distinction between bonafide mistakes and colourable exercise of power”.
Once Parliament clears amendments to the bribery law that also criminalises private sector bribery — possibly during winter session — the CBI would have to work harder before it can slap bribery charges against public servants.
Besides taking money, it will only be a crime if the public servant fraudulently or dishonestly misappropriates government assets or lets a private person do the same.