- Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) is set to be amended by Parliament. The proposed Bill includes several contentious amendments that are likely to have far-reaching ramifications. They require considerable deliberation.
Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA)
- PCA is the key legislation which defines what constitutes corruption and prescribes penalties for corruption-related offences.
What is wrong with the proposed amendments?
- The proposed amendments make all actual and potential bribe-givers offenders under the PCA.
- While it is desirable to treat giving bribes aimed at receiving illegitimate gains as an offence, people, especially the poor and the marginalised, are often forced to pay bribes to get what is legitimately theirs.
- If they are also prosecuted, it would be a double wrong.
How to correct this wrong?
- The proposed amendments to the PCA are, practically and morally, a retrograde step.
- The government would be well advised to reconsider this and offer immunity to at least three types of bribe-givers.
- First, those who are coerced to pay a bribe to obtain their legal entitlements;
- Second, those who voluntarily come forward to complain and bear witness against corrupt public officials; and
- Third, those who are willing to turn approvers.
- For the second and third categories though, immunity should be provided only from criminal liability — bribe-givers must be made to return any benefit they secured as a result of the bribe.
- Providing immunity to these categories of bribe-givers would encourage them to complain about corruption and ensure that corruption is not a low-risk, high-return activity.
What about Grievances?
- Currently, if anyone files a complaint regarding denial of their entitlements, the complainant almost never gets redress nor is any penal action initiated against the guilty.
- The objective of combating coercive corruption would be more effectively achieved if the government puts in place a comprehensive grievance redress mechanism.
- This can be remedied by the enactment of the grievance redress bill, which was introduced in the Parliament in 2011 and had support across party lines, but unfortunately lapsed with the dissolution of the last Lok Sabha.
Approval for investigation
- The proposed amendments state that complaints regarding corruption that relate to decisions taken or recommendations made by public servants in the discharge of their official duty, shall not be investigated without the prior approval of the Lokpal or Lokayuktas, as the case maybe.
- Such complaints shall be forwarded to, and deemed to be complaints made to the Lokpal or Lokayuktas.
- The proposed amendments must either be dropped or state that complaints about all offences under the PCA shall be dealt with by the Lokpal at the Central level and Lokayuktas at the State level, for all categories of public servants covered in the respective laws.
Insulation is required
- The PCA must insulate prosecuting agencies from government influence.
- The Lokpal law has vested the power of granting sanction for prosecution in the Lokpal.
- The proposed amendments must appropriately reflect this.
- Wherever the procedure for granting prosecution is defined in the Lokpal or Lokayukta laws, it should be applicable.
- For all other cases, including where no Lokpal or Lokayukta has been set up, an independent committee should be tasked with the responsibility of giving prior approval for prosecution.
If the government is serious about tackling corruption, it should, in addition to re-introducing the grievance redress bill, immediately operationalise the Lokpal Act and the Whistle Blowers Protection Act which were passed by Parliament more than two years ago. These laws, together with the PCA, form the necessary anti-corruption statutory framework.