New anti-graft Bill 'shields' govt staff, punishes bribe-givers: Explainer

An anti-corruption Bill passed by Parliament provides for punishment to both bribe-givers and takers, and extends some relief to public officials. The Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2018, was passed by the Lok Sabha on Tuesday after the Rajya Sabha approved it on July 19.  

The Bill makes specific provisions related to what will be considered as offering a bribe to a public servant and offering a bribe by a commercial organisation. It also modifies the definitions and penalties for offences related to taking a bribe, being a habitual offender and abetting an offence.

Instances of corruption and provisions to punish the guilty are provided in the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.

Here are the key features of the Bill passed by Parliament:  

1) Giving bribe is a specific and a direct offence.

2) Those convicted of taking bribes can be imprisoned for three to seven years besides being fined under the provisions of the Bill. 

3) Bribe-givers have also been included in the legislation for the first time and they can be punished with imprisonment for up to seven years, a fine or both. 

4) It makes a provision for providing protection to 'coerced' (forced to pay a bribe) bribe-givers if the matter is reported to the concerned law enforcement agencies within a week. 

5) The Bill has removed the provision which protected a bribe-giver from prosecution for statements made by him/her during corruption trials. 

6) The Bill also redefines criminal misconduct and will now only cover misappropriation of property and possession of disproportionate assets.

7) The Bill proposes a 'shield' for government servants, including those retired, from prosecution by making it mandatory for investigating agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation to take prior approval from a competent authority before conducting an enquiry against them. 

8) However, it states that such permissions shall not be necessary for cases involving the arrest of a person on the spot on the charge of accepting or attempting to accept any undue advantage for himself or for any other person. 

9) Another relief that the Bill provides to a public servant is that in any corruption case against him or her, the factor of "undue advantage" will have to be established. 

10) According to the Bill, the trial in cases pertaining to the exchange of bribe and corruption should be completed within two years. Further, even after reasoned delays, the trial cannot exceed four years. 

11) The Bill covers bribe-giving commercial organisations to be liable for punishment or prosecution. However, charitable institutions have been left out of its ambit.

12) According to PRS Legislative Research, the Bill provides powers and procedures for the attachment and forfeiture of a corruption-accused public servant's property.   

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