The Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA):
- It is the key legislation which defines what constitutes corruption and prescribes penalties for corruption-related offences
- It is presently set to be amended by Parliament and the proposed Bill, now before a select committee of the Rajya Sabha, includes several contentious amendments that are likely to have far-reaching ramifications
- The proposed amendments make all actual and potential bribe-givers offenders under the PCA
- In India, it is a reality that people are forced to pay bribes even to get their basic entitlements like rations, pensions, education and health facilities— leading to being ‘doubly wronged’
In situations where the matter will be of life and death, a bribe might sound illegal but for the treatment or justice, this risk will be definite. Forcing people into this dilemma would only further the culture of impunity by dis-incentivising reporting of corruption by bribe-givers.
Proposed amendments to the PCA— A retrograde step:
Case of Immunity
The government needs to reconsider the above-mentioned points and offer immunity to at least three types of bribe-givers—
- Those who are coerced to pay a bribe to obtain their legal entitlements
- Those who voluntarily come forward to complain and bear witness against corrupt public officials
- Those who are willing to turn approvers
For the second and third categories: 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.
Need to put in place a comprehensive grievance redress mechanism—
The objective of combating coercive corruption would be more effectively achieved (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 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.
- To safeguard public servants who are in decision-making positions, so that they may take decisions without fear of harassment
- Amendment to replace Section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act (was struck down by the Supreme Court)
- Section 6A mandated prior sanctions for investigation for officials of the rank of joint secretary and above
A confusing element— leading to unending litigation with respect to investigations pertaining to determining if a decision taken or recommendation made by a public servant has played a bigger role or not
- The proposed amendments must either be dropped or
- The 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 of prosecuting agencies from government influence—
- The amendments seek to increase the cover to even retired public officials
- Requirement for seeking prior sanction from the government for prosecution— is a critical bottleneck and results not only in huge delays but also in the accused often never being prosecuted
- The PCA must insulate prosecuting agencies from government influence
- The Lokpal law has vested the power of granting sanction for prosecution in the Lokpal—wherever the procedure for granting prosecution is defined in the Lokpal or Lokayukta laws, it should be applicable
- Cases wih no Lokpal or Lokayukta— an independent committee should be tasked with the responsibility of giving prior approval for prosecution
- Need to operationalise the Lokpal Act and the Whistle Blowers Protection Act which were passed by Parliament more than two years ago (along with the PCA, form the necessary anti-corruption statutory framework)
Connecting the Dots:
- Increasing the probability of detecting and punishing corrupt offenders by enforcing the anti-corruption laws impartially and reducing the delay in prosecuting offenders must be the topmost priority for the anti-corruption strategy of India. Discuss