On the face of things, Rajasthan’s ordinance putting checks on the investigation of corruption charges against public officials looks quite similar to the changes being proposed by the central government in the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) to prevent harassment of honest civil servants. Why the Rajasthan ordinance – the Bill hasn’t been passed due to opposition so far – needed to include “a judge or a magistrate” is a bit odd, as is the part which talks of a “public servant” as being “defined under any other law for the time being in force”; are other persons being included by this proviso? Presumably the judiciary has been included to prevent judicial opposition to the law – the Congress party has already said it will approach the courts on the ordinance and proposed law. More worrying is the gag order on the media from reporting anything on the persons “against whom any proceeding under this section is pending, until the sanction has been or deemed to have been issued”. Given the media’s role in unearthing almost every major scam over several decades, this is decidedly worrying since it makes a cover up that much easier.
Assuming the Rajasthan government is willing to sacrifice some of these clauses in the discussion over the Bill, the real issue is the similarity with the proposed changes in the PCA in terms of prior sanction before an investigation – the current law requires prior sanction before prosecution, not investigation. Given how the existing law prevents bureaucrats from taking so many decisions – for fear of being hauled up for an honest decision – surely the proposed changes are welcome? They will protect bureaucrats, but the counter question is that, if there is no detailed investigation, how is any wrong-doing to be established? And if there are no facts, even if the sanctioning authority comprises the most honest/efficient bureaucrats or eminent persons of impeccable authority or the leader of the Opposition, how can it reach any conclusion on whether prosecution should be sanctioned? Since the real problem is with the CBI/police grandstanding and leaking its ‘findings’ and with its shoddy and biased investigation – the Aarushi Talwar case makes this chillingly clear for the police and the CBI – this is what needs to be fixed, not abolishing investigations till official sanction is given. Also, since any police complaint has to, by law, result in an FIR and an investigation, putting this on hold in the case of a certain category of persons – till the sanctioning authority takes a call – will probably fall foul of the law.