The amendment to the Prevention of Corruption Act will ensure that honest officers will not be harassed by investigative agencies in the process of apprehending the corrupt, Union Minister Arun Jaitley said on Friday.
The Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2018, which seeks to punish bribe givers for the first time with imprisonment of up to a maximum of seven years, was passed by Parliament this week.
“I do hope that the investigators also realise that it is only professionalism and fairness which will ensure a higher rate of conviction. Punishing the corrupt has to be judiciously balanced with non-harassment of the honest,” Jaitley wrote in a Facebook post.
The amendment “corrected a fundamental flaw” in the 30-year old anti-corruption law, which was enacted in pre-liberalisation regime and had not anticipated the kind of risk which could be faced by honest decision makers.
The wide definition of corruption and loose language of the old act prompted the investigators to shed their professionalism and follow the “golden rule” of ‘when in doubt, file a chargesheet’.
“Thus a loan given by an honest bank management in accordance with the rules, would get subsequently questioned if the recipient of the loan defaulted and the entire process of the banker-lender relationship was referred to an investigative agency,” he said.
Jaitley said many honest persons were harassed and eventually never convicted and there arose a tendency among civil servants to postpone decision making to their successor rather than take the risk upon themselves.
“The new Bill, besides correcting the somewhat loose language, now requires the element of mens rea i.e. the dishonest intention to be proved for an offence of criminal conduct to be made out. This will ensure that bonafide actions of public servants are not called into question,” Jaitley said.
Jaitley said the only group which is unhappy with the amendment are the NGOs, who are not aware of the needs of governance, quick decision making and growth. “For these groups ‘chaos’ and ‘decision making paralysis’ is better than stability and growth,” he added.
The Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2018, has many provisions to ensure speedy trial of corruption cases besides providing protection to bureaucrats, even after their retirement, from malicious complaints.
For the bribe takers, the bill proposes to increase the punishment to a minimum of three years of imprisonment, which may extend to seven years, besides fine.
The bribe givers shall be punished up to seven years of imprisonment or with fine or both, according to the bill. Bribe givers are not covered in any of the domestic legislation to check corruption.