Public servants, especially bankers, will heave a sigh of relief as the Rajya Sabha has approved the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013, that drastically reduces the scope of their being probed or arrested for genuine errors of judgement in policymaking and will thus enable them to take bold commercial decisions. It also seeks to punish bribe-givers for the first time, with a provision to jail them for up to seven years.
Since the Bill has already crossed the Upper House hurdle, it will easily sail through the Lok Sabha where the ruling NDA has a majority. The Bill seeks to amend the existing 30-year-old anti-corruption law.
The Bill comes at a time when promoters of dozens of companies — from Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi to Vikram Kothari — have been accused of defrauding banks of thousands of crores of rupees, raising suspicions about possible collusion of some bankers in the frauds.
In a recent blog, Union minister Arun Jaitley had suggested an urgent amendment to the “anarchic” law, apart from advising that the federal structure of the nation must not be overlooked. Earlier, he had said the law that dates to the pre-liberalisation era puts officials at the risk of being charged with corruption, possibly overlooking their bona-fide intent. His statements came after the entire top management of the state-run Bank of Maharashtra was placed under arrest by Pune police.
The latest amendments now require the police to take prior permission from the appropriate authorities while pursuing cases. Public servants cannot be dragged under for corruption unless they have accumulated assets disproportionate to their income or have misappropriated assets entrusted to them. The amendments narrow the scope of what will qualify to be criminal misconduct. Analysts said under the existing law, even offering a pecuniary gain can constitute a criminal misconduct. Some may argue that a loan given to a company in the past could be defined as providing pecuniary benefit.
Dozens of cases have already been filed against senior executives of some public-sector banks.
Earlier, the Act also defined criminal misconduct to cover offences including abuse of position, use of illegal means and disregard of public interest.
For bribe takers, the Bill proposes to increase the punishment to a minimum of three years’ imprisonment, which may extend to seven years, besides fine. While it provides for punishment to bribe givers, the Bill, in a bid to protect persons who give bribe under coercion, has provided that “the person so compelled” would have to report the matter to the law enforcement authority or investigative agency within seven days.
The Bill has included commercial organisations into its ambit. “A commercial organisation shall be guilty of an offence and shall be punishable with fine if any person associated with the commercial organisation gives or promises to give any undue advantage to a public servant,” it said. “The Special Judge shall ensure the completion of the trials within a period of two years from the date of filing of the case,” it said.