Anti-graft Bill: Amendments will help quicken decision-making, say experts

The amendments will help quicken decision-making among civil servants, though it may not help those who are congenitally non-decision makers. The honest public servant should not fear taking decisions following these amendments. 

Public servants take a lot of economic and business decisions. Some of these decisions may not lead to desired outcome. But to presume that all these decisions were taken with a mala fide intention is wrong. There could be administrative lapses in the execution of a decision. But to press criminal charges for such lapses is wrong, unless it is proved that the person involved has benefitted out of the decision taken. Fear of being questioned by investigating agencies led to slow down in decision-making in the government. Under the existing Act, a bureaucrat could be questioned for decisions, and be pressed with criminal charges, even if no quid pro quo is established. The amendment ensures that unless mala fide intention can be proven and quid pro quo established, civil servants will no longer be harassed. This will ensure that honest public servants are not harassed by investigators. As a result, it will help them take decisions more freely and in a timely manner.

Anil Swarup
On the other hand, dishonest public servants will be wary of the time-bound nature of investigation under the amended Bill. The bribe giver too has the incentive to report such incident within a specified time frame. 

On the question of whether the amendments dilute anti-graft measures, the answer is no. It really depends on the investigating agency. The officer should be nailed if there is a quid pro quo. Corruption is reprehensible for civil servants but inaction is even worse. Inaction defeats the very purpose of civil servant’s existence.

The amendment is a step in the right direction and will certainly strengthen the Prevention of Corruption Act.

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The author is former secretary, Government of India

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N Santosh Hegde
There will be drastic  drop in conviction rates: N Santosh Hegde

These amendments protect corrupt public servants. These make it all the more difficult for investigators to probe corruption charges against them. 

It is being made out as if the object of the Bill was to make bribe giving an offence. But even under the un-amended Act, the bribe giver could have been treated as an abettor. However, the biggest deterrent for prosecutors comes in the amendment that permits the statement made by the bribe giver be used against him. This will prevent the bribe giver from giving evidence. This ensures that fewer people will come forward to press corruption charges against public servants. 

Earlier, permission was necessary to file a charge sheet against serving officers. Now, permission has to be sought before initiation of an investigation in certain cases. Moreover, the amendments require sanction to prosecute retired government officials. This further creates hindrance in the path of bringing to book guilty civil servants. One fails to understand the need for government permission to probe even retired public servants.

The clause that directs the inquiry to establish ‘intention’ of the person allegedly involved in corrupt practices is vague and ambiguous. How do prosecutors prove ‘intent’ of the person? Isn’t disproportionate increase in personal assets of the person good enough to prove ‘intent’?

With these changes it will become even more difficult for prosecutors to get conviction in corruption cases that involve public servants. The rate of conviction under the current Act is barely 15-20 per cent. Following these amendments, I expect there will be a drastic drop in conviction rates  — to around 5 per cent. 

On the whole, the amendments only dilute the anti-corruption Act. All the political parties are in favour of watered-down anti-graft provisions. We have already seen that play out in Kartanaka with deliberate attempts to weaken the Lokayukta.

 
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The author is former judge, Supreme Court, and  ex-Lokayukta, Karnataka


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