Rajya Sabha nod to anti-corruption Bill, Opposition cautions on penalty for bribe giver
The Rajya Sabha Thursday passed the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill 2018 that seeks to punish both givers and takers of bribe. Several MPs sounded a note of caution on the provision to punish the bribe giver with up to seven years in jail and/or fine, pointing out that a distinction has to be made between a “bribe of collusion” and a “bribe of coercion”.
The fact that the law makes the Lokpal — an institution that currently does not exist — the authority to give permission to act against corrupt government servants was also the subject of consternation from Opposition benches. In his reply, DoPT minister Jitendra Singh said legislation, like societies, follow a process of evolution and he had an “open mind” on the matter. The Bill that amends certain provisions of a 30-year-old anti-corruption law was passed by the House unanimously with a voice vote.
Congress MP Anand Sharma said: “There is something called coercive bribery — extortion, coercion. There is a difference because you are equating for the purpose of punishment a bribe-giver, whether it is individual, organisation or corporate entity, and a bribe-taker…But we know that in our society…extortion takes place. People are poor. Even for the provision of public services, money is extracted under duress from people. Will you equate them to the bribe-giver who is a big corporate entity or somebody?”
Sharma, his party colleagues Digvijaya Singh and M V Rajeev Gowda, and CPM MP K K Ragesh accused the government of trying to subvert the anti-corruption mechanism by making Lokpal the authority to give permission for probe. They also accused the government of resorting to technicalities to not appoint the Lokpal.
The Union Minister said that the non-appointment of Lokpal “was beyond our control” because the Speaker could not acknowledge any party as Opposition party due to less seats.
Congress has been complaining that its nominee Mallikarjun Kharge has not been made full-fledged member of the Lokpal selection panel. Kharge is special invitee to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led panel. As per the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act, 2013, only Leader of Opposition (LoP) in Lok Sabha is a member of the panel. A party should have at least 55 seats or 10 per cent of the strength of Lok Sabha for its leader to get LoP status. Congress is the largest Opposition party, but does not have requisite number of seats to get the LoP post.
The amended Bill proposes a “shield” for government employees, including those retired, from prosecution by making it mandatory for investigating agencies like the CBI to take prior approval from competent authority before conducting any enquiry against them. The Bill says such permission shall not be necessary in cases involving arrest of a person on the spot on the charge of accepting or attempting to accept any undue advantage for himself or for any other person.
These amendments were first brought by the UPA government in 2013. The Bill was then referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee, Law Commission and then in December 2015 to a select committee.The report of the select committee was submitted in 2016 and again the Bill was moved in August 2017, but could not be taken up.