NEW DELHI: Alleging that probe agencies were being misused to target opposition leaders, the Opposition today accused the Centre of adopting double standards on corruption.
During a discussion on the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013 in the Rajya Sabha, Congress Deputy leader Anand Sharma sought to know why the Narendra Modi government had not yet appointed the anti-graft ombudsman Lokpal.
Sharma claimed that in the last four years, corruption had got encouragement, while the economy had suffered.
Ruling BJP, however, hit back, claiming unprecedented efforts towards curbing corruption and ensuring development were being undertaken which the Congress was unwilling to see.
But the people were rewarding the BJP through repeated endorsements at the hustings, Shwait Malik (BJP) said.
Before 2014, when the UPA was in power, an atmosphere was systematically created and even the then Prime Minister was not spared of baseless allegations, Sharma alleged as he initiated the discussion.
"I am referring to the coal scam," he said, adding that facts were wrongly interpreted to target the then government.
Sharma countered this saying the situation now was such that "people don't feel their money is safe even in banks", he said.
Their money has been taken outside the country, it may be Nirav Modi or Mehul Choksi, he said.
"It was never our prime minister (Manmohan Singh) whoever got pictures clicked with such people at his residence or in Davos," Sharma said in a jibe at the government.
Due to actions like these, such elements have got encouraged, the Congress leader claimed.
Continuing his attack, he said much was made of CAG reports at the time of the previous government but the auditor continues to raise questions including on defence matters.
Questions have even been raised about the Rafale deal, he added.
Sharma said a lot can be achieved by invoking even the existing laws in cases like bank frauds "provided the intent is right."
Unemployment is rising while the economy is on a downward slide, he said, adding even the rupee was getting devalued.
While the government has made claims of bringing back black money stashed abroad, in reality, the money in Swiss Bank accounts have grown by another 50 per cent, the Congress leader asserted.
The promise of getting Rs 15 lakh into all bank accounts has now turned into a 'jumla' (rhetoric), Sharma said.
He said a key aspect related to the issue of corruption was the "misuse" of investigative agencies.
"Can there be two system in the country, one for the opposition and another for your own people," he said questioning the goverment. Many of the ruling party chief ministers were facing serious allegations but the dispensation was silent on taking any action against them," Sharma said.
He claimed the probe agencies like CBI and ED were being used to target the opposition leaders while the action against actual culprits was not satisfactory.
It is another matter that reports of friction between investigative agencies were making way into newspapers, he said.
Referring to a provision in the anti-corruption Act under consideration, Sharma said it talks of action being taken after approval by the Lokpal or the Lok Ayukta.
Why, after being in power for four years, the Modi government is yet to appoint the Lokpal, he said and pointed out that a massive campaign had been launched during UPA rule for a Lokpal under Anna Hazare's leadership.
Two prominent personalities used that platform, he said apparently referring to Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and Puducherry Lt Governor Kiran Bedi.
Continuing his attack on the alleged misuse of probe agencies, Sharma asked whether agencies like the IT, CBI, DRI or ED could book cases pertaining to the same offence.
Equality before law is enshrined in the Constitution, he said asking how could four parallel probes take place for one alleged offence.
Implying that opposition leaders were being targeted, he claimed while people in the opposition were facing investigation, there was no action on those sitting on the other side who were being spared.
The country cannot run on "double standards", Sharma said, asking how many of the real corrupt has the Modi government booked in the last four years.
Sharma said the probe agencies should coordinate and there should not be multiple probes for the same offence.
There have been cases which have proven false and people have even committed suicide, he said.
Referring to the provisions of the bill, Sharma said the issue when a citizen is coerced to pay bribe needs to be looked into more.
Sharma said the opposition had been asking questions to which the ruling side often did not give a satisfactory reply.
He alleged the government was taking steps even to damage the RTI.
Countering the charges, BJP's Shwait Malik said Congress had shrunk so much that it needed to "worry and introspect" about its future.
He said there was time people were fed up with 'scams' and even ministers were going in and out of jails.
He said the government led by 'karmayogi' Modi has changed this and effective steps are being taken.
As much as Rs 70,000 crore which was stashed was brought back into the system due to the government's efforts, he claimed.
Demonetisation too received a thumbs up from the people while GST too was rolled out because of the determination of Modi, he said.
He said the country's powerless villages were electrified, thousands of kilometres of roads built and defence forces strengthened.
Pakistan stands isolated today and the credit for this goes to Narendra Modi, he said, adding that the opposition party was unwilling to see any of these positive developments.
SP member Ravi Prakash Verma said corruption incidents should not be seen as 'isolated' ones and the real need was to crack down on the entire eco-system that spawned graft.
Participating in the debate, AIDMK MP A Navaneethakrishnan said his party welcomed the Prevention of Corruption (amendment) Bill, but it was lenient towards the offences by commercial organisations.
"Only fine could be imposed on commercial organisation. They cannot be sent to jail," but their senior officials in charge of day-to-day affairs are punished, he said, adding that it needs to be corrected.
While Sukhendu Sekhar Ray of Trinamool Congress said the amendment provides that bribe-taker would be punished with imprisonment of up to seven years, the bribe givers would get three years in jail, despite both being equal partners in crime.
"If both are equal partners in crime, then there should be equal quantum of punishment also," he said, adding that willfull defaulters should also be governed under this act.
Prasanna Acharya (BJD) said the government is diluting section 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, which deals with criminal misconduct by the public servant.
"Section 13 is the essence of this act. Now there is an attempt to take it out of the bill," he said.
RCP Singh (JD-U) welcomed the bill saying the amendment has increased the punishment for habitual offenders from three years to five years and has a provision for time-bound trial.
CPI-M member KK Ragesh said corruption in the judiciary was also on the rise and this needed to be dealt with seriously, while RJD MP Manoj Kumar Jha said the act is silent on whistleblowers.
While Shiv Sena MP Anil Desai said it has provisions to protect the honest officers who have silly mistakes while taking decisions, CPI MP D Raja said there was a nexus between people who have political power and big business houses and there is need for Lokpal in the system.
"Why is there no Lokpal? Parliament has discussed the rules of Lokpal. Even the Supreme Court took note of it and asked to respond within 10 days. How many days we can go like this," he said.
According to him, agencies like ED and CBI should be allowed to function independently.
He also said that judicial accountability has also become a matter of concern.
"Judiciary has to stand above it. Judicial accountability has become a matter of concern," Raja said.