It’s now a law for corruption

It’s now a law for corruption

Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act

The Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act, which was passed by parliament last week, is set to wrongly change the ways of dealing with corruption and even the perception of corruption in the country. The bill was piloted by the minister of state for personnel Jitendra Singh, but it was initiated during the UPA times. The claim that it will make the fight against corruption more effective and efficient is wrong and misplaced. It is bound to have the opposite effect because some key elements in the set of legal tools and means to deal with corruption have been changed to the advantage of those who benefit from corruption and to the disadvantage of its victims. The victims are the citizens who are forced to pay bribes. Since the giver of the bribe is now as guilty as the taker, the small window for reporting corruption may even shrink.

It is claimed that the amendments are meant to protect well-intended decisions taken by officials in good faith from action under the law. They also prescribe time limits for investigation and prosecution, enhance penalties for corruption and penalise bribe-givers. They were expected to make the law conform to international norms, but when corruption is a major public issue, the amendments will make it more difficult to proceed against corruption and even to detect it. Several categories of offences, like the abuse of official position, use of illegal means and disregard of public interest will now be out of the purview of the law. Only misappropriation of property entrusted to an official and amassing of wealth disproportionate to known sources of income will be liable. An intention to enrich oneself may be proved only if the official is unable to explain the source of the assets. If such was the anti-corruption law during UPA rule, then there would probably have been no ‘scam’ to speak of.

The new law makes its mandatory to seek the government’s approval to start an investigation against an official. Such approval has till now been mandatory for prosecution. The new provision will mean that many charges of corruption will not even be given a hearing. The bribe-giver will not be liable for offering a bribe if the matter is reported to the authorities within seven days. It can in practice only work against the citizen with a complaint. It is ironical that the Narendra Modi government, which came to power promising to root out corruption, is enacting a law whose effect can only be to give a sense of impunity to the corrupt. It is a rare issue on which the UPA has supported the government, and the reasons are obvious. There will be fewer corruption cases now, not because corruption will have come down, but because there will be fewer complaints. 

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