Badly hit by allegations of corruption and cover-up, the Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved sweeping changes to the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988, allowing for confiscation of illegally acquired property and time-bound prosecution of serving and retired public servants.
Despite the standoff between the Treasury benches and the main Opposition BJP, sources said, the government will try introduce the amended Bill during the ongoing session of Parliament.
Highlighting the two major points of amendment, Finance Minister P Chidambaram said after the Union Cabinet meeting that a provision has been incorporated to confiscate and forfeit property illegally acquired by a corrupt public servant.
Besides, a stringent time-frame has been set for getting sanction of competent authority to prosecute serving and retired bureaucrats and reasons will have to be specified giving the nod or refusing it.
Also for the first time, provision for liability of a commercial entity for failing to prevent bribery of a public servant has been incorporated in the Bill.
The Bill also seeks to lay down a clear definition of different forms of bribery in line with international practices, Chidambaram said.
However, special sanction will be required to prosecute ‘retired bureaucrats’ for alleged acts of omissions and commissions which bring relief which there at the moment.
Apparently, this is to ensure that retired bureaucrats do not face prosecution for decisions taken in good faith during their service period. But, Chidambaram added that now a time limit—three months—for grant or refusal for sanction of prosecution has been set.
The provision to introduce a time-line came following adverse comments made by the Supreme Court in 2011 in its judgment on a petition filed by Subramanian Swamy. This was in the contest of Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) not responding to an application of Swamy seeking to prosecute former telecom minister A Raja in the 2G spectrum scam.
At present, the government’s protection in the form of prosecution sanction does not extend to retired bureaucrats.
A need was felt to bring the amendment to extend this protection to retired officials so that it would be mandatory for the prosecuting agency to get prior sanction before prosecuting them for something which they might have done with good intention while in office.
Chidambaram said now a “clear criteria”, procedure and time limit for grant or refusal of sanction of prosecution have been set.